Why do we compete? We all know that competition is part of our nature; we’re competitive beings because of a survival instinct, but it’s no secret that some people take it too seriously, which can be quite problematic at times. There’s a general belief stating that competitiveness is the key to success. Since we’re very young we’re taught and encouraged to engage in these attitudes that are understood as skills or abilities. Healthy competitiveness might be the optimal way to make society work, but when should we stop competing?
Think about those extreme characters in popular culture like Monica Geller, someone you know, or even yourself –if that’s the case. Basically, they live their life as a constant competition, so every single activity or event must be done in an impeccable way; there’s no such thing as minor effort, and they have to commit a hundred percent to everything to succeed. So, whenever I meet someone like that, it makes me think, why do they do that? What’s pushing them in that way? To be honest, sometimes I feel jealous of their commitment. Then that jealousy goes away when I realize that this is practically how they live; everything must be seen as a competition they must win, even in their private lives, including their personal relationships. So, how it is to build a romantic relationship based on constant competition, which by nature means that someone is bound to lose?
According to Sander van der Linden Ph.D. (Cambridge University), the essence of competition lies in motivation, the boost that pushes us to do things. This motivation in psychological terms is divided into two kinds, intrinsic and extrinsic. Competitiveness, however, is more linked to the latter. As the name indicates, the intrinsic one refers to those motivations that come from within ourselves, say unselfishly helping someone or following your dreams. Instead, extrinsic motivations are those triggered by external sources or rewards. It’s the greedier part of ourselves, when we only do things to get something in exchange. In that way, when we compete, besides the possible rewards, whether they’re material or symbolic, the real prize we seek is the satisfaction of winning and being recognized.
Now, competitiveness with our partner is something quite normal, and it’s said that it’s even helpful to form stronger bonds, since it encourages the couple to be better people, and it actually makes sense. Among the benefits of healthy competition, according to psychologist María Elena López (The Pontifical Xavierian University, Colombia), it motivates us to improve our lives and reach our goals. In the same way, it becomes the best stimuli for a couple to face any obstacle, as well as to reach common aspirations.
The problem comes when one of the members or both take that competition to an extreme. What happens is that they stop working as a team and become more selfish. You stop caring about the interest and life goals of the other and focus on your own with the only aim of beating the other. Call it professional, economic, or even social success, when we reach that point in a relationship, it’s most likely that the only thing we care about is ourselves, and that’s when competitiveness can actually destroy the relationship.
As couple therapists usually recommend, communication is key. If you feel your relationship is reaching that point where what used to be a healthy and team competition has turned into a rivalry, the best thing to do is to talk about what’s really happening and what’s triggering that separation. Yes, we all love winning, but there’s a time and moment for everything.
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The photographs illustrating the article belongs to @indiaearl