My boyfriend and I are both very intelligent, driven, and competitive people. Just like you talk about the negatives to each positive, our competitive attributes definitely have a negative side for us. Because we are both so competitive, we often end up competing with each other. We have been together since college, and in college it felt like there was a constant unspoken competition between us for grades, sports success, and general life success. Who would become an All-American athlete? Who had the best social standing and most friends? Who would get top honors in their degree? Who would get their job faster?
Post-college, the competition continued. Who would get the promotion first? Who was making the most money? Who has the biggest social network and is the best at meeting new people?
While the competition often keeps us at our best, it can also lead to strife. For example, sometimes I feel I am not as supportive of his success as I should be, because I secretly want to be better than him. I try to be as supportive as possible and tell him that I believe in him and that he can do great things, but when I take a closer look at how I feel, I see him as a threat. And sometimes, he notes that I’m not being entirely genuine, just like I note that he’s not exactly wishing me “congrats” for my latest success. It’s hard to swallow the fact that one of us might not be as smart, funny, talented, or athletic as the other. I also know that he, as a man, needs to feel valued and special for his accomplishments and successes, as he should.
How do we handle this? I love him dearly and I feel we are otherwise very compatible, but I’m not sure I should be with someone who I feel is always a threat to me, and I also want to be the supportive girlfriend he wants and needs. Is it possible for two highly competitive individuals to be happy together? —Julie
Thank you for your thought-provoking question. And yes, it is possible for two highly competitive individuals to be happy together.
Yes, it is possible for two highly competitive individuals to be happy together. It just may not be possible for you and your boyfriend.
It just may not be possible for you and your boyfriend.
I’m not worried about assigning blame — after all, I haven’t heard his side of the story — but here are a few lines I pulled from your question:
- I secretly want to be better than him.
- I see him as a threat
- It’s hard to swallow the fact that one of us might not be as smart, funny, talented, or athletic as the other.
Without going any further, Julie: would YOU want to be in a relationship with that person?
She doesn’t sound very mature, supportive or evolved, does she?
I’m not ragging on you, as much as commending you for your openness. We ALL think thoughts that don’t make us look good and the first step is taking responsibility for those thoughts.
As I see it, you have essentially two choices (and, by the way, they are the same two choices that you have in most situations):
You can grow. You can realize that there’s no value in being “better” than your partner, because you’re only as strong as the relationship itself. How well would my marriage work if I were always trying to prove to my wife that I was “better” than her? Not so well, huh?
Who makes more money? Who cares? Who has more friends? Who cares? Who runs faster? Really?
So, even though you’re trying to “win” the battle, you’re losing the war by hurting your own relationship. Your boyfriend isn’t a threat to you; he exists independently from you. His accomplishments are to be lauded, because they don’t take away from yours and there’s no point in keeping score. Literally, the ONLY way there should be a direct conflict is if you’re both applying to the same job. But who makes more money? Who cares? Who has more friends? Who cares? Who runs faster? Really? Please tell me about the marriage that is dependent upon Tough Mudder times for sustenance.
Growth involves serious change and maturity. The ability to step away and admit that all the things about which you’re competitive literally DON’T MATTER.
And if you’re reading those words and thinking, “Of COURSE they matter! I can’t let him think he’s smarter, funnier, or more athletic than I am!”, well, then, you’ve arrived at the other conclusion:
You can dump him and find a guy who is not competitive.
A guy who will get as excited for your accomplishments as if they’re his own.
A guy who removes his ego from the relationship because it only serves to diminish you as a couple.
A guy who knows there’s no “I” in team.
Who wouldn’t want to date that person?
The real question is whether you can BE that person, Julie. I’d highly suggest it.