Can I Be Compatible With My Boyfriend If We Are Competitive?

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.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Angie

    Ugh.  That sounds awful.  It’s good if you can find someone who keeps you at your “best”, but not for the reason that you want to outdo the other one.  What happens if one of you gets some horrible illness or injury that prevents you from being “the best” and you just need caretaking?
     
    I worry that you have issues with your ego and self-esteem that need to be resolved.  Does your boyfriend also feel this competitive, or is it one-sided?
     
    Julie, the other thing is that the things you value are very superficial and, as Evan said, lack maturity.  Athletics?  Seriously?!  I’d give you a pass due to age, but if you are out of college you are too old for this. (To be honest, I actually think that if you are out of high school, you are too old for this). You aren’t the only person who does this, though, but at some time you have to realize this mentality doesn’t bring a lot of happiness.
     
    The only person you should compare yourself to is yourself and asking “Am I being my best self?”… No, you aren’t.  You aren’t being the “best” version of girlfriend you can be, but you need to change your mindset to accomplish that (which isn’t always easy).  

  2. 2
    Cherry

    It seems Julie is the competitive one in this relationship. My five cents, if you feel competitive with your partner right from the start, you are definitely making a wrong start. Relationships are not about “I”. It is about “us” and “we”. There shouldn’t be any competition. Both parties should be in it to grow together. They should be proud of each others’ accomplishments. At the end of the day, your partner defines who you are. If he is successful, then it reflects your success as well.
    Julie sounds like she wants a submissive boy friend whom she can dominate and maybe even crush with her success. No guy would like that. Guys like to get their egos boosted, just like girls like to get complements. You should boost their ego. There is nothing wrong with that. If you love him, you will do it automatically. Mutual encouragement is a major part of a relationship.

  3. 3
    Cherry

    By the way, I just love this blog. So educational. I just made my first comment ever. I hope to be constructive in my comments. Thank you Evan for pouring your advice so generously. Regards.

  4. 4
    Angie

    I wanted to quick add a second thought: 
     
    You might be feeling competitive IF your boyfriend actually “is” (appears to be) Mr. Perfect.  Do you feel like your boyfriend is a bit out of your league and you need to prove you are just as smart/athletic/successful? (Do you do this with friends, or just him?)… Asking, b/c some people are always competitive, and some people have something to prove.

  5. 5
    Jackie H.

    Hmmm….some woman is going to scoop him right up…LOL…sorry…

  6. 6
    suheil

    To me, both of them are insecure, cause when you have a healthy self-esteem you don’t need to constantly prove something. When you are a confident person, it doesn’t matter how good other people are or aren’t, you already know you rock, so who cares?
    I used to have a friend who I always competed with, in the end, nobody ever really won, and the friendship suffered.

  7. 7
    Al

    I had a friendship like this once, it was very uncomfortable for me to be in constant competition.  You know that saying ‘you can be right, or you can be happy’?  Seems like that applies here- you can be better than your man, or you can be happy- but you can’t have it both ways.  I would say, just let him be the best, why do you care so much about being better than him?  I WANT my man to be smarter, funnier, and more athletic than I am.  For example, I’m smart,  pursuing a Phd in the fall, and my man is a carpenter- but I try to defer to him as much as possible  because a. I value his input,  b.  I know it makes him feel good and c. I prefer more traditional gender roles.  I’d rather be in a happy relationship than constantly trying to be the ‘better’ half.

  8. 8
    Karl T

    To the OP and her BF,
    Why don’t you two do as Rodney Dangerfield once suggested….put your heads together and make an ass out of yourself!!

  9. 9
    Paula

    I’m a bit competitive but I could never be competitive in a relationship. Maybe in a friendly way like say if we are bike riding and we playfully compete to see who is faster. Chances are I would lose but who cares? Or in Scrabble. I would win but who cares? I suck at a lot of things and I think having some humbleness is a good thing. Relationships are about cooperation in the long run and you guys are working together. There really isn’t anything that you are truly competing against. It’s just in your mind.

  10. 10
    Some other guy

    Relationships are not supposed to be zero-sum games.

  11. 11
    Ruby

    Ironically, some of the things that Julie claims are important to her, like being a great athlete, having a wide social circle, and succeeding at a job involve being a good team player. Having close friends means being supportive. Yet, in her primary relationship, where both of those attributes are of vital importance, she disregards these key components of success. It’s time to start viewing her relationship as an actual partnership, and not something she simply takes for granted, or worse, is resentful of.

  12. 12
    Thuy-An

    I agree and believe in you Evan 😉  the strongest person I feel is ones who is humble. I believe the saying behind every strong man is a wise woman. 😉

  13. 13
    Little Wing

    Ruby, that’s an excellent point you make! Consider this a double ‘Like’.

  14. 14
    LC

    My grandparents used to refer to each other as, “my better half.”  Each of them thought more highly of the other than of themselves.  Each of them supported and loved each other during the good and bad times.  If your spouse is successful, so are you.  It’s an addition to the relationship, not a subtraction from you.  When you are in a relationship, it’s about adding and creating, not subtracting and destroying.

  15. 15
    Paula

    Or perhaps wise women choose strong men

  16. 16
    Speed

    The very last thing I would want is to come home from an extremely long day at work to face some woman who was ready to “fiercely compete” with me. It is almost the ultimate turnoff.
    Perhaps there are some guys who might like that but I have neither met nor imagined such guys. 

  17. 17
    Angie

    @ Ruby 11
     
    It’s a good point, but she wasn’t saying she competed to have better friendships. She competed to have a MORE friends (“acquaintances”), presumably to demonstrate that she is the more popular one.
     
    And team sports can demonstrate friendship, but there are a lot of sports, such as tennis, gymnastics, swimming, track & field, where a lot of pressure for individual performance exists (although this can also explain a competitive streak).

  18. 18
    Ruby

    Angie
     
    “…she wasn’t saying she competed to have better friendships.”
     
    I wasn’t saying that either. I said that being supportive is an important component of friendship. And even on a gymnastics or swim team, the individuals support their teammate’s accomplishments for the betterment of the team as a whole.

  19. 19
    Julie

    As the person who sent in this question, Evan, let me first thank you for choosing my question. I am honored that you would respond and share it as a teaching tool. I have learned so much from you and your blog; it has truly transformed some of the ways I think about relationships and helped me get on a better path. I feel like I owe you more than I owe any therapist when it comes to relationships.
     
    In the hopes of using the continuation of my journey as an educational tool (and proof that Evan’s advice will change your life), I feel compelled to share what happened after I wrote in to Evan. I apologize in advance for the length of this post.
     
    @suheil #6, you are right on the money when you mention insecurities. I think both my boyfriend and I suffered greatly from insecurities. And Evan is exactly right, I would NEVER want to date someone like me who turned a relationship into a competition.
     
    That is really why I decided to get out of it, because I realized it wasn’t healthy. I did love my boyfriend dearly, as I said, but I realized that I had to do some homework on myself before I could be in a healthy relationship, and I clearly wasn’t capable of doing that homework while in the relationship.
     
    I was on the phone with a friend one morning, ranting about my frustrations with myself about how I couldn’t just control my insecurities. I was aware of them, after all, so why did I let them come out and hurt my relationship? Then my friend posed the question, “Is it that you are insecure, or does he make you feel insecure?”
     
    Well, no one can *make* you feel anything, but it did make me do some serious soul-searching. Neither option was good, nor would either option lead to long-term happiness.
     
    After I got out of the relationship, I did work on myself, and I was not planning on getting into another relationship for a while. Then, when I was totally focused on being myself and happy with who I am, along comes this perfect guy. If I thought the ex was too much for me, this guy wasn’t just out of my league, he was out of my universe in terms of talent, success, etc. However, I put my insecurities aside, and tried to change my inner dialogue. After many panicked phone calls with friends asking them how I could possibly deserve someone like this, and how I would never hold a candle to him, I finally sat myself down, in the proverbial sense, for a come-to-Jesus conversation. Essentially, I thought to myself, “Self? Stop being such an idiot. If he didn’t want to be with you, he wouldn’t be with you. He doesn’t care about how successful you are. He doesn’t care about your intelligence. All he cares about is that you can be a loving, nurturing, supportive girlfriend.”
     
    Ever since then, I have tried not to worry about the insecurities so much and just focus on the positives. This guy astounds me. I am sure part of that is the “honeymoon phase” right now, but I admire him in a way that I never admired my last boyfriend. My number one priority is supporting him and making him feel good about himself. I make sure he is aware of how amazing he is on a daily basis. And he does the same to me in return.
     
    We will see where the future leads, but I can say I am a much happier, more content, and more secure person at the moment. I can’t thank you enough, Evan. I want everyone else to know, in order to capture this amazing guy, I put many of Evan’s tools into practice: mirroring, focusing on the positive, being myself, staying in the moment. I have never been happier. Evan’s advice will change your life.

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