Papa (my husband) and I like to spend a few hours a week discussing our lives, or our relationship or Physics or some esoteric subject. This weekend we were talking about something and somehow we ended up on the subject of competition. We are both fiercely competitive people. But somehow we realised that we don't really compete against each other. So we thought about it. How did that come to be, we wondered.
“It would be counterproductive for us to compete.” I said.
“I agree.” Papa replied. “But still, how come we don't? We must have to start with, right? Did we?”
So we thought about it.
Papa and I have been together, since I was 18. We were both in the same class doing a B. Sc in Physics. I recalled that there were a few sticky moments, early in our relationship when we were competing against each other. I guess we soon realised that aggressively competing against each other would be detrimental to our relationship. I don't remember ever actually discussing it, but after the first few times competing led to a strain on our relationship, we started experimenting with different ways of dealing with issues associated with competing.
Whenever possible, we started co-operating instead of competing. We studied together for exams, helping each other out and pooling in our strengths to understand things much better than either one of us could have done individually.
When we did have to compete, like in exams or when we played a game, we created a safe environment for each other. When the exam results came out, we made a conscious effort not to gloat when one of us did better than the other.
When we played board games like scrabble, we openly praised each other for every good effort. Same with outdoor games like badminton and Frisbee. We noticed that exchanging praise liberally created a non-threatening environment, where each of us felt comfortable being open about our vulnerabilities. We could even work together to improve our individual weaknesses. Also at the end of the game we were genuinely happy with each other, and not trying to suppress bitter feelings that would often arise earlier when we played against each other.
We soon recognised, who was more skilled at what, and gave each other tips in a non-condescending way. As we began to trust each other, we also became more open to accepting helpful tips.
When it was possible, we would play games in co-operative, rather than competitive mode. Like when we played Wii games, wherever possible we would try to do it in the same team. Playing this way was both, entertaining, and rewarding.
Today, when we play with other people, we try to play on opposing teams. This is because, over the years, we have experimented with and learned ways to make competing pleasant in general. We use our ideas of encouraging words and liberal praise when we play with other friends too.
Over the years, this approach helped us build trust in each other. So today we can compete without feeling insecure. We know now, that when we compete, the person who wins is not going to gloat or humiliate the other person. We have also tried to make competition about self-improvement. That is, each of us tries to do better than we did before. This way there is still a challenge, but no bitterness.
On a larger scale, we have learned each other's sore subjects, insecurities and pressure points and make a conscious effort to steer clear of them . When we need to address them, we do so with extreme care and sensitivity.
Sometimes couples needle each other and use their intimate knowledge of each other's vulnerabilities as weapons. We too have been occasionally guilty of this. This is a terrible breach of trust, that creates an ever increasing distance in relationships. So it is important to be vigilant and avoid such behaviour in a relationship.
Couples are teams, and when they turn on each other the game of life cannot be pleasant. Couples need to be careful when they compete, to not be hurtful towards each other, but to remember that they need to meet life's challenges together with full trust and confidence in each other. Our competitions with each other must be implemented out in such a way, that they not only help us improve our individual skills, but also help us strengthen the bond between us.