bisexualguysHave you ever noticed how much competition there is in same sex couples?  It’s just beneath the surface, and something I see a lot as a psychotherapist to the San Diego LGBT community.

It seems easier for opposite sex couples to not compete. Perhaps it’s because they look at their partner across the breakfast table and that person looks so different from them that they don’t feel what I call, that “testosterone grunt”in gay couples.

Even without the testosterone factor, competition often rears its ugly head in many lesbian couples as well. What’s a healthy same-sex couple to do when we find ourselves thinking some version of: “You think you can make more money than me?” or “Oh really, you think you do (fill in the blank) better than I do? Watch this.”

Why do we compete anyway?  What drives us?  What is the essence of competition and is it stronger in same-sex couples?

I love this definition of competition: “a rivalry between two or more persons for an object desired in common, usually resulting in a victor and a loser but not necessarily involving the destruction of the latter”.

Isn’t that great? Not necessarily involving the destruction of the “loser”. And yet, in our relationships, where does competition take us?

Must there be a winner and a loser?  Is that endemic to competition?  In a relationship, what does the loser usually do?  In my experience counseling couples, the loser usually exacts some sort of revenge on his/her partner, often through passive aggressive means.  “Oh, you got away with ———, well, I’m gonna get you back, just you wait.” I see this over-and-over with couples, and no one wants to talk about it because then the gig is up.

And what about the “winner” of the competition?  Today’s winner is inevitably tomorrow’s loser.  It may feel good to win, but, if you love your partner, don’t you feel bad when they lose? And, in reality, don’t you lose too?  If both people in the couple don’t “win”, then the situation is destructive.  Winners only get the booby prize: the real prize is when two people work together to find a solution to a problem that they can both live with. It may not be perfect; it may be a major compromise for both parties, but no one “loses” and no one “wins”…both people in the couple are in the same boat: “I gave a little; you gave a little and we both got most of what we wanted.”

Competition – whether in a romance or friendship – doesn’t lead to happy endings. What else is there?  How about cooperation and compromise? Cooperation is about working together to the same end.  Compromise is a settlement of differences by mutual concessions.

Some clients tell me that compromise is for cowards and cooperation is for new age types who are afraid to take a stand.  That point of view is so 20th century. Modern organizations and modern life aren’t set up for competition without cooperation and compromise. Even the most cut-throat businesses cannot survive purely on competition: everyone would burn out and only one person would ultimately “win”.  There’s nothing wrong with a little friendly competition, but when it becomes your main way of getting through life, you’re gonna leave an awful lot of unhappy people in your wake.

In relationships – friendships or romance – cooperation and compromise are the building blocks to long-term mutual happiness. Think of the relationships in your life that have stood the test of time and made it through arguments, hurt feelings and anger. There’s no way you can make it through the hard stuff if competition is your main coping strategy. In any good, ongoing relationship, both people are bound to piss each other off. It’s part of life; no avoiding it.  Given that, how to navigate those rough waters?

Competition, like high calorie deserts, isn’t a bad thing. In moderation, it gives life a little “pow!”  And it’s a funny thing about the word “competition”.  The root of the word is from the Latin competitionem, the past participle of competere, which means: to meet, to come together. And that, dear readers, is what good relationships are all about.