Saturday, August 15, 2009

Competition and Cooperation: How to Destroy or Build a Great Relationship and Marriage

Committed relationships thrive on cooperation, not competition. Is competition killing your relationship? Would you recognize it if it were? Believe it or not, many don’t, because it’s not always obvious…

I hope you’re enjoying your day. I had to run some errands a while ago, and everywhere I went I noticed couples in heated competition, arguing about purchases, project details, child-rearing issues (one couple was standing in the middle of a shopping mall concourse yelling at each other over whether their 14-year old daughter was going to date a college-age young man!) and it was so painfully obvious that if these couples were focused on WHAT was right instead of WHO was right they’d be living much happier lives.

A committed relationship or marriage requires two people to coexist, preferably in the pursuit of mutual goals, or at least compatible goals that conform to shared values. That’s what being well-matched is all about; and what gives you something to talk about and work together to achieve, without which the relationship eventually falls apart, being unable to withstand the pressure of the vacuum that forms between the two people.

This requires cooperation, which in turn requires that you have compatible values; otherwise, the two of you will be competing to force your values to be the standard by which the whole household conducts its business. Let’s look at an extreme example just because the extreme ones are the easiest to see and take the least explaining:

Imagine a capitalist and an altruist are married. The capitalist will make decisions based upon what promotes his or her well-being and that of their family, while the altruist will make decisions based upon the ideal that he or she is his or her neighbor’s keeper, seeking to give away everything that the capitalist wants to use for the family.

Their value systems are stark opposites, and therefore there can be no cooperation; the directly opposing value systems cause the couple to constantly compete to try to live within the constraints of their value system, which will destroy a relationship every time because there is no win/win scenario for the majority of decisions they have to make, and compromise fulfills nobody. The bottom line is that they never should have entered into the committed relationship because it was doomed before it ever started.


Not everything is a question of values. Two people can have common values and be striving toward a common (or again, at least compatible) goal, but have different ideas about how to achieve it, and all too many couples make the mistake that I’m about to describe, especially when one is creative and one is analytical:


…or whose idea is the right idea, etc. The creative person will incorrectly see the analytical personality as a stifling constraint to their artistic liberty instead of a very valuable filter that can keep them out of trouble and from wasting time, life, and other resources in the pursuit of the unattainable or self-destructive. Conversely, the analytical will often incorrectly see the creative as a flakey pain in the buttocks who is too busy going off on absurd tangents to focus on the issue at hand.

Notice that I said that BOTH are incorrect!

If these people were focused on WHAT was right, and the most efficient and rewarding way to achieve whatever was before them (COOPERATING!) instead of being focused on WHO was right, meaning who’s smarter, who’s in control, who’s getting their way this time, etc. (COMPETING!), the creative could see and be thankful for the analytical’s ability to work through the various options and find the one with the least risk and greatest reward, and the analytical could see that the creative was capable of brainstorming and presenting options that may not occur to the analytical, some of which may be far better for their mutual success.

By taking advantage of their functional differences through cooperation, the couple is brought closer together, seeing each other as complimentary and therefore valuable instead of irritating, building trust and intimacy through cooperation instead of frustration and resentment at having to endure and lose frequent arguments.

The former of these scenarios builds self-esteem, love, trust, respect, and loyalty, while the latter destroys them all. While you would be hard-pressed to put a capitalist and an altruist, an atheist and a zealot, a soldier and a pacifist, etc., under the same roof for any length of time and expect anything but misery and a break-up, putting two people together who have different “brain-wiring” but common goals, values, and interests can actually be a very intense and rewarding relationship instead of a recipe for divorce.

It’s all in the choice to focus on what is right or best and cooperate to identify and do it instead of focusing on who is right or best and having to compete to see who is going to win each battle while both ultimately lose the war, a war that shouldn’t be fought in the first place.

I saw at least fifty couples today in a three-hour period for whom this concept would have been one of several “magic pills” that could have made their obviously strained relationships happy and rewarding. Many of these couples looked like they’d been together for several years (to wit, having a fourteen-year old daughter), and had been miserable for most of that time since they had worn down to the point of no longer trying to paint on a smile in public and opening fire on each other like that, at the top of their voices in the middle of a crowded mall.

Would you have been one of them?

Do you see where you could slowly be becoming one of them?

If so, you don’t have to live that way. Cooperation starts with a CHOICE to cooperate, to know, recognize, and value your partner’s differences as something that can benefit the two of you instead of something that rubs you the wrong way. It requires open, deliberate communication, and a healthy amount of self-esteem, trust and respect – all things that you should have had from the start, and unless you have opposing, competing values, can still be developed much quicker than you might imagine.

To learn how, go to and download your copy of "THE Man’s Guide to Great Relationships and Marriage," and get your relationship back on track. You and your partner should be and can be cooperating as partners, not hacking at each other as competitors; life’s too short to spend it competing with the people you live with.

In the meantime, live well, be well, and have a wonderful day!
David Cunningham

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