Verbal competition in relationships can be fun. The excitement of winning a disagreement or driving a point home can enhance the passion of a relationship. Partners can use those interactions to gain a better understanding of each other’s point of view – that is, if both are into the game. But if either partner needs to bow out of the competition and the other needs to keep winning, the result may be destructive.
Once they are in a competitive interaction, people who have to win have great difficulty backing down, no matter what’s at stake. They are usually poor losers, turning from friend to foe very quickly if their opinions don’t triumph. Activated by their compulsion to make the final point, they continue arguing until their partners are down for the count.
Once the battle is over, they often act as if nothing were wrong, and are offended if their partners aren’t interested in reconnecting. “It was just an disagreement,” they contend. “What’s the big deal?”
Compulsive winners tend to look for partners who are willing opponents or those who give in quickly. Their partners have only three choices: fight, accept defeat, or leave the battlefield.
By answering the following questions, you can determine if needing to win has been a factor in your relationships:
The scars of needless battles will eventually destroy the love in any relationship. The chapter 6 of this book addresses the need to win and how to overcome this problem.
Children are not born pessimistic. They have to learn it from adults. Some families must struggle to meet their basic needs or have suffered multiple losses. They can understandably adopt an attitude that any expectation of positives will bring only more disappointment.
Others believe that pessimism is honorable, the way to face reality without being foolish. Some may even see optimism as superstitious, certain to deliver the opposite if you are seduced into believing in a better outcome. There are also, sadly, highly dysfunctional families who express their own despair by destroying dreams, even if they could come true.
If children born into pessimistic families also have inherited depression, they have a double burden. The combination of a negative childhood environment and a depressive biochemistry is a significant weight to bear.
Mistrust and pessimism are magnets for optimistic people who thrive on bringing joy into darkness. Winnie-the-Pooh and his eternally sad friend Eeyore are a great example of this kind of duo. But even tenacious cheerleaders can’t stick around forever when their partners won’t believe in a more hopeful future.
By answering the following questions, you can determine if being a pessimist has been a factor in your relationships:
A continued attachment to pessimism will eventually defeat the most optimistic of partners. The chapter 7 of this book addresses pessimism and how to overcome this problem.
People who need to be center stage inappropriately draw attention to themselves. Whether in a group of people or in a personal relationship, they often miss the social cues that tell them when others are overloaded, and they show little interest in others’ opinions or feelings.
Childhood neglect or overindulgence can be an explanation for how people become this way. But such experience doesn’t always predict this behavior. Some people just can’t seem to stay involved in a conversation unless they are the main topic of discussion. They may not intend to be inappropriately demanding, but they can’t seem to stop their desire for a one-way interaction. Their partners may have difficulty getting a word in edgewise. Center-stage personalities are superb at turning every conversation back to themselves.
By answering the following questions, you can determine if needing to be center stage has been a factor in your past relationships:
Do you want to have an audience or an interested lover? The chapter 8 of the book addresses the need to be center stage and how to overcome this problem.
Addictions are competitive lovers. They are self-destructive seductions masquerading as desirable behaviors, and they lull people away from the values and behaviors that keep relationships viable. If addictions are extreme and show up at the beginning of a relationship, those partners who understand their power shy away, knowing that there is little they can do to compete.
Unfortunately, there are some addictive behaviors that seem both acceptable and exciting when love is new. The passion of addictive cravings may be turned toward a new partner, adding intensity to the relationship.
Then, as time goes by, that same passion will eventually be redirected toward other desires, and the resulting abandonment becomes intolerable to the addict’s partner. Addicts become relationship saboteurs, slowly withdrawing the focused love that attracted their partners at the beginning of the relationship and transferring it to their new focus.
Addictions are intense cravings that often cause their users to do things they later deeply regret. You can be addicted not only to substances but also to relationships, materialistic acquisitions, or even ideologies. Addictions can drive anyone to put aside other values, obligations, or commitments, in pursuit of a journey that too often ends in irrevocable loss.
This article has been edited and excerpted from the book Relationship Saboteurs (New Harbinger Publications, 2010) by Randi Gunther, Ph.D. Dr. Gunther is a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor in Lomita, CA. She has given multiple workshops and lectures, inspiring hundreds of couples to go beyond their limitations to create successful relationships. A practical idealist, she encourages her patients to give up their deadlocked limitations and to create the relationships of their dreams. In more than forty years of practice, she has spent over 90,000 face-to-face hours helping individuals and couples. www.newharbinger.com
Other Articles by Randi Gunther, Ph.D.