We’re on the same team

I don’t know where it comes from. I don’t know how to stop it. But I can tell you that one of the most powerful forces working against a good marriage is competition. I have observed, over the years, dozens if not hundreds of young couples embroiled in marital discord. He is unhappy with her. She is unhappy with him. He tells me how she is inadequate and she tells me that if I want to really know what inadequate is, I should spend a day with him.

Sometimes they sit there in my office and it seems as if both husband and wife have as the goal for the session to show me how superior they are to their mate.

And I wonder. Why does one have to be right and one wrong? Why can’t both be happy with the other. Sure her hair gets in the drain and her pantyhose are always draped over the shower door when he’s about to run a shower. But look again and you’ll see his socks on the floor and the stubble from his beard in the sink.

Even if the couple doesn’t squabble, their competition can come out in other destructive ways. The most destructive of these is the inability to appreciate the other. After all, if this person is your competitor, how can you enjoy his/her achievements? How can you appreciate when he/she is praised by others. Doesn’t that mean that he/she has scored a point over you? Such partners actually resent the other’s achievements.

At some point in marriage, there needs to be a realization that the two of you are a team. You are working together to make a full and rich life. It is, of course, not a competition, but in fact, a cooperative effort and therefore one’s success is good for the other.

Years ago when women first entered the workforce as professionals in large numbers, there was a phenomenon of men becoming angry and resentful of their wives’ success. The man would feel upstaged by a woman whose earning power exceeded his. When I mentioned the phenomenon to my husband, he commented, “Let’s give it a try!”

It is only when each person begins to see the other as an asset and not a competitor that couples can really become strong and feel secure. When a husband takes pride in his wife’s achievements in her home and professional life and a woman similarly appreciates her husband’s accomplishments in his life, then both feel loved and secure and both can enjoy the fruits of their labor. Praise and appreciation from others feels good. Praise and appreciation from a spouse is a precious gift that only a spouse can give.

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