Cooperation vs. Competition

By: T.W. Winslow

Who of us involved in a long term relationship hasn't fallen into the trap of obsessing over those little things which our partners do (or don't do)?   We have to continually remind ourselves that marriage and other long term relationships are very much a cooperation.  When we turn these into a competition we run the risk of generating feelings of resentment, anger, and stress.  The thing about competition is, by definition, it requires a winner and a loser.

I know in my own marriage there seems to be two things which can cause the most difficulty; keeping score and playing the blame game.  Both share one thing in common, they pit one partner against the other -- removing the cooperation from the relationship and turning it into a competition.


We're probably all guilty of doing this one -- confronting our partners with a list of all the things we've done and pointing out how little they (at least in our minds) have contributed to the relationship.  "I did this, and this, and this, and this, and you couldn't even do...".

Keeping score has no place in a loving and healthy relationship.  Many have said relationships are a 50/50 proposition, but that really isn't true.  Relationships are almost never an equal 50/50 split.  Often they are more of an 80/20 proposition or 40/60.  Trying to achieve an equal 50/50 spilt is a waste of time and a potentially destructive practice.

Sure, there are times when we give more to the relationship than our partners.  But let's not forget all those times when we've dropped the ball and our partners were the ones carrying the brunt of the load.


Sounds like some wacky daytime game show, but this most definitely is a game which has no winner.  Much like keeping score, the blame game is all about competition and controversy.  When things go wrong the easiest thing in the world is to blame our partners, even when it's not their fault.  "What did
you have to do that for?  Now look what happened!"  "You always ...".  "You never...".  "That's not the way to do it.  Let me show you the right way."

When we fall into the trap of finger pointing, we need to ask ourselves, what are we trying to accomplish?  Are we really attempting to help our partner or are we just taking our frustrations out on them?  By playing the blame game, we're basically telling our partners they aren't good enough -- that they are wrong and we are right.

If this is allowed to continue, at some point they'll eventually reach their breaking point.  When this happens, we can expect two things. First, they will simply agree with us, "Yes, you're right and I'm wrong."  The second thing that will happen is they'll close the door behind them and never return.


Keeping score and playing the blame game are only two of many things which discourage cooperation and breed competition.  I'm sure if you think about it, you can identify several things which you and/or your partner do which interjects competition into your relationship.

One relationship expert suggests doing the following:

(Note: In this exercise, you DO NOT need to show your lists to each other -- unless you both decide to do so.)

  1. Take out paper and pen and, working separately, each of you write down five things which you dislike about your partner.  (Things about them, things which they do, don't do, etc.).  This should be done quickly, only give yourselves a minute or two to complete your lists.  Just write down the first
    thing that comes to mind.
  2. Now, each of you make a list of five things which you love about your partner.  Again, do this quickly and write down the first thing that comes to mind.
  3. Once you've both finished (or time has run out), talk about which list was easier to make.  What you'll find (I hope), is the second list was much easier to make.
  4. Then, ask yourselves which of the two lists do you spend the most time focusing on in your relationship?  Most people find it is the first list.
  5. Now ask yourselves which of the two lists are more important?

This should give you both something to think about.  If list number two was the easiest to make and is the most important, then do the things in list number one really matter?  If not, then let those things go and start focusing your attention and energy on those things which are positive and bring love and happiness into your relationship.

Someone once said, "You're either part of the problem or part of the solution."  It's up to each of us to take an active role in our relationships.  Do away with those things which are destructive.  Remove the
elements of competition and focus on those things which promote cooperation.  As a daily reminder, you might want to save the second list you made and put it in a place where you'll be sure to see it every day.

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