When I met my wife, Cindy, we were both amazed at how similar we were in so many ways. We are both type-A personalities — intense, goal-oriented, success-driven. It felt so exciting to be with someone with whom I had so much in common. We were both on the fast-track professionally, working hard at good jobs. We were both voracious readers and competitive athletes. We saw ourselves as a power couple. We also both believed in giving back by volunteering and helping out others in meaningful ways.
The problem is that at this stage of our lives, married close to ten years, I feel like everything between us is a competition. The thrill of “winning” is no longer important to me. Yes, I’m still driven, but I’m not in competition with Cindy. I can be happy about her achievements as much as I am happy about my own. I don’t have to outshine her in any way. Unfortunately, I don’t think the feelings are mutual.
It seems so ingrained in Cindy to always “one up” me. If I tell her I got a raise, rather than congratulate me and tell me how happy she is for me and the family, she’ll start talking about her last raise and how it was bigger than mine. If I talk about some of my friends, she’ll make it clear that she has more friends than I do. It is ridiculous and upsetting. She is even competitive regarding our children — which of us is a better parent, or which one of us the children love more. It’s insane!
I tell her that I’ve grown up and don’t want to compete anymore. I don’t need to be the best. I don’t need to win. I don’t need to outdo her. But somehow, Cindy is not being receptive. She is the same young woman I met years ago, but without the fun, exciting edge. I just don’t know how to deal with her anymore. Though I originally loved the idea of being married to such a successful individual, at this point in my life, the thought of being married to a chilled, easygoing, relaxed woman who stays at home watching our kids and supporting my efforts fills me with longing. I don’t need us to be a power couple anymore. I don’t need any of it.
Is there any way for me to get through to Cindy that it’s getting harder and harder for me to deal with her constant competing?
There are big changes taking place, and so far they don’t include Cindy. Sadly, the qualities that originally drew you to Cindy are no longer attractive to you. Perhaps those qualities might still be engaging if they hadn’t taken on what sounds like a mean undertone. It seems like when the two of you first met, there was a lightheartedness and joy in your competitive natures and a mutual appreciation for one another’s successes. All that good-natured rivalry has turned into plain old rivalry, without any joy or fun.
And now you find yourself pining for the simpler things in life: a sweet wife, waiting at home for you to return from work, possibly with a terrific homemade meal waiting for you and an eagerness to hear all about your day. Well, I can tell you right now that your chances of ever getting that from Cindy are slim to nil. That is simply not the woman you married and, frankly, it would be unfair of you to expect Cindy to morph into any version of such a woman.
One has to wonder whether there is some kind of middle ground where the two of you can meet. Even if Cindy never gives up her high-powered position, could she at least change her attitude toward work, competitive actions, and, more importantly, toward you?
You say you’ve tried talking to her and explaining your new attitude. Sometimes, actions speak louder than words. I often say that if you don’t get into the boxing ring with the other person, a boxing match will never take place. What that means in real time is that when Cindy begins her comparisons and discussions about who is better, more, greater, you simply don’t respond. Just smile, nod your head, and let her state her opinions. If you don’t debate her findings, the thrill for her will be gone and the excitement over winning the competition will be void. I have to wonder if, over time, Cindy will begin to realize that she has no sparring partner, no captive audience, no one to care about her achievements to such an extent, and if and when she connects the dots, my hope is that she’ll begin to rethink her efforts.
If all else fails and Cindy finds it impossible to back down from her need to always compete and win (and brag about it), I strongly suggest that you bring Cindy and this matter to a good couples therapist. There’s probably more to this story, possibly old childhood wounds, playing into her behavior. You’ve never been one to give up, so now would certainly not be the time to start!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.