What does healthy competition in relationships look like?
Couples who play together stay together. I love this expression and it rings true for me. If two people can sing, dance, paint, hike, bike or swim together, and support each other despite different levels of ability, I believe they are on to a good thing. My husband and I did most of our courting on mountain bikes. I remember one bike ride clearly – I was struggling to get up a steep slope and he was pedalling alongside me, cheering me on. Without his support, I likely would have got off and walked. As it was, I made it to the top without putting my feet down.
When it comes to mountain biking, I can’t compete with my husband – he’s bigger, stronger and faster than me – but we still enjoy biking together. As a laid-back guy, he’s happy to go at my pace, to wait for me now and then and to tell me that I can do it when I think I can’t. He encourages me but doesn’t push me. Not everyone is like this.
I remember cycling with a man who mocked me when I fell off my bike and huffed and puffed when he had to wait for me and others in the group. His attitude knocked my confidence and shook my self-esteem. I left that ride feeling less than, feeling small. We have a choice in relationships – we can find someone who will build us up, whatever our ability, or we can settle for someone who will bring us down. So how do we know we’re making the right choice, especially in the early stages of a relationship?
Let’s explore a scenario. Let’s imagine, since it’s summer, that your online date invites you to go paddle boarding, something you’ve never done before. Now, imagine that you wobble on the board, stumble and then fall in the water, all of which are highly likely. Your date either laughs along with you, encouraging you to get back on the board and reassuring you that everyone falls in on their first try, or your date laughs at you, says something cutting and then paddles off at great speed.
In both cases, you’re going to have a reaction and it’s vital that you listen to this reaction, because what’s key in dating is to pay attention to how you feel when you’re with the person. Hopefully, in the first scenario, you’re soaking wet but feeling happy. You’ve tried a new activity with someone you like and it felt like your date was in your corner, on your side.
In the second scenario, you’re soaking wet and feeling small. You may think that you want to be in a relationship with your date, not least for their paddle boarding prowess and perhaps for their good looks or something else, but your feelings tell you differently. Listen to these feelings – they are a message from God and from your true, authentic self – and then find the courage to follow their guide. It will be easier to find this courage if you have healthy self-esteem and if you’re not craving love and affection, because this craving always gets us into trouble.
Of course, there’s another scenario where both you and your date turn out to be excellent paddle boarders. You race each other down the river, laughing as you go. This kind of healthy competition brings a sense of playfulness and increases a sense of mutual attraction.
Now, imagine you’re a few months into a relationship. Your partner loves to paddle board, or cycle, or dance or listen to live music but you’ve decided these activities aren’t for you. Do you encourage your partner to go and do what he or she loves with friends while you do something you enjoy, or are you possessive of your partner, sulking until he or she agrees to stay home? And how is your partner with you when you want to go out with your pals?
While I love cycling with my husband, I also recognise that there are times when he wants to go at full speed, so I encourage him to cycle regularly with people of his ability while I do something else. We do plenty of activities together. But it’s also healthy to have our own hobbies and to have some time apart.
Difference is healthy. Separateness is healthy. Competition is healthy. And mutual support and encouragement are healthy too. Listen to your feelings – does your date or your fledgling relationship feel healthy to you?
Read more of Katherine’s posts for Christian Connection here.