One of the most “popular” mind games that so many of us play is also the game that causes destruction and pain. This is the game that nobody wins.
The Comparison Game.
You might play it too.
Do you compare yourself to others?
At a party, do you look around at the other men or women and judge how attractive/thin/fit/muscular/successful you are compared to them? This can make or break your night!
Do you think about your partner's exes and think about how you believe you measure up against them? Whether it's performance in bed, appearance, how much money you make or how deeply you love your partner, you might spend a lot of time trying to figure out how you stack up against your partner's past loves.
Do you compare your partner with others?
Do you line up your current partner's behavior and words against your memories of those of your ex to see how similar or different they are? If your partner says something that reminds you of your ex-- who betrayed you-- it could feel like a fait accompli that this relationship is just as doomed!
Do you congratulate yourself on finally picking a great partner compared with how mean/self-centered/lying/cheating/dull/passionless (or other adjectives) your ex was? This can feel good in the moment and it's fine to notice your growth.
But, this continued focus will keep you with one foot stuck in the past which makes it really difficult to fully engage with your relationship in the now.
The comparison game can happen frequently or occasionally. It can be about any number of personality or achievement attributes. You might mostly deem yourself (or your partner) to be the “winner” or “loser.”
Still, the habit of comparing yourself or your partner to others is one that will cause trouble in your relationship, will trigger and inflame jealousy and will undermine your confidence and self worth.
Every. Single. Time.
Even if you judge yourself as better than others in some way, you'll probably feel fearful about keeping that edge. If you are sure that your current partner is the best you've ever had, you might be so focused on how he or she is not your ex, you're going to miss out on connecting in the here and now.
It's natural to look for external indicators of how you're doing in life. Most of us grow up feeling some sense of how we “rank” with our peers. Comparing a current experience with the past provides a frame of reference that can be helpful in some ways.
But, while it's natural and normal to play the comparison game, it's not beneficial to spend your time or energy doing this.
Remember, YOU get to choose what you will focus on and practice.
The more you practice the dangerous comparison game, the more your sense of self-worth or appreciation for your relationship will be dependent on how you believe you compare.
It's a tenuous and shaky foundation for both self esteem and a healthy, happy relationship.
Interrupt your comparison game.
If you spend time on the comparison game (even if it doesn't seem like much time to you), be aware of what you're doing and interrupt yourself. This is kind of like stopping a toddler before he or she touches the hot burner on a stove.
See what's happening in your mind and interrupt yourself. The interruption can be you literally saying to yourself, “STOP!” It could be you laughing and thinking, “There I go, comparing again.”
The interruption might involve physical movement too. Some people find it helpful to literally move their bodies. Get up from your chair. Step outside to clear your head. Put on some music. Do whatever it takes to stop the momentum of the comparison game.
Whatever you can do to pause and give yourself a chance to make a choice about what you will continue to focus upon, the more in control of your own happiness and fulfillment you will be.
Listen to the need behind the game.
After the interruption, get curious. Try to understand what is pulling you to compare yourself (or your partner) to others. Look behind the game and figure out what your need is right now.
This might mean that you have a need to feel important, special or valuable-- to yourself and/or to your partner. It could mean that something about your relationship feels lacking. If so, what is it?
The more you can uncover what you need at this moment without blame or getting stuck in a story of why you do (or don't) deserve to have your need met, the easier this process will be.
Once you know what your need is, take steps to have that need met. You're going to feel more fulfilled and confident about yourself and your relationship if you can meet your own needs as best as you can.
Is there are way you can affirm to yourself that you do matter and that you are special?
Find ways to appreciate and value yourself-- and your partner-- that don't involve a comparison. This is new way of thinking for many of us, so keep trying. The more you practice, the more adept you'll get at this.
We don't mean that your partner is off the hook and gets to mistreat you. Make requests and set boundaries to ensure that your partner is giving you the kind of love and kindness you're craving.
Just know that you can more fully receive love, attention and respect from your partner when you don't make him or her solely responsible for how you feel about yourself.
Remember, the comparison game starts with you and it can stop with you. Free yourself to live and love the way that you want to.
Susie and Otto Collins are relationship coaches and authors who help couples communicate, connect and create the relationship they desire. Click here to get their free ebook, Passionate Heart-Lasting Love.