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"I Can Do it Better": When Competition Creeps into Marriage

  • Deborah Raney and Tobi Layton Contributing Writers
  • Updated May 28, 2009
"I Can Do it Better": When Competition Creeps into Marriage

A fresh perspective…
Tobi Layton

I believe Annie Oakley said it best in the musical, Annie, Get Your Guns. In a spirited argument with her beau, she sang at the top of her lungs, "Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you." I must admit, though I haven’t belted out these words to my husband, I have sent him that message loud and clear.

Maybe it’s my competitive spirit. I still gloat about schooling Ryan in the egg hunt competition our first Easter at his parents’ house. OK, so maybe it wasn’t a competition, but I won. By four eggs. On his turf!

Or maybe it’s my perfectionism. For some reason I can’t help but think about–okay comment on–Ryan’s sub par efforts around our house. I think I’m doing him a service by instructing him in the art of proper dish rinsing, laundry skills, and vacuum routes. It didn’t bother him all that much until recently, because, quite frankly, he didn’t rinse dishes, do laundry, or vacuum all that often. (Come to think of it, maybe there’s a connection…)

After the birth of our son, Reed, Ryan called me on my critical attitude. I assumed that since I was home all day on maternity leave with Reed, I was the resident parenting expert. So, when Ryan tried to console Reed by holding him tight to his chest, I felt it my duty to inform him that his method was restricting, Reed didn’t like it, and he should do it my way.

Ryan did not appreciate my helpful advice. In fact, I think it hurt his feelings. And I now realize it should have. In the few short weeks of our son’s life, I have learned that, while Ryan doesn’t do everything exactly like me, he is a wonderful father. To criticize his interactions with his son is insulting. In fact, it is our unique parenting styles that will make us, I hope, a great team.

As for the chores, I’m learning to bite my tongue, and hoping that my silence may buy me a few more loads of laundry done.

A seasoned perspective…
Deborah Raney

During my childhood and teen years, I never cared if I won the Monopoly or Old Maid games my siblings and I played. I was never involved in sports, with its goals of making the most points, breaking the record, winning the game. I rarely worried about whether I got better grades than my friends, or whether I was thinner or prettier or had a cuter wardrobe. I just never felt the need to be best, most, greatest, smartest or any other superlative. I was simply content with whatever happened to come my way.

My husband, on the other hand, has been an athlete his entire life, and his motto in sports and in life is "play to win." There’s nothing more frustrating to a competitive person than one who doesn’t give a hoot. Ken would say, "Why even bother playing a game if you don’t care about the outcome?"

Early in our marriage, he would try to challenge me to achieve something I desired by "betting" me I couldn’t do it. But a challenge that would have guaranteed his own success, spelled doom for mine. As soon as Ken said, "I bet you can’t…" my response was "You’re probably right, so why should I even try?" (He’s since learned to use reverse psychology to his advantage: "Hey, babe, I bet you could make even better oatmeal raisin cookies than my mom." Well, don’t you know, if he thinks that highly of me, I’m sure gonna try!)

Unfortunately, marriage (or maybe just human nature) did unlock a bit of competitiveness in me—at least it unlocked an aspect of that trait that I’d never seen for what it was: the old "my needs are more important than your needs" monster. Sadly, Ken and I have seen too many marriages destroyed by unhealthy competition that started out with seemingly trivial issues: "I took out the garbage last week, it’s your turn; I shouldn’t have to do the dishes since I worked more hours than you did today; I’m not filling the car up with gas because I’ve done it the last two times." Does this sound familiar?

We’re human, so we’ll always have to beware of negative competition and criticism—the evil twins of selfishness. Though we’re not always successful, Ken and I determined years ago that if we were going to compete with each other, we’d be better off making it a competition to see who could most selflessly meet the needs of the other, who could lavish the nicest compliments on the other, who could be the most thoughtful, the kindest, the most loving, the most giving.

In these kinds of competitions, everybody’s a winner. Count me in.


Read Philippians 2:1-8 and Matthew 7:12

1. Can competition ever be a healthy thing in a marriage? What about criticism? Explain why or why not.

2. If you struggle with a competitive or critical spirit, does it manifest itself more with your spouse than with others? If so, why might this be?

3. Can you trace your (or your spouse’s) competitive or critical nature back to childhood? Do you think these traits are inherited, or learned?

4. What would be the opposite of a competitive spirit? What would be the opposite of a critical spirit?

5. After reading the Scriptures above, think of ways you can begin today to counteract the effects of negative competition or criticism in your marriage.

Deborah Raney is at work on her nineteenth novel. Her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, Silver Angel for Excellence in Media, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. Her newest series, the Hanover Falls Novels, will release from Howard/Simon & Schuster. She and her husband, Ken Raney, have been married for 35 years. They have four children, two little grandsons, and enjoy small- town life in Kansas. Visit Deborah's website at

Tobi Layton is a fifth grade teacher and freelance writer in southeast Missouri. Tobi has been married for eight years to Ryan Layton, a high school biology teacher. Tobi and Ryan are involved with the high school and junior high youth groups at their church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The Laytons have two sons.

Tobi Layton is the daughter of Ken and Deborah Raney. The Raneys and the Laytons share an August 11 wedding anniversary.