Love is not a zero-sum game

Some couples seem to be constantly keeping score – every encounter is a battle with a winner and a loser. Others seem to find solutions that mean they both win.

In game theory, a zero-sum game is one in which the total score is zero. In a game of poker, for example, any money won by one player is lost by another. There are other kinds of games, including cooperative computer games, where working together leads to better outcomes for both players.

Couples relationships are not zero-sum games, but some couples live as though they are - constantly trying to score point against or "one up" their partners. Those couples tend not to stay together, or to enjoy life much if they do, because every time they interact there has to be a loser. The least painful possible outcome is a tie, but both are playing to win.

Couples who know how to cooperate, to work together in the same direction toward the same shared goals, tend to prosper and be happy together. Even when circumstances go against them – loss of a job, health crises, other challenges within and outside the relationship – they see their relationship as ‘the two of us together against the challenge’, not ‘me against both you and the challenge’.

Recognising that in a successful relationship, you are truly partners working on the same team towards the same goals will help you move your relationship to one where you both win and share each other success.

Sue Geelan is a solution-focused counsellor and relationship educator. She offers pre-marital counselling and couples counselling to help couples create and put the steps in place to achieve their ideal future together. Check out her services here or send her an email at sue@metanao.com.au.

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