What “Winning” Really Means In Relationships

"Winning" is popping everywhere as a buzzword these days thanks to Charlie Sheen. But how should you define "winning" in the relationship context? Find out here.

By Laura Schaefer

o Charlie Sheen, "winning" apparently means never apologizing. To some, he's a hero for continuously thumbing his nose (and much worse) at his employers, romantic partners, and civility itself, but to most, he's a fool. However you slice it, Sheen certainly brought new meaning to the concept of the word itself. Within days of his public meltdown, millions
This concept rings a bell because it is part of human nature.
of people were throwing it around like it was the new universal slang term implying something was "cool" or "crazy" — but maybe you're not buying what Sheen is selling. If you're less interested in what a bad-boy celebrity has to say about the subject and more interested in what winning actually means in the context of a healthy relationship, read on…

1. Winning is a two-way street.
The problem with applying the word "winning" to love (or life, for that matter) is that it implies someone else is losing. If you're in a relationship where this is the case, it won't last — and it shouldn't, either. Dr. Pat Love, coauthor of Hot Monogamy and Never Be Lonely Again (HCI Publications, 2011), says: "When Charlie Sheen talks about winning, it seems to me he means, 'I'm getting my way. I'm in control. You are doing what I want you to do.' This concept rings a bell because it is part of human nature to want things to go our way." Sheen's attitude may make people shake their heads, but it also attracts fans by appealing to the part of human nature that doesn't want to grow up. "My way or your way, however, is not always what's best for the relationship," Love continues. "If you talk about a winning relationship, you'd never think it was one-sided." Finding a way to behave and have a relationship that meets someone else's needs in addition to your own is the real victory.

2. Winning means always being open and honest.
At the beginning of the hilarious movie Bridesmaids, Annie — played by Kristen Wiig — sneaks out of bed in the morning to put makeup on before Jon Hamm's character awakens. The audience giggles because we know she's definitely not the winner in this scenario. We've all had our moments trying to impress someone new, and yet, we all know that love shouldn't be that much work. Marty Babits, author of The Power of the Middle Ground: A Couple's Guide to Renewing Your Relationship (Prometheus, 2009), says: "Winning in a relationship means that the way you appreciate and acknowledge each other allows each of you to be who you are without having to lose yourself in order to share the connection." In other words, if you can't be yourself with your partner, you're already losing. Babits asks, "Can you speak about your feelings, make yourself vulnerable and feel support and interest from your partner when you do? Can you speak openly of your hopes and dreams? If the answers are 'Yes,' the relationship may have potential to blossom."

3. Winning requires good communication skills.
A healthy, fulfilling relationship takes some effort, because two people — no matter how compatible they are or how strong their attraction to each other — are going to have issues and differing expectations at some point. The bad-boy celebrity method for dealing with these issues might include moving on to a new partner or escaping into the world of video games or intoxicants, but the only way to really win involves talking things out together. According to Maryanne
The problem with this paradigm is that it does not hold up to rigorous research.
Fisher, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychology at St. Mary's University in Halifax, Canada and coauthor of The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Chemistry of Love, "The research shows that happy couples in healthy relationships communicate openly and frequently. If one waits until there is a problem to [say anything], then the only communication is going to be when something is wrong. Each person also has to listen, though — it's not simply the act of communicating that is important, but also [hearing and] receiving it." Take the time to regularly connect with your partner in conversations over matters large and small (and be present when you're doing so) if you want to win at love.

4. Winning is about giving and taking in equal measures.
If you really want a victorious relationship, don't parrot Janet Jackson's lyrics by asking your partner, "What have you done for me lately?" (Not often, at least.) "If you research the word 'love' in Western literature, you come up with something like: 'Love is a response to getting your needs met.' The problem with this paradigm is that it does not hold up to rigorous research. You can get pleasure from getting your needs met, but never happiness," Love observes. And what is the point of winning if it doesn't make you happy? Sure, finding someone to rub your feet and feed you peeled grapes sounds like relationship paradise, but true happiness is a wily beast and requires some give-and-take from both partners. Dr. Love continues, "If you look up the word 'love' in Eastern literature, the definition varies decidedly. It goes something like this: 'Love is the wish to make someone happy.' Wow, a very different approach! In this model, you can see how everyone — including the relationship — wins."

5. Winning comes from bringing out the best in each other.
Relationships aren't competitions; rather, they offer springboards for both partners to become more than they could on their own. Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, columnist for the Washington Post Express and author of The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing, and Keeping Up with Your Friends, says: "In a healthy, happy relationship, each person brings out the best qualities in the other while finding a way for your relative weaknesses to be neutralized and even embraced. Compatible mates are able to motivate each other to reach their full potential as individuals." Dr. Maryanne Fisher agrees: "If you are in a relationship and are trying to decide if it's a good one, think about how you feel. Does the person drain you or energize you? Do you like [this individual] as a person and like how you are [when you are together]?" A winning relationship should provide the support each person needs in order to become, as Oprah Winfrey would say, his or her "best self."

Laura Schaefer the author of The Teashop Girls and The Secret Ingredient. Visit her winning website at
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