How to help SO lose gracefully in games?

Hakaishin 09/17/2018. 11 answers, 7.544 views
relationships games

My SO and I like to play card and boardgames from time to time. The problem is she always throws a tantrum when losing(crying, being mad).

When she gets the slightest bit behind in any game, she gets apathetic and says the game is stupid or there is no sense in playing, it's over anyways (but it's more like losing 1 point in tennis than a 7-0 in football). But when she is winning she is super happy and has fun. I really like to see her win and have fun, but it takes the fun out of playing when she wants to stop if I get ahead a bit. I talked about it with her, but she always says she can't help it that's just the way she reacts to losing. When I say but then it's not fun for me she says we should just stop playing. But I clearly see that she is having fun and enjoying the games too when winning and it would be a pity to give that up.

How can I help her to not get sad/mad when being behind or losing?

I tried to explain her that it is just a game and it's more about fun and being together, but this didn't help. I'm 24 and she is 29, so it's no teenage problem. Any advice?

11 Answers


Belle-Sophie 09/18/2018.

I've been a bad loser. I've thrown tantrums like you describe your girlfriend does. I have recovered (reasonably), but it took me years. Your girlfriend may have different variables during her recovery, so it may take longer or shorter, but it will far from instant.

This is something you can't solve for your girlfriend. She has to learn to accept that losing is okay. This is something she has to do and you can only support her, so don't blame yourself if you don't succeed. Let's outline a few steps you can take. There are two sides to this answer, but they are tightly interwoven. An interpersonal one for you and an intrapersonal one for your girlfriend. This site is called Interpersonal skills, so I'll focus on your interpersonal skills, but I think focusing on her intrapersonal skills is important here too.


Most importantly, don't judge. Not in the moment, not afterward. The feeling of losing is not a fun one, to no one. We can learn to cope with it, but it will never be fun. Judging her for feeling bad won't make her feel better.

Do not try to provide criticism in the moment. Someone who is experiencing strong negative emotions is rarely receptive to criticism. Instead show support. Relate to her. Losing does suck, but it's also part of life. Don't rub the "it's part of life in", but don't leave it out either. You don't want to make her feel worse, but at the same time you don't want to reward her for throwing a fit.

Help her figure out why she hates losing. You can try a little mind game with her, this one worked with me. (When she's feeling happy or neutral, not after she has just lost or is feeling tired)

Why do we play games? Are games fun if we always win? Your first answer may be "of course!". But is that the case? Imagine a computer game for a moment. The moment you start it, 5 seconds in, it shows the screen "you win!". You won. Does that game sound fun to you? Winning is fun if we overcome a challenge. A game needs a challenge. More difficult challenges that we can still win are often most fun. Ever played this really difficult game of chess that you barely won? That is a great feeling.

Games are most fun when we play it in a level that is close to our skill level. To be able to have a meaningful win, we must have losses sometimes. Wins don't mean anything without a loss.

A loss allows us to reflect on how we can improve and to get better. A loss is a game on it's own. Losing is just an opportunity to improve. Getting back up, getting better and learning, that's the goal. Maybe it's the journey, not the destination?

This is a mindset, some people have it naturally (like you, it seems), others can be taught (like me and your girlfriend). Changing a mindset is not easy. As I said earier, you can only support her, but she needs your support. Be gentle and don't force your opinions on her (yes, I share your opinion on winning/losing now, but don't forget that a mindset is still an opinion!) or you will be met with stubbornness. Be her ally, not her enemy.

That can be a tactic even. Challenge a game together or even other players. I love 2v2 matches with my boyfriend in World of Warcraft, for example. We fight a common enemy. If we lose, we'll talk about how we can improve. Not blaming the other person is something I had to work on here.

For working together, I can recommend Minecraft (preferably a quest pack with goals) for a computer game or Pandemic and Arkham Horror for board games.


A final note: games have a degree of chance and a degree of skill. Some games are 100% chance (roulette) and other games are 100% skill (chess), but most games are inbetween. Dealing with losses in chance games is different than dealing with losses in skill games, but it sometimes gets difficult when a game has both elements. I dealt with games with mainly skill elements in my answer. Chance elements require a different but similar approach. In the first stages of recovering, I found it difficult to deal with losses in games that had both elements, even if I could handle the elements seperately.


peufeu 09/18/2018.

Why not invite more people to play?

Having 4 players instead of 2 means even if she's 2nd or 3rd, she still wins over the last one. The result would depend on whether she wants to win over someone, or finish first though...

If the 3 other players are having fun, she will feel more pressure to not leave and spoil the game (ie, exploit peer pressure). Having only 2 players allows her to control the game: if she leaves, the game ends. Having 3-4 players prevents this. Even if she leaves, you can finish the game with the others while she sulks and pouts and feels like the sore loser. That should be educational ;)


jcmack 09/18/2018.

Try cooperative board games where you have to work together to win instead of competing against each other. I personally recommend Forbidden Island and Arkham Horror.

Background: My wife has similar temper tantrums when she loses and I have to throw the game for her to feel better. She tells me this is because sometimes (more like always) she just wants to be spoiled like a kid. But losing on purpose is very boring for me and she gets mad if I make it too obvious I'm throwing the game.

Comparing with the other answers on this question: Playing a group doesn't work, because she wants to always to be able to beat 1 person which usually becomes me. The peer pressure to be a good sport doesn't affect her. Educational route teaching her good sportsmanship didn't work, because she's not interested in changing. Given her other good qualities, bad sportsmanship isn't a deal breaker for me. The compromise we reached is to play cooperative board games together.


Ontamu 09/18/2018.

There isn't anything that can completely solve your issue as it just comes down to personality. Some people just don't take losing well.

Except for the already suggested Co-Op games that should work well because you are not competing with each other I would suggest getting some more Euro Style* games where there are multiple strategies for victory and it isn't very clear who is ahead before the final scoring.7 Wonders is a good example and recently I got Endevor: Age of Sail that I think would work very well. Both don't even have a scoreboard they are just scored at the end of the game and require a decent amount of strategy. Also there are games that are competitive but have some co-op elements that should work beautifully in your case. Between Two Cities comes to mind.

To sum it up just buy games without scoreboards, there are plenty.


*"Euro style" is a category of games that are popular in Europe, many of which are from Germany, that tend to focus on mechanics/strategy over story/looks, and often involve a hidden score mechanic and no way to eliminate players. They often also have reduced ability to screw over other players during the game. (Erik's definition is exactly on point so I think it should be part of the answer not the comments)


Astralbee 09/18/2018.

Try and think why she might behave this way. Everybody thinks differently and not everyone finds enjoyment in the same things. I think perhaps the thing some people don't enjoy about board games and card games is that, while there is a small amount of "skill" in understanding the rules and strategies, they are mostly dependent on random chance - the order into which the cards are shuffled, or the roll of the dice. To some that can seem exciting or fun, but to others it is just frustrating. Does perhaps your SO think this way?

It may also be possible that your SO has some insecurities that surface when she loses at games like this? I don't want to make assumptions, but most people in relationships want to feel equal, yet have a hard time accepting that two people can be different in skill sets and abilities but still be "equal". For example one person in a relationship may earn slightly more than the other, or have slightly more academic qualifications. Things like this can cause insecurities in some. It may be that the imbalance she sees in the number of games she wins to you (you suggested in a comment that you win 60-70% of the time) makes her feel less of an equal, or plays on an insecurity she already has about something else.

One way you could try and adjust her thinking without a confrontation would be to set the example when losing yourself. Rather than "let her win", which is frankly patronising and something you would do to pacify a child, why not look for some kind of recreational activity in which you think she would legitimately kick your backside. There must be something in which you think her skills or ability, be it athletic, mental, whatever, would beat you. See, if you believe that the fun in playing games is in the playing, not the winning, then this won't matter to you. And after she's trounced you, have a laugh about it. Big her up without patronising her, but most importantly show that you enjoyed the activity. Set the example for being a good sport and a gracious loser.

You may want to talk to your SO about it at a time when she hasn't just lost a game to you. Perhaps before you begin a game.

You might say something like:

Before we begin, I just want to say that I like playing games, and I like being with you. I don't care who wins or loses, it doesn't mean anything.

I think this will reassure her in two ways - firstly that there isn't any meaning attached to winning a game, but secondly that you play games with her because you want to spend time with her.


NotThatGuy 09/18/2018.

Focus on the positive

Board games often have many dimensions and someone may be ahead in one (or a few) dimensions, while being behind in others. For example, you may have a lot of "points", which may be how the game is ultimately scored, but she has plenty of "resources", which can be used to gain "points" in the long term (trying to keep the example general).

If she complains, you can highlight one part of the game which is going well for her.

This could (a) distract her from complaining or thinking about the big picture by giving her something to focus on, (b) get her to think of the other dimensions of the game and (c) point her towards a strategy that might help her win.

Her: There is no sense in playing, it's over anyways.

You: Well, I'm going to get a hard time winning against that giant army of yours.

OR

You: With all those mines you'll probably catch up in no time.

OR

You: I'll have a hard time winning if you manage to promote that pawn of yours.

Don't directly disagree with her or invalidate her feelings

If she says "it's over", don't say "it's not over" nor "don't say that".

That's more confrontational and is thus more likely to make her defensive and less open to changing her mind.

Keep it light-hearted

This one may or may not work, depending on her personality and your delivery, but you could try some light-hearted humour in response to what she says.

You could also combine this with focusing on the positive.

Her: There is no sense in playing, it's over anyways.

You: You're just trying to get me to let my guard down to buy you some time to finish that barracks of yours, aren't you?

Remind her of when she caught up

If you can highlight a specific time when she was behind and managed to catch up and win, that could help her believe there's still a chance she can win.

Specifics about the game would help, to make it easier to compare, but don't worry too much if you can't get it 100% right (or if you get it largely wrong, for that matter).

Her: There is no sense in playing, it's over anyways.

You: It's only 10-5. Didn't you manage to win from 10-4 last week?


delinear 09/18/2018.

As I mentioned in the comments elsewhere, it could be that you need to spend some time investigating other types of games. Perhaps your SO feels that the games you are playing are tailored more towards your own particular strengths, and so it's not that she is particularly bad, but that she has a natural disadvantage before the game even begins.

As an example, my own SO is dyslexic/dyscalculic. As a result, she tends to not like games that are overly focused on maths or have lots of text - even though she's more than smart enough to play such games, she feels she is at a disadvantage before the game even begins, and it's not one she can overcome simply by playing more or getting better at the game.

Instead, she's creative and enjoys games that are focused more on story-telling, or art. We enjoy Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective because it's story based, working co-operatively to solve a mystery, while allowing me to do most of the reading and not disadvantaging her as a result (and while it's co-operative, it still allows each person to shine by figuring out different parts of the mystery and feeling smart about it). We also enjoy games like Mysterium, which revolve more around social deduction and again there's no reading, just lots of gorgeous art. Dexterity games, such as Flick 'Em Up or Catacombs also go down really well (additionally if one person is unnaturally good at such games, they're easy to houserule handicap rules for).

Try to figure out which aspects of the games you have played with your SO she has enjoyed the most, and which aspects she has enjoyed the least (I know you said losing in general, but does it seem more like she dislikes losing due to an aspect of the game she finds personally challenging, or an aspect of the game that's luck-based and outside of her control, etc), this could tell you a lot.

Additionally, perhaps it's the type of game, or perhaps she doesn't like that the game itself places you both in direct conflict. Again, while you have said you don't necessarily want to play co-operative games, you might find some success playing so called semi-co-operative games (games where you are ostensibly both playing on the same side against the game's mechanics, but you still have your own individual victory conditions, so that there's still an overall winner but minus the direct confrontation aspect).

I'm the kind of person who doesn't necessarily enjoy confrontational games, and while I really enjoy co-op games as a result (for me the experience is worth more than the win), semi-co-ops are a good compromise if you want to keep things a little competitive without necessarily feeling like you're deliberately attacking the other player for the duration of the game.


Juan Carlos Oropeza 09/18/2018.

If she is fan of sports, find a game where her favorite team overcome a very big deficit.

Her: There is no sense in playing, it's over anyways.

You: Did the Patriots quit when were losing by 28 points? No, they keep playing and won the super bowl.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=016LXFHpFCk

Or something like this:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAPmqbY6Omw

You can also share and discuss quotes like:

enter image description here

As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, "How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?" Edison replied, "I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps."


Upper_Case 09/18/2018.

Lots of good answers here already, but I wanted to add one thing I didn't see:

Re-emphasize game elements other than winning

It's frustrating to try to play a strong game and then fall short (my friends and I had to institute an "it's fun to win" rule so that the person who was clearly going to win games of Risk could actually do so). But winning and losing comprise barely any of the time spent playing most games!

Games are usually about making interesting choices, and those are still possible even if it seems like you're going to lose. In many games it's not even possible to make that assessment until the game is essentially concluded anyways (how else could you analyze the consequences of your strategies?). This is very person-dependent, but if you can help her "find the fun" in gameplay rather than game conclusions it could go a long way towards avoiding these ruts.

Optional: No Compromise

I, personally, don't have much patience for "it's just how I react" arguments. Most people react as your girlfriend does when losing games-- from ages 4 to 7. Most people subsequently mature and grow out of it. Even if it's how your girlfriend "naturally" reacts to not obviously winning that's hardly an immutable trait. I doubt you would accept the position if her response to losing were arson rather than a tantrum.

I've spent time with people who behave similarly to your girlfriend in this way, and unless I perceive some efforts to improve this childish behavior I don't play those sorts of games with them. Period. We can hang out and do other things, but if playing games with them is likely to not be fun due to potential explosions I'd rather do something where fun is more likely. If you two simply have non-overlapping approaches to what makes games fun and worthwhile, and neither of you will budge then there's little point in forcing the activity.


JCJ 09/18/2018.

Others suggest that you focus on cooperative games to avoid the situation altogether but my approach is different -- I would try to communicate with her to find out why she feels so strongly about losing. Either through discussions and plain introspection or a couple of therapy sessions to help her. My nephew was also a very sore loser (anger to the point of breaking things), and he has calmed down significantly after sitting down with him, working out why he feels so strongly about losing in a friendly competitive game.


Eric Nolan 09/19/2018.

You can just stop when she says it's over or otherwise indicates she wants to stop. This is a tactic my friend used on his children. If they were sulking or being obstructive (which might be because they were losing or for other reasons) he would just ask them that since it appeared they weren't enjoying themselves did they want to stop. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn't because they realised they did want to play and the cost of that was behaving like an adult. Either way the bad experience of playing with someone who is being difficult ended.

I'm sure it's not fun for you to only be allowed to lose. There is more than one person's feelings to consider here. If she can't get over this (and she really should be able to) perhaps this is not something you can enjoy together at all. I don't think there's any harm telling her this.

I disagreed with a couple of the answers regarding what type of game to play. It is possible she just dislikes losing in which case there's not much you can do but in my experience there are a few types of things that can cause frustration, which turns in to bad behaviour in a person who can't manage it.

The first is when a game is too random, you come up with what you think is a good move and the dice (or whatever) just stabs you in the back. Sometimes this is still your fault because you should have had contingencies in place in case you were unlucky but either way some people find that very frustrating. If this seems to be the case you could try games with very low levels of randomness. Rumis, Manhattan Project or Citadels spring to mind but you could research on boardgamegeek.com looking for low randomness games.

Next is a game which is too skill based. The exact opposite basically. Lots of games have some element of randomness because most people don't find it fun to always lose to someone that is better than them at the game. If you can blame bad luck, or a gamble that just didn't pay off, a lot of people can laugh off the loss. If you are just out manouevered at every turn and beaten because you just weren't smart (or devious, or persuasive) enough it can be frustrating. Games with a high level of randomness but still enough skill to make it interesting could include Risk or King of Tokyo.

This probably doesn't apply to you since it seems your problem is mostly two player but a game where you can get teamed up on because either you are not good at persuading the other players or they pick on you for some possibly out of game reasons can be extremely annoying. It's especially frustrating if you think they are victimising you even when there is no good in-game reason (that is, you aren't in the lead). Games which are considered 'multi-player solitaire' on boardgamegeek are a good antidote to this. Most of these aren't actually solitaire but they feel that way to some people. Examples could be Carcassonne, Caverna and Ticket to Ride.

I agree with another answer suggesting co-operative games. Sometimes people deal better when it is 'the game' that is beating them instead of a person. A lot of these games have tunable difficulty levels so you could ensure you would win most of the time while still having a somewhat interesting time (depending on how much of a challenge you need to be entertained). Games like Arkham Horror, Zombicide and Pandemic can be fun to play even if you are losing badly but you can make them so easy that someone with even a basic grasp of the tactics can win 90% of the time.

A game where it is very hard to tell who is winning until the very end might work well too. There are quite a few games where you don't work out the score until the end and unless you put a lot of effort in it's hard to see who is really winning. This would put off any bad feelings until the end and perhaps this would be better. Maybe allowing the frustration to fester for a long time makes it worse and a short sharp shock of "oh, I lost" would blow over quickly.


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