Tips for Not Keeping Score
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, January 2015
Don't Keep Score.
At first I thought this was rather "simple" advice. Over the years I have learned that not only is it not simple, but it was the best advice I have ever received. To this day, when couples ask for my advice for a good relationship, without hesitation, I say "Don't Keep Score."
It can be dangerous to keep score about who did what and who does what and why that is "not fair." There are times when somebody really needs to be cut some slack and it may be you, the partner, who needs to do the cutting. Rarely are things "even" or "fair" so keeping score can be a recipe for disaster. It can also be troublesome to keep score against the fantasy marriage you had in your head prior to tying the knot.
Keeping score is often about focusing on what isn't working, what disappoints, what frustrates. The focus is on ME instead of US. Over time, resentment builds along with bitterness. Keeping score is rarely about paying more attention to what works and what we are grateful for in the person with whom we chose to spend our life.
What are we trying to prove when we say, "I always do this. You never do that." Whom are we trying to impress?
Relationships are often "messy" and some of us do better with messes than others. Some of us are night owls and others are early birds - and although a potentially charming difference during courtship - it can be a royal pain when living a day to day schedule.
When we give, for the most part, our relationships grow. We receive a feeling of gratification because we have given to someone we care about. When we keep score, we think, "What have YOU done for me lately?" And in doing so, we lose sight of staying together for the long haul. When we forget this we can become competitive with our partner. We focus on what is our obligation and what is our payback instead of giving unconditionally.
Two tips to consider:
We can focus on what our goals are and how best to accomplish them. Make an investment in the relationship. Sometimes one of us will be having an easier time than the other. Think of ourselves as being on the same team, pulling our weight in areas where we have complementary strengths.
We can stand back and reassess the dynamic. Being in a competition with someone can undermine a trusting relationship as we never can be sure that we are enough or that we have done enough or that we made the grade. This can contribute to anxiety about the relationship. We all do better when we stand back, take a different perspective (perhaps that of the other person), and realign our interests.
So, when we think about these things, we may have a relationship without a scorecard:
Avoid playing games. No keeping score. Put our interest in our relationship, and putting our partner's interests ahead of ours, without resentment or waiting for a time when the score will be settled.
Because it is destructive rather than constructive, scorekeeping can undermine meaningful relationships.