I was reading an article on Elephant Journal titled “The Bad Habit That Almost Ruined My Marriage” by Lynn Shattuck. In this article, Lynn was writing about a realization that she was ruining her marriage because she was becoming obsessed with keeping score. There were two specific sentences she captured that I would like to dissect herein.
I find the tendency of keeping score in relationships to be both natural and healthy, although there are some nuances to explore.
1. “Scorekeeping is inherently divisive.”
Let’s separate two distinct acts right off the bat. Keeping score and doing something about the score are two very different things. We don’t need to take a specific action or say a certain word to know where things stand in a relationship.
We know when we are giving more than we get because of how we feel about it. In this, we are always keeping score. The person on the baseball field flipping the numbers, 1, 2, 3 can flip numbers until the cows come home. Now, if we feel like we’re on the wrong end of a 13-2 score, we can choose to do something about it. This would be different than keeping score. This would be doing something about the uneven score.
Can this be divisive? That depends on the approach. Are we screaming? Are we being unruly and not letting our partner get a word in edgewise? Perhaps this would make the situation divisive. But the simple act of bringing up a consistent disparity in a relationship is not divisive. It’s called seeking an equal partnership and putting your concerns about its current state on the table.
2. “People who keep score grasp onto what they’re owed. Then, when they need something, they let people know they’re owed.”
There is a very transactional feeling to the word “owed.” When I am in a partnership with someone, it’s not about being owed.
It is about give-and-take.
It is about sacrifice and compromise.
And most importantly, it is about each person taking care of the other person. So, as we remember from our dissection of sentence one, everyone keeps score. And in keeping score, there are times when someone realizes that they are giving more than they get, and in a consistent manner, that’s worrisome to them. In this, it’s not about being owed but about being honored, being respected.
If we’re going to tell people that keeping score is divisive, we better train people on how to hide what comes naturally to them: awareness. We have all been in situations where we gave more than we got. It did not feel good and we wanted to understand what was happening. Why is my partner, who I spend so much time and energy giving to, not reciprocating? How can they be so clueless, selfish, or self-absorbed so as to completely nullify my needs as I attend to theirs?
All of this comes from a simple and natural state called “awareness.” It’s your head and your heart in unison in that moment you realized that you’ve given more than you’ve received for far too long. And it stung. Exploring this with your partner is necessary and in no ways makes you divisive, nor does it mean you feel like you’re owed. What it does mean is that you have the natural awareness of the score and the self-respect and courage to address it.
We all keep score, although some of us choose to turn a blind eye to it. Perhaps the 99-3 score seems insurmountable. If only we had addressed it when the game was within reach.
Now, there are situations where keeping score and doing something about the score can be divisive. I had a client that wrote down everything she did that she felt exceeded what her boyfriend did at that same point in their relationship. She clearly felt as though the give-and-take was so bad that she had to document it.
This goes well beyond natural awareness, and one may rightfully ask why the couple is still together if the feeling of inequity is so high. As well, there are people that turn combative when addressing the uneven score. They have an idea in their mind about what their partner should be doing, but rather than seeking to understand, they go into accusatory mode and threaten the relationship at its core. Keeping score and doing something about the score can be divisive and unhealthy in these and like situations.
That said, let’s not bring keeping score in relationships in a general, negative light and judge all who do so. Let’s look at it objectively and realize that our own awareness makes keeping score a natural thing and teach people how to effectively address an uneven score should they see one.
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