Mort was a scorekeeper. He kept track of the things, little and big, that he did for his wife, Andrea. He noticed if she did not notice when he did something wonderful, and he was painfully aware if she did or did not do something nice for him. He would adjust his actions towards her based on the current score. And he did this without realizing it. It turns out that he was afraid to be the one giving more, or loving more, or getting “shortchanged”—which is how he looked at it. It was sad, because he was married to a kind, generous, loving woman, and he turned their love into a competition.
Aimee kept score too. She had a steel-trap memory—for anything bad. Every fight she ever had with her live-in boyfriend, Matt, and every time he ever forgot that she liked whole milk, not half and half, in her coffee—whatever it was, she had it recorded in her mind. She brought out the scorecard when she needed to elucidate all the ways she’d been hurt or slighted. Matt began to dread those moments. He felt he could not win the cut-throat game his love affair had turned into.
Why do some people keep score in a relationship? They are not bad people. They do not mean to cause hurt. The tendency to keep score does not mean they do not feel love and devotion. Something inside them drives them to it. For whatever reason, right or wrong, they believe that the relationship is out of balance, and that they are giving more than the other person. This leads to the strings-attached mentality of Mort: “I won’t unload the groceries because yesterday you didn’t leave the porch light on for me.” Resentment is a quick byproduct—on both sides of the partnership. Or, like Aimee, tracking only the negatives and missing the positives, a scorekeeper can end up with a heavy burden of victimhood. What is missed, of course, is the joy of giving without condition or expectation. Love that asks nothing in return is love at its best, and when both partners can live in that place… joy!
As always, understanding what is going on is the first step to making positive changes. So let’s try to understand relationship score keepers:
There are consequences to keeping score in a relationship. It will:
→ erode trust and undermine the faith you and your partner have in one another and the relationship
→ turn your relationship into a competition and thus your partner into the enemy
→ make it hard, or even impossible, for you to see or appreciate your partner’s good qualities
→ lead, ultimately, to the failure of the relationship if action is not taken to make the necessary shifts
Can you stop being a scorekeeper? YES! Here’s how:
♥ Communicate. Tell your partner what you are feeling. If you are the scorekeeper, remember that what your partner does is about him/her, not you, so speak your truth without criticism or blame. If your partner is the scorekeeper, share what you have learned about this phenomenon and ask if you can work together to change the situation.
♥ Ask. Throw the scorecard away and simply ask for what you need. And return the favor by finding out what your partner needs from you.
♥ Acknowledge. What is your contribution to the dysfunction? Are you an enabler? Are your expectations unrealistic? Have you looked inward to see why you keep score (referring to the list above for help)?
♥ Work together. Rather than competing and acting in opposition, look for solutions together.
♥ See the good. What is great about your partner and your relationship? Focus on that. Re-framing negative thoughts can work miracles!
♥ Plan. In partnership, create a plan for making changes in the relationship. Ask to be seen and heard. If both of you have good intentions and want the other to be happy, no one will need to keep score. Set a date for checking in with each other to see how the plan is working.
♥ Be honest. Whether you or your partner is the scorekeeper, be honest with yourself. If one of you is unwilling to work for balance, is it in your best interest to continue the relationship?
In healthy relationships you share, grow, and benefit together from the partnership. There is no need for score keeping. As gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka famously said, “The whole is other than the sum of the parts.” It’s a magical recipe that can be applied here: when we give unconditionally, out of love and the sheer joy of giving, the entire relationship grows and becomes bigger and better than we could be on our own. Enjoy the gestalt of love—no scorecard required.