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Why You Need to Avoid Keeping Score in Your Relationship

Phil in jailMAUDE: In last week’s blog we discussed differences and how they can be strengths rather than problems in a relationship. In further exploring that topic together, we looked at the style of relating where making lists and keeping score is a common part of the relationship, or one partner’s interactions.

Sometimes people do not feel assured that both they and their partner are truly on the same side. They remain in a state of assessing the other in terms of the balance of give and take, willingness to be there with full presence, and the balance of power. Exchanges and contributions to the shared life are seen more like deals than give and take. In these partnerships, total acceptance is not yet practiced.

In a condition like this, one response is to be saving up ammunition for a possible attack; and by that, we mean when you are making lists of your own contributions, as well as your partner’s lack thereof. These are saved up, usually with tinges of resentment attached, for that day when, confronted by a list of your weaknesses or unequal contributions, you can fight back with a list of your own. This is often done unconsciously, but that list still resides somewhere near the surface to be called on at a moment’s suspicion of attack. Beware! Bringing forth lists tends to engender your partner’s lists!
Our relationship has a different character and our exchanges seem devoid of measuring and comparing. So, we asked ourselves, “What are the characteristics of our relationship that prevent this type of relating?”

We have a commitment to both being all in, which creates a sense of trust in the balance between each of our contributions. We accept each other as equal although sometimes vastly different. We are fully present, each pulling our weight, albeit in different areas and in different ways. This plays itself out on all levels, spiritual, mental, material. And we have seen this characteristic in many long-lasting and successful relationships. There is deep respect for the difference and uniqueness that leads to total acceptance of the other. Each partner brings a bouquet of attributes to merge into the whole.

We believe this kind of commitment must be there (and of course, this takes time to create for some people), if the relationship is to be free from continuous measuring and small injuries that keep getting added to a list; a list which will inevitably rear its pretty ugly head one day.

PHIL: Making lists and keeping score is one way that people have a relationship. It makes it transactional, to use a current term. At its best, it is a way of maintaining fairness within a relationship, of making sure that contributions are equal. It’s difficult to maintain because unless every single task is divided equally, you need to establish an exchange rate. Does cleaning the yard cost as much as cleaning the toilet? How about different incomes, stay-at-home parenting, car maintenance? How about intangible contributions like humor, emotional stability, social contacts? The bookkeeping is complex and prone to complaints about how much X happened last month. A relationship based on keeping score is prone to degenerate into a grudge-fest.

The alternative is not to keep score, but to believe that your partner brings different skills and talents to the relationship as we discussed last week and that they contribute according to their capabilities. They’re not out to get you; in fact, giving is a pleasure all by itself. Look at the joy of a child giving you a handmade card with glitter, glue and crayoned expressions of love. There is no quid pro quo there, to use this week’s expression.

I want to propose a theory about relationships that is not in the literature as far as I know. Think of people as lying along a spectrum from power to subservience. We’ll simplify it by regarding people as one of three types: power, equality or subservience. This gives a diagram rather like the parent-adult-child one from Eric Berne’s “Games People Play.”

What Maude and I have is a relationship between equals, but I can also imagine a power-power relationship between two people (think of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf), each of whom believes in a Darwinian view of the survival of the fittest. Also possible are power-subdominance relationships, either BDSM ones or where the partners believe in different roles for the sexes, typically acquired from religious or cultural teachings.

Another possibility is two subdominant personalities who, I believe, would tend to form a codependent relationship.

I imagine that the remaining combinations of equality-subservience and equality-power are unstable.

Maybe a relationship of equality isn’t for you, and if so, go for it, but we find it to be a wonderful, harmonious, balanced one. Your call.

Photo credit: Maude Mayes

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Successful Relationship Reading Corner

BookshelfThis week, we discuss why you need to avoid keeping score in your relationship. This, unfortunately, is a very common behavior in many relationships. Here are some articles to help you avoid acting in this way.

Stop Keeping Score "Who does the most work in the office? Who gets the most attention? Who did most of the cleaning in the house? Who bought the most presents? Who called who the most? The answer is this: No one cares about the silly scorecards inside your brain. When people keep score, there’s only one outcome: Resentment."

Do You Keep Score in Your Relationships? "You and your partner just argued for the umpteenth time about whose turn it is to walk the dog:
“I walked her twice yesterday,” you point out.
“And I walked her for three days last week,” your partner retorts.
“Well,” you counter, “I took the kids to the doctor on Tuesday.”
And so it goes."

Keeping Score In Marriage: 7 Tips To Help You Not Keep Score "Are you keeping score in your marriage? If you are, stop! You might be keeping scores in your head, or written them down on a hidden piece of paper somewhere, or on your phone. Keeping score in your marriage will not only make you feel miserable and guilty.... It will keep you waiting like a Lion, ready to  pounce on your predator (in this case your spouse) for any mistakes he/she makes."


Spreading peace one relationship at a time
Phil and Maude
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