How to Avoid Trouble in Your Relationship: Don’t Keep Score!
Making lists and keeping score are really bad things to do in a relationship. Making lists is something we do in our minds and is always about something we have not communicated to our partner. They often involve expectations that we have concerning our partner’s behavior, or they are about needs we have that we haven’t shared. We want something, and when we don’t get it we get disappointed or even angry. We add them to our mental list of relationship sins, listing what is wrong with our partner, why we shouldn’t be in this relationship, and why we feel misunderstood or mistreated.
I was talking with a woman the other day who was very upset and ready to end things with someone she had been dating for a while and about whom she had been really excited. She told me that he never wanted to just spend time hanging out, and that he always wanted to go out to some specific event and would then take her home. She was convinced that he wasn’t really interested in getting to know her more deeply and only wanted a superficial dating experience. I asked her if she ever told him that she enjoyed hanging out and would love to just stay home or go for a walk and enjoy being together. She thought about it and was truly surprised to realize she hadn’t said anything like that to him. When next we met, she was relaxed and very satisfied with her dating. She told me that she had shared her feelings with him and that he was very relieved to hear how she felt. He had been wracking his brain to keep coming up with places to go to make her happy!
Compounding this habit of list making is keeping score: “I did this and he didn’t do anything. I always and he never…” Very often, people measure the worth of a relationship with a balance sheet where, just like a business, the credits and debits need to balance.
Now on the grand scale, this is true. No one should put up with a moocher, an ingrate or a cheapskate. But people keep score about the little things in life – who took out the garbage or washed the dishes or left the lights on or didn’t call home or turned up late or … the list of offenses can go on and on.
In an argument, they get used as ammunition – “Well, you did X last Thursday.” They often have little to do with the original complaint, so the initial skirmish rapidly becomes an entire battlefront, and the one with the longest list and the surest aim will win. The original grievance may get lost amongst all the collateral damage.
These complaints all stem from one big relationship no-no: lack of communication. If we want our partners to know what we need or even expect, we need to tell them what that is. If we haven’t done this and we aren’t getting what we want or need, then we have only one person to blame, and that’s ourselves!
And always remember, when you are sharing something you want, be sure to speak from the “I” so it is clear this is about you and what you desire, and that it cannot be misunderstood as a comment about the other person’s behavior. In order to do this, it is necessary to realize that indeed, these are our own needs, desires and expectations, and actually have nothing to do with who we are relating to, especially if that person doesn’t even know these feelings exist.
When someone knows what is expected or needed by their partner, it changes things dramatically, especially if these things have been communicated in a non-accusatory manner. Every time you truly share about yourself, you create intimacy which will deepen your relationship. Be truthful and don’t be afraid!