How To Stop Keeping Score in a Relationship – 5 Relationship Experts Share Simple + Powerfully Effective Tips
In my experience, keeping score in a relationship comes from two main sources: that you have done too much in a past relationship and felt hurt by that and don’t want to do it again or that you don’t trust that the other person is pulling their weight in the relationship.
Neither of these are good scenarios and keeping score of what the other person is doing or not doing or what you are doing or not doing slowly erodes the love that you have for your partner and creates a dynamic that threatens the health of the relationship in the future.
If you’ve experienced or seen others in your life give too much of themselves in a past relationship and feel resentful about it, it makes sense that you would want to know how to measure your partner’s commitment to the relationship.
The problem with keeping score, however, is that you miss some very important in immeasurable things that both of you bring to the relationship. Also, relationships aren’t equal all of the time, though they tend to balance out over the long haul. There will be times when you do carry more of the burden, and there will be times when your partner does. That’s what being a team is all about.
We tend to see problems or threats, that’s just what our brains are hard-wired to do.
When we keep score, we are generally looking at times when there were problems because of what the other person didn’t do. And we tend to count up for ourselves all of the great things we have done to make the relationship work. The scales are already balanced in your favor and out of his. Many times when things do go smoothly, we don’t assign credit where it is due. And when you are ill or very busy and he comes through for you, you may not remember it once you’re not so stressed. Your score keeping is not accurate, regardless of what you think.
If, on the other hand, you feel you are doing the lion’s share of the work in your relationship, this may be something the two of you will need to address.
There are times when you’re doing more than the other person or they are doing less than they agreed to do. First, I recommend talking about the initial agreement. If there isn’t one, you might have to spell out your expectations of your partner and of yourself, find out what his expectations are, and come to some agreement that works for both of you.
If he isn’t pulling his weight and it’s temporary and due to too much work, family problems, or some other solvable or short-term problem, try to be patient. Let him know how you’re feeling and see what he feels he can do about it. He may not realize you’re feeling this way at all.
A lot of score keeping comes down to trust.
If you don’t feel you can trust your partner, you may be building up situations in your head that aren’t true, but may be about bigger issues that you haven’t addressed or even become aware of yet. Ask yourself what would make you feel secure in the relationship and make you feel your partner was as committed as you are and directly ask for it. Make sure he knows how important that is to you and why.
If past relationships are still getting in the way of your current relationship, it may be time to hire a coach or therapist to help you get over those problems from the past that you haven’t yet resolved.
Becky Bringewatt, MA, LPC, NCC – www.mantiscounselingandcoaching.org
Underlying the drive to keep score is always an insecurity and lack of trust in the integrity of one’s partner, oneself or relationships in general.
When women enter into a relationship with fear instead of hope they will be looking for problems to avoid getting hurt. In other words if I see the problem coming, I won’t be taken by surprise. This is a defensive posture; you might not get hurt but you’ll also never be happy in the way people are when they have trust in their partner.
This fearful posture is often a result of painful family of origin dynamics or prior hurtful relationships.
We all know that it’s possible to be burned. If you want a relationship you have to be willing to run the risk. However, if fear is the dominant lens through which you view your partner and relationships, you are always going to looking for trouble.
Keeping score is the way people operate when they are afraid of being used.
We need to feel that there is a shared reciprocity where both partners do their share of give and take. It’s doesn’t have to be 50/50, but it needs to feel fair. If it stops feeling fair, you need to speak up and figure out why the give and take has become unbalanced.
There is a huge difference between addressing a problem that actually exists and looking for problems where they don’t.
Score keeping is the go to process for people who enter into a relationship thinking that it’s going to be bad. If that’s you, you need to figure out why you are so afraid. There is probably a good reason for it somewhere in your past, but you don’t want it to keep you from having a healthy happy relationship now and in the future. Try to focus on what is working in your relationship and how to make it better. You can’t anticipate every problem. Trust that if one arises you and your partner will be able to figure it out.
Sally LeBoy, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com
Having been party to hundreds of partner conflicts in my forty-three years of working with intimate couples, I can categorically state that score-keeping is a futile process.
Unless there is an absolute misdistribution and consistent misdistribution of power in a relationship, the partners within it will absolutely, over time, ultimately even the score. Though they will each do that in a unique way, the score will end up about even, with many destructive conflicts along the way.
The problem is, of course, that keeping score is even necessary, and it is never helpful.
The partners in an intimate relationship who find the need to do that usually do so for one main reason; they do not trust that their partners will own their own part in any conflict between them if they do not keep track of who is right and who is wrong.
More men than women tend to live in the moment and are often caught off guard when their female partners punish them long after they have forgotten the fight. More women than men keep track of the past and future when they are in conflict, often appearing to be more controllable in the moment but clearly keeping track of a bigger picture for later on.
Secondly, the partner who feels the least power in a relationship or the most dependent upon it is most likely to keep score as a buffer to being controlled.
Along with the additional strategy of bringing up expert opinions that agree with them, they are able to resurrect the score to add power to their position when needed.
Thirdly, partners who repeatedly and continuously bicker more often find the need to keep an ongoing score that feeds the ongoing conflicts.
Otherwise, it would be too difficult to resurrect the past when so many minor skirmishes have to be accounted for.
Lastly, score-keeping is often thrust into an argument that has deteriorated into a defense-to-defense conflict.
If one partner challenges or criticizes the other in a hurtful way, that partner will do whatever he or she can to invalidate that uncomfortable assessment. It is similar to looking into a mirror that bears a reflection that doesn’t feel good, so why not smash the symbolic mirror?
Partners most often do that by either countering that negative assessment with a statement that blames the other.
Within a very short period of time, those invalidations and counter-blaming statements escalate into more serious and damaging attacks. Score-keeping raises its ugly head in the attempt to stay in control of winning the argument.
Two of the most important qualities of a successful relationship are the absolute belief that both partners have good intent towards each other and the willingness to be accountable for what each contributes to things not working.
If a couple is relying on score-keeping to keep the other in line, those basic elements of trust are not in play. When that happens, both partners will be less and less able to heal from the competitive need to have the most powerful score, and the relationship will eventually wear itself out, or deteriorate into an unending power struggle.
Once a couple realizes they are in a no-win game together, they will hopefully see the futility of continuing to score-keep, and search for the underlying reasons they are holding each other ransom.
Here are some cues to watch out for to help you stop keeping score:
1. Be careful not o bring up a past “win” during a current struggle.
People in conflict usually bring up the past if they feel they are losing in the present. “Remember last year when you did this on our anniversary. You promised you would never hurt me this way again.”
2. When you feel attacked or invalidated, observe if you flip it back to your partner.
“What about you? You do the same thing.” It’s not that your point may be invalid but the timing will only bring on more discrediting in both directions.
3. Adding up a number of small indiscretions in your own head and laying them out at one time to gain the lead.
“I’ve been counting how many days it’s been since you said you would spend time with me. You must admit that I’ve been really patient and have a right to complain.”
4. Comparing how much you give in or accommodate compared to the other partner’s contribution.
“I thought we were a team, but I’ve had to do all the work around here while you come up with excuse after excuse. When are you ever going to keep your word and be fair?”
5. Over-giving in order to set up an obligation in the other partner so that he or she feels trapped into giving back when the score-keeper demands payment.
“I’ve so been there for you now for weeks. You aren’t fair if you don’t give me what I need when I ask you.”
6. Having double standards or erasing contributions to rig the game.
Many partners, sometimes without even realizing it, steal love by pretending they didn’t need it or arbitrarily even the score by feeling their own gifts are more valuable. “You’re acting like I owe you something. I didn’t ask you to do that for me.” Or, “I’ve been there for you in every way you’ve wanted me to. Now you do one thing for me and think we’re even. Well, we’re not.”
7. Keeping the other partner in the red.
Another way of using score-keeping to control the other partner is to rarely allow him or her to make any points. The emotional credit card has an ongoing balance that can be demanded at any time, keeping the owing partner captive to potential demands.
There are many other ways to use score-keeping in ways that are detrimental to an intimate partnership.
Remember, once the partners trust that both will agree upon value and rights, behave in fair and just ways, and stay open to personal accountability, they will find that keeping score is not only unnecessary, but damaging to the relationship.
If the partners in a relationship feel they have to keep score, they must be constantly vigilant to keep from feeling ripped off. Love cannot thrive in that kind of environment.
Here are some related articles I’ve written for Psychology Today Blogs that you can find on the Internet.
How Intimate Partners Manipulate Each Other
No-Win Conflicts in Intimate Relationships
Couple’s Alert – Is Your Love Dying?
Haven’t we had This Terrible Fight Before?
Who Owns Your Relationship Score Card?
Intimate Conflict De-Briefing
Dr. Randi Gunther – www.randigunther.com
What stops us from lavishing someone with love and care?
Fear of loving them more than they love us?
Fear of appearing too desperate?
Fear of feeling foolish?
We keep score when we feel anxious, afraid, or ashamed.
Most of us fear these feelings and we work very hard not to have them. We humans try to protect ourselves from being unloved by withholding love. Ironic, huh? Why do we almost universally hold back parts of ourselves that we could give – out of a deep desire to avoid the pain of rejection, anxiety, shame, or loneliness? Why do we monitor our partners to make sure they’re giving as much as we are?
We keep score, and agonize about giving lavish love, because we’ve known the pain of shame, loneliness, and rejection . . . and we never want to repeat the experience.
But we will. That’s life. It’s normal to need relationship and to fear its loss. It’s normal to go through periods of imbalance in relationship. And, on some level, it’s normal to lose relationships and grieve them. The key question seems to be: How do I manage my fear of loss and be calmer, more present, more giving in this relationship, right now?
Here’s an exercise to help you identify the blocks to your ability to love freely without keeping score.
1. If you could give in your relationship, without worrying about the balance of giving, what would you do differently? (e.g., Initiate special dates for us; Talk about how much I appreciate my partner.)
2. What’s the worst that could happen if you did the above? Imagine the worst-case-scenario. (e.g., I would feel stupid . . . He would think I’m stupid.)
3. In that scenario, what does this worst thing mean about you? (e.g., I’m making a mistake . . . I’m unlovable . . . I really am not good enough.)
4. Where did you learn this about yourself? Trace the thought back in time, as far as you can go, back to your early childhood if possible. If you hit a painful memory, this may be a subject to tackle with your therapist or a good friend.
Maybe you witnessed one parent reject the other. Maybe you were bullied by peers. A good trauma therapist, especially one trained in EMDR therapy, can help you identify the source of your fears, calm your body-mind, clear away pain that blocks you from giving love and care freely to your partner.
Dr. Deborah Cox – www.deborahlcox.com
When we keep score, we cannot let go of the past and are not leaving any room for change in the future.
Keeping score creates more conflict by dragging the past into the present. Remember to treat him the way that you want to be treated. How would you feel if he kept score? If you are tempted to keep score, ask yourself what motivates you to do this? How is keeping score productive? What purpose does it serve if it only keeps you focused on the past?
Keeping score makes it difficult to move forward and grow in the relationship.
It is petty and it gets old quickly. It might seem like keeping score is about justice and holding him accountable, but in practice it will drive a huge wedge in your relationship. He needs to trust that you can get past his mistakes and forgive him. He needs room to hold himself accountable and work on the things that he needs to change.
If he feels constantly attacked, he will not be motivated to try and do things differently. By keeping score you are telling him that you will always hold something against him and he shouldn’t even bother to try and change.
If he is toxic that is another issue all together.
If he keeps score and is unwilling to address the behavior and change, he might not be the one. If he is toxic then you need to let him go and move on. If your behavior is toxic and you want to salvage the relationship, you need to start addressing the issue that is leading to this behavior. If you need support with behavior change, seek professional help.
Talk to a therapist and work on developing your self-awareness and changing your behavior. Process your feelings and reflect on your triggers. Work at changing the things that you don’t like about your behavior. Work with a couple´s therapist to bring him into a supportive role in the relationship.
The act of forgiving is the one of the most important aspects of love.
Forgiveness is about compassion and acceptance. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what he did was okay; it means that you can forgive and let go. It means that you can move forward and are open to change. Even the best intentions are often misunderstood.
Talk to him if you feel hurt or need to address something that is important to you. Keeping score means you are unwilling to forgive. Is there an aspect of yourself that you are unwilling to forgive?
Model the behavior that you want to see from him.
Show him how to be a better man by building him up rather than putting him down. Do not lower yourself and hold onto grudges and baggage that no longer serves a purpose in your life and in the relationship. Hold yourself to a higher standard and behave with the integrity and Grace that you know you possess. Be the best version of yourself and lead the way to a loving and healthy relationship.
Ileana Hinojosa, MLA, LMFT – www.themindfullife.net