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What do you keep score about in your marriage?

 

“I’ve cleaned the kitchen the last eight times.”

“We’ve only had sex three times this month.”

“You go to the gym every day. We eat dinner together once a week if we’re lucky.”

Can you relate? What are the topics in your marriage that make you likely to keep score?

  • Chores?
  • Sex?
  • Exercise?
  • Travel?
  • Spending habits?

 

Your body is keeping score

Think about a time you’ve kept score. Notice your body. Do you feel wrung out, or exhausted? Do you feel tight?

When I’m keeping score in my marriage, my lips are pursed. I can feel those tight lips chew on the score, keeping tally marks in the correct column. When my husband tidies the kitchen as his coffee brews, I look at the clock. I measure the minutes he wipes counters and fills the dishwasher.

Then I stack up those minutes against my hours. I’m still winning, I think.

Except it doesn’t feel like winning. And it really doesn’t feel like a game. I feel dried out inside, like my heart is a cactus.

 

A spouse’s experience of score keeping

My husband doesn’t see this invisible tally board where I keep score. But he knows he’s losing because I send subtle messages.

“The cutting boards get cleaner if you load them over here,” I say as I rearrange the dishwasher.

See what I did there? I made myself the boss of the dishwasher. Sly of me, right? With the simple move of a cutting board, I establish my expertise, silently signaling he knows nothing because he barely participates in this game of clean-the-kitchen.

I win.

Except that David has no stake in the game now. He mistakes my cutting-board-power-move for love of all things dishes. His take-away from that encounter is that I care more about dishes, and thus, they are my territory.

Since he doesn’t really care about how spoons and forks are sorted, he surrenders. Tomorrow, while his coffee brews, he’ll read a magazine. Because—obviously—I really love loading the dishwasher.

 

The triumph of score keeping sucks

So now the kitchen is mine! I won!

But I still don’t feel like a winner. I feel tight. My throat, my tongue, even my cheeks are filled with dozens of invisible knots.

What I feel is loss.

I’m all knotted up, so, I get agitated and pick a fight, “We’re not gonna have enough money to pay the visa card because you bought that backpack.”

I bring up this random purchase in an attempt to assure myself I’m winning when it comes to keeping score. If I can’t feel like a winner in the kitchen, I’ll prove I’m more responsible financially.

Somewhere we got the message that we’re only lovable to the degree that we’re productive. That’s why we want to keep score. But love that’s earned doesn’t feel nearly as good as love that’s given.

You crave the given-love and there’s no way to earn your way to that feeling.

 

Score keeping alienates

By this point after I’ve tallied the kitchen and the Visa bill and let him know he’s the loser, my husband is dizzy with disenfranchisement.

He’s not inspired to say the words I crave, “Darling, you make my life so wonderful. I’m lucky to have married you.”

Instead, dumbfounded, he looks at me, mouth open, but no words emerge.

I’ve triumphed in the score-keeping game, but I look into my husband’s eyes and they’re vacant. The hollowness I see is the paralysis he feels. He just wants to be my friend and I enlisted him in a competition that was rigged for me to win.

The biggest loser? Our marriage.

If you’re keeping score, your relationship will never win.

 

Instead of invisible score-keeping in your marriage, make the game overt.

Try this:

Announce the game’s start time. For the next month, let’s see who does the most dishes. Winner takes a week off from dish-duty.

Try this:

Create a challenge. Let’s see how many weeks in a row—without missing a week—we can do something that resembles a date.

Try this:

Write new rules. Could we agree that it’s vulnerable to initiate sex, so we want to reward the brave person by whole-heartedly participating? Not just participate grudgingly.

Why this works

Laughter enhances intimacy. Play is glue in relationships. Desire unites you.

If you’re a person who naturally keeps score, you can’t shame yourself or make yourself let go of keeping score. It doesn’t work. Shame feeds the part of you that feels unworthy. So, the more shame you rain down on your head, the more you’re likely to keep score. See the cycle?

But laughter loosens shame. Play evens the score immediately. Desire makes you both feel wanted.

We all want to be loved because we exist, not because of the fabulous results we produce. Let laughter into your score-keeping-relationship and watch your compulsion to tally things up disappear.

Stinginess is at the heart of score keeping. When you have to earn all the love you get, you feel stingy. Laughter is the antidote to stinginess. If you’re laughing, it’s impossible to feel stingy.

Laughter is the signal that love is free. Not earned.

If you and your spouse can gently tease away this predilection to prove-your-worthiness, the tight feeling will loosen.

Then, instead of keeping score, you can let playfulness and desire awaken you to the pleasure of your differences that initially upset you.

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