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Why Keeping Score In Relationships Doesn't Work

Last updated on October 27, 2020

It's a common relationship trap: to tally up all the ways that you give and your partner doesn't. I'm always the one who takes out the trash, you think as you take the trash out for the fourth time that month. Why am I always the one getting up with the baby in the middle of the night? you wonder as you sit, exhausted, rocking your little one at 3am. "I'm always the one who initiates sex," you tell a friend over tea.

It's natural to notice when you're doing more of a certain task or action in the relationship, but if you stop there, your feelings will quickly fester into a stew of resentment.

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Why to avoid it

Keeping score is a "me-centered" way of operating, by which you're elevating your role in the relationship to a place of superiority. And if you're "up," then your partner has only one place to land: down. Down in the swampy, stagnant pond of "not enough": he doesn't love me enough, she doesn't care enough, I don't love him enough, etc.

The "not enough" mindset will quickly spiral into your seeing your relationship through the glass half-empty lens, which will then negatively impact how you feel about your partner.

There is one simple antidote for the habit of keeping score: Give for the joy of giving. Give because it makes your relationship run more smoothly. Give because you see that a task needs to get done and you know you're capable of doing it. Giving is the love-juice that lubricates the rough spots and takes the squeak out of the wheels.

When you focus too much on how much you're giving and your partner isn't, thereby keeping score, the giving actually morphs into an act of taking. It's no longer unconditional giving; it's giving with strings attached as you covertly and possibly subconsciously attempt to earn points in the relationship. True giving asks nothing in return. The joy is in the giving itself.

If you're in a loving relationship, chances are very high that your partner gives in other ways, so for everything that you do you could easily take your thought process to the next level and notice everything your partner does to keep the relationship sailing smoothly. And when you give for the sake of giving, you will likely naturally notice the ways that your partner gives.

If you're prone to keeping score or negative thinking

It's helpful to develop a mental habit whereby every time you notice something that you generally do, you consciously focus on a way in which your partner shows up. It can be little things like: I'm always the one who feeds the cat. Oh, and my partner is always the one to put all of our shoes back in the closet.

And it can be more meaningful areas like: I'm the one who usually initiates sex. And, yes, my partner is the one who typically plans our dates. Not only does this counteract the habit of keeping score, but it's also a way to cultivate appreciation. And appreciation, as most people know, is like a magic elixir that bolsters our feelings of love and attraction.

It may be helpful to think of your relationship like a pool. When you tend to the third body of the relationship — not just me or you but the third body of us — through acts of giving, you fill the pool with clear, warm water. When the pool is full, it feels good for both of you. And the more you give naturally and without conditions or expectations, the more you will inspire your partner to give as well. And then the pool stays full most of the time, and it's a place where you both like to swim.

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The bottom line

If you're in a good, loving relationship where you both genuinely care about the others' well-being, over the course of a lifetime, the offerings and actions will even out in the wash. Will it come out completely evenly? That's not likely. But that's not the point. When you learn to give for the higher good of yourself and the relationship, you'll naturally stop keeping score and you'll reap the benefits of a truly loving relationship.

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Sheryl Paul, M.A.
Sheryl Paul, M.A.

Sheryl Paul, M.A., has guided thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her best-selling books, her e-courses, and her website. She has her master's in Psychology Counseling from the Pacifica Graduate Institute, and is the author of The Wisdom of Anxiety: How Worry and Intrusive Thoughts Are Gifts to Help You Heal . She has appeared several times on The Oprah Winfrey Show as well as on Good Morning America and other top media shows and publications around the globe. To sign up for her free 78-page ebook, Conscious Transitions: The 7 Most Common (and Traumatic) Life Changes, visit her website. If you’re suffering from relationship anxiety—whether single, dating, engaged, or married—sign up for her free sampler.

To receive a thorough relationship road map, check out her mbg video course, How to Have the Greatest Relationship of Your Life. And if you’re struggling with sexual desire and body image, consider her course Sacred Sexuality: A 40-Day Course for Women to Heal Body Shame and Ignite Desire.

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