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How do you know if you're keeping score in your relationship? And, more importantly, is that a good thing for the relationship?

Keeping Score: Is it Good? - Three Agreements to Help you Understand

Sep 1, 2023

A blog about NOT keeping score? Who would have thought I’d be writing this?! But sometimes, emotional well-being in relationships relies on not tallying uprights and wrongs.

I Keep Score - Most Of The Times

I’ve never been a guy who hates keeping score. I believe that keeping a score allows you to activate one’s competitive juices, enabling you to do incredible things. Sometimes you win, sometimes you “lose,” but if you’re using that competitiveness to keep you moving, to continually learn, to grow and become bigger, better, faster, stronger, then you’ll ALWAYS win.  

So why the heck am I writing an article about NOT keeping score? Well, in relationships like the one I have with my wife, keeping score kills our relationship’s emotional well-being. Keeping score is a cancer to your relationships, yet it is something almost all of us do.

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It’s so easy to get wrapped up in who’s doing more for the kids, who’s doing more housework, who’s bringing in more bacon, who planned the last date, who spends more money on themselves, and on and on and on.

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People get flat-out consumed with trying to even the score. Whether it’s justifying spending money because your partner did or letting the dishes pile up because you did them last time, at the moment, it feels only fair that you get your turn to take a break.

But in reality, you’re killing the relationship. You dropped the ball, Probie. You split the team up. You’ve changed your mindset from “us” to “me.”

And it’s worse than that, really. Once you start keeping score, in your mind, it’s now your partner versus you.  You’ve forgotten that you chose this person to be on your team for a reason, which hopefully includes having your best interests at heart. 

Combat Natural Tendencies

To combat these natural tendencies that only lead to failed expectations, resentment, and decay of both parties' well-being, my wife and I have something called Argument Agreements with one another. These Agreements help clarify some of the ambiguity of who should be doing what and help to steer the relationship into a team format rather than a competitive one.

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Here are our three main Argument Agreements that keep our emotional well-being and relationship intact:

Arguing agreements

Arguments are going to happen, and when they do, let’s agree to

  1. Deep breath when starting to feel heated, choose words carefully vs letting emotions take over and try to hurt others.

  2. Give the other person space if too heated to have a rational conversation. That person will do best to remove themselves politely and ask to continue when they’ve cooled down.

  3. No rehashing of previous arguments or things that have happened to use against the other.  

  4. Not curse or hit below the belt

  5. Not argue in front of kids

  6. (when cooled down) Listen to the entire viewpoint of the other person without interruption.  Repeat back where they’re coming from and ask if they are correct.

No complaining, just to complain.

But they are welcome to vent about frustration in their life to use the other as a sounding board, AS LONG as you offer your own possible solution first. (Note this encourages us (and our kids who hear us) to be owners in control vs. victims who have no say in what happens to them.

Bridges instead of walls.

Approach the other with something important need to say, but know they may not like to hear it at first, in a gentle tone. Remove the word “you” from the vocabulary when feeling wronged/hurt/etc. and instead, replace with “I’m feeling … when this happens…and wanted to see how we can work together to solve this” The other agrees not to immediately put walls up but to listen without interrupting because they know it’s only being told in the interest of benefiting EVERYONE.

At the end of the week, we give the others a grade on how they did.  This isn’t about competing, but instead helping hold one another accountable so that the things we’ve agreed on as vital to the success of our marriage and our individual emotional wellbeings are constantly at the forefront. 

To truly embrace the spirit of teamwork and harmony in our relationship, we find inspiration in the world of classical music, particularly the remarkable performances by the San Francisco Symphony under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas.

Just like their exquisite rendition of the American sound, we aim to create our own emotional symphony that resonates with love and understanding. In this journey, we are like students, constantly learning and growing together, particularly in the spring of life.

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We cherish our shared history, which reminds us of the progress we've made and the challenges we've overcome. We aspire to instill these values in our kids, creating a legacy of strong and loving relationships for generations to come.

By keeping this harmonious mindset, we compose a beautiful melody of emotional well-being and understanding, where we strive to be our best selves and uplift each other. Just like the San Francisco Symphony creates magic with its music, we endeavor to create magic in our relationship and nurture it like a masterpiece.

More Tips on How To Stop Score Keeping

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It's not easy to break the habit of scorekeeping, but it is possible. Here are a few more tips to help you stop keeping score in your relationships:

1. Be honest with yourself about why you feel the need to keep score.

Are you afraid of being taken advantage of? Do you feel like you always have to be the one in control? Are you afraid of being hurt or rejected? Once you identify the root cause of your scorekeeping behavior, you can start to address those underlying issues.

2. Communicate with your partner about your concerns.

If you're feeling like you're always keeping track of who did what and who owes whom, talk to your partner about it. Discuss your concerns and devise a plan to break the cycle of scorekeeping between you.

3. Make a conscious effort to let go of grudges.

One of the main reasons people keep scoring is because they're holding onto past hurts and offenses. If you want to stop keeping score, you need to let go of those grudges. Make a conscious effort to forgive your partner (and yourself) for past mistakes and move on.

4. Focus on the positive aspects of your relationship.

Instead of keeping track of who did what, try to focus on the positive things about your relationship. What do you love about your partner? What are some of the fun things you've done together? When you focus on the good, it's easier to let go of the bad.

5. Don't track who's "winning" or "losing."

One of the worst things about scorekeeping is that it turns your relationship into a competition. There are no winners or losers in a healthy relationship – only two people who are working together. If you find yourself keeping track of who's ahead or behind, it's time to reevaluate your priorities.

6. Seek counseling if you can't break the habit alone.

If you've tried everything and you still can't seem to stop keeping score, it may be time to seek professional help. A counselor can help you identify the root cause of your scorekeeping behavior and find more productive ways to deal with it.

Breaking the habit of scorekeeping is essential for a healthy relationship. If you find yourself keeping track of who did what, it's time to stop and reevaluate your priorities. These tips can help you break the cycle of scorekeeping and focus on the positive aspects of your relationship.

This podcast is worth listening to How to Guarantee Awesome Relationships (both Personal and Professional)

Final Thoughts

In this blog, we've learned to let go of scorekeeping and prioritize emotional well-being in my relationship. Through Argument Agreements, we emphasize communication and teamwork over competition. Together, we compose a beautiful, emotional symphony, constantly growing and learning.

Breaking the habit is challenging, but with forgiveness and positivity, we envision a future full of love and happiness. Let's create magical connections, leaving the past behind and embracing a harmonious future together.

Tip For Week

Get with your significant other this week, and both write the top three things that you think could be improved about the relationship. Then get together, compare lists, and develop agreements based on these moving forward.

At the end of each week, put a reminder in your phone to give each other your weekly grade, have a discussion on how things went, and how you both can improve moving forward.

Rather than focusing on only your happiness-- which won’t give you the results you’re after-- focus on how you BOTH can be as happy as possible in the relationships, and you’ll start seeing some incredible results.

You can even add to your list as time goes by; the key is to keep it going until those new success habits start to replace the old failure habits and your emotional well-being flourishes with good communication and set boundaries.

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Will Moore is a gamification, habits and happiness expert.

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