I see couples pre-martially and it is very difficult to identify this pattern prior to it being acted out. It may be because the familiarity of marriage is what brings it to light. In a movie called, "Crazy, Stupid, Love," the main character (Steve Carell) makes a comment that most of us who are married have felt. He says, "I loved her even when I hated her." It's this sort of familiarity that makes keeping score likely. Most of the people who do this were raised by parents who kept score with their partner as well as their friends and family. It is an immature coping mechanism of dealing with anger, but like the silent treatment, it ends up destroying both partners' feelings of connection and trust.
Perhaps the worst thing about keeping score is you cannot give points for genuine love. People who keep score spend a lot of energy with adding and subtracting the score, and this blinds them to seeing the loving gestures their spouse may make each day. It's true that what you focus on you will see, and in this case you are soon seeing tit-for-tat in almost every situation with your spouse. Soon your spouse becomes lazy and they resist doing things for which they get no points. They also begin hiding the truth from you as they don't want to lose points or suffer the vengeance that will most certainly appear if you find out the truth. By the time a marriage is infected this severely with score keeping there is acting out on many levels from both spouses. Whether it involves spending a lot of money in order to get back at an absent partner, or dating someone new while you are married, the reason is basically the same. The partners are no longer friends, but have become completive enemies of one another in a self righteous battle.
If you have been married long enough, you will see bits and pieces of this in your own marriage from time to time. The key is noting it, and stating it aloud in order to stop the behavior. Some people are more prone to the score keeping just as some people prefer the silent treatment to punish their partner. There are ways to circumvent it from ever becoming a pattern in your marriage, and below are my suggestions:
1. Keeping score is handed down for generations. If you are aware of your parents modeling this for you, make sure you tell your partner early in the relationship. If you ask them prior to using this method to help you not use it (in a kind way, not a tit-for-tat way) they will be more likely to listen and help.
2. Be aware of when you use it, and tell your spouse quickly, "I'm sorry...that wasn't fair. Please forgive me." This is as much a reminder for you, as being considerate of your spouse.
3. If you must keep score, keep score of the loving things your partner does each day. This will enable you to see more of them.
4. Whenever you hear your children bring up fairness or score keeping remind them that in this family you do not keep score. Kids are reminders of what we are doing every day. Sometimes correcting them helps us.
5. Keeping score is done with people who are afraid of being vulnerable and direct. The more you are able to tell your spouse directly how you feel without blaming them, the less likely you will need to keep score.
For most of us, keeping score is a nuisance. We may see it among our friends or family, and not in our own homes. Marriages erode for many reasons, but lack of healthy communication is still the number one reason. Small things like being aware of how you treat your partner or what sorts of messages you send them, goes a long way with healthy communication in your family. At day's end, a healthy marriage score looks pretty even more or less, depending on the day and time in your life. Some days you may give more, and other days your partner gives more. Be the best spouse you can be and let God keep score. -Mary Jo Rapini
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