Score keeping. You’ve been told it’s death to your relationship but I’m going to give you three reasons why, when done right, it can be good for your relationship.
1. It’s a human nature “lemon” so you might as well make lemonade. Mother Teresa and Gandhi aside, we all keep score. It’s human nature to notice if your sweetheart has AGAIN “forgotten” to call, left dirty dishes in the sink, embarrassed you, hurt your feelings, broken a promise, “won” the argument, or bestowed bragging rights with a fabulous gift or an out-of-the-ballpark home run of thoughtfulness. You know if your sweetheart’s score is over the moon, well into the black, good enough to squeak by, dipping into the red, or subterranean. That’s because we assess everything from whether to get a pet to quitting our job by calculating the pluses and minuses.
In a relationship, you’re constantly giving and deducting points (what in my book I call Frequent Foreplay Miles). Your sweetie brings you coffee in bed, plus 5. Morning coffee follows a night of wild sex, 30-point bonus. You have a crazy day of meetings and your partner delivers lunch to your office, 20 points. Lunch includes cheesecake, 10-point bonus. Your partner borrows your car and returns it with an empty tank, minus 20. Your honey leaves a wet towel on the bed, minus 5. It’s your side of the bed, 15-point penalty. It’s the third time this week, 50-point penalty.
True, we don’t give or deduct actual points, but we give greater emotional weight to those things that most affect us. If that weren’t true, a surprise Porsche in the driveway would have the same Omigosh! factor as a new toaster oven and infidelity would land you in the same hot water as forgetting to pay the cable bill. It’s a fact: We keep score. Don’t fight it. Use it to set your relationship up for success.
2. Keeping score keeps you on your best behavior. We all love to win and hate to lose. We all want to please and don’t want to disappoint. So, it follows that if you’ve got a choice between picking up or losing points, you’re more likely to bite your tongue than make some snarky remark, pick up your stinky gym socks, keep your promise to bring home mint chocolate chip ice cream, be on time, call when you’re out of town, refrain from swearing in front of your mother-in-law, surprise your sweetie with a gift, make thoughtful gestures, be kind, and so on and so on. Consciously doing those things that result in getting points and avoiding doing those things that result in lost points is bound to make your relationship better.
3. Keeping score reminds you to focus on the positive. It’s fun to give to someone you love, even if all you’re giving is points. You already give points when your sweetie goes the extra mile or does something unexpectedly wonderful. If both of you also give points for the small, everyday things that are easily taken for granted or overlooked—the dinner she prepared, the lawn he mowed, the gym socks that made it to the hamper, the dishes that got washed, the cheerful smile, the promise that was kept—you’ll find yourselves more focused on the positive. The more positive you are, the less bothered you’ll be when your sweetie screws up and that’s just good for your relationship.
Okay, look, you’re going to keep score anyway so do it in a way that’s good for your relationship. Having said that, let me emphasize that tit-for-tat two-wrongs-make-a-right justification of your bad behavior is the wrong way. Tit-for-tat is childish and destructive. It’s the kind of score keeping that all relationship gurus (including me) warn against. Instead, make it your goal to (1) earn as many points as possible, (2) avoid losing them, and (3) support your sweetheart in doing the same. If you do, then keeping score will be good for your relationship.
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