Keeping score may be appropriate in sports, but it doesn’t do much to foster a meaningful relationship. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a relationship between friends, married couples, or work colleagues … keeping score is highly destructive. Yet some folks are so obsessed with keeping the scales equally balanced that they’re one step away from creating a spreadsheet.
I washed the dishes so you take out the garbage. I paid for the gas so you pick up the tip. I stayed late last time, the least you can do is …
Who’s up? Who’s down? Who cares?
Keeping Score: What Have You Done for Me Lately?
Any way you cut it, keeping score is damaging. Here are some of the costs:
Unproductive. What are you trying to prove? Are you trying to win brownie points for doing something kind, or are you trying to ensure that you don’t get the raw end of the deal? In any case, when a relationship turns competitive, someone is made to feel uncomfortable.
Dissatisfying. Keeping score creates an uncomfortable feeling of obligation. It’s no longer unconditional giving; it’s giving with strings attached. It shifts the emphasis from “want to” to “have to.”
Destructive. Keeping score changes the focus from us to me. A me-centered relationship can lead to bitterness and resentment –– poisoning the relationship over time.
Small-minded. Keeping score fosters a feeling of “what have you done for me lately?” at the expense of investing in a long-term relationship. Keeping score turns a relationship into a competition.
Come to think of it — what are the rules of this game? Is taking the kids to school worth more or less than helping the kids with their homework? Is bringing home a larger paycheck valued more or less than providing emotional support during tough times? If you do something for me today, how much time do I have to even the score? If you pay for something, do I have to buy something of equal value even though you make more money? Is making dinner worth more or less than taking you out? If this sounds absurd, that’s because it is!
Keeping Score Is a Losing Game
Together we’re a team. Healthy relationships are a team effort in which everyone wins or loses together. Emphasis should be placed on attaining your mutual goals rather than on scoring points.
In you I trust. Trust stems, in part, from knowing that someone has your back. Keeping score breeds mistrust and unnecessary anxiety. Time can be better spent doing something meaningful.
Focus on the big picture. If relationships are forever, why is so much emphasis placed on short-term gain? Like anything else of value, relationships require an investment.
Keep game-playing on the field. The desire to measure everything is a colossal waste of time. Instead, do what’s right and the rest should take care of itself.
Life Is Better When You Don’t Keep Score
How do you keep score when people use different scoring systems? Should a deed be measured by its monetary value or by the effort made? Do three small acts equal one big one? Is a monetary contribution worth more than an emotional one? What happens if a gesture is so momentous that it can’t be returned? To make matters more difficult, people often inflate their own contribution and minimize their partner’s actions. For these reasons, and more, keeping score doesn’t add up.
In any good relationship, people give willingly of themselves without an expectation of getting something in return. The reward is not personal gain but rather, making the other person happy. Of course, you will have periods when you take on more responsibility, and your spouse, friend, or colleague will do the same, but over the course of a lifetime, things even out. Will it come out evenly? Probably not, but that’s the point. The joy is in the giving.
In healthy relationships, there’s no game-playing. You place the interests of your spouse, friend, or colleague ahead of your own, and they do the same for you — no questions asked. This isn’t determined by formal agreement. The commitment is much stronger. It’s called a relationship, and it’s where you share, grow, and benefit together. There’s no need to second-guess the intentions of your partner in this relationship or for your partner to doubt yours. You both know that the real reward is the relationship –– the bonus is what you build together. As someone said, “A friend is someone who does things that count, but doesn’t stop to count them.” So save the scorekeeping for the field. Play ball.