At this point, we feel like we are experts on marital gatekeeping. And we also understand the trap that is maternal gatekeeping: Sometimes you just need to hit snooze and let your husband dress your daughter for school (breathe in…leopard and lace is a look…breath out). Or allow the grandparents to babysit so you can get away for the weekend (no one’s ever actually overdosed on sugar…namaste). But gatekeeping has a fugly cousin called score keeping, and it may be an even deadlier relationship toxin. Here’s the detailed diagnosis—and the cure. Here's why you should avoid keeping score in marriage.
What is Score Keeping?
Score keeping is what married people do when they endlessly tally up “who did what for whom, when, and at what cost of time and effort,” writes psychologist Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne. One of the best things about marriage is we compensate for each other’s weaknesses and are fortified by each other’s strengths. Labor tends to get divvied up along these lines. So, your tech-savvy husband becomes the in-house IT guy when the printer breaks or you drop your phone in the toilet. And you tap into your type A tendencies when it’s time to file the taxes. He cooks; you clean up. He negotiates with the mechanic; you deal with the plumber. Balance and harmony. But when one person deviates from these unspoken rules, or fails to do his part, especially if the other person is feeling overwhelmed by their unrelenting responsibilities, fuses get lit.
Give me some more examples.
Score keeping happens when you vigilantly monitor all the little things. It’s marital death by a thousand cuts. You’ve been working super hard to save money, and he just blew $12.99 on organic strawberries. You count how many nights you’ve gone out with his co-workers and it’s at least several more than he’s hung out with your college friends. You spend whole weekends with his parents, but he can only manage brunch with yours. He keeps tabs on how infrequently you empty the dishwasher (and critiques your loading technique). You love to remind him about the time he forgot to take out the garbage out, and you came home to a sassy raccoon on your stoop.
Why is this bad for your marriage?
Score keeping breeds resentment. It sets you both up for blaming and shaming. Bad vibes are baked into the concept. “The very act of counting who does and who does not keep up their end of the bargain implies a lack of trust, rigidity, and negativity,” writes Krauss Whitbourne. It is rare to find a modern marriage—even one with equal financial contributors—where responsibilities are split 50/50, down the middle, even Steven. As big life changes hit in our 30s and beyond (gunning for a big promotion at work, sick kids or parents), one person will inevitably shoulder more of the load, at least some of the time. The myth of the perfectly equal marriage may even contribute to divorce, say relationship researchers at The Gottman Institute.
So what should you do about it?
Marriage is a leap of faith; try having a little in the person you chose. The minute you convince yourself you’re going to be let down, guess what? That becomes your reality. “When you expect bad things to happen with your partner, they do, and the more they happen the more your negative emotions build upon themselves,” writes Krauss Whitbourne. How to stop the spiral? Clearly communicate your needs, then trust that your S.O. will follow through. However, “If you feel like things have been unfair for a while, don’t hold it in. Go to your partner and tell them that you feel like you’re doing a lot and would feel better if they could help you out with some of the things that need to be done,” writes relationship coach Kyle Benson. “No scorecard needed.” If your partner’s leaning on you too much is situational and temporary, cut him some slack. You’ll be laying the groundwork for him to support you when you need it. “You may not always be taking as much as you give, but in the long run, it won’t matter as much as your overall feelings of fulfillment,” writes Krauss Whitbourne. If he’s there for you when it really matters, you can stop counting—because that’s what counts.