On Keeping Score

There is a nasty little thing I do in my marriage. I have to work hard to keep it in check. Otherwise, it’ll undo all the hard work we have both done since our separation. It’s called keeping score.

Keeping score is a habit I need to unlearn

I’ll tell you how I got into the habit. At the beginning of our marriage, there was a lot of unfairness when it came to the kids and the house. I did almost all of it. When I pointed out all the work I was doing without any help, he acted like it wasn’t that much. He made my labor invisible. Eventually, I grew resentful. And later, I left.

When we reconciled, we had both gone to a lot of therapy. We agreed that the responsibilities of the kids and the house would be equal from now on. And honestly? It is now. But for some reason, I still struggle with keeping score.

When I wake up early with the kids on Saturday and he sleeps in, I keep score.

When I do four loads of laundry and he doesn’t help, I keep score.

When it feels like I do all the cooking and he does all the eating, I keep score.

Sometimes, I end up with a long mental list of all the things I’ve done that he hasn’t. All the we things that became me things.

Keeping score made sense in the past, but not anymore

In an incredibly unfair turn of events, I now do the same thing to my husband that he used to do to me. In keeping score, I make his labor invisible.

When I’m clear minded, I look around and see the evidence of his labor everywhere. Each morning, he cleans the entire kitchen while I’m doing the school drop-offs. He has scheduled our Roomba to run every single day. Before it begins its route, he runs around the house, picking up everything from the floor and putting it away so that the Roomba can do its job. He sweeps and mops the floors, takes out the trash, and cleans the toilets. He fixes the broken stuff, kills the bugs (usually before I even see them), hand-dries all the dishes when the dishwasher does a shit job. I struggle with my mental health, so gives me my SSRI and allergy pills every morning, and takes internet trolls to task in my comment sections when I am overwhelmed. Lovingly, he makes my bath every night.

Most of all, he doesn’t keep score. There is no tit-for-tat.

Keeping score is for rivals, not for teams

I keep score because, at one time in our marriage, I felt like I had to. But things are different now. We are a team. We work together, both contributing to the house and the kids in our own way. It’s time to let the score-keeping habit die.

When I keep score, I show that I’m only viewing the world from my perspective. I’m being incredibly self-focused. Typically, there’s nothing wrong with being self-focused; in fact, we are engineered to focus on ourselves. But when our own inward focus makes us blind to the work and contribution of others, that is a problem. Sure, at this moment, maybe I am busy and my husband isn’t. Maybe on this morning I am overwhelmed by the kids and he is sleeping in. In the big picture, though, it all balances out. I could name just as many moments that I get to relax while he does the work. Conveniently, I just happen to forget those moments when I’m frustrated or overwhelmed. I lean in to old habits instead of seeing what’s happening in the present.

Being mindful instead

I have to overcome this habit of keeping score. It will undo all the hard work we’ve done in our marriage if I don’t. I’m learning to practice mindfulness — to constantly remind myself that my husband and I are living in the present, not in the past. Things are different now. There is no need to keep score because we are finally on the same team.

I have to remember that our lives flow to their own rhythms. We both have times of day when we feel super productive, and times when we feel lazy or need a rest. It’s natural that, at times, I will be working and he will be resting. And I have to retrain my brain to understand that. Mindfulness means telling the part of my brain that says I’m working and he’s not to instead say I’m working right now and he’s not.

Asking for help

Also, I can ask for help when I’m overwhelmed. I don’t have to white-knuckle my way through the day all by myself. That is what leads to resentment. Instead, when I feel like I have too many chores or responsibilities on my plate, the way to avoid resentment is to simply ask for help. My husband is always willing to help me when I ask.

He might not realize that I’m feeling overwhelmed, or that whatever I’m working on is something that I’d even want help with. Because, let’s be honest, as much as we say I don’t want to have to ask him for help, we also want things done our own way and end up shooing our spouses off when they try to help. I am working on learning to tell him when I need help, and actually letting him help (even if it’s not exactly how I would do it) when he does step in.

Practicing mindfulness helps me undo the nasty habit of score keeping. I hope that, with time and practice, the habit will unlearn itself. Keeping score is for rivals. I want to be on the same team. Always.

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