You did the dishes, he should bathe the kids. He "worked hard all day", you should have dinner hot when he gets home. Even in the best of marriages, it's sometimes hard to avoid "keeping score" with one another. He gave you a backrub, now it's your turn to reciprocate.
While a little give and take is never a bad thing, constantly reminding your spouse that he or she "owes you" can lead to everyone feeling bad. If your spouse doesn't respond, you feel underappreciated. After all, you put out all this effort--what has he done for you lately? On the other hand, if your spouse is showering you with gifts and favors, you might start to feel guilty and wonder what he wants from you in exchange. Either way, it's a lose-lose.
We asked GALTime marriage and family therapist Jane Greer, Ph.D. how to avoid keeping score in a marriage.
Whether it's brought up verbally or not, most of us probably could admit to "keeping score" --at least in some aspects of our marriage. (Kids, money, household chores, etc.) What's the danger in this?
Dr. Greer: Keeping score is the way people hold onto anger and resentment and it rarely then gets communicated in a positive and constructive manner. Instead, it builds up and can often lead to blow ups and arguments that go nowhere because the score is too high and there's just "too much" resentment to sort through and work out.
We've all heard the expression "give and take." What if you feel like you're the one doing all the giving?
Dr. Greer: You want to look at where you need to start putting some limits in place for yourself and learn how to manage your feelings of guilt. You may also need to deal with the fear that your partner may get angry or upset if you don't give in to all demands and expectations, some of which may be unrealistic.
What if it's your husband who's feeling the resentment? How do you deal with him thinking you're slacking off when you're actually working hard?
Dr. Greer: You want to empathize with him and ask him why he's feeling that you're not "on it" and particularly what it is that he's feeling he's not getting from you. If it's your attention or time, then ask him what he would like from you. Share with him what you have been doing and explain to him if you feel like you're on overload. Finally, ask him about sharing some chores to make more room for you to focus on his needs and let him know you'll work at paying more attention to him. (Guys, this works for both sides. We're just writing it from the woman's perspective in this instance. This issue is a two-way street!)
How do you discuss these matters with one another without acting as if you've been keeping score?
Dr. Greer: As soon as something occurs that upsets you, bring it up for discussion and problem solving. You don't have to wait to "make your case," which is what keeping score is all about. There's the feeling that if it's happened once it will probably continue and only get worse. So let him know you'd like to address a particular situation and figure out how to handle it differently in the future so that it doesn't lead to you holding a grudge and feeling resentment toward him.
Do you or your spouse tend to keep score? If so, what are some of the ways you work it out?