Humans are instinctively competitive. It is a survival mechanism that we were forced to adapt to stay in the game. This instinct to have one above the other has been an inherent part of evolution. It is so deeply rooted within all of us that we use it even in our relationships. Today, I will address how couples resort to scorekeeping and use it in resolving conflicts.
Scorekeeping happens every day and persists over a long period without us realizing the negative effects it has on the relationships that we rely on and hold close to our hearts. By keeping score and bringing back negative memories, we are slowly chipping away at the present, what we have in front of us.
So, let us dive into the topic further to understand where this behaviour stems from and how we can reverse it.
As mentioned before, keeping score is natural, it is how we survived some of the ordeals that our species had to go through. The difference now is we are not faced with such grim circumstances and are not at the risk of losing the love, affection, and respect of our partner.
Let us play out a scenario.
A couple sits down for dinner. The conversation goes on as usual till one of them points out, the food is bland. While the one pointing is merely stating an opinion with a good deal of fact in it, the other who has prepared the food takes the comment so personally that a flood of memories involving shortcomings on the other person’s behalf drenches their thoughts and all they can utter are words like, “Oh you don’t like my food? How about I don’t like that you never cook, it is always me toiling away in the kitchen.”
Instead of passing on the salt, several insults are passed ruining an otherwise peaceful dinner.
Did you see how something that could have been addressed with a condiment intervention escalated to a full-blown argument that could have been very well avoided?
As normal as such behaviour can seem, it can put a strain on one’s relationship with their partner. More often than not, because of the immediate effects of scorekeeping and the arguments that arise from it, one can harbour negative feelings in their heart as a result of such experiences. Overall, it shuts down any doors for open and honest communication that can help couples from growing in their relationship. A match made in heaven ends up in each loathing the other over a silly match of who is better or who did what.
Again, I would like to reiterate that scorekeeping is a defence mechanism, one way to put up your guard when you feel attacked. The reality is, you are not being attacked. Look at the comment or the feedback for what it is, as a matter of fact, and try not to attach any emotion to it. Try to look at the situation from an outsider’s perspective. What would you think or do if you see a couple who is on the verge of a huge fight? Would you advise them to take a step back and re-calibrate? You would? Right?
I know it is easier said than done especially when you are emotionally invested in the relationship but there are certain things you can do to avoid straining your relationship with silly scorekeeping. The first step is to recognise why we do it which we have covered extensively in the earlier part of the article. Now, let us move on to small yet powerful steps that you can take in everyday communication with your partner that will help you leave this mindset and nourish your relationship.
The power of ‘I’:
You will be surprised how one small, simple change in how you address a disagreement can have a profound effect on your relationship. This time, when you find yourself going down the slippery slope of the blame game, take a moment to articulate your frustration starting the sentence with ‘I’.
“I felt disrespected when you pointed out that the food was bland. Perhaps, you can simply ask me to pass the salt and move on with the rest of your dinner.”
Now, compare this to how the person responded earlier. “Oh, you don’t like my food? How about I don’t like that you never cook, it is always me toiling away in the kitchen.”
You decide which approach is calmer and more tuned to finding a solution. The answer is crystal clear, isn’t it?
‘I’ statements allow you to express how you feel without making it seem like you are ready to pick a fight. It also gives your partner the space to comprehend what happened and look at it from your eyes based on how you felt. Their response will then be calmer. And, all you know, the dinner continues giving the couple opportunities to connect rather than focus on the negatives.
Couples married or not, each one brings something unique to the table. Each of them is equally important for the relationship to function and flourish. One is not superior to the other. You are as essential to this relationship as the other person is. So, if you are at home cooking, your partner is out there working and waiting to come back to you for a warm meal.
Never underestimate what you do. If you are insecure about yourself and your current status, you will eventually bring that out in your relationship. Begin by recognising the value you create. Start exercising self-respect, give yourself props for working hard and you will see how your attitude towards your relationship changes.
This may not be openly expressed by your partner but, there is no stopping you from communicating these expectations. But, the real change begins when you get comfortable in your skin and put a full stop to judging and shaming yourself.
Leave the scorekeeping to sports. May the best couple win!