There’s a lot going on in today’s relationships: commutes, work, deadlines, keeping the house together, fitting in time with friends, self-care, and just the general maintenance of life leaves many couples feeling exhausted at the end of the day. When you throw kids, pets or taking care of aging parents into that mix, it can tip couples right over the edge of time management.
With all of these things competing for your time and attention, people often end up looking to their partner to save the day, do their share and “pull their weight.” You start watching everything they do and comparing it to what you do. In effect, you start competing. And this is the real reason relationships fail. This is the reason you’re not communicating well – it’s because of this undercurrent of competition. Everyone ends up with an agenda and you stop having your partner’s best interests at heart because you’re worried about your own interests. Will I have enough time to take care of myself or to do what I want to do? If we use money for your thing, what will happen to my thing? The list goes on.
You start to keep a mental score card, listing all the things you’ve done and comparing it to what your partner has done. This inevitably leads to feelings of resentment, anxiety, frustration and disappointment. Not the feelings you want if you’re looking for a connected, happy and satisfying relationship.
Whether you’ve been together 10 months or 10 years, competition is the real source of the problems in your relationship. You end up keeping score and competing with your partner in a ton of ways you aren’t even aware of!
How do you stop it? Well, first you have to realize what you’re doing and why. There are basically four ways that keeping score in your relationship is setting you up to lose and I’m going to dedicate a blog post to each one over the next four weeks.
Today we’re going to focus on the first way you lose when you compete with your partner.
Keeping Score Sets You Up on Opposite Sides
We say things like: “I drove Matt to baseball on Tuesday, so it’s only fair for you to take Sophie to soccer practice on Thursday.” Or, the one I hate the most: “It’s your TURN to put away the dishes.”
Do you hear yourself? It’s your turn?! Taking turns happens in games and sports. If you’re treating your relationship like a game – I can tell you right now – you’re going to lose! You want to know why? Because keeping score like this in your relationship puts you and your partner on opposite teams! Think about it: this sets one of you up to win, and one of you to lose. How do you expect to have a connected, loving relationship when there’s an underlying tension of someone losing?
I hear people tell their partner, “I need you to take this off my plate.” I want to scream: “It’s the same damn plate!” Your partner can’t take anything off your plate because you share the plate! You’re just moving all the peas around and nothing is really changing.
I need you to get out of the keeping score mindset and, instead, think of you and your partner as being on the same team. This means you are one, shared resource. So, pulling energy from your partner, really means pulling energy from yourself. Your team becomes drained and it’s hard to win the game when your team is tapped out.
What do you do to stop this behavior? There are two main things you need to do and they involve math (but not the way you think):
The first is to subtract: to take things off your plate completely. To do this, you’ve got to get good at three things in particular:
- You need to let go of any perfectionism or controlling behavior. We all know I’m a major control enthusiast, so I get how hard this is. But it’s bringing you down and undermining your relationship. You don’t have to do or have all the things. Your children don’t need to do or have all the things. Let that shit go.
- Get good at saying “no.” No needs to be part of your vocabulary. No, I can’t take on that extra project at work. No, I can’t be the bake sale coordinator again this year. No, I can’t have you and your whole family stay at our house for a whole week this summer. No. No. No.
- And this inevitably dovetails right into the last thing you need to get good at as you work on subtracting things from your life and plate. You need to let go of any people pleasing you’ve got going on. Folks are going to be disappointed, frustrated and maybe even angry with you when you start saying no. Others are used to you taking stuff on. They won’t like this change, but they’ll get over it as soon as you do.
The second thing you need to do to get out of keeping score and competing is to add resources instead of always looking to your partner to fill in the blanks or “pick up the slack.” Instead of thinking that it’s your partner’s turn to clean the bathroom, why not figure out how to hire a cleaning person so neither of you has to do it and you can use the resources of the couple for other, more important things (like having rock star sex, relaxing, or finally getting to that dentist appointment you’ve been putting off?).
If you don’t have money, you can do things like bartering (Hey best friend, can you help me clean the garage and I’ll help you with X, buy you lunch or just give you my undying loyalty?) or you could try swapping, (Hey mother of my kid’s best friend that I barely speak to, can you car pool on Tuesdays and I’ll do Thursdays?). There are many ways to add resources to your relationship instead of exhausting the players on your team. If you’re both stressed and overwhelmed, it’s not helping anyone.
Remember that when you constantly look to your partner to “do their part” you’re actually taking away from yourself.
I’ve got an awesome freebie for you to help you cement in today’s lesson. I call it the Creating more patience and bandwidth quicksheet . It’ll take you less than 10 minutes to create a real, tangible action step so you can start changing right now. Sign up below!