Scorekeeping can derail relationships


*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.

I had an interesting conversation with a salesman at an RV dealership once, let’s call him Gary.

Gary was an interesting character. Great hair and a stellar set of choppers. Aesthetically speaking, Gary was quite the looker. But alas, he was spoken for, thankfully. Because his personality was a tad, what’s the word — punchy. And that’s putting it mildly.

“I am a great boyfriend,” he declared after asking if I was married. I know, it was as random as it sounds.

“I cook, clean, and provide financially. I am supportive of the things she wants to do with her life. And I don’t complain.” He went on to say, “but my girl, she’s not a great girlfriend, but I love her. She’s got some bad qualities, but who doesn’t? And the things that I do for her — she would never do for me. But that’s cool.”

The cynic in me desperately wanted to point out that he was doing the thing he said he didn’t do — complain. But the cynic lost out to my wounded inner child, who recognized how his need for validation caused him to put more emphasis on her not-so-great qualities.

During our nearly 30 minute conversation, Gary did not compliment his girlfriend even once. What he did do was point out what he added to her life, all while dropping not-so-subtle hints about all the things she wasn’t doing. And to reaffirm his best boyfriend status, he said: “I’m better than all of her friends’ boyfriends too.”

There were several red flags both in the things he said and the things he didn’t say. But what stood out most was his belief that love was transactional. Gary seemed to think that his girlfriend needed to tick certain boxes to quality for the highly coveted GF of the Year Award. But in my experience, love is rarely received the way it’s given.

A relationship is not a competition.

And your partner is not your rival. So if the quality of your relationship hinges on your partner one-upping you, it won’t be long before “the thrill is gone.”

You are two different people who likely have very different skill sets, which makes it nearly impossible to have the same strengths as your partner. And vice versa.

There is no such thing as complete reciprocity — in ANY relationship, romantic or platonic. Quid-pro-quo-style relationships do exist, but they often lack intimacy. So if that’s what you’re going for — have at it. But if you want emotional maturity and a loving connection, I suggest taking a more liberal approach.

If there is a winner, there will also be a loser.

The trouble with operating from a tit-for-tat framework is that there will always be a perceived loser.

Gary was convinced that he was the relationship champion. And as far as he was concerned, his girl wasn’t even a close second — I kid you not. Gary genuinely believed that he was the undefeated relationship gold medalist. While his unranked girlfriend, and all the boyfriends he knew, were left to eat his dust.

This way of thinking is not only toxic to the relationship, but it’s disempowering to the other person. I have a sneaky suspicion that he has made it a point to make his girlfriend aware of his scoring system. And that means that she is also aware that her efforts have been deemed lackluster at best and not enough at worse.

Leave the competition out of the bedroom.

Of course, there are times when a little friendly competition is a good thing. For example, my former partner and I enjoyed playing cards and board games together. And we went full out — talking crap, pumping ourselves up, and making the loser the butt of the joke for days on end. But it was all in jest.

Playing games was something that we both enjoyed. And neither of us took the game or ourselves too seriously. We never forgot that it was just a game. There was no animosity between us, no matter who won or lost.

Having fun together is a good thing. But if one or both of you is highly competitive and struggles not to take things “personally,” you should probably avoid the kind of fun that might lead to triggering experiences. You’ve been warned.

Make love, not points.

It’s important to note that most of us are terrible at quantifying the things we bring to the table. I mean, love is not a game of Pokémon Go.

You cannot measure emotional labor or thoughtfulness. It would be ridiculous to count points every time your partner made you feel desired or less alone. The intangible benefits of being in a loving relationship are immeasurable.

But what if you’re the kind of person who needs reassurance from time to time? Or if you begin to feel invisible or underappreciated? Let your partner know. You’re the only person who knows what you need. And it’s okay to make requests.

Getting in the habit of expressing your needs will improve your relationship.

Imagine how different Gary’s relationship would be if he were able to say, “I have a lot of things on my plate, and sometimes it’s challenging to keep all the balls in the air. And it makes me feel really good when you express appreciation for my efforts.” That sounds a lot better than, “I do more for you than you do for me,” don’t you agree?

If you are a scorekeeper, now is as good a time as any to get to the bottom of what’s driving the behavior. Because ultimately, you are responsible for meeting your own needs. And one of the best ways to do so is to know what you need and ask. That way, you have a really good chance of getting your needs met.

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Intimacy & Relationship coach, writer, and creator of The Sensuality Project. I specialize in Relationship-ing (it's a verb).

Los Angeles County, CA

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