Trading the “I’s” for a “We” – How To Stop Keeping Score In A Relationship
As a newly married woman who is also a new mother, I’m surprised at how much my life has changed for my husband and I in the past year. While we definitely were on a whirlwind high, I don’t think either of us contemplated how to make a new marriage work amid so many wonderful changes. We both work full-time, and when our son came along before our first wedding anniversary, we hit a rough patch earlier than expected. Soon, our lazy weekends became days where we tried to figure out whose turn it was to clean the house and the diapers, and keeping a tally on who does what during the week while caring for a baby took the place of lovey dovey chats and sex filled nights.
“Why am I always doing dishes?” or “Why am I always the one up with our son in the middle of the night?” became daily questions I’d ask myself as I huffed and puffed wiping down the kitchen counter while sleep deprived. I found myself growing more resentful by the day as I kept mental notes of everything my husband wasn’t doing. Then I found myself getting angry as he seemed to have a score card of his own. He’d say things like, “You didn’t clean the kitty litter?” and my blood would boil. My husband has a very physical job, but I consider my job stressful as well, even if just mentally exhausting – but to him, it’s not nearly as taxing as his job. Not to mention I have an hour and a half commute, only to rush home to pick up my son from daycare, play with him, feed him, bathe him, read to him and then put him to bed – all before my husband gets home from work. Kitty litter is the LAST thing on my mind…sleep is the first, only to get up the next morning and do it all over again.
I think our mistake is thinking that marriage is supposed to be 50-50. If I cook, you wash the dishes. If I do laundry, you fold it and put it away. If I feed the cats, you clean the litter. I could go on forever. But I’m discovering that marriage isn’t like that at all. It’s more like 90-10, or at least 80-20…where it seems like one of you is always the one giving and your partner is doing all the taking. If you’re keeping score, then you’re already in trouble.
And I understand not wanting to be taken for granted or taken advantage of. No one wants to feel unappreciated in a relationship. But what I’m trying to resolve myself to do more of is giving freely when it’s in my power to do so without expecting anything in return. Will it kill me to wash the dishes if I’m already washing out bottles anyway? Of course not. Am I up with the baby while my husband sleeps? Yes, but I love bonding with my son so should I really complain? What it comes down to is trying to give 100% whenever you can and develop a mindset that revolves around giving for the sake of the relationship – not because you want to “earn points” or feel superior because you do more than he does.
To help me do that and not be so focused on keeping score, one thing I’m going to do is be clear and direct about what I DO want or need from him. I’ll say things like “I don’t mind washing the dishes, but can you wipe down the counter for me?” By giving him one task and asking for it directly, he doesn’t have to guess what my expectations are – and he’ll probably just wash the dishes since he’s already in there wiping down the counter.
I will also try to be more understanding of his situation and acknowledge the role he plays in our marriage as well. He probably feels that if he’s doing all the cooking, which he normally is whether I eat or not, that he shouldn’t HAVE to do dishes. Can I let him off the hook? Sure, and I can appreciate the bigger picture – which is if he’s not asking me to have his dinner ready when he gets home, then the least I can do is clean up a little after he comes home after a hard day and feeds me – even if he leaves the kitchen a wreck.
Lastly, I’ll be honest with him about how I feel (instead of silently fuming!) and ask him what we can do together to make sure both of our needs are met without making the other feel like they’re doing more or less than their share. This way, we won’t be keeping spreadsheets of ways our partners have dropped the ball and focus more on how we can be a better team. Whether it’s setting boundaries, creating agreements or simply communicating more effectively, if we both agree to give 100% every time, we both will contribute in a way where we naturally begin to take care of each other and benefit equally. If you eliminate the idea of getting more than you give, the “I’s” will transcend into “we,” no one will feel slighted, and you can throw the score cards away for good.