If you wanted an absolutely predictable, completely reliable way to guarantee ongoing frustration--and a virtually guaranteed way to adversely affect you relationship--it would be to keep score of what you do, and what your partner isn't doing. And if you really wanted to compound the problem, you could let your partner know, on a regular basis, how he or she is not meeting your expectations--and how much more you are doing than they are!
For various reasons, it is tempting to keep track, either silently or even out loud, of all that you are doing to contribute to the relationship, to make your partner's life easier, and how much you sacrifice in the name of the relationship. You think of how many times in a row you have cleaned the house, or paid the bills, or driven to work, or done the laundry, or bathed the children or whatever.
Perhaps we do this for fear we won't be appreciated--or maybe it is because we are slightly resentful of the role we find ourselves in--or perhaps it is something altogether different. Whatever the reason, it backfires.
When you engage in this extremely common habit, two things are certain. First, your excessive thinking about the perceived inequities in your relationship will frustrate you and stress you out. When you constantly remind yourself of your own hard work, you will invariably feel angry at your partner, and in many cases, your loving feelings will diminish. The connection between your thinking and the way you feel is undeniable. As you think about your resentments and fill your mind with your unfair task load, you will feel the effects of those burdensome thoughts--you will feel taken advantage of and burned out.
Second, your partner will feel your resentment and built-up tension--which will give him or her more negativity to latch on to and think about. No one wants to feel as though his or her partner is put off and angered by the contributions they are making. In fact, the usual response to discovering this is to become defensive about how much he or she is doing in comparison. Both parties dig in and think even more about how much they are doing--scorecards are flying! Negative feelings surround your relationship, and both partners think the other is to blame.
As your scorecard enters your mind, see if you can drop those thoughts and bring yourself back to a loving feeling. Remind yourself that it is easier to see your own contribution and to take your partner's efforts for granted. For the moment, reverse this thought process. Think not of what your partner is not doing, but instead think of what he is doing. You may discover that some portion of your frustration is not reality, but simply a mental habit that has crept into your thinking. Each time you dismiss your "this isn't fair" thinking, you will be contributing to the good will of your relationship. In fact, Kris and I have discovered that, ultimately, keeping your scorecard thinking to a minimum actually contributes more to a loving relationship than any of the more concrete contributions you are making--the ones you are fretting about.
Even if your scorecard mentality persists, and you are absolutely convinced that you are getting the short end of the stick, it is still best that you keep your thinking in check. In doing so, you will keep your loving feelings alive. Remember, it is always easier to have heartfelt discussions or discuss difficult issues when your heart is filled with love and patience. Admittedly, both Kris and I still occasionally fall into this trap, but luckily it is pretty rare. We think you will find that if you can nip this tendency in the bud, the mutual love and respect in your relationship will return--or get even stronger.
This article is published in Don't Sweat the Small Stuff in Love