Love – Love
Why There Should Be No Scorecards in Relationships
by Anne Riley, Author
We Americans are a competitive group. Competition is built into the fabric of our lives the way The Declaration of Independence is built into the Fourth of July. We compete in almost every aspect of our lives: in sports, in school, in jobs. It’s a trait that lies deep in our psyche.
Yes, indeed, we like to compete. We love our winners and we like to keep score. We are experts on taking sides. You name the topic, we can pick a winner. And a loser. Take cities, for example. Just a quick look at the Google shows that cities compete over everything: there are the top ten cities for music, the top ten cities for singles, the top ten cities for transportation, the top ten cities for raising children . . . you get the idea. And every single top ten list is replete with a scorecard that shows just why the winning cities really are winners and why the losing cities are, well, losers.
Sometimes we go a little overboard in the competition department. Not only do we pick winners and keep score, but we imbue our winners with overly positive qualities. Our winners are not just good, they are righteous and heroic and examples of idealized perfection. And of course, our losers are the opposite. Losers are not only bad, they are immoral and weak and the personification of evil. Our views may not always be realistic, but we have been known to hold them dear to our hearts.
It is not my place to judge the societal worth of competitiveness. Like any trait, it has its good points and bad points. Taken in moderation, it is perfectly acceptable, but taken to extremes, it can be problematic. Clearly, learning to be competitive in a competitive world is a useful skill. Learning to win and to lose gracefully is one of the most important skills we will ever learn. But there is one place where competition is not helpful. There is one place where picking winners is a losing strategy, one place where keeping score makes everyone lose.
That is in relationships.
One of the advantages to keeping a scorecard is we always know just where all the players stand. We can tell right away, who is the winner and who is the loser. The only problem is that in a relationship, the very fact there is a winner or a loser can kill the relationship.
Why you ask? To answer that question, we need to talk about trust. The fundamental glue that holds a relationship together is trust. Now, trust is one of the more confounding things ever invented by human beings. It is defined as:
The firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone . . .
I’m sure I’m not the first to explain that firm beliefs take a while to build. And it is this timing problem that leads to the peculiar nature of trust. Once trust is established, once that firm belief is in place, trust is one of the strongest forces around. Fully established trust enables relationship to withstand fierce shocks and remain strong. But, and here’s the ironic part, while trust is being built, it is the most fragile thing in the world, as delicate as a blossom in a breeze.
It takes a long time to build trust into something impenetrable. Trust is constructed by creating layer upon delicate layer of positive words and actions, repeated over and over and over. And it can be deconstructed just as easily by the use negative words and actions, repeated over and over and over.
Think about a single thread. If you have one thread, it is easy to snap in half. If you weave another thread with that lone thread, the resulting ‘rope’ becomes stronger, but it is still easily broken. But eventually, if you weave enough threads together, the resulting rope becomes so strong it can’t be broken. That’s trust. If you weave enough kind words and actions together over time, they create in each partner, an unbreakable certainty that, no matter what happens as life unfolds, the two of you will face it together. Certainty is the key here. Not maybe, not possibly, not even probably. Certainly.
I cannot over emphasize how incredibly wonderful it is to have the certainty of trust in life. Life is, by its nature, uncertain. It can be difficult and confusing and painful. With trust, we have the ability to defy nature and create certainty where it does not naturally exist.
Trust is a fragile thing while it is being built. Trust is an uncertain, fragile, breakable thing until, one day, it has suddenly grown strong enough to become . . . certain, durable and unbreakable. Picking winners and losers while trust is being built is like taking scissors to the rope you have so painstakingly built, thread by slender thread, and destroying it in one go.
Think about it. If you are in a relationship, and you are either constantly battling to win, thus making your partner feel like a loser, or constantly feeling like you are losing, thus making your partner feel like a winner, one of you is always going to be feeling bad. And if one of you feels bad, the relationship struggles. A relationship cannot grow unless both sides win. How can one build any sort of comfort level, any trust, if each partner strives to best the other? There can be no companionship where competition is the basis of the relationship.
Of course, it’s not always easy to create win-win relationships, partly because we our so competitive in other areas of life, but also because we are individuals, and it is not always easy to mesh individuals, with their individual hopes and dreams, into healthy relationships. No two people are ever alike, and sometimes this is never more true than with our partners. How the heck do we mesh two things that are at times polar opposites?
I’ve been married for a long time now, long enough for me to be able to read my husband’s mind. And for him to read mine. This is not always a good thing, but it is true nonetheless. In some ways, we are like one person, but in others, we couldn’t be more different. Yet, we have a crazy strong relationship. It’s a little surprising, when I think about it, because I’ve experienced some significant personal issues in my life that challenged me to my very core. Yet despite my personal upheavals, our relationship has remained rock solid. I often wondered how our marriage withstood so easily those challenges that came with my personal struggles. After pondering this for a while, I realized that we used some useful techniques to build our rope of trust.
I’m sure there are many effective techniques, but I thought I would share the ones we have used over the years to forge our relationship into the flexible steel it is today.
1. Throw out the scorecard. We don’t keep score. We don’t point out who is winning or who is losing. We don’t keep track of who does what for whom. We don’t demand favors in exchange for favors. We don’t keep lists of each other’s mistakes or transgressions. If we have a fight, we don’t bring out the litany of past failures from fights already solved. We just don’t do it.
2. Ask questions. If I have a problem, I will say to Tim, “I have a question.” That is the signal for him to stop what he’s doing and listen, because I’m about to tell him something I’m not too happy about and he probably doesn’t want to hear. Then, as in Jeopardy, I phrase my concern in the form of a question. Without accusation. Without demand. Without drama. We try to keep the discussion as objective and matter-of-fact as possible. What I have learned is that Tim is willing to listen to questions and is even more willing to solve problems. But Tim is not willing to face angry accusations or raised voices before he has even had a chance to understand the problem.
3. Proper perspective helps. What I have learned in a long and happy marriage is that my husband’s happiness is as important, and sometimes even more important, than my own. And even more interesting, I have learned that my happiness is as important, and sometimes even more important, to him. This is our foundation for a win-win relationship. When taking an action, I consider the impact on him as seriously as the impact on me. And he does the same for me. This is a nice way to live.
4. Viva la difference. In some ways, my husband and I are polar opposites. Almost every single day, I am met with this truth. I must say, those moments are absolutely delightful. Sometimes, our differences make me marvel at the fact we ever managed to get together at all. Sometimes, they give me the chance to see the world from a different perspective. Sometimes, they just make me laugh. Whatever, enjoy the differences. They make life so interesting.
I believe scorecards are worthwhile in sports, but I don’t think they belong anywhere in relationships. I will make one exception, however. Tennis is the only sport that provides a scorecard I consider acceptable for relationships. So, just to make sure you know how important a concession this is, I need to explain that the sport of tennis and I are not on friendly terms. I’m a crummy tennis player. I need at least two courts, ten balls, and a 5-game lead on my husband to have even a remote chance of winning a set. But I like the starting score of a tennis match:
Love – love.
That is the way a match starts. That is the same way a relationship starts. And as far as I’m concerned, that is the way they should both stay.