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Keeping Score is Bad. Accountability is Good. But what's the difference?

conflict fairness roles stress Sep 02, 2020

It’s date night. You've arranged the childcare. And you and your partner have a clear agreement to meet at 6pm.

There’s just one problem. It’s now 6:15pm, and your partner is nowhere to be found.

You feel angry and rightly so. You text them: "WHERE ARE YOU?" When your partner finally does arrive, at 6:20pm, how do you respond?

It's a question worth asking because your response in moments like these has the power to strengthen or destroy your connection. When these moments become an opportunity for accountability, they can bring you closer. When they become an exercise in score-keeping, they can tear you apart.

This second tactic of keeping an elaborate mental tally of who's doing more, who cares more, and who's trying harder is the hallmark of the 50/50 approach to marriage. And it's a tactic that turns the joy of marriage into a drama-filled accounting exercise.

You were on time for the date night -- that’s one point added to your column. Your partner was late -- that’s negative five points added to their column.  

The problem with this strategy is that it turns marriage into a competition. Even worse, it's a competition against each other. And that’s the perfect recipe for jealousy, resentment, and constant conflict.

We think there’s a better way to respond to these inevitable moments of disappointment and hurt feelings. Instead of keeping score, you can create accountability from a spirit of love.

How do you do that?

 

Tools

 

1. Reveal your emotional experience.

When we're keeping score, we often hide our true emotions. We bury our sadness or anger and instead say things like, “it’s fine,” even when it clearly isn’t.

Accountability starts with taking the opposite approach, with revealing your authentic emotional experience. This looks like saying, “I felt upset and irritated when you showed up 20 minutes late for our date night.” It’s not an attack. It’s an expression of your inarguable emotional experience, and it creates accountability by helping your partner understand the consequences of their actions.

 

2. Make a reasonable request.

The reveal helps your partner understand the impact of their actions. The request gives them a way to make things right going forward. It’s a simple as saying, “Next time, please send me a text if you know you’re going to be more than five minutes late.” Or saying, “It’s important to me that you prioritize our date nights by showing up on time.” 

 

3. Accountability from a place of love.

In moments like these, there’s what you say and then there’s how you say it. Both communicate a clear message. If you express your reveal and request from a place of resentment, your partner will instantly experience resentment. If, on the other hand, you reveal and make requests (which foster accountability) from a place of love and radical generosity, chances are, they'll become less defensive, more receptive. It may feel strange to do this. It certainly runs counter to our ordinary habits in marriage. And yet it's the key to creating accountability and helping you win together at this crazy game of marriage.

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