Grabbing a drink from the fridge today, I was reminded of a challenging time in my marriage. I could almost still see the paper checklist my husband and I had taped to our refrigerator door. It was snug in the corner on the front of the freezer section. Somehow my husband meticulously drew tiny boxes on plain paper making it appear like the Staples version of graph paper. We had agreed on creating some sort of concrete checklist after one of our numerous power struggles over managing the kids and who does more domestic chores. We thought it was a brilliant solution to reduce conflict. Full of check marks and empty boxes, the task grid policed our daily chores, ensuring everything was fair and square. Yet, it wasn’t long before our collaborative solution began to feel more like a competition. Every time I reached for a snack in the refrigerator, I was annoyingly reminded of who was winning and who was losing the domestic task competition. Bobby, 5 points…Barbara, 2 points.
Eventually we started to ignore the task grid and the tape holding that little paper full of boxes began to age and curl. We had become noncompliant because the “fairness” grid had become another source of tension; loudly pointing out on any given day just how uneven our workloads could be. It was also a good reality check. The grid forced us to reflect on how distorted our thinking was around the idea of keeping score in order to ensure fairness.
Many of us are inculcated with the idea of fairness very early on in our lives. As children, we are taught to share, keep things even, take turns, be nice and play fair. These are valuable, honest lessons to ingest early on and aid in the development of the adult moral compass. Yet, these early lessons can become maladaptive when we rigidly adhere to the idea of fairness such as, we both must clean the kitchen an equal amount of times per week. In reality, life is often messy; situations and relationships are not always equitable and balanced.
In relationships, it is nearly impossible for all physical and emotional tasks to be even and fair at all times. Moreover, the power struggle between couples to enforce fairness can cause even more destruction to a relationship than the unfairness itself. Over time, my husband and I realized a healthier approach to fairness. Stop keeping score. Accept the idea that each partner will shoulder a heavier physical or emotional burden at different times during their relationship.
How to Stop Keeping Score
1. Adopt a No Lose Policy – Commit to a cooperative strategy that determines solutions that benefit each partner.
2. Create an Emotionally Safe Place – Convey a deep sense of caring and compassion for your partner. Listen to them.
3. Check Your Distorted Ideas about Fairness at the Door – Life is not always fair. Stop worrying about losing and protecting your own agenda.
Healthy relationships require the type of teamwork that can be observed in team sports. The most successful teams are made up of athletes who focus on performing their individual best while also engaging the strengths of their teammates. They root for each other, not take each other down. A team wins and loses together. Even if you are playing the best game of your life and your team loses; you lose. The same goes for relationships. You are on the same team and there are only two outcomes; you both win or you both lose. You choose…