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I Don’t Keep Score in My Relationship — Here’s Why

Published:
February 27, 2024
February 19, 2024
Read this article to learn how to stop keeping score in a relationship by changing your mindset.

I’m a perfectionist. I don’t usually say this out loud, but there’s a strong pull in me to be the best at everything I do. As a lifelong Catholic, I was taught from a young age that our lives are a gift meant to be given back to God by giving to others — and even that is something I want to be the best at. I’d like to be known as the kindest acquaintance and the most thoughtful relative and the most generous friend. 

My desire for perfection (and the competitive streak that comes with it) is also the reason I don’t like being in debt. Owing someone something means that I’m less than perfect, and I don’t want to let myself be vulnerable in that way. If I’m being honest, I even like the idea of other people owing me. But of course, generosity born of pride is not generosity at all. 

It’s also not much of a way to live. It forgets that we all owe people all the time. None of us would be who we are without countless supporters and influences. People probably owe us all the time, too, in ways we don’t even realize. We’re not standalone islands; we’re part of a vast network of dynamic relationships that make up what it means to be human. 

American individualism would have us believe that we can forge our own paths, that we are at our best when we are self-sufficient. But this misses an important, life-giving truth: that we are created for community. We are at our best not when we are alone but when we are together. 

Getting married and having children showed me this more than anything else. These life events pushed me up against my limits in new ways. I realized early on in my marriage that there’s no use in trying to achieve a 50/50 split of all that goes into making up a life together — and you’ll make yourselves crazy if you try. When it came to motherhood, there was simply too much to do, and my once-stalwart capacities had been thinned by the challenges of pregnancy and birth. 

“...as I've matured I've found it freeing to (slowly, partially) let go of a keeping-score mindset. Some debts will be paid back, some will be paid forward, and some will just end up freely gifted.”

I could choose to count up the minutes I’ve contributed to my family’s shared projects, planning to ensure my husband’s contributions are equal, but that’s not a very enjoyable way to spend my days. I can try to calculate who’s taken up more unpleasantness on any given day, but that doesn’t tell me much about what I really want to know. The love that goes into growing and sustaining a family isn’t ultimately measurable in tasks or minutes or individual sacrifices. It’s about us both putting in our best, giving our all, and communicating about our needs and hopes on any given day. 

Another thing that’s helped me let go of keeping score is what I call “Mom economy.” It took time to build this, but I now have a network of mom friends with whom I exchange rides and childcare, people I can call on when I can’t do it all. When I first ask a new mom friend for one of these favors, there’s caution, a promise to repay exactly what has been done for me. But as time goes on, we stop keeping track. We care for others and trust that we’ll also be cared for — maybe not favor for favor, but in the way we need and at the time we need. 

It’s important to keep track of certain debts owed — those student loan debts won’t just go away if you ignore them after all. But as I've matured I've found it freeing to (slowly, partially) let go of a keeping-score mindset. Some debts will be paid back, some will be paid forward, and some will just end up freely gifted. Letting go of total control of this has opened my heart to greater joy in relationships and community. 

I’ll still toss out a casual “I owe you” when I pick up my child from a friend’s house where they’ve been kept safe while I tend to something else. But overall I’ve found myself able to trust that everything that goes in will be paid back and then some—and if it’s not, how would I know? I’m not keeping score. 

Creators:
Jessica Mannen Kimmet
Published:
February 27, 2024
February 19, 2024
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