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Keeping Score with Husband

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Family Relations > Keeping Score with Husband


April 2005

My husband and I have a problem which I'm sure is not uncommon. We both work and have an infant son. We both tend to ''keep score'' about who gets up with him at night, who picks him up from day care, who did the laundry/dishes/walked the dog, who is working harder, etc. These ''conversations'' always degenerate into arguments ''I always/you never'' where no one wins and each person feels like they do more than the other. The truth is its probably pretty even overall, but it creates a lot of stress. I have tried to ''not keep score'' but it seems so ingrained. Anyone have any strategies to create a more positive environment and stop the points-counting? Anon


My husband and I had also falling into this trap of keeping score. What helped me is just to realize that we both are doing a lot and to appreciate my husband for everything that he does do EVEN if I feel like I have done more. I started going out of my way to acknowledge and thank my husband for walking the dog, getting up with the baby last night etc. In turn, he has started doing it too. Now he thanks me for making dinner even if all I did was heat up leftovers in the microwave! anon
I went through this with my husband as well for a short period during my son's infancy (I would say from about 3-10 months), so I know what you are talking about-- I think it is really bad for the relationship because you start seeing one another as 'enemies'. I think in our case it was mostly my fault (I would start the conversations) and was connected to my resentment about him having a life outside baby and me not having one. This may be totally different from your sitation, so it might not help, but I found that once I started going back to my old life (I am a student, so that means teaching and working on my dissertation), these conversations just vanished. The other thing is that at 10 months we let our son cry it out (miserable, but worked like magic) so that he started sleeping through the night for 12 hours and falling asleep on his own for regular naps, so dealing with him was not such a chore any more-- that made a huge difference, and I think as a result we stopped seeing our time with him so much as a sacrifice, and we were not in a terrible mood all the time from sleep deprivation. Oh yeah there is one more thing: we made up a schedule of who watches him when, we both know the hours are even, and we pretty much stick to it. Hope something in here helps! Former score keeper!
Try to look at it as a value thing. Daddy snuggles are as valueable as dinner prepared. Not to say that you shouldn't have time to just snuggle and read too, but if you have more time with them than he does, what has more value to them? Daddy bath, tooth brush and jammies while you clear up and laundry, or he do launry while you do kids? Probably one of you will prefer one over the other and you doing everything while he reads the paper has no value to your kids because you could be to grumpy to enjoy it.... This stuff evolves....
My partner and I have a four-month-old, and we keep track, as you say, also, but we do it in order to divide the childcare and other chores equally. We have arguments over other matters, but we want to keep things balanced as far as childcare at least, so it helps for one of us to say, ''I changed his diaper the past two times; it's your turn.'' Maybe you could keep track of who does what for a couple days to see if you are, in fact, doing the same amount of work? Or maybe there are hidden issues and the arguments over keeping track of this is covering up more serious disagreements? Lori
I think it's common to feel underappreciated. But I think someone has to start showing appreciation instead of wanting it. Instead of thinking about what *you* do, thank your husband for what *he* does.

To get him to help more, I have three suggestions: 1. tell him you need help (Men like to help) 2. ask politely, using ''will'' or ''would'' (just like he asked you in his marriage proposal. Now doesn't that make you smile?) 3. show appreciation (''thank you'' and a big kiss always help keep the spark alive) Good luck, anon


it takes two to play the score keeping game and even though its a habit to keep score in your head - you don't have to talk about it. marriage is not tit for tat, at least not in my experience. what it really sounds like is both of you feel a bit stretched and under appreciated by the other. next time your husband tells you he did something (he ''always...'') instead of responding in the usual way you can say how much you appreciate and notice his efforts and how nice it is to have someone around who really helps out - say it even if you don't really mean it. see what kind of reaction you get or simply change the subject to something that doesn't involve something you or he did or did not do. some news tidbit or what your kid did today... respond to the message, not the words
Try making a list of all the tasks. Split them up...who does what and on what days. Even do this weekly...a new list. Be sure you both agree and comprimise as you write the list. Post it in the kitchen or a common place where it is easily read. If one of you has more of a load one week, or month, be sure the other one takes more of the load next time. Hope this helps. Been there
Man, that's a tough one! I've also been there (we have a seven month old). What has helped us get past that is really getting to the root of the problem. In other words, it sounds like you both know the work is probably 50/50 - and you could even be doing a bit more- but so what? What is the message you really are trying to communicate when you say ''you always...''? From my experience, just before those words were about to come out, I had to stop and be really, really honest with myself and say ''ok...this may or may not be logical but I want him to acknowledge that I did this or know that I'm not getting what I need in this respect'' and then I had to actually say that to my husband. What was happening before was one of us would start with the ''you always/never...'' and the other would respond out of defensiveness and never actually hear what was *really* being said.It's so hard, especially when your blood is boiling but for the sake of the relationship it's worth making sure that you both stop and think about what you really want your partner to know before saying anything.(And when you when you really need to vent, call a friend first so you can let it all loose!) Partnership is always a work in progress
My husband and I used to (and sometimes still do) slip into ''keeping score.'' For us, it took us a really long time to get used to the big lifestyle change of having a kid... and both of us were sleep deprived, and neither of us had nearly enough time to ourselves. Before having a baby we both needed a lot of alone time.

I think it's a vicious cycle - or at least it was for us. We work really hard to do what needs to get done in our hectic lives - job, caring for our son, laundry, dishes, etc. and we want to be appreciated for what we do. We started not feeling appreciated because we were both overworked and overtired - and as soon as one person said ''I do this much, which is more than you do,'' then the other person would have to defend themself. The comparison just made both of us feel more and more unappreciated.

We don't do this so much anymore, and we're much happier and more supportive of each other. Several things really helped. One is that I started individual therapy, which let me talk out some of the frustrations that I was taking out on my husband... learning how to be a good parent as well as the vast change in lifestyle was very stressful for me, and I didn't always recognize what I needed from my husband: did I need him to relieve my stress by doing more of the baby care, or did I need him to be more emotionally supportive?

Another was, after a longer period of time when we were spiralling downward, we got into couples counseling. We realized that we had great communication skills that we were just not using... we'd gotten lazy about them and let them slide. The therapy really got us seeing each other as partners instead of rivals or antagonists. Now sometimes one of us will start with the ''I did all this and you haven't done your share of dishes,'' etc, etc. and the other will recognize that instead of getting defensive, what the other person is really saying is that they need support and appreciation and encouragement. When my husband says something like that I say ''You sound like you had a hard day and you did great'' or something like that, and the conversation is completely turned around.

Some of the tools we learned in therapy may be really helpful to you. One is very simple but really helps you feel like you are being listened to. It's called mirroring. You say to your partner that you need to have him mirror you, then say a simple sentence that encompasses what's bothering you - eg, ''I feel angry when you tell me I'm not doing the dishes as often as you, because to me it feels like the opposite.'' Your partner then says ''So it sounds like you're saying this:'' and then summarizes, or rephrases, what you said. If it's not exactly right, you correct him, and he repeats it until he's got it just right. That makes you feel like he's really listening, and makes him really look at it from your perspective. No one is trying to formulate a response before they even hear what their partner is saying. Simple but really powerful.

Another sort of fun thing is to make a list, with your partner, of all the little things that he does that make you feel loved - rubbing your back, giving you a kiss in the morning, etc - then you exchange lists, and each of you does a couple of things on the other person's list every day. Also very simple but it's amazing how well it thaws the chill.

Last thing we did that really helps with the keeping-score thing is something that just happened as time went on and we got more experienced at being efficient as parents. We fell into each doing certain things at certain times... the things that needed to get done became either his or my responsibility. I always put the boy-o to bed, and while I'm doing that, he always does the dishes and straightens the toy area... they equal out. He does the laundry by default because I have a 9-5 job, and he sometimes has work (at home) and sometimes doesn't. If he's been really busy and the laundry hasn't gotten done, I will sometimes do it, but usually not. I clean the house because I'm the one who cares, but the cat litter and dog walking are his responsibility. I do the grocery shopping, but it's time to myself so it feels like a bit of a privelege. This way we usually know whose job something is, and it usually gets done, and we don't have to get resentful about it.

Good luck - it is such a stressful, hard thing to have an infant and keep your relationship healthy... but you can do it! working together now


If you actually feel that it's pretty even overall, try to just catch yourself before you say anything, and ask yourself if it's really worth it, or if you'd have a nicer time if you just appreciated the good things about him. Or try to notice when he does do something, and ''keep score'' with yourself to notice how often you say nice things versus complaints. It won't always work, but sometimes it makes a temporary improvement. And you might start feeling like everythign does even out, then you can stop paying attention to it. The problem is that there's so much work to do and so little time. anon
Sounds familiar. My spouse and I don't do this as much now that our kids are older but still fall into it now and again. A few things we tried that sometimes worked was to keep acknowledging how much BOTH of us were doing and to allow one person to vent/complain at times and the other just listen. This too shall pass. Been there
Hi. I don't have any magic advice, but you are right to identify this as a key issue. When our kids were little, my husband and I were keeping score like crazy, and it got so bad that I was considering divorce (which makes no sense, given that then I'd have the same amount of work with only one parent much of the time!) When we were able to change this one dynamic, everything got SO much better.

How did we do it? We talked to friends and each other openly about it. We laughed bitterly that we used to have a marriage but now we were coworkers in an insanely overbooked business -- and when one took even a 10 minute break, the other suffered through covering for them. We booked a sitter to come to our house every other Saturday no matter what. Half the time when he came we were in a foul mood and not dressed to go out and had no plans -- but guess what? just to save face we got dressed and left the house, and then just ended up wandering around on Solono or taking a walk at the Marina. These dates did us a world of good and we would never have gone on them if they had to be arranged each time. Also, we tried really hard to appreciate each other and do little things for each other. One of the big problems of being overworked is that your mind gets totally stuck on you and how tired/abused you feel. If you can wrench it out of that path, you'll suddenly see how tired/abused your husband is, and that everything he does isn't just to make your life harder. My husband started making my tea in the morning so it was ready when I got up. A little thing, but not really, in the chaos of our house. One day I saw it for the act of love that it was and my heart just melted. Then I looked for something to do for him. One day when I said, ''you look tired, I'll take care of that diaper/bath/whatever,'' the same look of amazed appreciation bloomed on his face. Suddenly now we were doing the same amount of slave labor, but managing to format it as little favors for each other and appreciations for each other. It made all the difference.

Our kids are teens now. It does get much better, so have faith! anne


Been there. What worked for was transitioning to ''positive score keeping.'' In other words, instead of keeping score of what you did and the other didn't (which we did, minutely and with a vengeance) we now keep score of how much the other has done and how much we owe each other. I'll now say, ''why don't I take the boys to the playground so you can go to the gym?'' and he'll say ''no, you've been with them a lot, you should sleep in.'' (you get that we have different ideas of what to do with our free time!) In other words, it's the same score keeping except with a positive spin. Sometime it sounds really artificial and contrived (and sometimes it breaks down and we're back to the old game), but it really is more pleasant and has cut down on the amount of arguing in our home. It is simply more motivating to be recognized for what we do rather than harangued for what we didn't do. I know it sounds hopelessly Pollyannish, and believe me we are very cynical people and often laugh at ourselves for doing this. Also, we didn't consciously decide to do it, it was our reaction to the endless bickering and it seems to work. Also, we take a lot of pride in the fact that it is really important for us to have an equal relationship with equal resposibilities for work/home/children.

positively sharing


While I think that some score-keeping is probably inevitable (especially the ''I got up with him at 4:00 am yesterday'' one), it can be reduced. In terms of concrete strategies, I suggest the following: First, I created a ''master'' schedule for my husband and I just to establish a written routine for what time we each go into work, who drops off and picks up the kids each day, and what time, who makes dinner that night, and other schedule stuff. This makes it really concrete who is doing what on which days, and also helps us keep on top of the hectic week. Second, there are some tasks that have evolved to be mine and some that have evolved to be my husband's responsibility, so maybe writing those out as well would be useful, so that you can see whether it is in fact equal or whether there is an imbalance. For a while, I felt resentful that I was always the one to go to the grocery store and cook dinner, but when I took a step back I realized that I actually really LIKE doing those tasks, much more than paying the bills, dealing with the trash/recycling, and feeding the cats, which my husband does.

Lastly, I think it's good to take a step back and have this conversation with your partner when you both are not frustrated or angry and really talk about what the core issue is.

Good luck! anon


boy can I relate! On one hand, I think things naturally get better as your child gets older and you establish more of a routine. On the other hand, when you're both stressed out, feeling put upon, and retreating to your corners, it's a downward spiral. Everybody argues about parenting, housework and chores, but it's never really about those things - it's about feeling tired or anxious and wanting support, love and appreciation. When you're keeping score, you're using criticism as an indirect way of asking for/demanding help and you're no longer communicating. Although you may be feeling hurt, you're probably expressing anger. It's such an easy trap to fall into! We were at a point a few short months ago when I was hard- pressed to find a single thing I liked about my husband - I was just so full of resentment and all we did was fight. What helped us was couples counseling. (I know - such a cliche, but it's really made all the difference!) We've learned a lot about ourselves and each other and we've learned some useful tools to avoid/deal with areas of disagreement. Things that used to be major landmines for us are not such a big deal anymore, and I have to say, it's really nice to feel like you're working towards a future together instead of bogged down in the present (and past) all the time! The fact that you can both recognize what is going on means you're already on your way to changing it. good luck!
I know what you mean! My wife and I did that for about a year, I think, after our first baby came. We are getting better now but still have rematches.

I think a reason I did it was I felt my wife was not acknowledging the difficulties I had. I wanted some recognition of the truly hard work I was doing. But all I heard about was how hard her duties were. Of course, she felt the same as I did for the same reasons. So we kept score.

It is hard to compliment your partner about their terrific job dealing with all the stress and lack of sleep and getting a lot of valuable work done, while you are tired and overworked and underappreciated as well. The appreciation has to start somewhere. So you have to tell your husband that you appreciate his sacrifices and tell him that he is doing great. If he does not reciprocate, tell him he has to reciprocate once in a while. That's communication. It is not easy.

It will get better with time, and with more sleep. Until then you will have to be the one to start. Your husband will also have to be the one to start.

And don't give compliments like ''I know it's hard for you and you're doing great today, but.....'' !!!

Now I need to remember to take my own advice today.

just another parent/spouse


Hi there, I totally understand what you're going through. I have been having this kind of discussions with my husband for ages...One day we had a huge argument that left us both very upset. We were determined to stop wasting energy on discussing who shoud so what and discussed a resolution that included a clear division of duties. We don't leave it to the day by day situations anymore, we have clear division and everyday is pretty much the same unless one of us is unusually tired in which case the other one is extra helpful. So now for he cooks dinner, does the colored laundry, drops off our baby..etc... I pick her up, make all the food and snaks and pack the diaper bag and clean up the dishes from dinner...etc. We take turns to do the grocery shopping. I swear it works, no more argments: we just do what we said we'd do! Life is so much easier. You should give it a try, don't leave it to improvisation!
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