Keeping Score with Husband
Berkeley Parents Network >
Family Relations >
Keeping Score with Husband
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?
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!
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
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
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?
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)
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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!
this page was last updated: Mar 19, 2006
BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are building a new website!
Read more, and see how you can help:
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2014 Berkeley Parents Network