You're Part Of A Marriage - Not A Football Team

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There’s a lot going on in today’s marriages: commutes, work, deadlines, keeping the house together, fitting in time with friends, self care and just the general maintenance of life. All of these things leave many couples feeling exhausted at the end of the day. When you throw kids into that mix, it can tip couples right over the edge of time management. Whether you have children or not, competing and keeping score often becomes an unwelcome component of many relationships.  

Whether you have children or not, competing and keeping score often becomes an unwelcome component of many relationships.

Here’s an example: Your partner complains that you don’t pay enough attention to them. Is your immediate response to ask questions and find out what you can do to have them feel more cared for? No, your likely response is: “How can you feel this way? I did X, Y and Z for you just this week!” You end up giving them a “list” of all the things you’ve done and then your partner will list all the things they’ve done (or that you missed) and you end up keeping score. (By the way, at the end of this post is an awesome free worksheet that will help you to break down and analyze these situations, so you can figure out how to actually be heard, instead of competing.)

Another example would be competing and keeping score with time. “Well, John got to go out with his friends on Friday, so I should get to do something on Saturday.” Does this sound familiar?  You may also be tracking how much time in general your partner spends with the kids versus how much time you spend with them. Or maybe you’ve been comparing how many hours he spends taking care of the lawn versus the hours you put into grocery shopping and cooking.  

Here’s the truth of it: Relationships are NOT equal.

Here’s the truth of it: Relationships are NOT equal. There is no 50/50- that’s a myth. At different times in the relationship, one of you will hold more pieces than the other. Trying to divide everything equally is something you do in games. If you’re treating your relationship like a game, you’re going to lose… BIG! One of the great parts about the free worksheet you can download below, is that it asks you to address how you want the other person - and yourself - to feel about you once the interaction is over. When you approach these interactions with the intention of a positive outcome, that alone can make a huge difference.

Competing and keeping score results in a feeling a lack of happiness when your partner shares something wonderful. Instead, you end up feeling resentful. “Well, good for you that you got a promotion and now get to travel to Europe for work. I’ll just be stuck at home taking care of the kids!”

Famed marriage expert John Gottman’s research has shown that not being able to connect over each other’s good news spells failure for many relationships. With what he calls “disaster couples”, he found that “when one person in the relationship shared the good news of, say, a promotion at work with excitement, the other would respond with wooden disinterest by checking his watch or shutting the conversation down with a comment like, ‘That’s nice.’ ”

Being there for your partner when the going gets rough is certainly important, but the research has shown that being there for your partner when the going goes right is actually more important for relationship satisfaction and happiness.

Action Tips:

  1. When your partner shares good news, this is like answering a bid (remember those from Key #2). You want to turn towards this good news and ask questions, show active interest, give hearty congratulations and support.  
  2. Be self aware (Key #1) and notice if you’re keeping score so that you can stop the behavior. For more on not keeping score, check out this very short video
  3. Set a consistent intention to be kind and generous with your partner.  

Wrap Up

It’s been an amazing ride sharing these lessons with you over the last 10 weeks, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your commitment and persistence. So, I want to say just a few words to wrap all this up.

In the end, there’s one thing you have to decide in your relationship. Would you rather be correct or effective? You might be having an argument and you might be “right”, but what is it getting you? Do you want a loving, supportive partner (effective) or do you want to be right (correct)?

Shifting to this one question (asking if you want to be correct or effective) really changes the very nature of your engagement with your partner. It puts you on the same team instead of opposing sides of a power struggle. The worksheet download at the end of this post will help you to figure out your goals and priorities for any situation that creates a problem where you don’t feel respected, understood, or taken seriously.

There are three questions that you want to consistently answer.

  1. What’s my end game here?
  2. What am I trying to get done?
  3. What goal, both emotionally and physically, am I trying to accomplish?

Yes, maybe you’re “correct” that your partner left his dirty socks in the middle of the floor (again) but do you want to fight about socks or have a fun night watching Game of Thrones? Instead of being correct, you could be effective; you can change your stance, your tone or the words that you use (or just hire a housekeeper). After all, if he keeps leaving his socks around even though you’ve “discussed” it over and over again, are you being effective and getting him to change his behavior, or are you just feeling like a bitchy nag? You can be “correct” all day, but is that getting you to your goal of being understood and feeling appreciated?

You can be “correct” all day, but is that getting you to your goal of being understood and feeling appreciated?

Start with these 10 Keys to create a happy, confident and fulfilled relationship and watch your life become amazing. Let me know how it goes!

For other information and research about having or maintaining a healthy relationship (I can’t believe this wasn’t enough, but some of you are just insatiable), check out the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center.

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Kate Rufener