On any given weekend in millions of homes across globe, wives stand in front of their husbands listing all of the selfless acts they have performed in the last week: “I paid all the bills, bought a birthday present for your mother, read Goodnight Moon five times, took four six-year-olds to Chuck-E-Cheese . . . and that was just Tuesday. . . .”
The husbands return fire: “Excuse me, but did I not make the kids breakfast every morning last week, including the morning it made me late for my presentation, when I really should have gone in early? And I picked up the dry cleaning without being asked, and I did bath duty three times last week. What more do you want?”
A volley of personal accomplishments and sacrifices ensues. Not exactly what we thought life would be like when we eyed each other across the room all those years ago, is it? We both end up angry and defensive, each convinced that we have it tougher. Some people are habitual scorekeepers. Some people just do it occasionally. But we all do it.
Sometimes our low-stakes spatting game escalates into all-out combat. Men wage a sort of guerrilla warfare, where accumulating positive points is always a hit-or-miss affair. Women draw upon a major arsenal of weaponry. Our bazookas hit the target again and again, but we never quite seem to get what we want.
Both sides are convinced that they are right and will up the stakes to prove their point. Women, men tell us, will pull out a list of his “priors” lest there be any doubt as to who is in the wrong. Often men are not equipped to retaliate effectively. Our friend Brad says, “It’s like I am trying to make my point with a peashooter and she has a missile launcher and is just wiping up the floor with me. I can’t win.” He says, “I got up with the kids on Tuesday.” She responds, “Well, I got up with the kids every morning for the last three weeks, other than that one Tuesday.” Faced with such superior weaponry, men choose to retreat, but they do not concede defeat.
The bottom line: nobody wins this war.
The game of scorekeeping involves the trading back and forth of Marriage Capital, or “points,” between husband and wife. Pay attention here, because the rules are exceedingly complex. Here’s a short overview:
1. In most instances, according to husbands, it is the wife who determines how many points a specific activity scores. “Why doesn’t checking the air in her tires count, but cleaning the kitchen does?”
“I always thought that I would get points for yard work. I’m out there on a Saturday morning trimming the hedges, mowing the lawn, making it all look pretty, and I walk in and she says, ‘Where the hell have you been?’ ”
—Jacob, married 7 years, 2 kids
2. Men often think that they have scored major points (“Hey, I was up at the crack of dawn with the kids; I did all the grocery shopping this weekend”), but to their wives, activities that count as “doing his fair share” don’t score any points at all.
3. In fact, a man may have points deducted because he expects major kudos for simply pulling his weight.
4. Positive points have a use-by date. If they are not used within recent memory of the point-scoring activity, they expire.
5. Negative points, however, last indefinitely. Women, we’ve been told, keep a detailed mental log of all infractions and omissions.
“You get credit for a good deed, but it only lasts for about six months. You have to use it fast. But demerits, they last forever.”
—Francisco, married 4 years, 2 kids
6. In effect, there is no statute of limitations.
“What do you mean you’re going to the game? You only spent an hour with the kids last weekend! And when your parents were here last month, I was the one playing Scrabble with your mother until all hours. . . .”
—Tracy, married 5 years, 2 kids
7. Advanced-level play:
“You can get multiple points if you actually forgo a golf game or whatever and tell your wife you want to spend time with her.”
—Simon, married 3 years, 1 kid
“No way. My wife would call bulls*#t on that right away. She’d smell a rat.”
—Vince, married 5 years, 2 kids
What can we do about it? Make an Everything List, everything from mopping the floor, to changing the diapers, to earning a paycheck and Divide and Conquer. Once you see all the work in front of you, you can make sure the division of labor is equitable, doing away with (at least most) of your tit-for-tat endless Scorekeeping arguments. So hand in your martyr badge, put away the scorecard and work as a team. Maybe throw in a few thank yous and your amazings while you’re at it. Easy, right? Ha! We still find ourselves, (hopefully a little less often ??) keeping score with our husbands. We still whip out that bazooka from time to time. From our battlefield to yours…Good luck!