Relationship Advice Tips from Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

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Pinning you down to score points

Remember those fights when your partner brought up all the ‘nasty’ things you said and did, as if they were being read from a score sheet?

That’s often how loved ones track each others sins of omission and sins of commission. Fired up with indignation and fury when there is tension between you, they mentally read from that score sheet to bury you in one fell swoop, so that they can feel vindicated.

Perhaps you do the same thing without knowing it. Maybe you too make mental notes of the things you wanted your partner to do and felt slighted when you were let down.

It’s likely that you can predict the moment your partner is going to go ‘off’ on a tirade, bringing up all the garbage from the past to make you feel like the devil incarnate.

Ever wondered why you and your partner relate in this way?

There are two important pieces that come together when one or other of you read the ‘charges’ that you have kept score of as ‘evidence’ of their failings.

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1. Scoring Points to counter the sense of powerlessness you feel when you are criticized

As kids one or other parent would ‘keep score’ between you and your siblings for doing jobs, taking care of a parent, getting good grades, being tough, being most affectionate etc. You couldn’t fight back in the same way, but you kept a mental note of all the times your parent broke a promise, acted hypocritically or thoughtlessly. Those mental notes became your inner strength, ready for use when you got into an adult romantic relationship. Same for your partner.So it becomes part of your ‘interactional DNA‘.

If you are trying to survive a fight with your partner, those old raw feelings of helplessness against the accusations of your parents get triggered. You are now armed with a ‘rap sheet’ against your partner, and this time you can use it! You aren’t scared like you were as a kid. So you let rip with the whole litany of bad deeds that flood your mind.  Your heart pounds with rage, as you attack with your secret weapon, sharpened to slice up your loved one  – who hurt you so much, so often and without remorse!

If you are on the receiving end of the attack, it feels like a you are being dragged through a sewer. You have the urge to retaliate with your ‘score sheet’ against your partner. But your head throbs, your mouth is dry, you can’t get the words out. The insecurity and stress is overwhelming. All you want to do is get out of the sewer and prove that you are not stinky waste matter, but a fully invested player in the relationship, making sacrifices and biting your tongue when you feel wronged. You have cast yourself in the role of the child, being castigated by a parent, against whom you have no chance of redeeming yourself.

But a few days later, you are the one with the unused score sheet and when you see your partner in a vulnerable spot, you engage in the attack. Now you play the role of the critical parent, proving what a nasty person your partner is, as you list their crimes, noted over the last few months or years.

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2. A deep sense of invisibility to your partner.

When you feel that your efforts to please, and to be taken seriously are to no avail, anger builds up. So you keep score to make yourself feel seen and relevant. Even if your partner doesn’t see you, the effort is recorded. You see them ignoring you and looking in a different direction as if you didn’t exist.

Unfortunately the consequences are for tense, irritable conflictual relationships.

Deep wounds of feeling irrelevant, unimportant, ignored and invisible to your parents echo through all your important relationships later on, especially in romantic ones, where you expect to be seen and taken notice of.

Just like Petra and Marty. They came to couples therapy because life was uncomfortable and nothing they said or did made it less so. Each felt they were the one suffering at the hands of the other, making sacrifices for the sake of the relationship.

Petra was blind to Marty’s sacrifices and efforts, and Marty was equally blind to Petra’s contributions towards making the relationship work.

Neither could allow themselves to be vulnerable. That would mean allowing those old feelings of powerlessness return and knock you out.

What I noticed was that they seemed to slip into battling with each other from the get go without knowing it. They kept score on who was the best parent, the healthiest eater or fixer of problems – they couldn’t be happy for each other, because each one saw the others success as a bad reflection on themselves.

Both felt alone and uncared for because instead of their actions and achievements being mutually rewarding, they became axes with which to grind each up. They became afraid to tell each other anything positive and their married life was deeply uncomfortable and discomforting!

Neither of them had any idea of the suffering each faced as children when each felt invisible.

 They blocked out empathy and intimacy and chose strength instead.

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Five ways to stop scoring points and enjoy emotional intimacy

1. Become aware of the cost of competitiveness – what does it do to the relationship?

2. Reflect on the rewards of the competitiveness and need to be seen. Do they really serve your life NOW?

3. Keep a journal of your feelings when you notice your need to keep score or sadness at losing or unacknowledged.. Share it with your partner. See how similar you are and join forces that way.

4. Trace the need to keep score to childhood experiences and talk to your partner about it. Develop empathy to dissolve the need to compete for attention.

5.  Keep a record of the times you caught yourself wanting to keep score but didn’t! Feel the reward in terms of the more harmonious relationship you enjoy.

‘Now You Want Me, Now You Don’t! Fear of Intimacy: ten ways to recognize it and ten ways to manage it in your relationships.”

Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2015


You might also like:

How to stop the cycle of love turning into anger and hate

How to stop a conversation turning into a fight

Four ways to deal with a hostile and aggressive partner


Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. Dr. Raymond is not responsible for any reactions you may have when reading the content or using the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Jeanette Raymond.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]