Sept. 8, 2021

The Scorekeeper Always Wins

The Scorekeeper Always Wins
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This episode talks about how scorekeeping in relationships is never an effective way of dealing with unmet expectations.  If you are a scorekeeper, or if you have one in your life, this episode can help eliminate scorekeeping once and for all. 

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I want to take some time to talk about scorekeeping. I am not talking about the scorekeeper at a professional sporting event… or the parent who volunteers to keep track of the score at their child’s soccer game.

I’m talking about the person in a relationship who keeps score.


Scorekeeping can take place in any kind of relationship, romantic, family, work, friends, 

There are Scorekeepers everywhere! Perhaps you are the scorekeeper.

What’s a scorekeeper? 

Anyone who compares what someone else is doing or not doing against what they themselves are doing or not doing - that is a scorekeeper. 

They have a little scorecard in their head that they are quietly – sometimes not so quietly – marking with invisible tick marks to track whatever they are tracking.

The scorekeeper ramps up their game when they start to say the score out loud – when they feel the need to announce it. That is when you are really in trouble, or if you are the scorekeeper – this is when you feel you have gathered enough evidence on your scorecard to prove your point. This is exactly why I need you to be aware of the game being played here. 

And why, the scorekeeper always wins.

The scorekeeper is hard to be around - because whether we are aware of their active scorekeeping or not- they are always in scorekeeping mode. This person has a plan.

They have something against the person they are keeping score of and because of that, the scorekeeper is not viewing the situations they are engaging in and tracking accurately. 

The scorekeeper is living in a world they created to justify their agenda. This fantasy world inaccurately represents reality and unfairly sees themselves as the victor… or in some cases, the victim.

So Why the Scorekeeper Always Win?

The fact that the scorekeeper is keeping score to prove a specific point, is the very reason why the scorekeeper always wins. Because the scorekeeper does not keep score fairly.

Once we or someone in our life switches into scorekeeper mode, the focus is now on proving a point.

You’re not doing as much as they are doing, or you’re not doing as many good things as they are or doing too much of something ... you get where I’m going…

When you look at the scorekeeper’s scorecard, you will notice they are keeping score of all the negative things you do versus all the positive things they do.

This doesn’t sound like a fun game.

In some cases they are not tracking the same things “I take out the garbage more than you empty the dishwasher” or they are way too general. “My job is so much harder than your job.” – I think that is a matter of skills, knowledge, and perspective, but to the scorekeeping, it is an absolute.

Let’s talk perspective… It’s true we catch more of the things we are focused on seeing. We see the things we want to see, especially when we are trying to justify an agenda. For the scorekeeper, things that were less noticeable before are now common occurrences. Things that didn’t matter before are now significant.

 The scorekeeper is trying to prove something, and they need some sort of arbitrary “solid” number behind them to support their argument.

But the scorekeeper’s number is not solid. Because the scorekeeper is not keeping accurate score, or they are stacking the deck.

And if it’s toxic enough, the scorekeeper will go out of their way to look for things to add to their scorecard. The scorekeeper might even stoop so low as to exaggerate their number or invent circumstances to bulk up their number while reducing yours. They sometimes turn situations that haven’t been a big deal in the past into serious issues. And the person who the scorekeeper is tracking is just wasting their breath trying to challenge the scorekeeper’s number. 

Because it is not about the number, it is about them being right – 

Regardless of what is true.

Let’s face it, we each have different things that are important to us. We are trying to share this world and this life with other people, each with different wants and needs. 

If we were all scorekeepers, we would all keep different scorecards because we would each have our own set of criteria.

If we were all keeping score, I’m sure we’d be biased in our scorekeeping—better scores for ourselves and the people we love vs. people we don’t really know or like.

We all see things differently, and what’s important to one person might not be to another.

I think that’s an important takeaway. 

What’s important to one person might not be to the other.

That statement right there might be precisely why the scorekeeper starts keeping score.

And why the scorekeeper always wins.

Let’s talk about The Emotions involved in Scorekeeping

Sometimes there’s so much anger and resentment built up that the tallies on the scorecard start to encompass anything and everything.  Everything you do or don’t do is being observed and tracked. And like I said before, in a lot of cases the scorekeeper is keeping different scores. Scorekeeping becomes about tracking all the times you are messing up compared to all the times the scorekeeper excels. Sometimes it is unclear to all involved why the scorekeeper started keeping score  – at least initially. 

Regardless of why the scorekeeper started keeping score, they did.  And now the unraveling of the relationship – any type of relationship - begins, it will continue to unravel until the reason for the scorekeeping is resolved and the scorekeeping stops, or until the relationship is destroyed.

Let’s examine some of the reasons why a scorekeeper would begin keeping score.

1.   They feel they’re being taken advantage of.

2.   They don’t feel they are heard.

3.   The responsibilities of whatever it is they are keeping score of are not divided equally, and they’re feeling the weight of it. – and perhaps any conversation regarding this unevenness has been ignored. 

4.   They are angry and resentful towards you, and this is the way it’s manifesting itself.

5.   They feel hurting or insulting you is how they can get your attention or a reaction out of you.

Another point to consider in the scorekeeping world is, did the scorekeeper actually set a precedent they no longer want to continue and this is turning to resentment that is causing them to keep score?

For example, Maybe the scorekeeper always holds book club or poker night because they like being the host and like this event being in their home. 

One day, they realized they are spending money on food and drinks, and no one stays to help them clean up. Slowly the precedent the scorekeeper set turns into resentment and they start keeping score.  The scorekeeper will compare what they put into these events to what their friends or family members give them of “equal value.”  In their mind, this scorekeeping is helping them justify their resentment.

It would be so much easier to have a conversation, ask if they can start rotating houses, ask people to pitch in on food and drinks, ask the guests to stay after a little while to help clean.

A conversation would be a much better way to alleviate resentment. And is they are heard and understood, the scorekeeping never needs to start. 

Perhaps the scorekeeper feels the guests should notice on their own, and they shouldn’t have to bring it up. Or maybe the scorekeeper is worried people will not like them if they brought this up. So instead, they quietly keep score and build up resentment.

Meanwhile, the people or person they are keeping score against don’t even know there is an issue. They are not aware that this person is holding a grudge and growing resentment against them.

So, where do we go from here?

You need to ask yourself, are you the scorekeeper? Is someone in your life subtly keeping score? Or maybe they are blatant and in your face about it?

Regardless, it needs to stop

If you are the scorekeeper these are some of the reasons  why you need to stop:

1.   It doesn’t accomplish anything – the scorekeeper is doing more harm than good.

2.   The other person is “in trouble,” and they aren’t even aware they are doing anything “wrong.” (well, wrong in the scorekeeper's eyes)

3.   It keeps the scorekeeper focused (and looking for) negative things in their life and their relationships.

4.   Life is not about being petty, and keeping score keeps the focus on insignificant things. The scorekeeper is also not addressing and resolving the real issue.

5.   The scorekeeper is making the person they are keeping score of their opponent and not their ally. This puts the scorekeeper in victim mode.

Scorekeeping only shines a light on the things the scorekeeper wants it to illuminate. The other person’s perceived negative contributions and the scorekeeper’s perceived positive contributions.

Again – not exactly fair.

How to Stop Someone from Keeping Score Against You

If you are aware of someone in your life keeping score, the quickest way to get them to stop is to understand why they’re keeping score. See if you can recognize what is important to them and how your actions might not align with their expectations.

Can you see how you might actually be contributing to their need to keep score? 

When you understand a person and their expectations, it is easier to see how their feelings can be hurt when you don’t meet their expectations. Sometimes this is not as easy as it sounds.  There are times we are unaware of the scorecard against us, we are going along living our life, not realizing our mere existence, and the way we live our life is causing someone anger and resentment. Or, perhaps we are aware, but the scorekeeper isn't ready to admit it. 

If this is the case, this is on the scorekeeper, and you cannot take their actions personally until they communicate with you how what you are doing is hurting them.

In most cases, you (the person the scorekeeper has the scorecard against) need to initiate the conversation to getting to the bottom of why they are keeping score. 

The mere fact that they chose to keep score versus talking to you indicates they might not be capable of starting this conversation. 

If the relationship is important to you, you will most likely need to be the person to start and make sure the conversation happens.

If the scorekeeper is not willing to talk about why they are keeping score or if they are not willing to have a conversation, you might be dealing with someone who prefers to remain in victim mode and you might need to reevaluate the relationship. 

It’s usually not just one thing that caused the scorekeeper to start keeping score. It’s a combination of a lot of things, and scorekeeping somehow comforts here.  

At least temporarily. 

If they don’t quickly come to terms with why they are keeping score and don’t communicate their needs effectively, the act of keeping score will destroy relationships.

 If you are the scorekeeper there are steps to help you to Stop Keeping Score

When a scorekeeper can see things differently, they will stop destroying relationships by this behavior. 

Here are a few mindset shifts that can help eliminate the destructive behavior of scorekeeping:

1.   Realize if other people were also keeping score, you might not be coming out on top of their scoreboard – this is because the tallies on the scorecards are a matter of perspective.

2.   Recognize that regardless of what type of relationship you are in, there are so many factors at play, and scorekeeping takes situations out of context and focuses on the single element that supports the scorekeeper's negative agenda.

3.   Acknowledge that people and their feelings are more important than what they do or don’t do and recognize chances are this person is not being malicious in their behavior.

4.   Have a conversation with the people you feel compelled to keep score of and address the root cause of your resentment. They might not even realize what is going on because the thing you are scoring is not important to them. 

You need to communicate your wants and needs especially if something is important to you.

5.   Relationships are not competitive events. Scorekeeping never helps make a relationship stronger.

How to make a shift if you’re the scorekeeper

Take the time to think about your scorekeeping. 

Once you realize it is petty and unfounded, you need to change your mindset and see that person for who they really are and the good things they bring to the relationship. 

If you feel you are being taken advantage of and you feel your scorekeeping is justified, 

then you need to have a conversation and express your concerns and expectations with that person. 

They might not even realize how you feel and will appreciate you bringing it to their attention so they can change. 

(if they don’t appreciate what you’re saying or agree, you need to rethink your engagement with this person – they might just be toxic and not someone who should be in your life) 

Whether you are the scorekeeper or the ones on the receiving end of the scorekeeping, 

1.   Pay more attention to your contribution to the issues in the relationship.

2.   When you make changes, the people around you will also make changes.

3.   Clearly and concisely communicate your wants and needs, so expectations are set.

4.   Understand why you are trying to cause destruction to this relationship and fix it or end the friendship or relationship.

5.   Remind yourself what you like about this person and see them for the whole person they are.

Recognizing Our Differences

I recently heard a phrase that goes something like this: 

“stop only seeing the good in people because you might not see them for who they really are.” 

Meaning not everyone is a good fit in our lives, so stop pretending the ones who don’t belong there will one day fit.  When people are showing you who they are – listen. Don’t fall for the fantasy version of people.

Scorekeeping does the opposite – it’s not at all about seeing the good in people. It keeps you focused on and seeking out the negative in people – negative traits we all have – focusing and seeking the negative will make anyone lose sight of the good things the people in our lives have to offer.  

I think the opposite can be said, “if you only see the negative (sometimes it is actually only perceived negative) in people, you miss seeing them for who they really are.” – this is assuming they are a good person at heart. 

There are definitely not so honorable people out there, and no amount of scorekeeping is going to change that.

If you are a scorekeeper, take some time to reflect on yourself. 

Why are you keeping score? 

What can you do differently to change your behavior? 

Why are you keeping score instead of speaking up and telling people or a specific person your wants and needs?

If you are the scorekeeper, you need to focus on why you are keeping score and work on implementing more effective communication methods.

If you are the one who the scorecard is tracking, you need to discuss what is causing them to keep score, then work together to create an environment where no one is keeping score.

As always, if the situation doesn’t change, you need to decide if this relationship is healthy or toxic.

I want to add - there are certainly times in any type of relationship where someone is doing the majority of the work. Either they are being taken advantage of and the other person isn’t pulling their weight, I know this. But there are also times where one person is doing the majority of the work right now… and it will all even out in the end.

There are a number of different circumstances we can analyze, but in the end, scorekeeping isn’t never the right way to handle and situation.

Communication is. Expressing your wants, needs, and expectations is much more productive.

If you have gotten to the place of scorekeeping in your relationship, then you need to understand there is something bigger than the scorekeeping that needs to be resolved. 

There is an underlying issue here – perhaps of disrespect, disregard, or lack of appreciation. Be careful the focus doesn’t become on the score while the underlying issue never gets resolved. 

It’s never about the score. 

The scorekeeper always wins because the scorekeeper is keeping score to support their agenda.

But In the end, the scorekeeper doesn’t really win anything. They actually end up losing.

My name is Wendy Pilcher and I thank you for listening to this episode of "Identify and Conquer."

Take a moment to reflect on whether you are a scorekeeper, or if someone in your life is. 

I hope this message gives you the strength to reexamine the situation and the relationship and make some changes, have a much-needed conversation.

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