Keep Score With Your Wife

It's about competition, sure. And fun. But it's also about keeping yourselves accountable.

by Nicholas Kavalier
Mr. & Mrs. score drawn with a chalk on a board
Eloise Weiss for Fatherly

“Point!” my wife yells.

We are in the kitchen making tacos. It is Wednesday, not Tuesday. Themed meal days are not for us. Neither, for that matter, are such terms as hump day, throwback Thursday, or low-hanging fruit. In any case: tacos. The radio was on, I was browning some of the filling, and my wife was dicing a tomato. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but I do remember that I said a forbidden phrase: “I dunno.”

“Mark it down,” she says and does a little dance before throwing her arm up in celebration. I leave the browning meat for a moment and add another line on the chalkboard beneath my name. One point for being indecisive.

Talk to any couple’s therapist and they tell you not to keep score with your partner, that tallying fights won and lost or tracking, say, times you watched the kids when your wife went out with her friends, is an easy way to grow resentful and sour a relationship. They’re right, of course. Marriage is about compromise and teamwork and sitting on the couch at night staring blankly at your phones without speaking to one another for too long an amount of time. Tabulating wins and losses accomplishes nothing. However, my wife and I keep score not to track who won or lost an argument; we do so to hold one another accountable for the annoying little habits we’ve vowed to abolish — or at least greatly reduce — from our daily lives. It’s a means of holding one another’s feet to the fire and, as it turns out, becoming closer as well.

The point system we use is a modified version of one I used with my college roommates. It happened organically: When living in a house with six guys, you can get frustrated with one another’s habits. You also recognize them better than anyone else. No, not things like leaving dishes out or farting in the hallway, but the little personality ticks one might not realize they had. My roommate Kevin, for instance, loved to use unnecessarily large words just because he could (point!). My roommate Zach planned everything way too far in advance (point!). I apologized too much (point!). We each had a thing and it was decided which thing it was you needed to be aware of and seek to correct. It was fun to scream out “point!” in unison when someone did their thing; it was also fun, when senior year came about, to realize that we didn’t call one another out as much. Because we’d evicted those habits.

It’s not a stretch to say that living with your partner makes you acutely aware of their bad habits. So a few years into living with one another, my wife and I enacted a similar point system. The rules are this: you can only keep track of two bad habits apiece at a time (mine, for instance, are indecisiveness and slurping loudly) The person who has this habit needs to be okay with being called out on it (That is, if they get called out it, they’ll react with an eye-roll instead of a higher emotion). Finally, during moments when one is in a crummy mood, the other partner has to use their discretion and let things slide.

The whole system, well, works. Part of the reason is because we’re each willing to look at and try to sand away the parts of ourselves we might not realize are sharp; the other is because we’re both innately competitive people who like having a game to play and a scoreboard to point at. It works out. Another element in this is, of course, that we love each other and don’t want to be that much of a source of annoyance for the other. We’ve both witnessed relationships deteriorate because one partner didn’t tend to the parts of themselves that needed some work. Who hasn’t?

At end of the day, it’s a way of holding yourself accountable. Who better to monitor this than the person you love. I dunno, it just makes sense. Point!