Why You Should Keep Score in Marriage

keep score in marriage

You’ve probably heard it said that you shouldn’t keep score in marriage. But author Shaunti Feldhahn found otherwise in researching for her latest book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big Difference. She found that keeping score in marriage is a good thing…if you’re keeping track of the right things. She explains how that’s possible.

Don’t Keep Score?
When Jeff and I got married, we frequently heard “Do not keep score!” And you have probably heard the admonition many times too. What people mean is that keeping a record of wrongs doesn’t work in love and marriage. And that is absolutely true. The research was stark that counting your grudges makes you unhappy and cripples any relationship.

But I discovered that Yes! couples absolutely do keep score—they just do it differently. Consciously or subconsciously, partners in highly happy marriages keep score of what they “owe” their spouses.

The Right Way to Keep Score.

These spouses are very aware of what their mates are doing and giving, of how hard their spouses are working to support the family, or how much they try to be good partners. They are highly aware of times when their mates are working longer-than-normal hours or have had a harder-than-usual time with the kids. And as a result of this hyperawareness of how much their spouses are giving, they make small but powerful adjustments.

They compensate by giving more—and they never think of it as generosity. They are so aware of what their partner has given that they feel, as many told me, “It’s the least I can do.” So here’s our secret:

Happy spouses keep track of what their mates are giving and what they need as a result, and they deliberately try to give back.

The Canoe Theory.
One friend calls it the Canoe Theory of Marriage. In their relationship, he says it’s as though he and his wife are out in a canoe trying to get across the lake. When one paddler is tipping left, the other automatically tips right so they don’t tip over.

And the impact of keeping score of the good is hard to overstate. Yes! couples trade a sense of entitlement (My spouse owes me!) for a sense of indebtedness that makes them not just willing, but eager to do whatever they can to give back and serve the other.

Here’s one everyday example I heard: For Mary, an emergency-room medical technician, work demands run in cycles. For several months, she finds herself at the hospital most waking hours. Then demands change and her hours on duty return to something more reasonable. Mary told me that during her busy weeks, her husband tries to do many of her chores around the house. So once her schedule eases, she deliberately tries to compensate by giving back in some way. When I asked her what that looked like, she shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know, exactly,” she said. “I just try to do the stuff that is meaningful to him. Like, I’ll encourage him to go hunting with his buddies. Or I’ll make him his lunch so he doesn’t have to make it. Or lots of thank-you sex—that always seems to work well!”

I had to laugh—but I heard similar reports over and over. One reason the happy couples are so happy is that instead of keeping score of how much they are doing—and feeling resentful because of it (“I can’t believe I’m doing all the laundry”)—they instinctively put more energy into keeping track of what the other person is giving.

One reason the happy couples are so happy is that instead of keeping score of how much they are doing—and feeling resentful because of it—they instinctively track what the other person is giving.

Taken with permission from The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big Difference.

In The Comments

When do you keep score in marriage?


  • leahchristensen

    This is awesome!!! A week ago we moved into a new apartment. As well as complimentary strengths that have nothing to do with gender, we also have our weaknesses, and we’re both legally blind. The difference being that since he wasn’t born that way, he still maintains a lot of visually memory.

    But I digress. When it came Doen to it, he fell into doing what needed to be done in a way that totally balanced the other person because we were aware of what was being done, and what needed to be done.

    When he tell asleep on floor where our bed will eventually go, I grabbed the hand truck and made a few more trips. When I woke up in the morning, he gave me breakfast in bed! 🙂

  • Chokwadi

    I’m kinder goin through a whole debate with hubby about respect and I’ve come to this conclusion “Don’t say anything” Everything I say is misunderstood so I’ve reached a stage of just being quiet. It works better that way coz everything has to go his way. Its his needs and never mine. So i’l sit in my little corner and act like I’m not there

    • Michele Floyd

      Oh my goodness, please get some help. Neither of you deserve to live this way. If you keep putting up with this, you are headed for divorce. One of my favorite resources is Mark Gungor. You can listen to him on YouTube. If you have a local church that has a Steven ministry, you can call and ask for someone to walk along side you and listen to you. Please don’t try to go through this alone. Praying for you.

    • Candice

      Please know I am praying that God will give you the strength and insight as to what to do. Don’t ever feel like you have to be quiet and not speak. You are alive and on this earth for a reason. Stay strong.

  • Lorin Greer-Cardona

    Not all husbands like being put on full blast via social media. My husband is into action, cleaning the house or cooking his favorite meal or giving him a facial (in the privacy of our own home of course) works wonders for him. I guess it just goes back to what love language your husband understands. In a world where privacy is null and void its special to keep the admirations for one another private. Just my 2 cents.