My Terrible Tally

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Last week I was hanging out with my friend Trish and I was harassing her for not returning a few phone calls and text messages. (Admittedly prompt response to correspondence is not Trish’s strength.) But after I got in a few jabs she said, “you are making me feel bad.”

And immediately I felt bad. Horrible, in fact.

Making her “feel bad” wasn’t my intention, or was it? After stewing on it for a few days, I’m still not certain. (Sorry, Trish.)

But one thing is clear. I have a terrible tendency to keep score in relationships. I file away a handy little mental tally  that keeps track of how each of my friendships is progressing. Notches are silently added when someone exerts effort. And notches are deducted when they do not.

My tally prompts me when it is my turn to make a move. And my tally CLAIMS to protect me from not getting into a situation where I’m not getting as much as I am giving.

But what my tally REALLY DOES is limit my ability to love, limit my ability to extend grace, and limit my ability to faithfully risk in my relationships.

Anyone else struggle with this?

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Lindsey has a sincere love for her precious dogs Molly and Maisy, a good red wine and the Delta Sky Club. She spends her days (and some nights) laboring to end childhood hunger at Feed the Children and to gather, equip and unleash women at IF:Gathering.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I definitely struggle with this one. Even worse, if someone apologizes for something they've done to hurt me, I then expect them to MAKE IT UP to me. And if they don't, they don't earn any more tallies. It's a sick system that I'm trying to break!
    My recent post More Than Defined- Using the F Word

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  • i struggle with this too, linds. it's my heart's attempt to protect itself from hurt… which doesn't really work and only ends up hurting others in the process — which is definitely NOT what i want to do.

    love isn't love without risk. so my desire to love well means i need to choose to risk more in my relationships. eeeeek. i feel like that's really what this next season is going to be about for me in terms of my move up to TN. it makes my eyes fill with tears and puts butterflies in my stomach.

    remind me again why i chose risk as my word for the year?! 😉

    • glad i'm in good company. you are right. "love isn't without risk." can't wait to get you to TN.

  • But what my tally REALLY DOES is limit my ability to love, limit my ability to extend grace, and limit my ability to faithfully risk in my relationships.

    Yes it does. I know that I am guilty of this as well. It comes way to naturally for me and I need to continue to allow God to transform me in this area of my life.
    My recent post We cant do life on our own

  • I personally don't keep score in relationships, but I'm married to someone who does. It's hard. But at least, he's also quick to remember the GOOD things. So even though he can catalog and categorize everything I do that he perceives as wrong, he's also good at praising the things I do right.
    My recent post My Blogoversary Giveaway

  • I find I have this same tendency. For me, reminding my friends of the times they’ve ‘failed’ makes me feel better about myself. It’s a perverse way to encourage myself and I’ve just noticed it recently. I too am trying to get better at this.

    Let me know if you figure out some good methods to cope and heal. I’ve found if I try to give two positive comments every time I catch myself being negative, I am a lot more aware of when I’m doing it…

    • i was counting on you guys to tell me how to fix this 😉

  • Hey, I don't know that it is such a bad idea to be aware of how much effort others are putting into a relationship, simply because if you are making this relationship more important and valuing the person more than they value your relationship with them then it becomes difficult, there is no equity or equality in the relationship where one party makes all the moves, times I have simply stopped contacting people who I had thought I had a good relationship with only for them to not bother, so guess what? we let the relationship die a natural death! It does take 2 to work at any relationship for it to work.
    I do think using such tallys to beat others up with (not for one minutes suggesting that was what you were doing) or to hold a grudge/judge someone else by is wrong but to use it as an indicator of the other persons commitment to the relationship is to my mind important.

    • david, you make a really good point. some of this is being observant and creating healthy boundaries in relationships. but i think the line gets blurry between that and keeping us from loving people well.

  • I am not sure I keep a running tally but I do notice myself get really hurt when I feel like I am in a weak moment and the people I turn to are unavailable. My brain quickly starts to list all the times I have recently been there for them and I feel even more slighted. I tend to cut a lot of people slack and excuse poor behavior with "they may be busy" but as some other people are quick to remind me… I am very busy keeping up with a 2 & a 4 year old, so busy isn't a very good reason.
    My recent post I never said

  • i'm absolutely horrible at keeping tally marks! Just last night I told Pete "You know how many times I put the kids to bed by myself compared to how many you've done it? At least 1,000 to 1." It also seems I exaggerate my tally marks at times! 🙂

    The bedtime issue was a small one, I keep big tally marks too, mostly in my marriage but it also creeps over to my closest friendships at times as well. How embarassing to say!

    • i know. someday i am going to write a post about all the areas of my life that i have figured out. 😉

  • I don't think I keep score the same way you do, but I definitely have a sense of justice in friendships. What's with that? It kinda puts a ruining on the dynamic. :>)

    -Marshall Jones Jr.
    My recent post How To Make A Friend In 10 Days &8211 Free eBook

  • Absolutely. I do this with people in a joking way but also in a way that wants to make a point.

    I remember Rob Bell talking about this in his book Sex God:when a husband is constantly using his wife as a laughing point in public there is a problem. i still remember that to this day because I was the one that would be sarcastic or joke around with someone but do it in the way of making fun of them or pointing out a flaw. It was a jab at them all for a 2 second laugh.

    Not worth it
    My recent post Its Your Turn

  • Amy

    My tally cost me 2 friendships before I decided to just let it go. I hate when you have to learn lessons the hard way…

    My recent post Overwhelmed

  • I hate that feeling of being more into a relationship then the other person. It feels horrible. My insecurities creep up in those situations. That is not great icing on the cake. I am more apt to protect then not. I have subtle tally's in my head. I am more skeptical than trusting, so I look for untrustworthy rather than trustworthy patterns in someone. That is defeating for both people. Not fair as well.

    I would also admit to keeping a record of wrongs. Love is kicked to the way side when protection steps up. I think keeping a record of wrongs is about protection from pain. I hate the feeling of pain. No one likes it. I can justify my records as way to keep track of things that hurt me and avoid those things. Not healthy. You are right, there is no room for grace and forgiveness in that. Risk can hurt and be scary, but worth it.
    My recent post Waiting For Answered Prayers

  • So many of your posts feel like you are in my head typing out all the thoughts from my lil green gremlin that runs around my brain wrecking havoc on my relationships.

    His name is Buster – my little green gremlin that keeps score, pops off when I least want him to, and I have been trying to train him for years, but alas, he is a wild thing – and untamable. I hate that.

    He makes me a Buster sometimes – to others. And it is such a bummer.

  • Lindsey ~

    I love your heart and your honesty. For someone I would call not only friend but a close friend what you see as flaws about yourself are some of the qualities I admire about you. Although I'm glad you feel God revealed a struggle through our conversation I'm fully aware that it takes two to tango! As you know I SUCK BAD in this area of responding to friends… like for decades I have sucked at this 🙂 I once moved and never mentioned it to a dear friend! Crazy I know BUT I think true friendship is recognizing each others flaws and loving each other despite them. I also think that its our job to encourage one another in the areas we struggle whether its your "Tally List" or my "Response issue". God has placed you in my life for a reason and He has used you to boldly push me to places most people are afraid to go. I love you deeply despite your flaws and I'm thankful you love me the same!!!

    ~Trish

    • trish, you are amazing. you have a ton on your plate. i feel privileged to get any time with you. you don't have to return all my phone calls for me to know that i am important. really. i agree with what you said about true friendship, "true friendship is recognizing each others flaws and loving each other despite them." i am sorry for harassing you. and even more sorry that it made you feel bad, even for a moment! love you lots!

  • yeah….i struggle with keeping a tally and with how many times I'll put myself out there or give into the relationship before I start to retreat back when really it shouldn't matter. always brings me back to 1 cor 13 and remembering that love keeps no record of wrong and believes the best of everyone.

  • Oh Lord! So where does this put our friendship??? I'll own the last few jabs, but for the love of God… Who is winning?!?!? 🙂
    My recent post Got Hip-Hop

  • Lindsey…such an honest and transparent post. I don’t really struggle with keeping tallies in my relationships, but I have struggled with that in my relationship with God…reminding him how much I’ve done for him…how much he owes me…how unbalanced the scoreboard is.

    Then, in a still small voice He reminds me there is no scoreboard.

    Thanks for going first on this, as I am sure so many people are right where you are!

    • justin, pretty sure if there was a scoreboard between you and God…He'd be winning! 😉

  • Aaron

    Add me to the list of people who keep score even though I try my hardest not to. Unlike you, I never really confront my friends about the score (SO non-confrontational). What I do instead is get so frustrated with one sided friendships that once they get to a certain arbitrary level of imbalance (I've contacted you 5 times in 2 months without a response for example) I go into "test mode." I set up a test that only I know about. I say to myself, "I'm going to cut off all contact with you and see how long it takes before you even notice." If I disappeared tomorrow and it took you months to even realize it, then you're not really a friend. It's unfair of me, to test people that way I know. Plus, I usually don't like the results.

    Good to see others struggle with this though. Sometimes it feels like I'm the only person out there who has all one-sided relationships.

    • you definitely are not alone in this! i am not always confrontational…sometimes i just pull back and let the relationship evaporate. i think sometimes that is fine. we don't have to stay in one-sided friendships. and we can love people without being invested.

  • Jack

    You might have made her feel bad (again) with your post – the comment in parens?

    That said, yes, I think we all struggle with this. Thankfully God doesn't keep tally of His own.

    I also tend to keep a tally of my own sin, even after I've confessed it and God has forgiven me. That too is troubling to me. Corrie Ten Boom once said "Jesus throws our sin in the ocean, and then posts a sign that says: 'no fishing'".

    So "no fishing" Lindsey! 🙂

    • Aaron

      Nope. The you in parens wasn't referring to anyone in particular – it was meant to be a generic example. My bad. Sometimes when I try to explain myself I'm as clear as mud! 🙂

      • Aaron

        Sorry got confused. Saw the word reply below my comment and thought it was from Jack without expanding. Am all out of whack today! Wish there was a reset button.

  • Totally. I would like to think that I don't, but I do. Sometimes I think I am doing better at it & then God gently lets me know that I really am not doing as well as I thought I was.
    My recent post Psalm 23-Rest With Me Awhile

  • We have a number of friends who are TERRIBLE at returning phone calls. It's hard not to keep a tally when you feel ignored. You make a good point though that keeping score gets in the way.
    My recent post Monkeying Around in Monkey Town

  • To be honest, I don't really have any friends. My "best friend" is my stem cell donor and she lives in a different country! We've never even spoken on the phone before. But when I facebook "friends" the time it takes them to respond tends to add notches or take them away. I never really thought of it that way before. It kind of saddens me.

    • Megan, Me too.

      • meganjoyburdzy

        Thank you for replying. This sounds pathetic but it makes me feel "special" and of at least some importance.

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  • Oh gosh, I could write a book on this.

    Here's the thing~ I used to do this ALL THE TIME in ALL my relationships. My husband, my kids, my friends. And I firmly believe that God has removed a lot of my "in person" relationships to teach me to lean on Him with complete dependance instead of others and to weed out my tendency to people please.

    I also firmly believe that I was left in a LONG season of feeling like I was the only one exerting effort in my marriage and in the relationship with my kids (NOT true by the way, mostly my skewed perception) so my eyes could be opened to my selfishness and tendency to judge others against my complicated and convoluted lists of expectations that no one could ever fulfill.

    All to try and protect myself from being hurt. I'm slowly learning to open my heart to others again. ANd I applaud you for doing the same here and helping others see that we are not alone in this struggle.

    And BTW, I was totally just talking myself down from getting upset about an unreturned email and then I opened your blog. 🙂 Thanks for the reminder to love unconditionally and give grace.

    My recent post In Dreams

    • Lindsey, Me too. Me too. Nice to know I'm not the only one that does this. We can work on it together.

  • Chrystie

    Oh! I am afraid I am a terrible scorekeeper…and the "funny" thing is that it always seems to work out in my favor?!! All my scorecard does is create division in my relationships instead of unity and love. Hoping one day I will learn to tear up the scorecard for good!
    My recent post 6-321 Miles

  • i struggle with the thought of being tallied.

    im not a score keeper. not by nature but by circumstances. growing up i was let down so often that i just have grown not to expect anything from anyone. the element of surprise is fabulous tho!

    My recent post interactive info

  • Tally scores for relationships – nice 🙂
    But dont you think, there is more to relationships than just instant actions and reactions?
    My recent post Flies!! – Flash Fiction 300

  • huh. i don't think i do this – but only because of all the therapy i've had! 🙂 i can't remember now if i ever did this…but i've learned that no one owes me anything and to offer as much grace as i can because of all that's been given to me. the best friendships i have are the ones where there are no expectations or apologies, you know? that said…this is causing me to check myself because i'm not the best about returning phone calls…in fact, i'm horrible about it… thank you for the lesson being a better friend, lindsey. xo
    My recent post she speaks- becoming more

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  • April

    I used to keep tally more than I do anymore. It's not worth the energy, is it? And it does damage to relationships. More often now I worry about whether I owe a friend something — a returned favor or reply to an email. I need to learn more about receiving and letting people give to me w/o expectation of anything in return.

    I appreciate your honesty, Lindsey.
    My recent post I know how you feel

  • I do the same thing – keeping track of my friends' "points" and how they fall short. Great post. Thanks for the confession. I'm in this boat, too. I bring attention to where friends and family haven't "done their part." Lord, help me. I need more grace.
    My recent post How to Deal with the Restlessness of Your Twenties