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  • Deborah Moyer

Settling the “You Owe Me” Life Scoreboard

I think today's topic will resonate with a lot of you because it’s a common coping mechanism that we humans use more than we should. It’s called the “You Owe Me” scoreboard.

What's a "You Owe Me" Life Scoreboard?

A “You Owe Me” life scoreboard is a list of things that occur over time between two or more people. It can be a negative list where the person gathers experiences or events that made them feel hurt, disrespected, slighted, or offended in some way.

It can also be a positive list of things where a person helped others who were in crisis. They might have supported others emotionally through a tough breakup or divorce or financially helped them during an emergency.

The Positive Side

Usually, if the items on a “You Owe Me” Scoreboard are positive, they are things where the person went considerably out of their way to give comfort and relief to a friend, family member, spouse, or co-worker.

Mind you, with a positive scoreboard, they aren’t doing kind things with the specific intent that it could count for points down the road. They do it because they truly care about others and want to help.

But, the problem develops if they’ve done a LOT of that help and don’t feel valued or appreciated for that effort. It can then create underlying resentments over time that pop up later on the scoreboard.

The Negative Side

On the darker side, if the scoreboard is negative, the list will usually contain a litany of painful wrong-doings that a person has had to endure for days, months, or even years and they aren’t about to forget about them any time soon.

The “wrongdoings” may, or may not, be completely based on reality.

But, for the person who is feeling the resulting emotional pain, it’s very real.

I’m thinking there are a few people with spouses listening to this right now that might relate to this kind of list?

How It's Used

Regardless of whether it’s positive or negative, the scoreboard gets pulled out when an emotional issue is triggered.

They may feel they are being unfairly criticized or held accountable for something they feel wasn’t their responsibility.

It may be that they are responsible, but for whatever reason, are resisting accountability for it.

Nonetheless, if it’s an emotional topic that’s been consistently brought up in the past, but gone unresolved, the person will immediately go into a defensive posture.

Unfortunately, once a person goes defensive, communication becomes even more challenging. Each party then retreats to their battle stations and prepares for war.

Now the real issue that triggered the incident takes a sideline to past grievances or old wounds that have little or nothing to do with the issue at hand.

The Scoreboard Stats

The conversation then turns to the current stats on the scoreboard.

If the scoreboard has racked up several innings, the level of emotion is probably high.

Have you or someone you know said something like this:

“Are you not listening? How many times have you done this to me before? You aren’t even trying to change!”


“Why are you coming at me like this when I’ve done nothing but help you in the past?”.

Now, the new issue becomes the catalyst for old, unresolved hurt to resurface and boil over again, bringing with it all the original pain, frustration, or anger.

They may have felt unvalued, disrespected, abused, hurt, or disappointed for some time.

Stick with the Present Problem

If the communication skills haven’t been there to get to the heart of the matter in an open way, they will continue to perpetuate the destructive pattern.

If we can simply step back and see these patterns for what they are, which are opportunities to connect, respect, and communicate with others we care about, we can then isolate the real issue and let it stand front and center.

It’s surprising how much less confrontive we humans can be when we’re faced with only one issue at a time vs. an entire lifetime of grievances.

By bringing a life scoreboard to a conversation, we aren’t fighting the battle on that one issue. We’ve brought in the cavalry, cannon brigade, and a few flaming arrows!

They are full of intense emotions, feelings of fragility, and vulnerability that we’ve experienced from every skirmish we’ve ever had in our life.

How It Hurts Instead of Helps

Make no mistake about it. This scoreboard is a tool we’ve all used at one time or another to clarify for others what we feel is owed to us from the past.

We’re often not conscious of it at the time. We’re too ramped up trying to anticipate our adversary's next move and can’t see how easy it actually is to resolve the problem and put it behind us.

To make matters worse, the unique thing about a “You Owe Me” life scoreboard is that it’s completely subjective.

Depending on how stubborn the parties are, you may never get to the point where they can find a middle ground.

You can have 3 people who had the same experience and, odds are, each of them would perceive that experience completely different.

Beware of the Dark Side

It’s also dangerous because some people use their scoreboards to manipulate or intimidate others into doing things for them simply for selfish reasons.

In this case, they have a vested interest in maintaining their scoreboards so they can use them again and again in the future.

Moving Forward

But, for most of us, we’re simply letting the scoreboard get in the way of open and honest communication. We’re stuck in the past and unwilling, or unable, to allow each issue to stand on its own merit.

If you’re in a relationship that regularly uses life scoreboards on one, or both, sides you may want to consider calling a truce and trying straight-forward, heartfelt communication instead with the person you are upset with.

It also requires checking your emotions at the door, staying calm, and avoiding any “You Owe Me” references no matter how badly you want to bring them up.

By treating your loved ones, and even your adversaries, with respect and direct openness, you set the stage for building a relationship that can heal and move forward in a more positive way.

And I guarantee you that’s a whole lot more enjoyable than wasting energy trying to keep track of old scores.

So, until next time, my friend, as I always say….stay safe, stay healthy, and stay strong!