The importance of keeping score

Dear Dissonance,

I’m glad we got that little conflict between the two of us out of the way so that we can get back to focusing on your Patient.

Breaking up a relationship or inflicting great blows to it is really quite formulaic. Once you memorize a few steps and start practicing them, you will be sure to find immediate success. What makes me particularly optimistic in your case is that both your patient and her soon-to-be husband are not young. This means they are set in their ways, which often turns small fights into huge conflagrations with the right prompting. They won’t even know what hit them.

For starters, not all fights are good for us, however. Fighting is a form of communication, after all, and it can sometimes lead to reconciliation and mutual understanding. Our Father prefers everyone to talk past one another, respond without listening and even better, not mention grievances so that they build and build into a resentment so strong it erects an impermeable wall against intimacy.

Ironically, being “in love” is often very helpful to Our Father in that regard. Individuals in this state often overlook flaws because nothing seems important except the sheer essence of that person. So, one or the other won’t mind if a spouse repeatedly pays bills late because he or she doesn’t like to deal with money or if a spouse never makes the bed or does so in a way that a five-year-old would. But when the “in love” era ends, as it always does, mostly in months, but sometimes longer, those small slights turn into excellent triggers for a husband or wife to start cataloguing wrongs against his or her spouse that replay constantly in long mental loops that often turn people into self-righteous, angry people without their even knowing it!

And because so many people hate confrontation, they don’t talk about what’s bothering them, not realizing it’s poisoning the rest of their relationship. Who wants to have sex, much less enjoy it, after all, when the only thing you can think about is the six pairs of shoes your husband left strewn in the family room or the bright white water ring his glass left on the new coffee table from not using a coaster sitting on said coffee table and how juvenile and disrespectful he is. Get it?

The key here, too, is not to let your Patient pray about any of these issues when they arise. Praying would mean that your Patient cares about her husband enough to let go of the thing that makes her better than him and that she can hold against him. It also often leads to discussions — and fights — that get all those wonderful for us resentments out in the open – where they start to disappear. It’s always better for anger to stay hidden, where it can metastasize in great disproportion to the slight that triggered it.

When this happens, the fights that happen are not what they are allegedly about but about the bigger thing that your Patient won’t bring up. This means they will happen over and over again leaving her husband confused and your Patient still angry. You will know these fights because the proportion of anger unleashed is way out of whack with what happened.

For example, when your patient screams at her husband for leaving the car door unlocked which led to someone rifling through it and stealing loose change, she is not yelling at him for the actual incident, where no one was hurt and nothing of real value taken. She is angry with him for losing his wallet a year ago and his keys six months ago and for being irresponsible, which of course she hasn’t talked with him about and which makes her look down on him because she is not that way.

The longer the scorecard grows in her mind of perceived flaws, the better for us. It’s your job to gift her the mental notepad to start the list and keep her counting.

Your affectionate aunt,


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