Relationship Fairness: What a 50/50 Balance Means

man-and-woman-balancing-while-walking-on-fenceIn this day and age, people want equal relationships. We want to be treated fairly and share the responsibilities of our relationships. But an equitable, 50/50 relationship does not mean each partner gives 50% of themselves. In fact, this type of division can be damaging to a relationship.

A 50/50 split means that each person gives the exact same amount of themselves—fully. Partners base their giving on sameness and equality rather than the needs of the relationship. In couples therapy, I tell couples that their relationship is the primary client. Their relationship is a separate entity that they created, and it needs to be recognized and respected as such. A relationship, in times of peril and times of peace, needs full attention from both people. It requires more than a 50% effort; it needs full effort and attention in order to thrive and be healthy. Relationships require fairness, not equity. We need to start asking ourselves, “How do I create and maintain a relationship that is fair for me, my partner, and the relationship itself?”

Fairness in a relationship is about understanding and working toward the needs of the relationship, not just the needs of each person. This is not to say that individual needs are unimportant; they are important and should not be disregarded. In fact, ignored individual needs often lead to resentment, which is very damaging to relationships.

Relationship fairness is not about martyrdom or self-sacrifice at all costs. It is about recognizing and respecting your relationship’s needs. Fairness is about the flexibility that is necessary to meet everyone’s needs, including that of the relationship. In order to achieve fairness in your relationship, there are three perspectives that need to be considered: yours, your partner’s, and your relationship’s.

Consider “Naomi” and “Martin.” Martin bathes the children and puts them to bed immediately after dinner. Naomi is responsible for dinner, but after a long day she doesn’t always want to cook and do the dishes. She would rather lounge on the couch watching television instead of cleaning the kitchen. If Naomi solely focused on herself and her own needs without considering Martin or their relationship, there would be no fairness. While Naomi rested, it is likely that Martin would become resentful as Naomi watched television while he continued with his family responsibility. This resentment and irritability would spill into the rest of the evening, creating tension and distance in their relationship. Similarly, if Naomi never spoke up and took a break when she needed it, she would become irritable and resentful.

To be fair to your relationship and to your partner, you do not need to constantly self-sacrifice. But you do need to consider your relationship and its needs as you would consider your own. A key component of relationship fairness is balance. It is about finding the sweet spot that balances your needs, your partner’s needs, and your relationship’s needs. Relationship fairness requires that we ask for our individual needs to be met while also considering the relationship’s needs and our partner’s needs. As you consider ways to bring more fairness into your relationships, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I need right now? Is it a physical or emotional need?
  • Can you sacrifice your own needs to meet the needs of your relationship without feeling resentment?
  • What do I want to ask for?
  • How does my need impact my partner?
  • How does my need impact my relationship?

How have you created fairness in your relationships? What has worked for you? What has challenged you? We want to know and learn from each other. Share your thoughts with us!

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • TK

    August 26th, 2013 at 10:03 PM

    “Relationship fairness is not about martyrdom or self-sacrifice at all costs”

    I used to think that love and relationship was about the constant self-sacrifice—as sacrifice is the sign of true love. But as I have grown, I have seen how stupid that line of thought is. Pushing someone to always sacrifice for you and vice versa will make for a very unpleasant relationship—a relationship where no one gets what they want.

  • hannah

    August 26th, 2013 at 10:47 PM

    there is that sense of wanting to invest into the relationship when your partner shows enthusiasm along with you.just like a team sport cannot be won by one player’s efforts,a relationship cannot work with only one person’s requires effort and time from both the people.

    and when this does happen both will feel more inclined to give more and that will ultimately create a happier relationship.its a cycle that reaps dividends endlessly.worth investing in for sure! :)

  • Alex g

    August 27th, 2013 at 3:52 AM

    You do have to remember that what looks fair and balanced for one couple could actually look all out of whack for another but it all about figuring out what works best for you and your partner. For one couple it might be you do all the housewhork while he does all the outside stuff. For another it could be that he does the laundry and he does the cooking. That’s fine, there just has to be some equitable give and take so that one part of the couple does not feel like they are doing all of the giving and the other is the one doing only all of the taking. I find that when relationship dynamics are set up like this then a lot of resentment tends to grow after a while and that is a bredding ground for a lot of hurt and animosity, not necessarily a healthy relationship.

  • patsy

    August 28th, 2013 at 4:02 AM

    I am a giver and what makes me feel good is to take care of the other people in my life.
    Of course I like for them to do things for me too from time to time but for them most part, when I am taking care of my home and my family that is helping me to take care of me too.
    It might look a little off balanace to someone else but for me this is what works.

  • Tonya Ladipo

    August 28th, 2013 at 10:50 AM

    Balance is the key! And it’s true that each couple need to create their own version of balance and fairness that works for them.

    Have you found others (family, friends) supportive of how your relationship works? What do you do when others judge the balance that works for you?

  • Denise

    November 16th, 2014 at 4:13 AM

    I’m in a relationship with a man who has been out of society for 15 years. This man has missed so much until it’s hard for us to get balance to work for us. We are newlyweds and his FAITH is strong in God…He goes to church a lot. I on the other had am a Christian and I work and attend classes at night. I made great changes to work the same hours as he does. I also set a schedule to fit the needs of the relationship so that I could be the “wife” I am suppose to be for my husband. He loves watching television so I use that time to study and do homework. When it comes time for us to be together his always focused on church. I’ve mentioned several times that we need to get some balance in our relationship. It only lead to me leaving and I love my husband and I know he loves me but I can’t seem to get him to the true healthy meaning of balance. What can I do?

  • Tonya Ladipo

    November 17th, 2014 at 6:34 PM

    Are there non-church activities that you and your husband can do and still feel connected to your faith? Where can you both find and make compromises? Communication is key. Also consider enlisting the support of your pastor to discuss compromise and balance within your marriage.

  • Denise

    December 25th, 2014 at 4:57 AM

    Thanks for the reply. I have done what you suggested and came up with things for us to do. I have also decided to take a break from school to support him in his basketball season in 2015. This acrifice is a a great deal to me and yet I’m taking away from my future to try to make my marriage work. I’m I wrong?

  • Willem

    January 5th, 2015 at 1:38 PM

    Do your math. 50/50 equals 100/100 equals 200/200 equals one.

  • Jerry

    January 23rd, 2015 at 4:49 AM

    Lol, right?! I always laugh when people get the entire 50/50 wrong… When talking about a relationship, you should be as close to 50/50 as possible which means each person gives 100% of their own effort. Each persons 100% factors I as 50% of the ONE relationship… So when you hear 50/50, don’t get caught up on the idea that each partner only tries half way… That is the most wrong assumption I hear ring out out there… Trust me, my gfs mom still doesn’t understand that concept… *mind blown gesture*

  • bernatd

    March 7th, 2015 at 7:29 AM

    when i need something she refuses but when she needs something i give her what she wants. it’s unfair right?

  • Brian

    April 2nd, 2016 at 6:24 PM

    I really appreciate that this is a non gender specific article. Guys like to be part of equitable relationships too! My last partner said we needed a more equitable relationship. I thought we had one, but she didn’t see it that way. When I probed for answers I was met with a “you won’t get it” attitude.
    I appreciate that you gave those self-evaluation questions at the end. It will help me moving forward =)

  • Mark

    April 28th, 2017 at 7:17 AM

    I focused a lot on having a fair relationship with my wife. It took some effort though. For example, at first, traveling together meant following my wife’s ambitious plans to visit every museum, shop, and other “must see” places in the city. I pushed back, saying this is not my style of travel at all. We tried to alternate – she makes the plan for one day, I make the plan for the next day. That didn’t work well, she hated my relaxed sightseeing plans just as much as I hated her ambitious “must see everything” plans. Then we tried making each our own plans for the day, and meeting up for dinner at the end of the day. We did that for a while, and it actually worked! Finally we decided there was absolutely nothing wrong with going on trips independently – alone or with friends, etc. We’ve been married 20 years, and still take many of our vacations independently.

  • Jeny

    September 10th, 2018 at 9:31 AM

    Interesting post… thanks for the sharing this article with us.. please keep it up with a new post.

  • Mari

    January 24th, 2019 at 3:57 PM

    I’ve even marriage for almost 5 years we’ve had our moments our ibig issue is about being fair so that’s what he says I’m 47 years old I had a baby boy at 46 and I have a daughter who is 16 I’m married to a very stubborn man he’s a wonderful father and at times a not so good husband.. I’m going to get the point every time I have an issue or I ask him a ? About something is that is bothering me he gets very defensive rolls eyes turns head so what happens me the wife gets very upset and angry so me my voice start getting very high because I feel he’s not listening to what I’m feeling so what happens we get into a huge argument I do get upset and sad and start crying and he zooms out of the house sonthen what happens I’m literally pretty upset! I’m feeling that he does not want to hear how I’m feeling he comes home not 1 hr later he’s gone for hours I feel that’s incorrect so he’s exude is I don’t want to be around you we are screaming top of your lungs around the kids so that’s his excuse… but see instead of voiding an argument why couldn’t he be more understanding loving understand where I was coming from so then I feel like I’m not being loved so then I start feeling insecure all yes emotions start making me feel he’s up to something he’s always on the defensive mode… gone to counseling even the counselor would tell him there you again trying to defend your self this has always been issue in our marriage… so what happens we don’t talk for days but when calls me tells me I want ya to make things better then ask me what can we do to make things better so he’s asking me right? So I start talking telling how I feel very disconnected from him he comes home from work yes he gives a kiss so he goes on doing he’s things so now it’s almost 10 pm time go to bed and there’s no time for us now because it’s time go to bed so then here I go in getting upset .. my voice peach gets high becomes defensive shuts down on me I’m tired of this I’m exhausted he always says we have to be fair I’m like fair of what I tell him you never lograr me out your always trying to defend yourself and it goes and on my he does not emphasize with me he has no emotions he’s not sensitive to my emotions.. I’ll say it again he says we have to fair I thought marriage was 100%

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