In 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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