Fairness might be more important than love.
A good relationship is dependent on experiencing a sense of fairness—that what you’re putting in the other is matching, roughly speaking. When the relationship is fair we feel settled in the knowing that there is a shared commitment to fostering each other’s safety, development, and expression. As social animals it is reflexive for us to be tracking how fair we feel in any given relationship and it becomes particularly important in our life partnerships. We want to feel like we’re not exhausting ourselves while the other is riding high on their morals or in a sense paratising. The problem with fairness is that it’s entirely subjective and there’s no way to measure it.
Fairness might be a perception, but it’s still incredibly important.
Just because a sense of fairness is a subjective perception, doesn’t mean it’s not important. Two people can have different perceptions and neither can be discounted. We all need to know what our own sense of fairness is, hold it lightly because it’s not objective truth, communicate it to the other and also be really curious about the other’s sense of fairness is in a relationship.
To flesh this out let me give you an example: if my wife shares with me how it feels unfair to her that I’m taking these business/skills training trips and leaving the family for 3 days at a time and I respond defensively with “That’s how I make the money we need for the family”, or “I need time for myself!” I end up dismissive her experience of unfairness and it’s ultimately going to bite me in the ass. She won’t feel safe with me and won’t be generous towards me. I need to hear her experience and ask her “what would feel fair?” or “What can we do to make this feel more fair”. A side note here: I expect the same from her, in the sense that if I’m experiencing some unfairness with the way she leaves dishes in the sink I can bring it up to her and she will do her best to address my sense of unfairness. Back and forth like that is what ensures a low level of resentment in a relationship (one of the prime killers of any relationship).
How do you evaluate fairness in a relationship?
Step 1. Pause and Consider
If you’re feeling in some way like your relationship is unfair, the first thing to do is pause and consider. Is this sense of unfairness coming from an adolescent consciousness inside you, a part of you that’s expecting an unrealistic response from the other, that they’re somehow going to attune to you, that you don’t need to be explicit, that they should just know? Or is it coming from realistic expectation one can have of a partner in an adult relationship and therefore it can be presented as such. For example: “I’ve noticed that I’m doing all the cooking these days and it’s starting to feel unfair. I’d like to remedy that. Any ideas?”
Step 2. Ask for Help
For many of us, when we’re feeling that things are unfair, the next place to consider is whether we’re asking for help. Often what happens is we project some expectation that they’re selfish and don’t care, when the truth is, more often than not they simply have no idea it’s a problem because we’ve never asked for help. They may sense some grumbling and irritation, but it’s up to you to come forth and ask for support in specific ways.
If it’s true that your relationship feels unfair, what kind of conversation do you need to bring forth? What kind of vulnerable expressions do you need to bring in order to have your feelings heard and recalibrate the relationship?
Step 3. Re-establish Systems
Once you’ve had the conversation, and you’ve expressed yourself in a way where your concerns have been heard, and you’ve listened to the others’ experiences of fairness, what does it mean to recalibrate and correct? What can you both do together? Where do you need to adjust and re-establish your systems so you can both feel an equal sense of fairness in the relationship?
What happens when a relationship is chronically unfair?
When partners consistently fail to hear the others expressions and experiences of unfairness resentment builds and intimacy, goodwill, love tanks. Each partner will often question whether they are in the right relationship because it just feels so terrible.
I can think of a couple I recently worked with (actually its a composite of couples so I can avoid any identifying info). The guy insisted on being able to just sit on the couch on Saturdays on his phone or watching “the game” after working all week because he was so drained. His wife expressed how unfair it felt to the family to not have any support on that day for doing things that could be fun, connective for the family as a whole. He insisted that this was a non-negotiable need and he wouldn’t budge. He felt judged for needing time to decompress from a deeply draining job and she felt frustrated to not have any support with the kids during the day. The were in a deadlock. The task before them was to identify the needs at play and come together to collaboratively meet those needs (rest for him, connection for her). As soon as he could express some recognition for her need for more family time she began to feel like he was more on her team and she was able to propose a win-win solution of giving him a half day of time to himself and then doing something light like gardening outside together as a family for the remainder of the day.
If you’re struggling with establishing a fair and equitable relationship with your partner, feel free to reach out and schedule a free call, and let’s see if we can get things back on track. Click here to book.