Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fairness In Relationships

I had always thought that fairness shouldn’t be a big deal in relationships. After all, aren’t we supposed to be self-sacrificing and willing to suffer for our mate? Aren’t we called to prefer one another in love, and give 100%? Won’t God be proud of us now, and “even the score” one day? Well – yes. But is that sufficient for a vitalized relationship now? I'm not quite so sure anymore.

There are certainly times in our relationship when things are going to be out of balance. Sometimes it’s for a day, or a week, or even a season. There was a time when Nan went back to school and I carried most of the financial load, and perhaps more of the domestic load than I was used to. But there was also a time when I spent some time “on the road” as a musician and Nan was in charge of everything at home (while still working a job).  We took turns and it felt relatively fair.

But what about couples that are out of balance for extended periods of time?

I have seen many couples where one of the partners has carried the load both at work and at home for years. Even if the circumstances seem beyond the control of the non-working partner, resentment creeps into the picture eventually and erodes the intimacy. When the imbalance is not beyond the control of the slacker, the relationship may take a much quicker dive. This is particularly evident when one of the partners is trying to “find him/herself” or chasing a dream or elusive career, but doing little at home to help to carry the load.

Of course, part of this scenario is perceptual. I may judge the situation as unbalanced, but you may not. It makes no difference. If I see it as unfair, then there is a problem that needs to be addressed or I am likely to get angry or withdraw. We might need a third party to give us perspective.

The most common battles of fairness that I have seen are:

  • Housework – both work jobs, but one does the majority or the domestic chores.
  • Finances – one spends more money on themself than the other does.
  • Finances – one partner exerts little effort trying to contribute financially, even though the agreement was to create an egalitarian relationship.
  • Time – one has a lot more free time than the other.
  • Childcare – one takes much more responsibility for raising the children.

The Bible warns us that “love does not keep score”, but also advises us not to be engaged in vain or selfish pursuits.  

So what is your ‘fairness meter’ saying these days?


  1. In Henry Cloud's "Nine Things You Simply Must Do", on of the nine things is to "not play fair". He says that if all people do is to give back what they get, when one person falls short and gives less than is expected or required, if the other person gives back what is "fair" then it will be to react back in anger or hurt or whatever they got from that person. He sways you have give back what is right whether it is fair or not - and I think he's absolutely correct...but I think that's what you're saying as well anyways ;-) - D. Perkins

  2. Thanks for the reply, Doug. And you are right that I am not advocating for fairness -- I am commenting on the eroding effect of prolonged unfairness on most relationships.