I’ve always had a thing about fairness – it bothered me that my sisters’ rooms were bigger than mine, or that a stranger cut in line and got away with it, or when my classmates got an A on a group project that I did most of the work on.
It’s in our nature to care about everything being perfectly fair across the board. We want to know that our efforts to do what’s right matter and will eventually be reflected on the scoreboard of life, where we’ll come out on top.
We see this inclination reflected in the way we approach our relationships and marriage. We keep track of any wrongdoing or unevenness, with scorecards in our back pockets at all times so we can ensure our spouse’s performance is satisfactory. We record who’s washed the dishes more often, or who last picked up the kids from school.
Caring about fairness isn’t a fatal flaw, but if there’s one thing marriage has taught me, it’s that life and relationships can’t shake out completely evenly. But contrary to popular belief, that doesn’t have to be a terrible thing.
Where Marriage Should Be Even
For any marriage or relationship to work, there does have to be a certain fairness – we can’t expect our spouse to be more faithful, more committed, or more thoughtful than we are. If we aren’t both devoted to respecting one another’s boundaries, attentive to the other’s needs and desires, or careful with how our words and actions will affect the other, then we aren’t living into our role as a wife or a husband.
We can’t expect our spouse to be more faithful or more committed than we are.
Marriage is undeniably challenging, and no one will be a perfect spouse, but expecting our spouse to be as “all in” as we are isn’t unrealistic or unfair in the least bit. This is where fairness isn’t superfluous, but totally necessary for a relationship to survive.
Where Keeping Score Will Hurt Marriage
Where our need for fairness tends to cross a line is when we diligently nickel and dime the other’s performance or deeds. Who paid which bill? Who filled up the car last time? Who stumbled out of bed in the middle of the night to check on the baby last time?
While doing every chore shouldn’t fall on one person without fail, the truth is, keeping a strict record of who did which chores and how many times and how well only breeds resentment, guilt, and grudges. When we see our contributions to a marriage as what we did for them, rather than what we brought to the table for the two of us and our marriage, we aren’t honoring the essence of our commitment to one another.
Keeping a strict record of who did what only breeds resentment, guilt, and grudges.
Regarding our efforts, energy, time, and funds as mine only nurtures selfishness and separation from our spouse, instead of acting and giving generously, out of love and responsibility to them and our commitment to them. The former cultivates a marriage that operates as two individuals who look after their interests alone, whereas the latter promotes working as teammates.
Expecting Perfection Will Leave Us Disappointed
It’s not revolutionary to say that life doesn’t always go according to plan. We might not get that raise, get into that school, or have that lifelong dream come true. We also definitely won’t have a spouse who’s always able to carry as much of the load as we are.
Life gets in the way of this. Depression or illness strikes, we’re left vulnerable and weak after losing a loved one, or we weren’t raised with an image of a good marriage to emulate. Entering a marriage with the assumption that we’ll unfailingly carry totally even loads at all times is wildly unrealistic – and actually unfair to our spouse.
Take Giftings into Account
The healthiest and happiest marriages I’ve seen all have one thing in common: they’re realistic about what their strengths are and what their spouse’s strengths are. They consider what they’re able to offer to the other, and vice versa, based on their natural gifts. They don’t require their spouse to offer the exact same things as they do.
When we feel that our natural strengths are honored and received, we’re more likely to grow.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t ever strive beyond what comes naturally to us in order to love our spouse well, but it’s worthwhile to recognize the ways our spouse attempts to serve us. When we feel that our natural strengths are honored and received, we’re more likely to grow beyond them and learn how to give our spouse even more of what they need from us.
Demanding a 50/50 marriage only leaves us disappointed in something that couldn’t ever be fulfilled anyway. Expecting our spouse to make their greatest effort, and stick with us through the tough times, is what we can and should expect – but it won’t always be 50/50.
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