Fairness in Relationships: How to Get Past Score-keeping

by | Oct 29, 2016 | Fairness in relationships

Countless relationship problems come from perceptions of unfairness. It may be about housework, affection, or even communication styles. If one partner feels like things aren’t fair, resentment builds and erodes the flow of love.

I’m a big advocate of keeping things fair and really hate inequity. But the whole concept of fairness can be problematic when we begin to keep score.

Score-keeping perpetuates both a faulty 50/50 paradigm and a “me vs. you” mentality. It also blocks you from looking at the deeper issues like life dreams and unmet needs.

In order to promote healthy relationships while at the same time moving beyond score-keeping, it’s helpful to be aware of how our focus on fairness shows up in our relationships.

These are the 4 areas of concern where I see fairness in relationships show up most often:

1)    The percentage of responsibility your partner is taking. Do you ever think “if only she would take x% of the blame, then I could let go of this argument.” This is an easy trap and one I have been been tempted by!

2)    Equity in terms of distribution of labor. Most couples have some conflict around who does more work in some areas. This can be related to unspoken expectations or the deeper issue of feeling unappreciated. This is also a gendered issue that is loaded! (See my blog on distribution of domestic labor under number 2 below.)

3)    Equality in terms of emotional investment and level of commitment. Do you fear giving too much because you are not sure of your partner’s level of investment in the relationship? If so then that needs to be the conversation. It’s strong to be vulnerable and speak about your fears. Often this leads to greater empathy and understanding.

4)    Fighting fair. This is the desire to have some ground rules around discussions to protect ourselves from hurt and betrayal. I’m a strong believer in fighting fair.

There is nothing wrong with wanting things to be fair. But when we act from fear of getting the short end of the stick, we move into victim mode and can’t help but start keeping score.

Fairness in Relationships: 5 Ways to Move Past Score-keeping

If you find yourself keeping track of who does what and fight with your partner over the victim position, here are 5 tips.

These are mind-shifts that help you communicate from a place of strength and positivity.

1) Instead of thinking 50/50, think 100/100. Once you start looking at who is to blame for a certain amount of the problem, you are on losing ground. That is because there is no fool-proof way to quantify our contributions. You end up arguing about something that is basically subjective. On the other hand, if you assume you are 100% responsible for your experience, you will behave in ways that shift the dynamic. (If your partner is unable to shift along in positive ways, then you have a problem bigger than fairness). If both partners take 100% responsibility, the relationship flows with good will and kindness.

2) When looking at the distribution of labor, think in broader terms. Maybe  you always do the grocery shopping and the laundry. But does your partner do more of something else that balances things out? If things are truly unbalanced, have a productive conversation about it. Make a proposal of how you could break things down in terms of your strengths or likes and dislikes. Approach it from the Us place, not as if your partner is your opponent. (For more info read my blog 10 ways to solve arguments over household chores).

3) Remember you have nothing to lose. Spiritually speaking, you can’t lose by giving more. Give what you feel you want to give. Don’t base your contributions on your partner’s actions (or non-actions). Be the person you want to me. If you ending up feeling too vulnerable, you can always rethink the relationships.  There is no shame in giving more when you come from a place of abundance rather than scarcity.

4) Agree on some ground rules for “fair fighting.” Here are some ideas for fairness in conversations: Know what the issue is and agree to stick to the subject. Don’t bring in 3rd parties (your mother-in-law or best friend). Don’t hit below the belt. No name calling, interrupting , or blaming. Use “I statements” rather than “You statements.” Turn complaints into requests, and avoid the phrases “always and never.”

5) Get at what is underneath. If you feel like things are unfair, express to your partner what you envision for the relationship. How does the conflict at hand relate to your life dreams? Maybe there is a deeper unmet need that affects how you meet each situation. Looking at yourself allows for conversations based on sharing rather than finger pointing. Only then can you work together as a team.

This is how I look at it: If something feels unfair in your relationship, you have an opportunity. Use the “unfairness” as a chance to effectively problem solve a long-standing issue, learn more about what you need, or connect on a deeper level with your partner through sharing.

Good luck with these and let me know how it goes in the comments below!

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