The Myth of Fair and the 50/50 Relationship Split
Summary: Fairness is subjective and not everything in life can be divided 50/50. What counts is you both feel your overall contribution is balanced.
My partner and I have slightly different views on fairness. She’s more likely to favor a literal 50/50 split as a way to insure fairness. I’m more inclined to follow a “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” philosophy. That’s an over simplification but it illustrates our general tendencies.
One simple way to illustrate my viewpoint is to think of two people about to get dessert. When the desserts arrive one is creme brulee and the other is chocolate moose. One person loves creme brulee but also enjoys a little moose now and then. The other one loves chocolate moose but also appreciates the occasional creme brulee. If we were to split both desserts equally we’d have a situation where both parties would have too much of one and not enough of the other. Both would be dissatisfied. This is not fair. Fair would be a 80/20 slit of both desserts so each one get’s most of their favorite and just a little of their second choice. This is also how divisions of responsibility works in real life.
I am the sole income provider for my family while my partner, a say at home mom, has nearly 100% responsibility with running the domestic side. Is this fair? I think so. Is there any way to quantify and compare our individual contributions to the family? Not really. Our respective spheres of influence are so radically different that they have no real life correlations. But overall it feels right. I make all the money which is the foundation, the fuel, the raw material. She turns the money into something tangible, something that makes our lives pleasant and relatively stress free. The better she makes our home life, the more efficiently I can work, and the more money I can make. The more money she has to work with, the greater her resources to implement her ideas and the nicer our home life is. It’s like a modern-day cycle of life episode from “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom”.
The idea of fair changes over time as well. What may seem fair today may not seem that fair tomorrow. At one point my partner and I rotated evening dish washing duties. One night I did them and she got our daughter ready for bed and the next night she did the dishes and I did the bedtime duties. However I kind of like washing dishes. I find it relaxing and I like the immediate satisfaction of accomplishing something quantifiable. My partner would prefer to avoid the dishes all together. So I suggested that I just do the dishes every night. It was understood that meant she would do the bedtime routine now and she was fine with that. She’d rather brush our daughter’s teeth than do dishes. Now this isn’t set in stone. Occasionally, when I’m just too tired to do the dishes or I’ve just had my fill of the duty she’ll step in and do them. She can just tell when I’m at the point and I thank her for it when she does. I in turn do the whole bedtime routine from time to time. Most nights I help a bit anyway but I generally don’t do the full “ok, let’s brush your teeth and floss, now rinse, dont’ forget go pee, here’s your pajamas, make sure to put your clothes in the hamper, which book do you want to read” routine myself. Makes me tired just writing about it!
Fair also changes depending on circumstances. If my partner’s sick, it’s not fair for her to perform all her regular jobs. Her new job is to rest. So I make sure she has as little to do and our daughter stays out of her hair so she can rest. She in turn does the same for me, except I still need to work because there is no one else to handle that job. If I stop working, my clients are left hanging. But if I’m sick, I’m not really expected to do anything but maintain my business. Also if I have a particularly difficult week with lots of deadline and 14 hour days my partner also picks up some of my slack in the home and parenting department.
Overall we seem to be both getting what we need. But this is because we’re pretty forward about what our needs are and we try to be aware of the other’s situation. This is key. If your partner can tell you’re making adjustments, even if relatively minor, to accommodate their needs, it goes a long way in cutting of the build up of resentment. When people feel slighted, or put upon, it’s usually not because of the insult itself, it’s what the insult represents which is a lack of compassion, empathy and understanding.
When someone does a dangerous, boneheaded move on the road you get angry pretty fast. If the person doesn’t acknowledge their misdeed you stay angry for a while. You stew in it. You make all sorts of mental projections about their character and intelligence. However, if the offending party looks over and gives you the “so sorry, I fucked up” look, what happens then? You immediately calm down and your opinion of the person is no longer that of a selfish asshole. But really, what changed? You were still cut off recklessly and had to slam on your breaks. So that’s the same. So why were you in a rage and throwing daggers with your eyes in the first situation and the second instance you’re cool with it? I say it’s because the second situation is fair. A public and personal acknowledgement of fucking up is roughly equal to the offense. You are now even.
This principal of fairness is the one that drives all successful relationships. It’s not about cutting cookies exactly down the middle. It’s not about making the same financial contributions. It’s not about doing exactly half or the laundry or washing half of the dishes. It’s about the scale of life. Does it, taken as a whole, feel balanced. If so, then that’s all that matters.
File Under: Dividing Relationship Responsibilities – Fairness in Housework – Equal Contributions in a Relationships