Most people will agree that relationships are a lot of work. While good relationships can bring unparalleled joy, they also require investment and compromise. Compromise doesn’t always come easy and this can lead to conflict. At the core of this conflict is the basic question: What is fair?
My wife and I are no strangers to this conflict. We’ve been together close to 12 years and we now have three children. As you can imagine, with three children comes work; however, figuring out who is responsible for that work can be challenging. Neither of us are committed to stereo-typical gender roles; we both work and we both take care of our children and home. While we share this value, our modern approach has left us with some questions to be answered, such as, if we both work all day, who makes dinner? Is making dinner more difficult than taking care of the three kids? What’s fair?
I have endless examples to this effect. In the past, some chores have gone without scrutiny, while others have become the topic of prolonged ‘negotiation’. These negotiations had varying levels of success; sometimes we found compromise, sometimes I found the couch.
Upon reflection, I do not believe that it is negotiation that has led us to stability in our relationship; rather, it was a change in perspective. At some point we realized it wasn’t possible to achieve a perfectly ‘fair’ or equal distribution of the work.
The idea of fairness in our relationship being an even “50/50” had to go.
Our third child really drove this point home; we are simply too tired to fill out the scorecard at the end of the day. We had to come up with a new way of seeing things. Where we started was with one of our most important shared values; we want to live in and share a happy home with our children. We both agreed to work as hard as we could on any given day to achieve this reality. We agreed that if each of us is giving all we have, we are doing our ‘fair’ share.
This approach requires trust. You have to trust that when your partner says they are doing everything they can, they are. It also takes personal responsibility. If I’m feeling tired and need a break, I have to be aware of the impact on my partner and our goals. Trust and personal responsibility ensure that no one is taken advantage of and that these moments of giving less than your all are reciprocal.
My wife and I do not have a perfect relationship. We certainly have arguments but the content has changed. We don’t often have fights over the details of every chore or who did what last. Instead, we do our best to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. We stay away from the idea that there is such a thing as “50/50” and try to maintain the perspective that every day we are doing the best that we can.