The illusion of fairness

I had a professor once tell me that marriage isn’t 50/50, it’s 60/40—a constant back-and-forth of one partner needing more. I can’t remember why I was getting one-on-one relationship advice from my advanced personal selling instructor but apparently I did. I was 21 at the time, 2 years into my relationship with Jesse, and I didn’t agree with him. I always strived for things to be fair between us. If she worked all day, I needed to make dinner. If she did a load of laundry, I should do the next one. If only one of us was working, the other one did everything at home. When this impossible balance of fairness was disrupted, I either felt bad about myself or angry with Jesse.

I came to the conclusion that this is what a relationship should look like by way of a few different perspectives. By that time in my life, my parents had been divorced and remarried six times collectively. I knew plenty about relationships. One partner always seemed to do more, was underappreciated and it was always the woman. Either my mom was up at 5 a.m. making breakfast for her husband before she went to work a 12 hour shift as a nurse or my stepmom was at home with all of their kids while my dad was out playing music every weekend. I saw these problems, I listened to the woes of all the mothers in my life and I marked “fairness” down in the “how to be in a relationship” file.

It’s been said that autistic people are very black-and-white minded and I’ve found this to be mostly true about myself. Once I know a thing, I generally don’t question it anymore. I knew that relationships had to be fair, I shouldn’t take my partner for granted and I shouldn’t be a doormat and that was that. These rules had no nuance, no room to bend or evolve so they eventually broke. But I saw every argument about responsibility within our relationship as a testament to our failure to maintain a 50/50 balance. I was seeing a micro view of our life together, as bits and pieces that we had to fit together to achieve a completed whole. If we struck the right balance, if we settled into the right routine, then we would be perfect.

It took a ridiculously long time for this to change. It actually didn’t happen until I started accepting that I needed accommodations and it wasn’t until I recognized my own limitations that I started accommodating Jesse’s, as well. We started using the spoon theory and practicing self-care and we really put the brakes on tending to one another’s needs intuitively because that had been nothing but a disaster for half a decade. Learning to take care of ourselves really taught us to respectfully care for one another.

Once I acknowledged that we’re human beings with needs and emotions that refuse to be regulated and divvied up at the most appropriate times, I started dismantling this ridiculous notion of fairness that I had held onto for so long. When I was growing up I wasn’t seeing unfairness, I was seeing inequality. My mom or stepmom(s) were consistently doing more for their homes and their relationships than their partners and that consideration was never returned.

Relationships really are 60/40. There are times, days, weeks or months even, that Jesse needs more from me than I need from her. She suffers from depression and sometimes I have to take on the bulk of managing our lives. And there are times, during burnouts or meltdowns or periods of poor executive functioning, that I need her to shoulder our shared responsibilities. There’s no running tab or turn-taking because that’s unrealistic and inspires stress inside our home. Sometimes we both need 60 from the other and we just don’t have it. It’s during these times that we put all of our energy into taking care of ourselves as best we can and worry about everything else later. Sometimes we both only need 40 from the other and these times are some of our most productive. And sometimes it’s not even 60/40, it’s 70/30 or 90/10 (This one was hard to understand because I was trying to turn the 60/40 combination into a new Very Strict Rule).

I’ve started to take a more macro view and not see our life as being made up of tiny parts that follow a schematic. Our relationship has its own balance and rhythm as we shift together to make each other as happy as possible. There’s no right answer and nothing is fair and that’s okay.

Read Jesse’s side: The 50/50 Fairytale

2 thoughts on “The illusion of fairness

  1. This is totally me. 100% on guard for fairness.

    Could you say more about “inequality” vs. “unfairness?” I don’t understand the difference.
    Maybe inequality is un-talked-about, and it is resolved by talking about things, but “unfairness” is natural and inherent and impossible to avoid sometimes? Or inequality is about “wants” and unfairness is about “needs?”

    PS. I’ve been reading along with your blog since it started, because I’m in a similar relationship. It is SO helpful to read how you two handle things.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I could have explained that a bit more. 🙂 When I said inequality, I meant one person’s needs were a priority over the others’ needs. Through actions, I was told that my step father being tired was more important than my mother being tired, that my dad enjoying his downtime trumped my step mother getting a break. I thought it was unfair and that one person was not being as considerate as the other. It didn’t actually have anything to do with consideration or thoughtfulness but how one partner viewed the other.

    Because of this I thought that being considerate of each other’s needs and keeping our accommodation of one another balanced and even would prevent the problems my parents had. Really, we couldn’t have the problems they had because we didn’t see one person as more important than the other. We took the pressure off of our relationship by disregarding ‘fair’ and instead focused on viewing the other’s needs and wants as equal in importance and priority to our own.

    To summarize: ‘Inequality’ is an imbalance of power in the relationship. ‘Unfairness’ isn’t real. A relationship can’t ever be 50/50. We’re human and we have ups and downs, variation in experiences, successes and losses. Those won’t sync up no matter who you’re with.

    This is my opinion based off of my experiences and I recognize that this may not be the truth for everyone. I hope that made sense! Thank you for reading and I’m SO HAPPY this blog has helped you! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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