What Is Fair?   6 comments

Oh, the bumpy ride out of the marriage gate!  Kimberly and I both came from families that saw the world divided into right and wrong, but I bought into it and she didn’t.  She valued understanding and accepting each other as is.  I valued changing to meet one another’s expectations: decide what is right and do it.  But how would we decide what is “right”?  The only guideline that made sense to me was to let fairness determine basic expectations, and then each of us could feel free to be “more” than fair as an exercise of grace.  How could I even understand grace if I did not start with fair expectations?  If we agree that we both should do 50% of the dishes, then my doing 75% is an extra 25% of grace, but if fairness (all things considered) expects me to do 75%, then I have only done my duty and nothing more.  Have any of you married folks tried to decide what is fair?  What I thought was straightforward proved to be indecipherable.


Consider our budget.  Take something as simple as grocery shopping.  How much should I buy of what I like and how much of what Kimberly likes?  50-50?  But being a good bit bigger than Berly and having a faster metabolism, I eat more than she does.  Should we factor in how much we each love, tolerate, or hate a certain item?  How do food allergies or dietary necessities weigh into the mix?  If one of us does the shopping and/or cooking, do they get an extra slice?  If one of us brings in more income, do they get more of a say in the spending (or is it based more on hours worked… only occupational time or household chores….)?  If 9 brownies are in the frig, how much can either of us eat before the other one feels cheated? (Yes, this has been an issue.)  Even I could see that my views of fairness smacked of legalism.

You may find all of this a bit silly, even childish.  Shouldn’t each of us simply choose for the sake of the other person?  This is the way I was raised, but you can imagine how poorly it works when I believe we are each responsible for the other’s needs and Kimberly believes we are each responsible for our own needs.  From my perspective, the only way to resolve unmet expectations is to “encourage” Kimberly to meet them (or live at a deficit).  But from Kimberly’s perspective that is imposing my wishes on her and making her take up what she feels is my responsibility.   From my viewpoint, we should focus on expectations, what ought to be done for the other.  From Berly’s viewpoint, we should focus on what each of us needs to do for ourselves.  For her, self-care must precede other-care just as a mother must put on her airplane oxygen mask before she puts one on her child.  I said, “I have expectations. They are reasonable.  If you don’t meet them, my needs will go unmet.  I will feel you don’t love me.  I will become hurt and resentful.”  She said, “I have no expectations for you to meet my needs.  I take full responsibility for my own needs, and I do not want you to neglect your own needs so that you can satisfy mine.  I want you to take care of yourself, to take care of your emotional needs as you do your physical ones.  I wish you would do the same towards me.  Your need does not establish my responsibility, nor mine yours.”


I think my trouble has always been connecting expectations, reasonable expectations, with responsibility.  If my expectations are legitimate in a given relationship (clean up your own messes, repair what you break, do your fair share of the work) and you don’t meet those expectations, then you are simply wrong, and need correcting.  What else could it mean to be my brother’s keeper if not identifying the problem and urging the right path to take?  Only… the real reason I am pushing this is not for your sake, but for mine.  I feel inconvenienced, disrespected, hurt, unheard, overburdened, and it is because of your negligence.  I need you to change so I can feel better and our relationship can smooth out.

Clearly for relationships to work at all there must be some standardized expectations.  If my friend may respond to a dinner invitation by punching me or turning in circles three times or offering a breath mint, then I am at a loss to know how to relate.  His behavior does not make sense to me.  If he reacts in an unexpected way, I think him odd or worse (based on whether he seems to know or not know what is expected of him), and this starts us right off in the wrong direction since I believe he is the one who needs changing.  What we really need is mutual understanding, talking through our differences, but if either one of us assumes our own “rightness,” things are likely to go awry, and we may part ways with less clarity and an extra helping of acrimony.  I have understood him, and what I understand is that he is mistaken.  So I will do the “loving” thing and “forgive” him, which means I still think he is to blame for the tensions in our relationship.


Posted September 13, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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6 responses to “What Is Fair?

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  1. The trouble with being TOO willing to accommodate your spouse is that, in the end, neither of you knows what the other REALLY likes, wants, prefers, etc. My husband is self-abnegating to such an extent that I am obliged to become a detective — looking for clues to his genuine preferences, particularly in matters that are neither right nor wrong but simply reflect personal taste.

    I’m not even sure that God views “fairness” as we do, cf. parable of the workers all being paid equally even though some are hired to work all day and others for just one hour.

  2. Thanks so much for your thoughts, Nora! We can all relate to what you share. Additional things to think about.

  3. Believe much of the problem with accepting other’s expectations, or our having some of our own of others is affected by whether a person remains single or gets married from somewhere in the 20’s, or waits to marry later in life. When married at a younger age leaving from parent’s home, or following college there isn’t much transition in having to relate in work, with family, roomates to the new spouse and adding all their wants, likes, dislikes, considerations, and needs into the mix. Being single approximately 2/3 of one’s life a person becomes more set in their ways, typically has very few people to answer to on their own. Yet, once married at a later age in life one has to learn how to make compromises, give, take and also may realize they begin to see their life is “under a microscope,” and every action, reaction is noticed and must be “dealt” with instead of living freely not having to made adjustments or give of themselves to another. Part of the problem and struggle with expectations is one’s own selfishness. Once with a spouse each will see themselves for who they truly are and learn how to work through this and that to come to truer love and union, otherwise, as many do they give up and get divorced. Before there was no one to share with, or give to, or impede any decision that might be made for the single person. Marrying later in life meant giving up their earned “freedom,” Love not only about the spiritual, chemical/physical attraction is also sacrificial. A woman would give her life for her child for instance. If her husband treats her well enough she might do the same for him …..hahahahaha ….just kidding.

    The budget spoken of it’s obvious that one with a bigger appetite, faster metabolism is going to eat more thus use more of the budget for their wellbeing. Consideration for the one who eats less as to what they like and dislike is an unselfish thing to do too and there will be no fight over the brownies. Thank God for Abigail Smith Adams, 1744-1818 and other like women in this world, otherwise, only women would still be doing the dishes, cleaning, cooking, etc.and the men would not even consider the portion of brownies in the fridge the women would eat.

    One of the ultimate goals in working through your expectations, give, take, and denial of one’s self is to reach unity and love.

    • Yes, the ultimate goal of life is unity and love, anonymous. I think you are insightful in suggesting that in some ways, early marriages have less of the kind of stress that older marriages bring, but for that reason, less of the life changing impact perhaps. I have not enjoyed them, but I am very grateful for those stresses now.

  4. Expectations are such a monkey wrench in the works aren’t they! But if you’ve got them, and are kind of emotionally attached to them, it’s a real struggle to get rid of them….. especially if you don’t actually think there’s anything wrong with them. But expectations are not virtues, they’re not valuable traits, they’re not desirable motivational characteristics. They’re really not part of the good stuff of life we want to preserve and foster. We like them, but not only do we not need them for a happy life, they are a major contributor to an unhappy life! Still…. really hard to decide to do without them! They’ll really trash a loving relationship too….. but hard to let them go…..

    And as for the food – I believe everyone should just eat what they want and if they eat a lot of it, then they replace it in the fridge or cuppard (how do you spell that!?) so there’s still plenty for everyone to eat. Just like the one who uses the last of the toilet paper puts the new roll on. Like whoever is in the car when it’s low on gas fills it up. And make sure there are always 4 dozen brownies in the house at all times. When grocery shopping buy 100% what you want and 100% what she wants. There should always be what everyone wants in the house to eat!

    • That’s what I have found too, Mardi, that expectations can be very difficult to let go. What makes a world of difference for me is when Kimberly can have compassion for my “wishes” (instead of expectations), even if she does not agree to meet them. Since she does care, she does meet them when she can.

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