In the last month, my mom has been to the hospital 3 times.
Once because she was experiencing crippling pain from the 4 bulged disks in her neck that she had no idea were bulging.
Another time because she had a gallbladder attack that completely dropped her to the ground. She had it removed a few days later. The surgeon told her it was scarred, inflamed, and full of stones.
And lastly, she made a trip to the hospital in the midst of all this health chaos to say goodbye to her father who suffered a major stroke that eventually took his life.
I’ve thought and heard the phrase, “It’s not fair…” more than once in the last few weeks.
I got an email today from a man who got in a car crash, was prescribed opioids for the pain, and got addicted. His whole life turned into an obsession. “How can I get more pills?!”
He spiraled out of control, started lying to his wife, and was even stealing from her.
Eventually she organized an intervention. And got him the help he needed… but not without a lot of suffering, patience, and sacrifice on her part.
That doesn’t seem very fair for her, is it?
“It’s not fair…”
I hear that phrase from married people a lot. Almost every single day.
I hear it from wives who want more help from their partner around the house, who feel betrayed by their husband’s hidden porn use, or who feel like they don’t have time to develop any hobbies or friendships outside of their family life...
I hear it from husbands who feel like a walking ATM, who get rejected for sex over and over again, who get criticized for playing video games or watching sports to unwind after a long day of work...
The list of reasons people see life as unfair goes on and on.
When you feel like things are unfair it’s easy to get resentful, bitter, and frustrated. You tend to withdraw from the relationship. You stop wanting what’s best for your partner.
I’ve been thinking a lot about fairness lately, and I’ve learned something VERY important. I’m going to share it with you now…
We all want things to feel fair in our relationships, but most of us don’t realize that we don’t agree on what fairness actually means!
This happens because there are actually three very different types of fairness, and when you choose to honor one definition of fairness, you can’t honor the others.
The types of fairness are: Sameness, deservedness, and need.
Sameness means everything is equal. With sameness, everyone gets the same portion sizes at dinner. Everyone everyone pays the same price for movie tickets, whether you’re a kid, an adult or a senior citizen.
No one has more than another.
If someone believes sameness is important in marriage, you might hear a complaint like, “I hate doing the laundry just as much as he does. If he wants clean clothes, he can wash them himself.”
Or, “Why should she get to go on a girls trip? I never go on vacation with my friends. It should be both of us going on vacation, or neither of us.”
The sameness kind of fairness means you get treated the same as everyone else. You have the same expectations as everyone else. Nobody gets more than anybody else.
This is fairness as equality of outcome.
Deservedness is the kind of fairness where you get what you deserve. If you work hard, you succeed and keep all that you earn… and if you don’t earn it, you don’t deserve it.
The hardest working, most diligent, smartest and most talented should have more privilege, access, resources, and opportunity because of their hard work and ingenuity; the lazy, indifferent, stupid and inept deserve to have less.
If a couple believes that fairness in marriage means deservedness, you’d hear things like “I work hard to provide for this family, so she owes me sex whenever I want it.” Or, “My parents spend more time babysitting our kids, and helping us out financially, so we will spend all of our holidays with them.”
Fairness is a rational calculation. This is fairness as individual freedom.
Need is the kind of fairness where the people who have more energy, time, money, resources, abundance, etc. should give a greater percentage of what they have to help those who are struggling, or unable to contribute anything at all.
This is fairness as a principle of equity. It’s based on the idea that we have obligations to each other. That the more one you have, the greater your responsibility is to contribute to the common good, and ease the suffering of others.
When people feel they’re not being treated fairly in the context of need within a marriage, they will say things like, “I have had the kids all week, I am exhausted and I need a break, it’s your turn to take them.” Or, “My introversion meter is going off. You need to handle the rest of the conversation tonight, or I just need to leave this party.”
This is fairness of need.
The more I learn about fairness the more I realize it’s impossible to be fair (however you choose to define “fairness” in the moment) all the time in a relationship. There are going to be lots of times where you get the short end of the stick, you do more than your fair share, you give more than you take, you don’t share responsibilities equally, and you feel like you’ve earned a break that never seems to come.
To some people that’s frustrating… in large part because they’re looking for what they can get out of a relationship.
But as I’ve studied fairness these last few weeks, I’m beginning to realize the unfairness of love is quite beautiful.
In a loving relationship, you’re constantly and unfairly giving of your time, energy, attention, forgiveness and resources for the benefit of those around you... often times to those who don’t deserve it.
And on the flip side, you’re constantly receiving of other people’s time, energy, attention, and forgiveness when YOU don’t deserve it.
When you stop concerning yourself about the ways in which you’re being treated unfairly, and demanding justice, and you start focusing on finding joy in giving unfairly to those you love because it makes their lives better… things start to shift.
Take Nate Bailey for example. I interviewed him on this week’s episode of the podcast.
He was a Platoon Leader in Kuwait. When he returned home from his service, he threw himself into his work and neglected his health and his wife. Their relationship became tense. They were short-tempered with each other and constantly arguing about the same things. Both felt like they were being treated unfairly.
They started having kids, which added to the stress.
Then, one day Nate realized if things continued this way, it wouldn’t be long till his marriage ended, and he’d lose everything he loved.
So, he stopped keeping tabs on what was fair and what wasn’t, he got clear that he wanted to be an INCREDIBLE husband. Then, he started acting like an incredible husband would act, regardless of how his wife responded. Here’s an example...
He started leaving a love note on the mirror in magic marker for his wife every day.
She never mentioned it to him… but every night, he’d come home and the note was erased.
The next day, he’d write another note.
He knew she’d seen it, because it was erased. But she still didn’t mention it.
This routine (and others) went on for MONTHS.
There were days he wanted to give up and stop trying. But he knew that he’d been a checked-out husband for so long that a week, or even a month of changed behavior wasn’t really going magically transform his behavior. He reminded himself, “It’s not about whether or not she responds. It’s about me being the kind of husband I truly want to be.”
He kept leaving notes… for months...
One day he came home and found a note on the mirror from his wife to him.
He smiled and realized that his efforts to transform himself were having an effect on his wife and relationship, and he persisted.
Now they an incredible, five-star marriage. But the amazing marriage didn’t happen because everything was fair. On the contrary, it’s because everything was UNFAIR!
Love isn’t fair… that’s what makes it work… that’s what makes it beautiful.
What unfairnesses are you experiencing in your relationship that you’re resentful or upset about?
How might a perspective shift into gratitude, generosity and personal responsibility help you change your story?
Do you like today's message or hate it? I want to know! Leave a comment below.
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