I have mulled over this for a while now. Eventually, I identified a formula that I have christened the four Fs of a happy relationship.
They are faithfulness, fairness, firmness and fun. Faithfulness and firmness have been discussed before in this column. Today, I will share what I think about fairness.
Fairness is about justice, equality or even-handedness. To a big extent however, these concepts are subjective, and even agreeing on what is fair can itself be the source of conflict.
In my opinion, and in the context of relationships, fairness is about treating the other person with due consideration to their feelings, their input in the relationship, their abilities and the prevailing circumstances.
In what ways can spouses be unfair to each other? A very common trouble spot is on expectations, where an individual feels that too much is expected of him or her.
This could be socially, economically, emotionally or sexually. Women for instance complain about the unrealistic expectation from their spouses that they be the perfect home makers while at the same time, pursue a career and support the family financially.
Men complain about being under too much pressure from their wives, sometimes beyond their capacity, to meet financial and economic goals.
Both complaints come from the socially accepted roles of each, and in normal circumstances, there should be no problem.
When you hear such a complaint, what the person is saying is that although they know they should perform those roles, they feel that what is expected of them is unfair.
A working woman for instance, may feel that she’s being judged unfairly when her husband expects her to fulfill the same obligations at home, as those of a stay-at-home wife.
When she cries unfair, she is saying: “My circumstances and contribution are not being taken into account in this demand.”
But the idea of fairness can be a cause for constant conflict if it is treated as the basis for a relationship.
Susan Page, in her book, Why Talking is not Enough, states, “Love has nothing to do with fairness. Love is Love.”
Her argument is that a relationship should be seen as a partnership where couples are expected to act with goodwill and consideration towards each other. Dr Margaret Paul takes this further and argues that the demand for fairness can actually kill love, rather than build the relationship.
She says that, “If you get locked into what is fair in your conflicts, you will not be able to resolve them, because many things often don’t seem fair. But if you are willing to let go of worrying about fairness and focus on what is loving to you and to your spouse, you will discover a resolution.”
In my understanding, these two authors are not asking us to allow ourselves to be oppressed in our relationships. Rather, they are saying that love is a higher principle than fairness.
If your spouse is not performing certain roles perfectly, love demands that you seek ways of being more supportive to help him if you want him to perform those roles better.
Conversely, if my spouse complains about unfairness on my part, love demands that I first understand and appreciate her position before I cry unfair.
In conclusion, it is important for couples to treat each other with due consideration, treat each other as we would want to be treated, bearing in mind the different roles that we play.
Being fair to our spouses assures us that we’re valued even if we do not perform half as perfectly as expected in some ways.
Note that the nature of the concept of fairness is largely subjective, and can easily drive away love as you jostle to get what is fair. As partners in love, our biggest role is to love and support each other to perform our other roles.