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What to Do (and Not Do) When Things Aren't Fair in Marriage

Has this ever happened to you? 

You just spent all morning making breakfast, unloading the dishwasher, and packing lunches for the kids. Your partner, meanwhile, just strolled in from a morning workout, seemingly oblivious to all your hard work.

Or you just spent ten hours working your face off so that you and your partner can afford the vacations, the house, and the cost of day care. Your partner, meanwhile, just arrived home from a long walk with a friend and a spacious afternoon where they actually had time to read for pleasure.

How do you react? Well, unless you're Buddha, Jesus, or some other enlightened being, you probably feel the sting of unfairness.

You have thoughts like, "Wait a minute, why am I doing everything? This is totally unfair."

You experience the rising sensation of anger in your chest, tension in your neck and jaw, and that most destructive of all marital emotions: resentment.

This leaves you with a choice. In fact, after interviewing over one hundred people and watching ourselves closely in this pattern for years, we've concluded that it leaves you with three choices. 

One of these choices will almost certainly make things worse in your relationship. The other two give you a pathway to make it better.

 

Your Choices

 

1. Lash out or check out.

Let's start with the bad choice. This choice isn't really a choice at all. It's simply a matter of letting your bad and mostly unconscious reactive habits run the show.

For some, this looks like launching into a verbal tirade about all the injustices you've experienced at the hands of your clueless partner. It might include a line like, "I'm the one doing everything around here." Or "Dude, when was the last time you washed a dish in this house?"

For others, this looks like a subtler, but no less explosive, retreat into passive aggressiveness. You might stop talking to your partner. Then, when they ask, "What's wrong?" you turn your head away and say, "Nothing. I'm fine."

Whether you lash out or check out, the results are the same. You've just dumped gasoline on the dumpster fire of resentment in your relationship.   

 

2. Shift to radical generosity.

If you've read The 80/80 Marriage, you know that there's a second, better, way to approach this inevitable experience of unfairness. It's a shift from the 50/50 mindset of fairness to the 80/80 mindset of radical generosity.

When making this shift, you might still feel angry or resentful. But you use these negative emotions as a cue to see if you can make this internal transformation. The moment you have the thought "this isn't fair" and feel resentment, you think to yourself, "radical generosity."

This changes your experience of doing the dishes or packing the lunches or grinding away at work. It also opens your mind to consider all the ways your partner is contributing to the relationship. You might even appreciate what they've been doing that you hadn't noticed before.

The result is what we like to call the upward spiral of radical generosity, a contagious mindset that can transform the culture of your relationship.

 

3. Revealing your frustration.

Sometimes, you can't just 80/80 your way out of these feelings. Sometimes, the feeling of unfairness is too deep or too embedded in a longer term pattern. Sometimes, it's essential to reveal your frustration to your partner as a gift to your relationship.

This might sound like a reversion back to the first choice. But there's an important difference between lashing out or checking out from your partner and revealing your full experience to them.

This second path might sound like, "Hey babe, I have a reveal for you. I wanted you to know that I felt frustrated this morning when I ended up doing all the prep work for breakfast and lunches. Would you be willing to take over lunches tomorrow?"

The difference? First, by saying, "I have a reveal" you've signaled your partner that you're about to clear an issue. This allows them to mentally prepare. Second, you're just reporting your emotional experience, not blaming them. Third, you've offered a clear request for how the two of you can shift out of this pattern in the future.

You might still get some pushback using this approach. But you might also experience the relief of revealing your full truth and being seen by your partner, which leads to things actually changing for the better.

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