What Does Being Equal in a Relationship Really Mean?

I grew up with a misconception: that everything is equal in a healthy relationship. I thought all responsibilities between husband and wife should be split.

During the first few months of marriage, I insisted that everything be a fifty-fifty compromise. And I kept score.

If my wife wanted me to take out the trash, I thought it was only fair that she do a job that required an equal amount of effort, like loading the dishwasher or sweeping the bathroom. If my wife didn’t do them quickly enough, I would remind her that I took out that trash so she needed to take care of her responsibilities, too. It just seemed fair to me.

It actually didn’t matter all that much to me if the dishes were in the sink for an extra day. In general, I’m a pretty messy person. I only cared that she loaded the dishwasher because I had taken out the trash. If she didn’t do an equivalent task, then I felt like she wasn’t doing her part to make sure our relationship stayed equal.

These may seem like small things, but when several perceived grievances pile up, they often turn into a fight.

Eventually, I mentioned the problem to a friend of mine, who simply asked, “Why do you keep score all of the time? Aren’t you supposed to be putting her first?”

After thinking about what he said for a little while, I realized that he was right. By insisting that everything be perfectly ‘equal’ I was actually worrying too much about what my wife could do for me—not what I could do for her. And that didn’t sit well with me.

There are going to be times in any relationship when one partner’s needs are put before the other’s. I work from home, while my wife has a demanding office job with long hours. If taking out the trash relieves some of her stress, that helps her and our relationship. Once I stopped keeping score, things got a lot better. 

I don’t worry as much any more about whether things are ‘equal’ in our relationship, including much bigger issues like budgeting. I get it that my wife is going to spend way more money on clothes and trips to the salon than I have to. Just because my haircut only costs $10 every other month doesn’t mean I should expect her to spend the same amount. At the same time, I love eating out way more than she does. But if I purchase a sushi special during my lunch break once or twice a month, that’s OK too. Food means more to me, while shopping means more to her.

So give up on this idea that everything in your relationship is going to be or should be equal. It’s not, at least not if you want it to last. Think about the other’s needs first. If you’re both doing that, then each person’s needs and wants are probably going to be equally provided for.

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