I am a real stickler for people doing their fair share. I try hard to always do my part, and I can get pretty judgmental if I think someone is freeloading. This quality surfaced pretty early in my dating relationship with my now-husband. I tried not to obsess over it, but I kept a mental tally of when we treated each other and when we went Dutch, and I would begin to feel annoyed and frustrated when I felt like he wasn’t paying often enough.
Unsurprisingly, our first big conflict after marriage was also about money. Just weeks after the wedding, my husband announced he had gotten his last big tuition bill—and he planned to use a significant portion of the money we had received as a wedding gift to pay it off. I was shocked and hurt that he would just assume he could use a gift meant for both of us in that way, and what followed was a series of very tough and very necessary conversations to clarify how we would handle our finances and communicate about the issue.
It’s not just about money, though. Silly as it seems, I often felt annoyed during my pregnancy with our daughter that I was the one heavy and sore from carrying a baby and losing sleep at night while he didn’t have to experience any of that discomfort. I used my pregnancy as an excuse to order him around and to get him to do housework and run errands, because I wanted to make sure everyone was contributing their fair share to the marriage.
My husband was generally a good sport with all this. He never seemed to be concerned about splitting work equally; he just did what needed to be done. While I want to make sure that all the accounting balances in our relationship, he is content to share all things. I now can see how that thinking was behind his plan to pay off tuition with our wedding money; if the circumstances were switched, he wouldn’t have hesitated to do that for me.
For the first few months after our daughter was born, I got up every three hours to nurse her while my husband slept soundly through the night. I tried not to let the resentment build, but I often felt a little bit like a martyr when day would break, and I’d be exhausted while my husband was fresh and rested.
Circumstances can change quickly, though. When we moved the baby upstairs to her own room, my husband started getting up and bringing her down for me to feed her—multiple times up and down the stairs every night. This went on for months while I slept soundly and comfortably in my bed. But not once did he complain or make me feel guilty for the sleep I was getting and he was losing.
He seems to understand something that I’m just now learning to grasp: marriage is rarely about fairness. Instead, it’s about giving everything unreservedly to the other person and letting him or her do the same for you. I don’t know when I’ll be weak or sick or needy and require my husband to make a sacrifice for me I can’t possibly repay; when that day comes, I don’t want to worry about contributing my “fair share” to the relationship.
Until then, I’m learning to give and share more freely—and erase my mental tally of who did what in our relationship for good.