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Keeping Score

...all things being equal...actually, they're not

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Lately I've been bumping into a theme among couples that I call "keeping score." It goes like this:

"When you were sick and had a fever, I took care of everything, including you. When I was sick, you went out with your friends, so I'm going to ignore you next time you're sick."

You owe me.

"You had an affair and threw our relationship on the ground and stomped all over it. I know you've worked hard to regain my trust but it isn't enough."

You owe me.

"You promised me that I would be able to take time off work to explore my art, but instead you got pregnant and now you want to be home with the baby."

You owe me.

It's a myth that marriage is always equal or fair. We believe that we are all created equal, so our relationships should feel equal all the time. Women, especially, have struggled to be taken seriously, to receive equal pay, rights, respect--and it infuriates us when we don't.

Here's the bad news: marriage doesn't guarantee 24/7 equality or fairness. Sometimes one person works harder to hold the relationship together. Some days, one person cleans up the vomit, pays the bills, smooths over the disagreement with the relatives, apologizes when they don't want to, etc. etc. . Healthy partnerships can't be weighed on a scale because they are always changing, flexing, growing. Healthy partners look at the long-term when taking out the scale. They know that what may seem unfair today may turn out to be completely upside down the next day.

There is no room for tit-for-tat in a successful couple. There is no place for constant surveillance to make sure I'm getting mine. We need to be masters of our own needs and speak up for what we want. We need to be surveyors of our relationships and work hard to track and correct the imbalances, to make sure they don't become habits that create corrosive resentment. It's about constantly tending--not constantly weighing.