Have you complained to your friends that your relationship seems to be one-sided and you usually give more than you take? There are probably 3 billion people on this planet in relationships and probably all 3 billion have had that complaint at some time.
My last girlfriend bought a house and moved in about one month after we started dating. I helped her to get settled in and then she had a run of bad luck with things that needed repairs. I repaired her clothes dryer, pool pump timer, replaced a shower head, cleaned her clothes dryer vent, replaced some light fixtures, hung new ceiling fans, painted the interior of the house, etc. Around that same time, she had eye surgery and I played nursemaid to her when she had an unexpectedly difficult recovery. While this was transpiring, my needs got overlooked. She was not intentionally neglecting me but, still, I felt that I was giving much more than I was getting.
I have reminded myself of a few facts:
1. Good relationships are not necessarily perceived by the partners as being 50/50. This is a truth which you can confirm if you ask people who have been in good relationships for 15 or 20 years or longer.
When you think about the effort you put into a relationship, you include everything . . . of course. There’s the work that you do to earn the money to pay the bills. You go to the grocery store and do the shopping. You wash his laundry. You tolerate that stupid half-whiskey barrel table that’s left over from his bachelor days. Guys, you take a couple of gallons of gas and go find her because she forgot to stop and fill up her gas tank like you reminded her this morning. You put up with her mother and that alone should entitle you to receive a medal. She has this illogical thing about the toilet seat and she has you sleeping in a bed that is so fru-fru that you feel like Liberace.
Yes, ladies, just sleeping in a bed like this without throwing a major bitch fit entitles us to receive a medal.
A large part of the effort goes unnoticed by your partner because it happens when they aren’t around, or because the effort consists of keeping your mouth shut when you’d really like to tell her mother to go fuck herself. Maybe you didn’t throw a hissy fit when his snotty-nosed 14 year old daughter ate all of the potato chips but left one in the bag and put it back on the shelf; he looked at you and saw you weren’t responding and thought to himself, “I guess it wasn’t a big deal to her!”
Okay, so you know how much effort you laid out in the past few days. You are EXCRUCIATINGLY AWARE of all the effort you have made. Now, what do you compare that to? Here’s the reality you never confront: you have no idea about many of the things your partner does to make the relationship work. You don’t remember, of course, but that stupid story you told about getting the truck stuck on the side of the mountain in Colorado 18 years ago . . . you told her that story before, but she just sat there and smiled when you told it again. You forgot about it but she never said anything about the laundry when you weren’t feeling very well last week and left skid marks in your boxers. (That’s disgusting and she didn’t even say anything about it!)
You realize that she does the cooking and the laundry and, of course, you know how remarkable she is on Friday nights when she has two margaritas and then gets in the hot tub naked with you. But when you are adding up all of her contributions, you can’t add things that you aren’t even aware of, so of course you undervalue her contributions! When YOU do the calculations, of course you win the competition! And when SHE does the math . . . not surprisingly, the numbers she gets show that she makes much more of a contribution than you!
2. Life sometimes sends circumstances to you that result in one partner experiencing unusual stress, unusual needs, etc. and at times, relationships are unbalanced, not as a result of anyone’s intentional shirking of responsibilities to a partner. Sometimes she needs more and sometimes you need more.
3. If this relationship becomes “permanent” . . . nothing is forever. If you and your partner do not perish together in a common disaster, one of you will become ill and die while the other stands by and does all they can to ease the pain of their beloved while preparing to be alone once again. At the end, the relationship will be very unbalanced and neither partner will complain about that, because love motivates you to do all that you can for your partner.
If your relationship can’t withstand periods of being “unbalanced,” maybe it isn’t as strong as you think it is. Maybe you need to think about what it means to really be in love, to really be in a committed and monogamous relationship. IT IS WORK! If you think “it’s love so it should just happen naturally and neither of us should need to work at it!” . . . great, handling divorces is a large part of my practice and I will gladly represent you when the time arrives.
(Love is grand! Divorce is ten grand!)
When the two truly become one, periods of personal sacrifice should be seen by both partners as opportunities to invest in the future of the relationship. I know that sounds like BS but, really, this is when you prove that you meant all those things that you said that sounded so wonderful and idealistic and idyllic and just fucking groovy! Proving that you stand behind your promises DOES make the relationship stronger.
So, forget percentages. Accounting and relationships do not mix and there is no reason to try to apply accounting principles in this context. Instead, just ask yourself:
1. Am I getting my needs satisfied by this relationship?
2. Are the contributions I routinely make simple, routine contributions that should be expected, or am I repeatedly called upon to make extraordinary contributions to the relationship?
If you get what you need from the relationship and the contributions you routinely make are not extraordinary, you have a well balanced relationship. Smile, add potato chips to the grocery list, and thank God for another day in paradise.