Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi Carolyn: I completely believe that bean-counting can take all the pleasure out of a relationship, and that each partner’s contributions to the relationship need not be identical in order to be equal.
But how do I make sure I am, in fact, getting what constitutes my partner’s equal contribution? My appetite for productivity is much higher than my fiance’s, and his willingness to make excuses is much higher than mine. For example, say we each had a list of 10 things we were supposed to get done this week. By the end of today, I will have gotten through my entire list and I’ll feel good about it. He may have gotten through half of his, and will probably say something like, “I ran out of time and couldn’t send out that gift” (but he still had time to hang out with his buddies two nights in a row), or, “I wasn’t feeling 100 percent this week, so I skipped the gym” (but you weren’t dying, you just didn’t get quite enough sleep one night, and your body doesn’t care about your excuses, you fall out of shape if you don’t actually exercise).
It’s his business for now, but what about when our actions affect each other? Am I supposed to accept that because he has less energy than I do, he’s responsible for getting less done? Do our “not identical, but equal” contributions have to actually be equal, or are they supposed to be adjusted such that one partner might measurably be doing quite a bit more on all fronts?
Oh my goodness.
I’m all for couples who work at different speeds and bring different strengths to a relationship.
But you don’t see you two as having different strengths. You see yourself as all asset, and him as 50 percent liability. “It’s his business for now” … “Am I supposed to” … “are they supposed to” … “your body doesn’t care about your excuses”? I’m under my desk a la those 1950s elementary school drills.
Love is not enough to make a marriage. There has to be respect and a sense that both of you lucked out to have each other. You sound about five years out from thinking he’s damn lucky you married his lazy butt.
Someone who does half of his to-do list and then makes time to enjoy life, love and friends could be a drain on his partner, sure — and also could be someone with a healthy, balanced, relaxed approach to life. Even a Type A go-getter can find this person’s attitude both refreshing and an important reminder to be less chore-accomplished and more present.
But you won’t ever see him that way just because you’re “supposed to.” He actually has to be concerned with setting joint priorities fairly, and you actually have to believe that good priorities and blowing off half the list aren’t mutually exclusive.
You either both give each other your best — and both recognize and appreciate the different forms your contributions take — or you’re in the engagement stage of a story that doesn’t end well.
So, thought exercise: What if you shortened those lists?
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