How to Create an Equitable Relationship

“It’s not fair! I have to do everything around here!”

Spoken or unspoken, this is a common frustration that causes tension in relationships. Let's take a look at this issue through the lens of the Exchange Theory. The Exchange Theory basically says that, all things considered, when there is equity in a marriage, the relationship is generally mutually satisfying.

First, let's consider what equity is and what it is not. Equity is not equality. Both partners in a relationship may choose different tasks and roles in a family based on different likes and dislikes, interest and disinterest. Equity is more about how much we are contributing to the relationship or family than it is about both giving the same thing. If both partners are contributing about the same amount, even though the things they are doing are different, equity can be established.

Here are two examples:

Equal

Both partners share equally in the cooking. He cooks three dinners a week and she cooks three dinners a week. Once a week they eat out. This is an equal arrangement because both are putting in the same thing-cooking, in the same amount- 3 times a week.

Equitable

Maybe you really hate to cook, but you don’t mind doing the dishes. Perhaps your partner finds it relaxing to cook. So your partner cooks and you clean up. This is an equitable arrangement because both are contributing the same amount. It can work just as well as an equal one.

Equity may be more difficult to achieve when one of the partners is compromised due to a chronic illness or mental health issue. While we can usually roll with temporary setbacks due to illness and others issues, chronic conditions can take a toll on a relationship over time.

This was recently pointed out to me by a student when we were studying the Exchange Theory. In a discussion board the student shared that he had come to a recognition that his partner, who struggles with a chronic illness, has decreased capacity to contribute to the needs of the family and would probably never be able to contribute as much as he does. He said that when he takes his partner’s current capacity of what she can contribute to the family into consideration, he recognizes that she truly is giving 100% of what she has available to her to give. He said he came to realize that because they are both contributing the same percentage of their individual capacities, there is equity. He said that he is better able to roll with the effects of his wife’s condition when he looks at the Exchange Theory in terms of percent of capacity, rather than comparing who is giving the most.

When there is inequity in a relationship, it causes distress. The one who contributes more will likely feel resentful towards the one who is contributing less. The one who contributes less often feels shame and has an overriding sense of “It doesn't matter what I do; it will never be good enough”.

Creating an equitable relationship can be done through non-critical, non-judgmental conversations about:

1. Considering capacity, what can be expected as far as contribution to the relationship and family and

2. A general acceptance and appreciation for that contribution.

These conversations should be held frequently as the needs of a relationship or family change. Relationships are much more harmonious when a degree of equity can be established.


Roubicek & Thacker Counseling is Fresno’s premier provider of individual, couples, family, and group therapy. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.