| Family Reflections |

That’s Not Fair!

Inequality among marriage partners should never be ignored

Children have an instinctive distaste for inequality. “It’s not fair — he has more than me!” “Why do I have to do it when she doesn’t?” “No one has to go to bed this early except for me!”

Unfair treatment feels unloving implicitly implying that others are more deserving. Unfair treatment also feels wrong — like something has fallen out of order in the universe. Perhaps most importantly being treated unfairly can cause significant hurt anger and resentment causing serious harm to relationships.


Unfair Spouses

That being said it’s surprising that so many spouses treat their partners unfairly. Certainly they must realize that unfair treatment feels bad. They themselves would not enjoy being treated unfairly by anyone else. So why do they brazenly treat their significant other this way?

Unfair spouses fail to do marital arithmetic. They divide ten by two and somehow get nine for themselves and one for their spouse. “I need to go to Israel to recharge. Yes I know I’ve been there four times this year and you’ve only been there once in the past five years but this is really important to me. Bye.”

Or “I work hard with the children all day and I’m not doing anymore work in the evening. Yes I realize you’ve been working all day too but that’s different. You’ve been out of the house. Now that you’re home you can make dinner clean the kitchen do the laundry help the kids with their homework and put them to bed. I need a break.”

Or “Yes it’s true I bought myself a $3000 bookcase this month but that has nothing to do with the fact that I don’t want you to spend $20 on pizza this week because we really can’t afford it.”

Or “I have trouble getting up in the morning so it’s going to be your job for the entirety of our marriage to get up make the kids’ lunches feed them breakfast clean up the kitchen and take them to school. And yes I know that the fact that I stay up late may have something to do with it but I’m a night owl — there’s nothing I can do about it. Sorry.”


Taking Advantage

It’s unfair for one partner to take good care of him- or herself at the expense of his or her spouse. But people do it. No one is watching (except Hashem) so unfair partners feel they can “get away with” such behavior. A spouse may complain bitterly but then that can always be turned against him or her. (“You’re always complaining. You’re never happy. I can’t take this — I need more [vacations, free time bookcases, sleep] to make up for your abuse.”)

A spouse can insist on marital counseling but unfair spouses are loathe to participate in such a process (understandably since they know they are behaving badly and wouldn’t want to be called on it). Divorce is a consequence usually reserved for behaviors far worse than unfair treatment and so most unfairly treated spouses just live with the bad treatment. Not happily mind you.


Confronting Unfair Behavior

In some cases there’s nothing a spouse can do about the unfair treatment he or she receives in marriage. Years of begging crying pleading and threatening yield absolutely no change. When this happens the person is usually dealing with someone who has a personality disorder someone whose lack of empathy or emotional flexibility prevents the mature adjustment that healthy marriage requires.

Fortunately very few people suffer from personality disorders meaning that the majority of unfairly treated partners are dealing with something much more curable — a basically healthy but badly behaved spouse.

The cure for many such spouses is exposure. The inappropriate behavior may need to be aired in public — with or without the spouse’s consent or presence. It can be taken to a rav. It can be taken to a mental health professional. The spouse must know however that his or her behavior is being discussed.

The best scenario is to get the unfair partner to come along to counseling. Therefore it is important to pursue this option vigorously using every tool in your marital toolkit to make it happen. Don’t in martyr-like submission just accept unfair treatment because doing so is very bad for you your children and your marriage. Pursue fairness relentlessly in order to protect your entire family.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 326)

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