You know the saying: “It takes two to tango.” The same goes for your relationship, because the burden of responsibility of a good union is a two-sided job. That’s often the reason couples find themselves in conflict. They complain that someone is doing more and someone is doing less.
Equality is a word that is used frequently in counseling by embattled couples. But does fairness really matter in the success of a relationship? Let’s look at a sample couple, from the Lakota tribal nation, who are wrestling with what the concept equal means to the survival of their relationship.
Lakota men and women have a proud past in which spouses have always been considered equal in a marriage, walking through life together, side by side. But today, in contrast with the past, many Lakota men are not hunters, and often Lakota women are not homemakers, guiding their children within a large, extended family network. Rather, the couples go to work, send their children to school, and buy food at a grocery. Even though their responsibilities have changed, they are still strong couples with a will to survive tough times.
Mato and Winona, a Lakota couple in counseling, have been married five years, and two years ago they bought a house. But lately he freezes her out for days. Mato builds a wall around himself so that Winona can’t get too close to him. She has tried to ignore this behavior, but it is taking a toll on their relationship.
“He rarely fixes anything around the house without being asked,” Winona complained in counseling. “Why can’t he just repair things like my dad did?”
Mato responds vaguely, “I don’t know when to help,” and slouches down in the chair, turning away.
Mato was covering up for this inadequacy by shutting her out. He didn’t know how to fix things and didn’t want to be seen as less than a man. But she was adamant that it was his job in the partnership.
It became clear that the two wanted some magic wand to fix their problems. Each one felt that the burden of responsibility fell more on the other than themselves.
The truth was that getting this relationship back on track was a two-sided job. Both people have to start being honest, and both have to start listening. Relationship work takes the commitment of both people. Communication needs to occur and a reasonable solution attained.
The success of their relationship (and yours, too) depends on teamwork. By that, I don’t necessarily mean 50/50. Sometimes one person might be more involved in the process than the other. Negotiation plays a crucial role.
When this couple finally started talking to each other, they came up with a fairly easy solution. When Winona saw something broken that she couldn’t fix, she called a repair service. She had to give up thinking it was Mato’s job. In return, Mato no longer was freezing Winona out. He began talking to her more about his feelings and growing-up experiences, and she became more interested in listening.
In a long-term relationship, percentages may change many times on who does more or less of the “work.” The good news is that when a couple’s needs are met, it doesn’t matter who does what, it just matters that it is a two-sided endeavor.
In the Bible there is a verse that supports this hypothesis. It goes something like this:
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
~ Ecclesiastes 4:10 New International Version (©1984)
Timeless wisdom—and nowhere does it say it has to be “fair”!