We, almost always, expect reciprocity and fairness in our romantic relationships. We often expect loyalty as a form of repayment for our giving. If we have been wronged, we probably expect a resolution. Our actions towards others are determined by what we have received from them and by what we have given to them. In your romantic relationship, when your sense of fairness is being triggered, your brain rings an alarm bell and tells you, “Hey, you feel resentful towards your partner right now because the way they treated you or made you feel was not fair!”.
Outside of the relationship context, such as in business relationships, fairness can be easily measured. You expect a fair price for what you buy or produce. In business relationships, the definition of justice is objective. You often seek compensation when your expectations are not met. However, in romantic relationships, fairness cannot be easily measured. Fairness in your relationship is characterized by reciprocity. What you give and what you receive in return may not always meet your and your partner’s expectations in a relationship. For this reason, in romantic relationships, the definition of justice is intersubjective, and this definition can only be agreed upon with a dialogue between partners.
Regardless of how you and your partner define what fairness means to both of you, please keep in mind that it is fair to expect love, care, safety, nurture, belonging, and acceptance in a romantic relationship. All these needs are called attachment needs because they are the most essential human needs. It is your right to be loved, cared, protected, belonged, accepted, and nurtured. You are not being needy when you express a need. Your partner can only know what you need from them if you let them know what your needs are. Expecting your partner to mindread your needs and expectations is a recipe for resentment. Before you engage in a “fairness dialogue” with your partner, I suggest you consider these questions:
Questions to ask yourself:
What does fairness mean to me?
What are my expectations in my relationship? Do I feel that my expectations are being met?
What are my needs in my relationships and are my needs being met?
What are some of the things in our relationship that I think are not always fair?
How does reciprocity play out in my relationship?
Questions to ask your partner:
What does fairness mean to you?
What are your expectations from me and from our relationship? Do you feel that your expectations are being met?
What are your needs in our relationship and are they being met?
What are some of the things in our relationship that you think are not always fair?
What do you think of how reciprocity plays out in our relationship?
In any given context, talking about fairness and justice has never been easy. Engaging in this dialogue with your partner can be challenging. Criticism or contempt can occur, and partners may leave the conversation feeling resentful. For this reason, I encourage couples to address this subject in couples therapy, in a safe setting where both can feel heard and understood. If you think that your dialogue about this topic may turn into a conflict, please consult your therapist.