Historically there has been a lot of talk and a lot of writing about equal relationships. Some think that an equal relationship is when both partners make roughly the same amount of money. Others think equality means both partners share equally in doing the housework. Still others say that equality has to do with sharing responsibilities for parenting.
Often concepts about equality come from some belief system and are imposed on the relationship by one partner or another. A man says, “My parents raised me this way so it’s good enough for our family.” A woman might say, “Your attitude is sexist and needs to change.” Each wants to determine equality according to his or her belief system.
In actuality, true equality begins with mutual respect and constructive communication. Each couple determines equality based on its individual situation, not on some ready-made belief system. At times both members of a couple work and they need to hash out a system of equality based on what their strengths and weaknesses are. It is not a matter of dividing the same chores between them, but of doing what each is best at, and coming to an agreement that this suits each of them and is equal.
Sometimes the woman prefers to stay at home and take care of children and the man chooses to be the breadwinner. In such cases they will need to engage in a constructive dialog with respect to how to make such a relationship equal. If the husband (or worker) not only makes the money but decides how the couple will spend it, this is not necessarily equal. After a constructive dialogue, the couple may agree that he turns over all or most of his paycheck each week and the wife becomes responsible for paying the bills. Or it might be the reverse; the wife is the breadwinner and the husband handles the bills.
There is no one set way to have an equal relationship, but there is a bottom line. No matter what role each plays in the relationship and no matter how the relationship is organized, both partners have to respect each other as equals in terms of being human beings. No distinctions can be made according to gender or who brings in the most money or who has the most friends. True equality involves an ongoing dialogue about whether each feels the relationship is fair, mutually beneficial and mutually gratifying.
Constructive communication means communication in which the goal is to foster better understanding and closeness. It means giving up the need to be right, and looking at yourself objectively to see what you may be contributing to any problems that come up in the relationship.
In an equal relation there is give-and-take. No one partner has all the answers or knows what’s best. Each partner must listen to the other and be able and willing to modify behaviors or attitudes that are counterproductive. If one partner is convinced that he or she knows all the answers and the other partner is always at fault and must therefore change to fit the know-it-all’s conception of equality, true equality will fall by the wayside. In constructive communication, people calmly work things out by being respectful and reasonable. Neither partner tries to manipulate by guilt-tripping, intimidating or cold-shouldering the other.
Constructive communication thus brings about equality because it is a way in which each member of a couple has an equal say in the relationship.
Think for Yourself
The way in which you organize your relationship, the kinds of agreements the relationship is based on, may not jibe with what others consider to be appropriate. The way you relate to your partner may seem stupid or unequal or old-fashioned to your friends, parents or other relatives. For example, one of you might work and the other might stay home and do housework. Friends may look at this on the surface and see it as old-fashioned. They may say to the person staying home, “That’s not equal. You’re being exploited.”
These friends mean well, but they are judging your relationship by their standards. They are not aware that you have worked out your own form of equality through constructive communication. Such friends may think that there is only one way to have an equal relationship, and if your model doesn’t fit their conception, it must be wrong.
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It is important to think for yourself and not be swayed by others who may be threatened by your relationship because it doesn’t fit their belief system. It is crucial that you and your partner listen to your own inner voices, and not the voices of others. If your relationship is truly equal, it will satisfy and gratify you and your partner (not others), and that is what really counts.
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More by Gerald Schoenewolf