Relationships

Great Expectations: Equality vs Equity

I was going to write about the difference between equality and equity in relationships this week, but I found others have already done a lovely job of writing what I would have, so rather than re-invent the wheel, Imma just drop some links here with a pull-quote or two:

“Equality is the access to and distribution of a set of resources evenly across people. Equity, in contrast, is the access to or distribution of resources based on need. Equality and equity are separate concepts. Both have to do with fairness and justice, but how society achieves them and what they ultimately look like are different.”

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“Equality” in a relationship or marriage often makes individuals aware of amounts, like trying to balance two sides of an equation. For example, if one partner spends an hour doing the dishes, then the other should spend an hour doing some other type of chore. This type of “tit-for-a-tat” scorekeeping corrodes relationships, especially if this type of equality becomes the measure for a relationship’s success. Far too often we use this “equality” measuring stick to determine how much each person is bringing to the relationship, which means we’re focusing on things done or achieved rather than the person as a whole.
 
     “Equity” and its attempt to make things “fair and impartial” is a very different perspective in terms of relationships. Rather than keeping score on hours clocked or items checked off lists, striving for marital or couple equity means creating an overall sense of fairness and balance. And, because equity implies being impartial, it allows us to remove our ego and selfishness, looking at the strengths and abilities of our partner in order to determine what’s best for them to bring to the table.

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I hear the wounded cry of “It’s not fair!” from my relational clients A LOT. After being raised in societies, cultures, family environments that drive home the importance of EQUALITY, it’s what a lot of us expect on the interpersonal fronts as well, only to find that people are way more complicated and nuanced than that. The biggest problem with the Equality model in relationships is the baseline assumption that everyone involved in the relationship (family, friends, coworkers, lovers, etc.) is both ABLE and WILLING to provide exactly what you do, the way that you do, with the prioritization or urgency that you do. More often than not, those assumptions get entrenched as invisible expectations we’ve projected onto others around us, without any explicit negotiations or consent. We just ASSUME that because these are OUR values, they must be universal values, right?

Most of us have seen variations of this image going around the net for a while now, illustrating the different ways we construct the value of what’s “fair”.

(Any person who has ever come to therapy because they are at their wit’s end dealing with a partner who does not seem to “pull their weight” around the house or family duties is probably screaming right about now…)

There are a LOT of reasons, legit and otherwise, why Equality does not happen in relationships:

“I don’t want to.”
“I don’t value that/I don’t care about it like you do.”
“I don’t know how.”
“I didn’t know you expected/needed/wanted me to.”
“I don’t have time to do that.”
“It’s just not a priority for me.”
“There are significant obstacles to my ability or willingness to do that.”

But the biggest struggle often happens as relational partners come up against the need to let go their Equality assumptions and look at what the other person is ACTUALLY providing, or capable of providing; will what’s being offered equitably address the desired relational outcomes? Learning to appreciate each other’s way of participating in the relationship, and explicitly, effectively navigating the places where participation doesn’t meet our expectations, is how we get to the presumably shared, presumably desired outcome of a healthy, long-lasting relationship.

This is the foundation of how Equity works. This is also, among other things, the general principle behind Gary Chapman’s Love Languages. We all need different things and bring different skills, competencies, and characteristics to the table. Even when we need the same or similar things, we can vary wildly in how we expect it to look when those needs are being met. Equity means providing each person with what they need to do their individual best in the relationship, while understanding they each may need different things, in different ways, at different times, knowing there’s no guarantee of getting exactly what they want as the outcome. It’s work, creating equity, but out of that understanding relational partners stand a much better chance of creating something stronger and more adaptable over time.

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