"It's not fair!" How do issues of fairness play out in your relationship?

"It's not fair!" Most of us have been known to say this at some stage to those closest to us - as a child when we feel parents are favouring a sibling over us, at work when we feel we are not being given the same opportunities as a colleague, and in our intimate relationship where we may feel we are asked to give more than we are receiving in exchange.

Expectations about gender roles can be a powerful barrier to either treating our partner as entitled to the same rights and privileges we expect from them, or expressing our own resentment and healthy anger when we experience that our needs and wishes are not given the same weight as our partner's.

Historically, the notion that men and women are equal, and may therefore wish to configure their relationship in a way that gives each the same rights to having their needs met, and the same access to support, nurturance and opportunity, is very recent. Many of us were raised in families where it was expected that the man would be the boss and the woman would obey - the notion that she was entitled to an equal say, and to be supported to pursue her own career and interests, was not supported by society.

Although many of us may truly believe that we have moved beyond this kind of thinking, it may pay to examine how far we have really come when we look closely at the way we have configured 'who does what' and what our expectations are in our intimate relationship.

The areas that are important to consider here would be:-

* housework

* childcare and parenting

* paid work.

Other areas to consider when thinking about 'fair entitlement' may be less tangible. They may include:-

* the right to say 'no' (e.g. to sex)

* the right to say "I need..... from you" and have our partner change what they are doing in some way to accommodate that need.

If you are getting into conflict over some of these areas, it may be helpful to look at them through the lens of fairness and equality. The pay-offs of doing so are great - for men, the loss of power involved in giving ground to their partner's needs and wants will be more than compensated by a greater sense of connectedness and aliveness - a powerful, assertive woman who is happy in her relationship will be a lot more sexy and interesting than a depressed, disempowered woman! For women, letting go of what may be archaic expectations of who men 'should' be and what they 'should' do will be replaced with an emotionally closer and more psychologically intimate connection.

One qualifier here - I am aware that in some relationships redressing the power balance may mean women need to give more ground, and men may need to hold their ground - particularly in areas that women have traditionally claimed as their area of influence in relationships and family life (e.g. parenting). However, as we do not yet live in a world where women have achieved equality with men financially or in public life, I remain unapologetic for writing this article from the presumption that in the main women are beginning from a less influential position.

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