Does Your Husband or Wife Do His or Her Fair Share?


Many a marriage has unraveled over the issue of fairness. All we want is for our husbands and wives to do their fair share of the wage-earning, parenting, and chores, right? And it would be a mistake to overlook any shirking, no?
I contend you cannot even measure your own share, no less your spouse’s. You cannot measure your own contributions because you do plenty that your wife or husband simply does not care about (polishing brass, dusting the attic, changing the oil every 3,000 miles, changing from summer drapes to winter drapes and back again, teaching your kid to tat lace, or whatever it is in your house).
There is no fair share of going after something only one of you wants.
You also cannot measure your contribution because there is no universal unit of measure. How do four hours at an exhausting job that earn $42 compare to four hours at an enjoyable but stressful job that earn $1,200? How does riding a lawn mower compare to operating a washing machine? Which is worth more: clean socks or a back massage? Which is better: a home in a neighborhood with good schools or two weeks a year of uninterrupted rest and relaxation together?
No one can answer these questions.
And if you cannot measure even your own contribution, how can you ever know if your spouse is doing less?
Spare yourself the misery of expecting a fair share. Expect love. It’s available in limitless supply in most marriages when you stop creating opportunities for resentment.
And watching for it will never put you in that crazy, shoot-yourself-in-the-foot position (been there, got the tee shirt) of thinking you would be better off on your own than in a 75/25 or 90/10 split of the responsibilities you care about. Even with all the assets and full custody (I was widowed at 34), it really, truly stinks to get all the responsibilities and absolutely none of the love.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • Love this insight Patty and thanks. My wife’s father passed this week and the loss will be very heavy as he always did more than his fair share for all of us here on the property we occupy. His tendency to give to all without reservation was second nature and surely free’d him from the resentments expectations create. His body failed him in the end and the ability to do his random acts of kindness with it.
    The needs we all have for intimacy, food, shelter, safety and meaning are seminal, but surely it is better to give than to receive, putting away the ‘adding machine’.Powerful medicine too. Love is all around.

  • Oh, Patty. . . this hit me in the head like a ton of bricks! Many of your articles cause me to sit up and take notice and look at my situation with the new perspective of Expect Love. This one especially resonates with me because I made the mistake of trying to measure a fair share earlier in my marriage.
    Expect Love. Who’d have thought that’s all it takes? It makes so much sense and is so simple. Why couldn’t I have been wise enough to see it sooner on my own? It would have saved me so much misery.
    I can’t do anything to change the past, but you help me interpret it with a new viewpoint. It is not easy to realize my marriage could have been far better if I had expected love instead of expecting my husband to do his fair share, even if it was only a 75/25 split that I expected. I struggle to keep my regret and the “what ifs” & “I should haves” at bay.
    It is because you share your perspective in your articles that I now try to expect love in the present stage of my marriage. It is not always easy to do. I often have to stop and remind myself to expect love when my husband does something that bothers me. But, each time that I do makes it a little easier to do it again the next time. And, the next time and the next time. Thank you, Patty. You have helped me more than I can express.

  • Lilian, you have made my day! Thank you.
    I know what it took to get me to see it: the sudden death of the loving husband I faulted for my overwhelm and thought I should therefore divorce. If you get it a little later in life because you got to skip that pain, this seems like a good thing.
    Right now—and every day after this one—you have the chance at a great marriage. One great route to such a marriage is to pay attention to the love you ARE receiving rather than whatever it was you expected to receive. It has a way of multiplying when you pay attention to it instead of declaring it not enough.

  • Not trying to air dirty laundry but when can “fair share” be truly decided if there’s a spouse (employed, both are) but only one does the things needed on daily basis in the home while the other spouse expects to be waited on at all times. Cleaned up behind at all times. A Li.e be drawn somewhere. And this was not discussed to be expected or agreed upon. It was an assumption, with apparency one is not happy with the situation.

  • Another brilliant insight. Many good relationship advisors fall into the trap of telling us we need to achieve fairness and balance in our relationships. Some will even suggest systems for this, which I suspect only lead to scorekeeping, oneupmanship, and more frustration. And all of us at one time or another have felt either shortchanged by a spouse who wasn’t doing what we thought was reasonable, or have felt oppressed by a spouse who insisted that we spend time on something we just didn’t care about. Letting go of that expectation is difficult, but very liberating.

  • “A line has to be drawn somewhere.”
    Indeed, it does, DimnV. Until my first husband’s sudden death, I kept drawing it in the wrong place, the place that made me most unhappy, the place that kept our marriage stuck in a rut. That place is believing I knew better than my spouse what he should be doing. Right next to it is that place where you do what your spouse asks but expect him or her to do the same in return or you passive-aggressively pretend you never heard the request.
    Instead, draw a line in what you will do. Draw it between the stuff that makes you enjoy your home and your marriage and the stuff you feel resentful doing.
    If your spouse asks for something on the wrong side of your line, offer to help him find a Third Alternative to your doing it and your denying him.

  • Couples make a mistake in thinking that each of them will have an exact 50% share. My husband works more hours than me so yes, I do almost all of the housework. I am happy to do it (and I love to cook!).
    If I may share a brief story:
    At a previous job, my manager was going through a divorce and would loudly talk about his problems (the rest of us couldn’t help but overhear). His wife was a stay-at-home mom, and didn’t like doing all of the care for the children. He worked full-time, and didn’t like paying all of the bills.
    It’s unlikely that they could have each worked part-time jobs, made the same amount of money, and worked opposite of each other so that someone would always be watching the kids. I felt most sad for the kids, since the parents were constantly arguing over who had to spend time with them.

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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