Tit for Tat

It wasn’t until I got married and became a mother that I began to realize the importance that fairness has in my life. I came to learn that I really value it. Whether or not things are truly fair hasn’t mattered much as long as there has been a feeling of reciprocity. This comes up in my relationships with friends, family, and most importantly, my relationship with my partner.

When I was in graduate school and my partner was working full time to support us, we were broke. I mean, frozen pizza multiple nights for dinner broke. The kind of broke you feel when you have to check your bank account before putting gas in your car and hope that $10 gets you where you need to go. As a result, my husband (fiancé at the time) and I fell in to this pattern of “tit for tat.” We even joke about it to this day. Essentially, when one of us bought something nice, the other felt as though they had permission to do the same. For example, Conner (my partner) would buy some new shoes so I would then go get my hair done.

Fairness works quite well when it is defined in measurable ways through money or time. However, take the addition of kids, careers, and the complexities of life that gets thrown your way and that is no longer the case. When we had both of our kids, we attempted to be fair. I would get up to feed the baby one night and my husband would get up the next night. I would change the babies diaper and my husband would do it the next time. This worked amazingly well for a period of time. However, now we have tiny humans that have their own preferences. Maybe it’s my husbands turn to make the kids breakfast Saturday morning while I sleep in. Well, my daughter might have a different idea. In fact, it’s quite common for her to wake up yelling “mommy” first thing in the morning regardless of who plans to get up with the kids.

We have our relationship norms, unspoken roles/rules, and patterns of living that we develop over time in our relationship. But, what happens when those norms get disrupted? What happens when they begin to unravel? What happens when “tit for tat” no longer works?

You have to create a new strategy, norm, or expectation. You have to communicate your needs. You have to set an intention of how things will look moving forward.

“Tit for Tat” was a habitual pattern of behavior in my relationship that got turned on its head. In the end, I’m thankful for that because it has allowed more flexibility and compassion in my relationship. It’s reminded me that relationships are like a living organism. It’s growing, evolving, and developing over time. Although our “tit for tat” dynamic had its place in our relationship, it no longer works for us. That doesn’t mean fairness is no longer a value of mine. However, I have to work to achieve that feeling of fairness in other ways. I have to be intentional about reminding myself that although I might now get up with the kids in the morning more often than my husband, he’s generally always the one to cook. A man who cooks? I think I can accept that!

What is a habitual pattern you and your partner engage in? Have you had to be flexible? Has that pattern or norm ever been disrupted? Are you prepared for it to be?

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