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There’s unfairness, and there’s pandemic unfairness

Most of us try to manage a kind of almost-good-enough balance in our relationships. And then this freaking pandemic descends on us like a herd of bulls in the china shop of our lives and messes up the mess of things royally.

Suppose both of you were working BC (before coronavirus). I know: there were already fights about what was fair. And now one of you isn’t working. Half the money, double the stress. Whoopee!

But of course, there’s nothing so bad that you and I can’t make worse. The sole money earner feels things are unfair, particularly if they feel the now stay-at-home partner isn’t “doing their share.” The stay-at-home partner may feel guilty, useless, and disempowered by their new non-role as non-earner. These are the kinds of things we talk about in Why Couples Fight.

So both people are actually hungry to talk about balancing things out now. And there are a lot of ways to do that. Lots of ways for the stay-at-home person to step up. Housework, childcare, managing finances, painting bedrooms, taking on all the endless jobs that have been postponed for so long. And they should talk about that. What would be fair. What would make things feel balanced enough so that the person who still has a job wouldn’t come home and immediately feel enraged and discouraged because nothing’s been done all day.

At the same time, it has to be acknowledged that it’s hard to stay home all day. If there are kids, it can be almost impossible to get anything done. If there aren’t kids, just being home can be utterly demoralizing for lots of people. All this needs to be talked about too.

And let’s look at the balance of power here. How has it shifted? To the job person: “Hey, I make all the money now. I get to have a lot more say about things.” Well, maybe.

But nothing is more powerful than nothing. By which I mean, if I say I’m going to do something and I do nothing, what can you do? Threaten to huff and puff and blow my house down? No one feels more helpless than someone facing inertia.

But raging at the unfairness of it all and not understanding what it’s like to be home all day will get you nowhere. Nor does it help to not understand what it’s like to suddenly have the whole financial burden on your shoulders and not feel helped and supported by your partner. These are things that we need to hear and understand on both sides, not shout about and resist.

The thing is, you don’t need to find perfect solutions. Way more important is finding good-enough, mutually acceptable solutions that both partners will actually carry out.

And there’s also a need for hope. The pandemic has a very limited shelf life, even though it’s seemed to have gone on forever. So why not do some post-pandemic planning? “Let’s face it, no matter what I do at home, you’ll have shouldered most of the burden during this whole crappy time. So once it’s over, what can I do to make it up to you? Let’s really talk about that.”

You’d be surprised, though. Lots of times, when an unfairness can’t be helped in spite of everyone doing their best, both people just understanding one another and supporting each other’s feelings can go a long way. So that when it’s all over and there’s little you can do to re-balance things, there really isn’t a need to rebalance things. You were there for each other at a time when, as it is sometimes, life is just unfair. And that was enough.

You’ll find everything you need in our new book, Why Couples Fight.

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