What Is Right Over What Is Fair

Contributed by Gordon N Fletcher Jr.

Last month, I sat across the table from my sixteen year old daughter. Between generous helpings of sausage, potatoes and eggs from The Noisy Goose, we struck up a conversation about my wife and I celebrating 21 years of marriage. This accomplishment ultimately lead us to discuss how each of us had been startled by the myriad of couples we knew who were separated or divorced. 

I was forced to reflect on my marriage, consider what makes successful marriages and the difference between those marriages and the ones that hadn't survived. Societal norms, history and the breakdown of family values were discussed. Don’t think for one moment I am casting judgement or condemnation on anyone who has seen the desolate valley of divorce. You couldn’t be more mistaken. My heart is to provide a larger hope to those hanging by a thread.

“I believe that we as a society, in general are so focused on what is fair, we neglect to do what is right.” These were my words! As they spilled from my mouth, they shocked me. A chord was struck in my heart. I wanted these words to shift my daughter’s paradigm about her own journey. As she steps out into the world, I want to prepare her to be the best person possible. The best at school, at work, at play, in friendships and even within her own romantic endeavors. We have moved past parenting our children’s behavior, now we parent their character.

Allow me to break this idea down, especially in relation to marriage. The term partners when it comes to marriage should be done away with. Partners suggests a contract and is much too rigid a word to define the affiliation between individuals within marriage.

Partner suggests 50/50 effort. If you give 50%, then I will give 50%. How many of us know we simply cannot give 50% all the time? There are days where I can barely give 30% to my “partner”. With this definition in mind, combined with the societal ideal of focusing on what is fair, someone has to make up the remaining 70%. Asking my partner to do so isn’t “fair”.

A two party contract requires one party to pick up the slack or carry the balance when the other cannot. This is where division begins. If one party gives 49% it is only “fair” that the other give 49%. A 2% gap now exists and intimacy has suffered. A couple may maintain that gap for quite some time. A crisis at work, major argument or financial struggle will take a larger toll. Over time a gradual decrease in effort and intimacy occur. Once a 20-25% gap is reached and maintained, relationships erode and collapse unless the mindset is changed. 

It is easy to see why men and women look for comfort outside of marriage. Whether it be alcohol, work or the arms of another, both parties find themselves betrayed, looking for intimacy and comfort from the stresses of life. Each party points a finger, accusing the other of neglecting their obligations all the while doing their own “fair” and equal amount of damage to the same contract by not upholding theirs.

Paul the Apostle said this in 1 Corinthians 12:31, “And I will show you still a more excellent way.” Paul proceeds to lay out the definition of true love. Chapter 13 is a great measuring rod of where we stand in relation to our lovingness toward others, even if you are not “religious”, give it a read.

Let’s ditch the former definition of “partner”, covenant is a much more intimate word. I was raised with the understanding that marriage as a covenant, was two parties promising each other 100% of themselves, withholding nothing. In sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer forsaking all others, until death we do part. 

We have all made these vows in some form or another. At the altar, before a judge or perhaps even a sequin laden Elvis, we said we would give all of ourselves through every circumstance until death. When my wife is sick, we are having financial difficulties or it’s a bad day, I need to bring 100% of myself to the situation not just 50%. She has to do the same for me as well. It is our covenant.

The secret to a prosperous marriage is the effect this attitude has on intimacy. Doing what is “right” will always benefit a couple well beyond simply doing what is, “fair”.  If she can only give 49%, my 100% makes up for that minuscule amount of lack. The best part is intimacy doesn’t suffer, it actually grows because I am going well beyond the required amount needed for my contractual obligation and making up for her deficit. 

On the days I can only give 30%, Simone’s 100% makes up for my lack and there is zero loss in intimacy. The most intimate days are when we both give 100% of ourselves to each other. We make deposits of intimacy from which we may draw on years later.

Focusing on what is “fair” always narrows our focus to our own obligations, interests and concerns, a selfish approach to take with any relationship. Focusing on what is “right” broadens our scope outward, increases intimacy and establishes a track record of lovingness to stand the test of time. 

My prayer for those hanging by a thread is to let go of the thread and cling to the arms of your spouse. May you find faith, hope and love in each other again.