My husband and I take silly seriously. We spent a great deal of our courtship playing Warcraft over an Ethernet hub with six friends in a two-bedroom apartment. (Really, it was incredibly romantic to be advised to “make a peon” every three seconds.) So, when we are overwhelmed with responsibility, we find a way to shirk off the dusting and vacuuming by playing a game.
The other day, I downloaded an app so I can write text and draw on photos before posting them on Facebook. I demonstrated this new toy to my husband by scribbling on a picture of him. Somehow that devolved into using the app to doodle a tic-tac-toe board. Seventeen games later, Joe still had not won one. Not one. Many of you are smiling because you know the same pattern I do, the one which secures the top left, bottom left, and bottom right corners guaranteeing a win regardless of what pitiful move your opponent makes. I’m lucky that Joe is a good loser because I am a horrible winner. What is worse than that is I set him up to fail…seventeen times. That is the epitome of unfair and an issue I see in marital counseling all of the time.
Developing a Definition of Fairness
It takes a lifetime to develop a working definition of fair/fairness. There are developmental models in psychology, Supreme Court cases, and dictionaries that attempt to define this complex issue. It’s no wonder that a couple has a hard time negotiating the content when there are as so many different ways of understanding the construct. I have my own developmental model of fairness:
- As a therapist, I learned all about Kohlberg’s developmental model of morality. Kohlberg designed a scenario similar to the Kobiyahi Maru of Star Trek legend. The beginning of fairness falls into Kohlberg’s Level 1, Stage 2, Individualism and Exchange. Between the approximate ages of four through 9, children’s moral codes are defined by outsiders and authority figures. Rules are clearly outlined by parents and teachers. Children can easily observe whether they are being treated fairly when compared to peers.
- Adolescence brings with it the mantra, “That’s not fair.” Parents don’t allow extended curfews or call in an excused absence to cover missing homework. These are the years I call the “War of the Door”, one side slams it and the other removes the door from the hinge. Erikson believes the actual war is the teenager’s struggle between identity and role confusion. Young adults are consistently comparing and contrasting the adults who make the rules to decide whether to emulate or reject those values. Success in this stage breeds fidelity, a close relative of fairness. Young adults align themselves and show loyalty to people who share the morals, like fairness, that match their individual identity.
- Society is hyper-focused on fairness. We want to make sure women have equal pay for equal rights. We want to make sure same-sex couples can marry and raise children like their heterosexual friends and neighbors. Fairness morphs into equality in adulthood. Supreme Court cases legislate concepts that consistently examine equality of outcome vs equality of opportunity. Fairness becomes a question of winning or losing. But, with 300 million individuals in America, winning or losing depends on perspective. (Rosie Perez explains this best in White Man Can’t Jump.)
Spark Note Summary
Marriage is not a game. If you are already counting wins and losses, you have lost a fundamental building block of your marriage. Fairness in marriage is a feeling. And feelings are not shared through slammed doors.