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Why Fairness and Trust are so Important to Your Relationships

Acrobats balancingPHIL: We’ve been talking about how important fairness is in relationships. It is about treating the other person as an equal, even though they are at the same time, different from you. (Here, I am reminded of the Declaration of American Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”)

We teach children to be fair and share equally, although they also have a deep-seated sense of fairness. I recall a strong sense of outrage at the unfairness of some situation at school, even though I cannot remember what the event was. When Maude was 10, her family drove from New York to Florida for summer vacation. When they stopped in Georgia for gas, she saw for the first time, water fountains marked “Whites” and “Colored.” She was so shocked, she started loudly protesting until her father ushered her into the car, where a deep conversation ensued. Perhaps such responses are universal, but our culture has come to teach unfairness as the natural way of things.

The root of fairness is the Old English fæger, “beautiful, attractive,” which is a good argument that we are naturally drawn to it. For it to exist at all, we must have empathy, the ability to project ourselves into the other person’s position and see how it is for them. This is not just an intellectual exercise; we have mirror neurons, a type of brain cell that fires both when we act and when we see someone else perform the same action.

In a relationship, the experience of fairness is what builds trust (or perhaps confirms it if you start from a position of trust.) You can trust that the other person will not act against your interests, and the longer you know them and see this is consistent, the more you trust them.

So how to practice fairness? We don’t have an accounting style of credits and debits: how many times I did the washing-up and how many times you took out the trash. That is an attitude of scarcity, thinking that we are in competition for resources, whether of time, money, or effort. Instead, we have a shared life and take care of things as necessary.

Humans never lived alone, and sharing was a necessary part of survival. It’s deep in our nature, and fairness is an integral part of that. Don’t allow your sense of individuality to override it.

MAUDE: As many of you know, the driving force behind our books, blogs, and courses is to spread peace one relationship at a time. This is not an empty motto, but rather a calling to spread information from our direct experience of how that is possible. We believe that by changing the nature of how we relate to each other, we can change the very fabric of how we as a society and a world can live with peace as a visceral reality.

There are relationships built on power and dominance, but those do not create or further peace. For us, the key is a balanced relationship; it is balance without a balance sheet that we are talking about. What does that look like? We don’t count up how many times either of us has done our part in the upkeep of life activities or who is doing more or less. We have a rather delicious sense of how varied each of our contributions are, yet how balanced they are in the larger picture of our life together.

At the core of this way of relating is a deep sense and commitment to fairness. A relationship built on fairness engenders trust and a commitment to act from that trust.

When fairness is a core value that matches or is complementary to both people in a relationship, then a deep-seated form of trust will develop. This is not a fairness that one measures with lists, but is one that will create equality in the truest sense of that word. It includes the understanding that we are all unique and that the expressions of fairness will be diverse by our very nature, but that they will be there and can be counted on. This wonderful knowing that things will work out, without knowing when or how that we discussed in last week’s blog, is also derived from the knowledge of this commitment to fairness.

When you know your motives or your actions are not being questioned, measured or constantly evaluated, but rather seen and appreciated, it allows you to relax and be calm and more creative. When you relate from trust, predicated on the knowledge that both parties are driven by a commitment to fairness, you find yourself having a direct experience of peace. You become a dynamic force, a fulcrum for peace in the world.

Photo credit: Phil Mayes
Photo note: Acrobats in local park

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Successful Relationship Reading Corner

Books on shelfThis week, we wrote about why fairness and trust are so important to your relationships. Here are two more view on this topic, and another one from us.

Trust in a Relationship: Why It’s Important—and How to Build It "Building trust between you and your partner is fundamental to a successful and healthy relationship. That’s because trust goes hand in hand with essential components of a relationship, such as honesty, open communication, vulnerability, and respect, making it of paramount importance. “Trust is the foundation of any relationship. Lack of trust can sabotage a relationship before it begins,” says Reena B. Patel."

Avoid Making Lists and Keeping Score in Your Relationships "The ease during our lock-down reminded us that we don’t behave like many couples do: making lists and keeping score. We don’t have an internal accountant maintaining a balance sheet tracking what we have each done in order to maintain fairness. We just don’t do it at all; it doesn’t even come up. Let’s take a look at why, and how this can be avoided."

Is Your Relationship Fair? "In real life, do both partners really care about fairness? We all probably all know at least one long-suffering martyr who has been persuaded to feel obligated to some ungrateful mate. Not to mention, the media often portrays dating couples and relationship partners more like predator vs. prey than as complementary collaborators. So, what's the truth here? Are people fair or selfish in their romantic relationships? Does it really matter? And if it does, what can we do about it?"

Spreading peace one relationship at a time
Phil and Maude
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