What constitutes equal partnership in marriage?

In your opinion, what makes a partnership or marriage equal?

I guess I’m asking because I’ve read several threads recently about marital finances and also one abuse thread in the pit where comments were made such as, “The wife is making as much as or more than her husband, therefore the partnership should be equal.” Or “Well, I make more than she does, so I usually make major household decisions.”

Comments like that seemed somewhat odd to me because, well, it appears as though many people assume that money is what makes someone more or less equal in a relationship, which I’ve always thought as kind of bizarre. I mean, even if I were a stay-at-home-mom and weren’t making any money at all, I’d still theoretically be taking care of all the food purchasing for the house, cleaning, and childcare for most of the day, plus most of the meals for everyone. I would imagine that putting that much effort directly into a household would make me an equal partner in any relationship. As it is, I just opened my own business this year, so I’m not contributing all that much in a financial sense to the household yet (but that’s changing); however, I do most of the cleaning, cooking, purchasing and make virtually all minor household decisions and also do most of our home improvement projects (we don’t have any children yet, so that’s not an issue). So, while my husband earns most of the money, I do most of the household work, yet many of my family members still don’t really consider me an equal contributor to our relationship since I’m not footing at least half the household bills. I’d say our relationship is about equal - he earns more money so he pays most of the bills, but I contribute what I can and contribute to our household in other, non-monetary ways. We’re emotionally supportive of each other, and, other than comments made by my own family members, I’ve never been made to feel as though I wasn’t contributing as much as my husband.

So, out of curiosity, I’d like to know what you think makes a partnership or marriage equal. Is it a state of mind? A financial state? Does it relate to work input and output (i.e., meals created and floors cleaned; going to work to make money for the household)? Do you think it’s a combination of all these things?

I gave my answer to a very similar question in another thread. I think that answer is equally applicable here, so rather than be redundant, I’ll just go ahead and quote myself.

I think an equal partnership is whatever the people involved in that partnership think it is, because they’re the only people whose opinions really matter a tinker’s dam. I mean, it’s hard to put a hard and fast value on any given contribution, because different things have different values to different people. If something is really important to you, or is something you really hate doing, it’s going to be a more valuable contribution to you than it is to someone who thinks it’s not that important or doesn’t mind doing it.

For us, it’s mostly a state of mind. The financial contributions are unequal by quite a bit, and that gap’s only going to grow. Our household work contributions are fairly unequal too, and I don’t really see that gap getting smaller over the years either. Overall, though, we’ve got a pretty equitable arrangement. It’s not equitable because every single thing is split down the middle even-steven; it’s equitable because we both feel treated fairly.

This probably best sums up what I consider equality in a relationship.

In case anyone is wondering what precipitated this admittedly somewhat lame thread, it was a combination of a couple of threads I read here and a comment someone made to me at the grocery last week. Basically, my grocery bill came to just under $100 (I hadn’t been for quite some time), and the cashier said, “Wow! Looks like you’re right in under your budget. Bet your husband will be proud.” I made a non-committal grunt because the comment annoyed the hell out of me, and I just didn’t want to deal with the guy. Then some guy, a customer, standing behind me said, 'Yup. He earns it, you spend it." Maybe I was being too sensitive, but the comment really ticked me off, plus it made me think about household equality and how it must be different for more or less everyone. (Incidentally, what constitutes politeness is apparently just as subjective.)

We’re not married, but Ardred and I have an equal partnership, despite the fact that I make more money and contribute more financially to the household than he does. We make all major (and most minor) decisions together, as a team.

I don’t have student loan debt and I didn’t just declare bankruptcy. I fully expect that he will contribute more when he has more money and I’m starting up my business and not contributing as much.

That’s how I see it as equitable. I’m reminded of the Joy Luck Club when one sister splits everything 50/50 with her husband, except personal items. It’s a creepy relationship.

Equal means each partner contributes everything possible. I may make more money than DeHusband but our burden is the same. Roughly 90% of each salary goes toward our expenses/savings. It doesn’t matter if I’m giving more actual dollars; we each give all we can. Same goes for household chores. I can’t walk as well as DeHusband, so he does the vacuuming. He freaks at mildew, so I clean the bathroom. It’s not the amount of work; it’s the amount each of us is able to do.

To me it’s not so much money, as intent. If one person is bringing home the paycheck and the other is doing the bare minimum at home, and otherwise being a beer guzzling couch potato, NOT equal, imho.

If both people are contributing equal amounts of work and effort, regardless of whether, or how much they’re paid, it’s an equal relationship.

I have to agree with just about everyone here…equality in a relationship is up to that particular relationship.

When Hal and I just started out, we were both working full-time. All of our money went into one account and we paid the bills from that account. Anything left over was ours to spend how we wanted. We also split all the household chores. I cook, you clean up type of thing. After awhile, I started working 7 days a week, so Hal took on more of the household responsibilities - he would do all the laundry and help me vaccuum while cleaning the bathroom and dusting were all for me. Now I quit my job and I am a Real Estate agent, so I have much more time at home. Naturally, I do more around the house now then I used to. It works for us. But we never said “well, you make more than me so you should have to do less around the house”. Quite the opposite…when I was working 7 days a week I was still making less than Hal, but he did more around the house because he had more time at home than I did.

I do have friends that are married with children and they split their expenses equally. They each take X amount of $$ out of their checks and put it into a joint account for bills for the family. Anything above and beyond that X amount is for that person to spend on what they want. And the wife makes out better in this because she makes more money…so, she gets more to spend on herself. I find it strange that a married couple would act like this when it comes to money, but it works for them.

Such an asinine remark would have ticked me off too. It’s not like you were squandering someone else’s money on luxuries for yourself. And it wouldn’t have mattered, nor in the least been any of his business, if you were. What a jerk.

It does come down to what each couple thinks is right, and what works for them. Personally, I get the willies when I hear about married couples who very explicitly divide their assets into his and hers. My wife and I each have our own toys, clothes, etc., but the overriding principle is that its ours. Our house, our budget, our spending money, our partnership, our life together. Each gives, each gets. The particulars of who gives what and who gets what can change with changing circumstances, but in the end it’s all for us. She’s my life partner, not my business partner.

Some of the posters in the how-do-you-split-your-fiances threads have reminded me of that storey as well. <shudder> I wouldn’t want to live like that. Life’s too short to spend that much time and effort making sure things are falsely equal.
For me equal partnership in a relationship is more about putting in equal amounts of time, effort and respect. I don’t make as much money as my husband, and barring winning the lottery I never will. If we counted only money I’d be in a hole forever.

I’ll agree that equality is largely a state of mind. My marriage is a partnership. As long as each of us feels that we’re equal, we are. I think that the only thing we split 50/50 is responsibility. No, I’ll add respect and love which are shared equally.

Each of us gravitates to the things that we do better or are more interested in. On a day-to-day basis available time also determines who does what in/for the household.

Neither of us would make a major decision without consulting the other. Neither of us would make a decision that would adversely affect the other without reaching an agreement about it. Neither of us feels the need to control the other when it comes to spending, socializing, etc.

Where I’ve had occasional problems is when I’ve been out of work. I’ll never achieve his income level but I do feel that I should make a financial contribution to the team. But that’s my issue, not his.

Life is good.

He earns more and has the potential to earn a lot if he gets lucky. However I do most of the housework, all the financial stuff and most of the childwrangling and the decision making about their various issues.

It works for us. We each get what we need and it’s never been an issue ever. I couldn’t be married to someone who thought they had a greater say because they earned more.

From each according to their ability; to each according to their need.
Hey, it’s a catchy slogan.

Yeah! I’ve always thought that while capitalism seems to work best as an economic system for a larger group, socialism is the perfect system for small groups of people who love each other.

Even when I was working more hours than he was, I’ve never made as much money as Mr. Legend. Luckily, we’ve always considered equality to be more than simple monetary contribution, or I wouldn’t have been able to stay home with the kids all these years. As it is, I now do almost all of the work around the house, including plumbing and garbage removal, and he brings home all of the money. We each think the other is doing more work, and that makes both of us eager to compensate by making the other’s life easier. It’s a great system.

I can honestly say that the amount of money we each make has never come up. He works full time. I go to school and work part time. Two of my paychecks don’t even equal one of his unless I got a lot of extra hours for whatever reason. But we’re in this together, and being greedy and anal about the money will just cause our mutual destruction. We pay the bills and agree not to spend money unless we absolutely have to, and call it good.

As for how we divide up everything else…well, he does do most of the housework, laundry, and cooking. Mainly because he’s home by 6 every night, whereas I don’t get home until 10, and he actually gets the weekends off, when I usually have several projects and assignments hanging over my head. He gets larger pay checks, but I work more hours a week than he does, and if he didn’t pick up the burden, we’d starve and die in squalor.

I’m really, really hoping for both our sakes that next semester is easier on me, and once I get out of school, we’ll be on more level footing.

Gary T came the closest. A partnership is when you think of we, us and our not me, me, me.

Back when we were working out what we thought our marriage should be like, one of the things we determined was that neither one of us was the “junior partner.” We each have our own interests and hobbies, some of which do not intersect, and that’s fine for both of us. My wife has a full-time job and is also a piano teacher, so she makes more than I do, but that doesn’t matter. Our paychecks go into the same account and our bills get paid out of it. Neither one of us has to dread facing disapproval, because neither one of us makes the rules - we arrive at them by consensus. If we were in a movie, we’d have equal billing. Both names the same size on the same line. As has been mentioned, it’s not about me and me, it’s about us.

This thread fascinates me. So much of it has been a discussion of money. I completely accept that’s part of the equation, but for me, the issue of equality centers on responsibility, chores, and the amount of free time each partner gets.

Furthur and I have had relative financial statuses at different points. Sometimes he’s made less than I have and stayed home with the children most; more often, I have. We don’t fight about money at all, and never have. For the most part, we don’t make major purchases without consulting each other, which helps. Everything we own is “ours,” rather than mine or his.

Maybe that’s why finances don’t come up for me when I think of equality. 90% of the fights in our marriage have been about responsibility, chores, and free time. To wit: early on in our marriage, he told me half-kidding, all seriously: "Well, the one who cares about it should have to do it. So if you care about it, you do it then. " We’ve spent most of the rest of our marriage struggling with this conception.

Consequently, for a long time most of the responsibility in our household devolved on my shoulders – whether for a sick kid, a leaking roof, you name it. We’ve always lived fairly close to the edge financially, so I’ve always worked outside the home as well.

I’ve never had much “free time” compared to my husband. My share of the chores has always been much greater than his as well, even compensating for the larger share of time he puts in at the office. Therefore I’ve never considered that we truly have an equal partnership, although things have improved in the last couple of years.

I accept that as a natural worrier, I’m always going to feel more responsible about things. But I do think that an equal partnership means that both spouses/SOs do equal amounts, balanced in the various arenas of their lives. Maybe he’d work more outside the home, and I would inside the home, and those things would be valued equally. Ideally, spouses/SOs are solicitous of each other’s workload both outside and within the home. Both wants to be sure the other has down-time, time to just “play” for even a little while every day or week. And the workload, factoring in all the responsibilities of the household – childcare, working outside the home, home maintenance – should be about equal.

I can truthfully say that scenario doesn’t seem all that likely to happen, either for me or for others, but that’s what I would consider an equal partnership. Each person shoulders half of all the burdens, mental and physical, to the greatest extent possible, and gets half of the playtime.

Mrs. Furthur

Yeah. What pissed me off about it is that he has no idea whether or not I actually earn money. It seemed that, because I was in a supermarket in the middle of the day when others are traditionally working, well, I must have nothing better to do. For one thing, I do work. I own a business. For another, I pay for the groceries myself. And there was absolutely no way the guy could have discerned whether I work or not, whether I contribute financially or not, or how much work I do in the home just by the fact that I’m standing in line at the supermarket at 2 p.m.

Anyway. Can you tell this made me mad?

One of my friends is in a relationship where she earns far less than her fiance, yet owns her own business (it’s a start-up like mine, though she’s not doing quite as well because she doesn’t market, but that’s another story) and works part-time as a clerk at a law firm. She also does all the cleaning, laundry, and makes all the meals. She also often misses parties and get-togethers because this guy is such a whiny jerk - he doesn’t like to go out with her friends, so they only go out with his. Occasionally he’ll consent to meet some of her friends, but not often, and he doesn’t like it when she’s out of the home. Yet he makes jibes at her and makes fun of her for asking him for money when she needs to buy groceries or pay for home repairs, despite the fact that he’s living in what used to be her parents’ home, which they gave them, rent-free and debt-free. Theirs is one of the most unequal relationships I’ve ever seen, and I feel bad for her sometimes that she’s in it. Our friends have begun making verbal jabs at him (excluding me and my husband - we don’t think it’s fair to gang up on him because it makes her uncomfortable) whenever they see him, which makes him less likely to accompany her when she goes out with us. The whole thing is very unfair to her, and I’ve never understood a relationship where pennies are counted and everything’s precisely divided, or where one partner keeps some sort of mental tally of the things the other “owes.”

Yes, equality isn’t about just money, but the thread was started thinking about that, which I think is why everyone is looking at that aspect specifically.

On that note :slight_smile: I’m wondering if who earns is a factor. If A buys something B doesn’t think they can afford, does it matter if A is earning, or B is? Maybe not, actually. What if someone ended up working overtime to pay for it? Then maybe yes?