It’s no secret that I’m a big nerd about relationship tactics and strategies. And in my day job, I do a lot of thinking about the difference between equity and equality. It’s not too hard, then, to apply principles of equity, which recognizes that people have different needs to achieve the same outcome, to romantic relationships.
Here are three simple tips to make a relationship more equitable:
- State assumptions explicitly. For example, if one partner assumes that an ultimate goal of the relationship trajectory is to maximize time together, but another needs a lot of personal space to be happy, resentment might build up when the second partner is always saying no to plans. If both partners talk about what they want out of the relationship, though, it’s easy to identify potential conflicts early and think creatively about how to get needs met. Maybe there are lower-pressure ways to share time such as texting or chat, or maybe just talking it out will keep the first partner from assigning negative meaning when the second can’t make it.
- Identify core needs vs. nice-to-haves. Sometimes equity does require juggling priorities and compromise, but the goal is to maximize benefit and minimize harm from the relationship. If each person involved can identify what they really need to be content, versus things that are just preferable, then it’s easier to work together to achieve those core needs. It’s also a good idea to mark whether each need or nice-to-have is specific to the relationship, specific to a romantic relationship (if you’re non-monogamous), or can be achieved outside of romantic relationships. For example, many folks might consider sex a core need, but could meet that need outside of an open non-sexual romantic relationship and be happy. On the other hand, if being able to talk politics is a core need for all close relationships, then that person wouldn’t be very happy with someone who hates political discussion.
- Identify possible tension points. Once you’ve stated assumptions and identified needs, there might be some conflict that comes up. It’s scary when you really like a person (or maybe have already been dating them for years!) to realize that you have a fundamental tension between core needs, or to see a big red flag. In a lot of situations, though, it’s possible to support a partner in getting what they need outside of the relationship, and knowing what those things are makes it a heck of a lot easier to offer that support. This may seem more obvious for poly folks, but it’s also possible in a monogamous relationship to help a partner get a need met solo, with friends, or in new communities. Being explicit can also reduce fears, as assumptions are busted. For example, I’ve had plenty of friendships where I felt bad for not contacting someone enough, losing sleep over my guilt, and then learned that the other person was just as busy! Once you’ve talked things through, consider drafting a list of relationship commitments, including the details of what those commitments do and do not include, to make sure you’re on the same page and have something to reference when uncertainty comes up.