I got asked this question once “My wife has a bunch of really attractive friends, and she expects me to never say anything to her about how beautiful they are. Does this seem fair? I love my wife, and just commenting shouldn’t hurt anything, right?”
The request seems totally unfair, right? One should not ask for this!
The wife is probably too insecure. Probably needs help. She should get help! Or at least she should see it is her fault. It is just fair!
And if she refuses to take help…then what?! Tell her, leave her maybe?! It would only be fair.
Or maybe you should drag on for the sake of commitment, while feeling suffocated by this unfair treatment. The marriage will stay alive, but it would be so unfair!!!
“Is this fair?” – This was one of the biggest mistakes I made in my relationships while evaluating our actions.
“This is fair” or “This is right” is based on a belief. The belief might be very common, it might seem ‘obvious’ to 99% of people – but it is still a belief. The remaining 1% form an uncomfortable minority, but are not necessarily ‘wrong’.
For example, in Western countries – the wife doing most of the household work might be seen as ‘Downright unfair’, while in Eastern culture it might be perceived as ‘Fair’.
Snoring being a cause for divorce might seem ‘understandable’ in Western cultures, but ‘downright silly’ in Eastern cultures.
Both cultures can offer justifications for their conclusions, which will be based on more underlying beliefs. It is a huge house of cards – a work of fiction.
But as the fiction gets richer, the more people ‘agree’ to it, the more ‘real’, the more stronger it feels. As the house of cards grows taller, our ‘world view’ gets stronger.
At some point, we forget that this is a work of fiction. We think this is how the world is, or should be. “This is what I believe” becomes “This is right!”
At the bottom of this stack of beliefs are our values, and at the root is our self-concept(Our definition of “Who I am”).
Our self-concept and values are beliefs and stories that we happened to pick up on the way – no more superior than the subsequent beliefs stacked on top of them.
But since they form the foundation of our “world view” and are closely linked to our self-concept, they are extremely precious.
If they are threatened, our entire house of cards, our entire self-concept, our identity is at risk. Our (psychological) survival is threatened.
Now comes the turning point.
The more ‘real’ we consider this self-concept, the more our emotional investment in it, the more work we will put it in to defend it, to prove it is real, that it is ‘right’, that ‘It is only fair!’.
Fairness becomes the value.
But if we can see our self-concept for the seemingly real, but beautiful fiction that it is – then the need to defend it, the need to be right, the need to prove it’s fair – reduces. Our values are still important to us, but our desperation to defend them goes down.
It’s like believing in Santa Claus. Of course, there are many sweet and real memories associated with it. But we don’t need to prove it as ‘right’.
Once we stop taking our self-concept so seriously, the value of ‘Fairness’ gives way naturally to another value. The value of ‘kindness’.
Being happy starts mattering more than being right.
We don’t find any more ‘answers’; but many troubling questions disappear. Because most of them were based on protecting our fictional self-concepts
Let’s revisit your question now:
My wife has a bunch of really attractive friends and she expects me to never say anything to her about how beautiful they are. Does this seem fair? I love my wife and just commenting shouldn’t hurt anything right?
Without a deeper understanding of how our self-concepts and values work, your instinctive reaction is to scream “That is wrong! That is not fair!
But if your increased self-awareness now allows you to see your self-concepts for the fiction they are – then your need to defend them goes down. The volume of your ‘shoulds’ starts reducing. Of course you still feel that tinge of discomfort – but you do not resist and make it worse.
And maybe your question becomes:
My wife has a bunch of really attractive friends and she expects me to never say anything to her about how beautiful they are. Feels uncomfortable when she says it.
But looks like it matters to her a lot – for whatever reason. Will it be too hard for me to not comment? Will it worth making her happy? Will it harm any of us?
And the answer becomes obvious. Natural
You might choose to simply not comment on her friends.
No shoulds, no fairness, no blame.
Your reduced need to protect your self-concept frees up a lot of energy to purely care for others. That is called kindness.
Let us assume this does not work and the issue is more serious. She tries to watch over you like a hawk.
But when you are not obsessed about your self-concept, you might naturally observe other things and raise deeper questions like “Seems like me not commenting won’t suffice. There seems to be something else going on. She seems to be really afraid. Let me find out”
And now the course of action naturally become:
“No worries dear. I will stop commenting. But regardless whether I comment or not, I hope you know how much I love you.”
That single sentence might make you both much more happier than all your arguments about rightness and fairness ever could.
In case you are still worried that kindness might turn you into a door mat – let us say even that does not work, and she throws a tantrum every time you walk within 10 feet of a woman and starts doubting your faithfulness.
You are still kind. But to yourself too. The sense of discomfort you experience with an actual serious accusation like this is much higher. But it’s still not personal. The issue is painful, but not ‘harder’(because you are not trying to resist anything).
Your response might be:
“Babe, come here. I need to talk to you”. You hug her and say “Look, I love you and I will always do. When you told me to not appreciate your friends, I didn’t really care…”
You continue in a concerned but firm note..
“But now you have started to doubt my faithfulness. It doesn’t change the fact that I love you. But I have to say it makes me feel very bad. And I know you won’t say that unless you are extremely afraid.
What happened honey? What are you so afraid of? Do you want to tell me?”
Maybe she will share. Maybe she will ask you for suggestions. Maybe it will take care of itself. Maybe the solution will be a tighter hug. Maybe she will seek professional help.
But you both are still together. Still fighting on the same side. Kindness can be soft, It can be tough. And amazingly…and easily resilient.
But kindness can never happen because it should. It only happens when you see your self-concept for the fiction it is. The rest naturally follows.