That Isn’t Fair

Have you ever said or thought, “That just isn’t fair!” in the context of one of your relationships? It could have been with your parents, your siblings or your mate, but most of us have been there at some point in a relationship. We feel the division of labor in the home is not fair, or that the focus is always on their needs, but never on our own. Perhaps things have turned abusive and the feeling is, “I don’t deserve to be treated this way.” Where does this sense of fairness or justice spring from in regards to the human soul?

Genesis tells us that we are made in the image of God, and that one of the attributes of God is justice (Psalm 89:14). As God’s image bearers and representatives on earth, we are called to be just people. This is portrayed so well in children who have an innate sense of justice and fairness. Thus, it is natural for us to react to anything we perceive as unjust; this is especially true when that injustice is directed toward us personally.

Today the term “social justice” is commonly used in many contexts, but what exactly does it truly mean? Social justice is the idea that everyone deserves equal economic, political, social rights and opportunities. This concept would seem to be consistent with the overall teaching of the Bible according to this simple definition. God’s law (the Ten Commandments) not only tells us how to relate to God, but also how to relate to other people. The basis of a just society is the Great Commandment that Jesus taught in Matthew 22:37-40, “Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and your entire mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Jesus stated this principle another way in Matthew 7:12 when He said, “In everything therefore treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” We refer to this as the Golden Rule. God says you want to be treated justly, thus you should treat others the same way.

That seems simple enough and makes good sense, but what has happened in the world? Why do people not do this? We see a lack of justice on a personal, community, national and international level. The simple answer is: the sinful nature of man. With the fall, came sin and Satan’s rule in this immoral world. The essence of sin is self-will or selfishness. This results in greed, pride, prejudice, corruption and a lack of justice in the world. This lack of justice creates an unfair playing field in many areas of life. It removes opportunities or makes them more difficult for many, which only generates the frustrating feeling of unfairness. In this article, I want to focus on the area of injustice in relationships, specifically in couple relationships.

Let us suppose that you are in a serious relationship, either married, engaged or with an exclusive boyfriend or girlfriend. The way I see it, there are two types of injustices – common injustice and serious or abusive injustice. Common injustice involves the type of things pretty much every couple faces at one point or another in the relationship- the feeling of unfairness that revolves around areas such as unmet needs, gender and personality differences, and the feeling of being taken for granted or unappreciated for what you do. At the root of this problem is communication. Abusive injustice involves more serious things that can actually put the health and welfare of the other person at risk. This would involve things such as, verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, serial infidelity, addiction or criminal behavior. We will look at each of these separately.

When it comes to common injustice the remedy is improved communication. Communication skills are not hard to learn. This can be done in counseling, by taking a class, or through studying resources on your own. The core of good communication is the ability to present your issues in a non-attacking way through the use of “I” statements rather than the use of the word “you.” Moreover, eliminate the use of the words “never and always.” Be sure to pick a good time to talk when things are calm and neither one of you is emotional. The other core item is active listening. This is the ability to totally listening to your partner without interrupting, talking over or defending yourself. The goal is to make them feel heard. You can achieve this by summarizing back to them, in your words, what you just heard them say. Then allow them to verify that you heard them correctly. This process allows both of you to figure out if you are just misunderstanding each other, have a problem to solve or a conflict to resolve. Good communication skills will clear up most common injustice issues. However, the major thing that gets in the way of communication is emotion. This emotion is usually related to the fear of rejection or loss of attachment (a basic need for all of us). When the emotion keeps getting in the way, seek counseling sessions that can teach you how to deal with it.

Abusive injustice is a more serious and a more difficult matter to deal with. There are a few basic questions to honestly process through that will require courage on your part. The first one is, How did I get in this situation and why do I stay? Several possible answers may be:

Family of origin dysfunction – you grew up in this type of environment and it is normal to you. This is what you have lived with and learned. You know nothing else so you just believe everyone lives this way.

Self-esteem issues – you have a very low view of yourself and feel this kind of relationship is all you deserve or can get. No “normal” or emotionally healthy person would want or accept the real you.

The fear of being alone – you would rather be in a bad relationship than in no relationship. Just the thought of being alone generates feelings of abandonment and enough fear and anxiety to bring on a panic attack.

Feeling trapped – you see no way out. This may be due to financial reasons, children, feeling alone with no one to help you, fear of what your mate would do if you left, or so much depression you cannot think straight.

Now here are a few steps to take to begin to deal with this injustice:

Create emotional space – you need to depersonalize the actions or words of your mate (The exception to this is physical violence. In that case, you need to remove yourself to a safe place). You need to step away emotionally to evaluate things for yourself. What is true versus and what is false? This is where counseling comes in through a Christian professional, your church, or a godly trusted advisor. The goal is to get an emotionally healthy and biblical view of yourself.

Jesus tells us to start with ourselves (see Matthew 7:3-4). Ask, “What part am I in this conflict? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities in this relationship? How do I react to the wrong actions of my mate? Do I see the reality of this person’s character, or do I make excuses, minimize or live in denial about them? Am I violating any of God’s commandments or principles in this relationship?”

Realize what you can and cannot control about the person and the situation. You cannot fix or change someone else; they must want to do that for themselves. Also realize that talking and promising are different than taking action. Love is not a feeling, it is a verb. When I love someone, I act in certain ways. You are looking for actions to change unjust behavior.

Establish your boundaries. There are times when we yield our rights and surrender our expectations for the sake of the gospel and to act in a Christ-like way (Philippians 2:5-8). However, that does not mean we must continue to live in abusive, unsafe or illegal situations. At this point, I am not talking about divorce; just what you will accept or not accept in how someone treats you. Establish the boundaries and make it clear that you are going to hold fast to them. This puts the ball in the other person’s court as to what they want to do. You are not forcing them to do anything. You are simply letting them know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behavior in your relationship. You need to expect pushback, resistance, manipulation and empty promises as the other person attempts to return the rules of engagement back to their old unjust dysfunctional ways. It will take courage, but stick to your decision.

This is a broken and unjust world. However, most of us have more power over unjust relationships than we think. It simply requires a willingness to take an honest look at ourselves and at others.


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