Do You Minimize Your Partner’s Contribution — And Overstate Your Own?

Marriage is not a competition, and you shouldn't be keeping score.

Woman counting how many times she has done the dishes that week, while husband does dishes warrengoldswain, Maksym Panchuk | Canva

Many couples come to counseling stating that they themselves do the lion’s share of the "important" activities in their life.

Sometimes, the primary earner, who is more often the man, believes that his financial contribution is the most important "because it puts bread on the table." Sometimes, the woman or primary caregiver believes that her care of the home and the kids means she is doing "everything" (except earning the money or the majority of it).


In neither case is the couple doing well, because they are locked in a competitive dynamic where everybody loses — especially the kids, who learn that marriage is about keeping score. If you want to flip the script of this dysfunctional dynamic, read on. 

Thinking deeply about your partner’s contribution to your marriage and appreciating it is an integral part of a loving relationship.


However, when many unhappily married people think about who does what in their marriage, they focus primarily, if not wholly, on their positives but their partner's negatives, in a way that parallels the fundamental attribution error.

They tend to subconsciously minimize their own weaknesses and overstate those of their partner, while simultaneously overstating the impact of their own contribution and how essential they are and minimizing what their partner does.

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Here are examples:

  1. "I do everything around here! He has one job, to go to work and come home. The minute he comes home all he does is play with the kids and look at his phone. This is BS! Most women would leave him in a heartbeat but I can’t because he literally would not know how to survive."
  2. "She is so lazy! Must be nice to be at home with kids all day. She leaves the house a mess. She doesn’t have to worry about money at all. She would be completely lost without me and no other man would deal with this!"
  3. "All he does is pay bills and worry about money. We have enough! What he needs to focus on is the day-to-day stuff with the kids, like cleaning up after them so we don’t live in filth, and the emotional labor of parenting, because the kids come first!"
  4. "It is amazing that she still can’t sleep with me even though I take everything off her plate and provide a lifestyle my own mom would have been so grateful for!"

In all of these examples, one partner is putting their own contribution on a pedestal and condescending deeply to the other partner’s contribution.


In many cases, this eventually turns into a fantasy that other people would not put up with the partner, and that you are the "only one" who would deal with this level of frustration and difficulty.

Often, men who are workhorses and women who are people pleasers fall into the dynamic of thinking they do "everything" very early on in a relationship, and don’t interrogate this assumption until their first marriage fails and they become a martyr again in their subsequent relationships.

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You can get ahead of this general pattern by exploring these assumptions.


People who engage in cognitive distortions about the relative impact of their own competencies versus those of their partner grew up seeing one or both parents engage in the exact same type of thinking.

One parent was usually an over-functioning martyr who did more than they needed to in every domain and was either very vocal about it or covertly made sure everyone knew it. (Overt would be "I do everything around here" and covert is more like "[sigh] Can you please ask your father what time he is going to be napping until so I can cook dinner?") Read more about over-functioning here.

There are many things to reflect on when you’re trying to unpack the dynamic between your parents where one was the overfunctioner and one was thought of as "useless." 

Interestingly, this "useless" parent was often thought of positively by others around them, like at their job or in their social life, but you were raised to think of them as worthless, so you discounted all this other data and stayed within the frame you were taught by the "martyr" parent. In the case where parents divorce, many children are shocked to see the parent they had thought was useless or incompetent succeed in their lives and get involved with a romantic partner who respects them in a way that very much surprises the child.


However, sometimes, one parent truly is very disordered, e.g. struggles with addiction or severe mental health issues. Later on, when this child grows up and picks a romantic partner, this person may struggle deeply with something else, e.g. depression, anxiety, or ADHD. Then, the partner is put into the same "bucket" as their dysfunctional parent, and their weaknesses are overstated significantly.

If this all resonates with you, the first thing to do is think deeply about the exact opposite way to view your relationship.

Think of a world where God himself (or whatever equivalent makes sense to you) tells you: "In fact, when everything is considered, your partner is a more valuable contributor than you to the family, and other prospective partners would appreciate them deeply." How would you logically make sense of this?

RELATED: The Childhood Survival Tactic That Destroys Adult Relationships — And How To Move Past It For Good


Here are how the above examples might change given this sort of frameshift:

  1. "I am lucky to be able to work at a job I love for less than full time because he works full time at a higher paid and higher stress job. The truth is that I love being there for the kids most of the afternoon, and he is an engaged and loving father when he comes home. There are many women out there who would be grateful for this financial support and his involvement as a dad."
  2. "She is a loving mother giving our kids great memories. So what if the house isn’t clean? My mom kept the house clean but never really played with me during the day. Many men would think it was cute and endearing to watch her with the kids, and would love to be with her."
  3. "There is a lot of emotional labor involved in worrying about money, including day-to-day bank account and bill management and larger scope financial planning. Thank God I don’t have to worry about any of it. I think I overfocused on the kids like my own mom did, and her marriage was cold. I need to work on that."
  4. "She is a great wife and mom in all the ways except physical intimacy. You know, maybe she isn’t attracted to me being a martyr and making passive-aggressive remarks, and likely no other woman would find this appealing either. Gotta work on that tendency, reminds me of my dad."

Note how in the latter two examples, these people are getting bonus points by introspecting about their own families of origin where they learned their current dysfunctional ways of interacting. This is essential to understanding the full picture of why you act as you do.

Generally, people are just modeling one of their parent's behavior, the one that is more temperamentally similar to them. You only have two templates for how to engage as a partner (more if you also had a stepparent), and if they were both dysfunctional, you tend to subconsciously pick the parent whose personality you intrinsically share more of.


For many people, this means they are "choosing" to be either an overfunctioner or underfunctioner, often both, like when women overfunction in the home but underfunction in the bedroom.

If this post spoke to you, therapy can help you get a more objective view of yourself and your partner.

Couples work can help you figure out how to stop replicating your parents’ marriage and create a new and healthy one. This is hard if you grew up thinking that people don’t deserve happy relationships, but it is essential to have a deeply loving partnership. Your deeper work will also help your children get into mutually respectful relationships one day, where both partners are valued and appreciated.

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Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.