Equity and Equality

Equity is different from equality. According to equity theory, the balance is what counts. So if one partner benefits more from a relationship but also makes a greater contribution, then the situation is equitable. In an inequitable relationship, the balance is disturbed: One partner (called the overbenefited) receives more ben- efits than he or she deserves on the basis of contributions made, while the other partner (aptly called the underbenefited) receives fewer benefits than deserved.

Both overbenefit and underbenefit are unstable and often unhappy states. As you might expect, underbenefited partners feel angry and resentful because they are giving more than their partner for the benefits they receive, whereas overbenefited partners feel guilty because they are profiting unfairly. Both kinds of inequity are associated with negative emotions in dating couples, married couples, and friendships among elderly widows. When it comes to satisfaction with a relationship, as you might expect, it is more unpleasant to feel underbenefited than overben- efited. People prefer to receive too much in life rather than too little, even if they feel bad about it.

If equity is so important, then any partner in a close relationship may at times feel a need to restore the balance sheet when he or she is feeling inferior as if he or she is falling short, or insecure. According to Sandra Murray and John Holmes (2008), people in relationships naturally and unconsciously maintain something of a “trust-insurance system” by which they keep a tally of costs and benefits in order to detect and then repair possible imbalances.

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