Just recently, I had a big fight with my boyfriend.

“I’d appreciate it if you don’t take my efforts for granted and play your part too,” I fumed over our WhatsApp chat.

I was upset because he had forgotten to get back to me on where our date would be. It had to be near a motorcycle repair shop as he needed to fix his bike, and I could only plan our date after knowing where we’d be.

Despite my numerous reminders throughout the week, he only Googled the address at midnight, on date-day itself. I was exasperated by then.

“I’m not asking you to plan anything,” I said. “I just needed to know the location so that I can plan. Is that even so hard to do?”

I was always the one suggesting date ideas. Telling me the location was the least he could do, and by leaving it to the very last minute, it seemed like our dates were an afterthought for him – as if I was the only person between the both of us who cared about our relationship.

After I had calmed down, he asked, “Would you like me to plan our future dates instead?” I couldn’t answer.

There’s always a tension of “who does more” in any relationship, and studies have shown that an unequal division of labour often leads to dissatisfaction in marriages. 

When my parents quarrel, it tends to be over the longstanding matter of “who does more household chores”. It was the same with my boyfriend and I – the problem revolved around comparing effort.

I love to mentally bookmark things I chance upon that we could do for future dates. And I love racking my brains for new adventures to embark on together. I love taking the time and effort to dress up for our date – it’s my way of showing that I care.

But my boyfriend has a different take. “It doesn’t matter as long as I’m with you,” he tells me. And sure, it sounds romantic … But not to me.

I find it romantic when we’re both intentional in creating good memories together. But that doesn’t really happen unless I take on the bulk of the date-planning process.

A precise division of labour – calculatingly assigned to both parties in a relationship – isn’t the solution because all relationships have imperfect cadences of giving and taking.

Feeling for a long time that my efforts were taken for granted – I grew resentful.

My boyfriend instinctively thought that a redistribution of labour was the solution – but it wasn’t the case. I mean, yes, I felt indignant that I was always suggesting what we should do as a couple, and I appreciated his offer to take over the “duties” as a peace offering … But I also know that planning and organising aren’t his strong suits.

I know planning drains him more than it energises him, and I wouldn’t want that for him. Truth is, I didn’t mind planning our dates – I loved it! It was my way of expressing affection; my gift for him.

I realised that I didn’t need my boyfriend to go out of the way to do something for me in return. All I wanted was his appreciation.

Arlie Hochschild terms this as the economy of gratitude. She explains in The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home, “Good marriages have a very rich economy of gratitude, meaning that husband and wife each feel a lot of gratitude toward each other. In marriages doing poorly, each mate feels ripped off by the other one.”

Other researchers have also asserted that the key to a lasting and strong relationship isn’t just a fair division of workload. It’s the way we express appreciation.

A precise division of labour – calculatingly assigned to both parties in a relationship – isn’t the solution because all relationships have imperfect cadences of giving and taking.

Think of the nights a mother stays up to tend to her child’s fever, catching only a few hours of sleep despite having to rise early the next day. Or picture an exhausted husband in the morning, who catching a glimpse of his pregnant wife struggling to tie her shoelaces, immediately gets on his knees to help her through half-opened eyes.

Love is that extra mile taken on freely. If it is competitive in any sense, it is to do outdo one another in honour (Romans 12:10).

The beauty of love lies in its giving. But while we give freely – giving is most beautiful when it is met by gratitude.

I’ve been thinking a lot since that fight with my boyfriend: If gratitude’s a key currency in a relationship, how do we keep it going?


Just because you have a higher threshold for a messy house (dad), or are not adept at planning (boyfriend) – it doesn’t mean it’s alright to turn a blind eye to what your partner values.

It sounds basic, but we need to acknowledge that our partners are also individuals with their own preferences – preferences which may frequently run counter to our own.

If our partner is important to us, his or her thoughts and feelings are important too.


Elsewhere, Hochschild writes that “in many marriages, each partner was capable of giving a great deal. But what one wanted to give was not what the other wanted to receive. For example, a man comes home, worn out after a 10-hour day at the office and says, ‘Honey, I gave it my all at work today.’ He is telling her he worked especially hard to help build security for his little family. But the wife often delivers an ungrateful, scorching reply: ‘Where have you been? I told you I needed you at home tonight.'”

I’m tempted to complain, so I’m saying this mostly to myself: Be intentional in recognising your partner’s efforts. We tend not to see what our partners have given to us, when it comes in a love language we aren’t used to.

For instance, while my boyfriend isn’t great at planning (acts of service) – he is very generous with compliments (words of affirmation). From the outset, I wasn’t comfortable with such affirmation because I’m not a words person. I even refused when he wanted to give us pet names – but I learned that that’s his way of showing and receiving affection.

Understanding that made me appreciate his compliments a whole lot more, because I recognised that was his contribution to the relationship. So eventually, I even caved into accepting my pet name …


The way we put effort into a relationship looks different for each of us. But just because it’s different doesn’t mean we should dismiss it. Gratitude is all about perspective. When we recognise each others’ efforts as gifts, we will appreciate more and be increasingly inclined to give.

Gratitude goes a long way. So if gratitude and appreciation are currencies in a relationship, let’s learn to dispense them a whole lot more.