Have you heard (or said) the statement, “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours?” Or, how about the statement: “Marriage is a 50/50 proposition where each partner comes halfway to make things work”? We admit that we (subconsciously) believed that to be true. We never stated that to one another (probably didn’t even realize that was our stance), but our attitudes reflected that all too well. However, we’ve learned to approach our marriage relationship a lot different since then.
Several years ago we wrote a Marriage Insight titled, “A Good Marriage is Not a 50/50 Deal.” We’re revisiting that issue again. It’s one of those “Thanks Lord, I needed that!” subjects. Occasionally, we need to be reminded that marriage is a covenantal partnership. And that’s a lot different!
Plus, we’ve learned even more since we first broached this subject, and we want to share what we’ve learned. We’re praying it will help your marriage as it has ours. (Of course, reading both Insights will be best!)
It’s important to note that couples may start their love story as a 50/50 relationship, but the reality of marriage changes that. And so does God! Dave Boehi states this well:
“Whether we realize it or not, most of our friendships operate according to a 50/50 plan: ‘You do your part, and I’ll do mine.’ If the friendship is lopsided—if one person is giving far more effort to it than the other—the relationship probably won’t last long. Would you want to spend time with someone who doesn’t show the same interest in you?
“And I suppose it’s natural to apply this 50/50 plan to a marriage. On the surface it seems to make sense: Would you want to stay married to someone who isn’t putting the same amount of time and effort into the relationship? The problem is that marriage is different from a friendship. When you get married, you make a vow to God that you will remain committed to each other, no matter what. And if you try to keep a relationship like that going with the 50/50 plan, it doesn’t work. (From Dave’s article, “Why the 50/50 Plan Won’t Work in Marriage“)
The Lord has personally shown us that marriage is often lopsided where one spouse puts more effort into making the marriage work than the other does. But eventually (and prayerfully), it flip flops in the other direction. The other spouse puts in more effort in a different way.
It’s the Ecclesiastes 4 Biblical principle where “two are better than one.” When one falls, the other “will lift up” the other. We all need help sometimes.
Helping Each Other
“Crystal’s long and happy experience of being married to Todd hinges on the idea that marriage is more than a calculated balance of give and take. [She states:] ‘I think we both are not waking up in the morning saying: ‘Am I getting what I need out of this?’ We are waking up saying often: ‘What can I do for him, or what can I do for her?’
For example, my husband’s gone through retirement since we’ve been married, and that was very difficult at first. He didn’t know who he was, so his sense of his own usefulness was very tenuous for a while. I remember thinking okay, now I need to wake up in the morning and think: ‘He really needs something. He needs a little extra right now.’
Then when I had cancer, he was amazing, and I never felt frightened or abandoned. I was in the hospital, I think 25 times or something during a year, and he just drove up and drove back. I used to worry with all these bodily functions — because you just disintegrate. But he was fine; he wasn’t grossed out or anything. So, this is how it goes—it kind of goes up and down like this. Because there are times when one person is taking and needing, and then it’s the other person.” (Karl A. Pillemer, Ph.D., from the HuffPost article, “The Myth of the 50-50 Marriage”)
Furthermore, on this 50/50 issue:
“A 50/50 relationship implies that you are keeping score of every deed you do. Everything I did in the marriage I expected him to reciprocate in some way. So, if I cleaned out the kitchen one morning, I expected him to do the same. This created a ‘you owe me’ attitude (by yours truly), which eventually translated as me being angry.
“There were times when he would come home from working 12 hours. Would I really expect him to cook dinner because I did the night before? Absolutely not. Or what about days when he cleaned out my truck; would he expect me to clean out his? No! We just understand that we do as much as we can for each other without a record of doing. A relationship is not about keeping tabs. It’s about helping your partner in areas they are weak in.” (Franchesca Warren from her article, “Four Reasons a 50/50 Relationship Just Isn’t Possible”)
If your marriage functions well under the 50/50 principle, then yours is one of the rare ones. Most often something comes along to mess up that equation. And then what do you do? Do you feed your “happiness” to such an extent that you give up on the marriage, “cut your losses” (as many people say), and go in separate directions?
Does God Consider Marriage to be a 50/50 Proposition?
The answer would be no! Throughout the Bible we’re told to “go the extra mile,” “serve one another,” “die to self,” and “submit to one another.” We are to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” So, when you put the 50/50 proposition up against what it says in God’s Word, you can see that there’s no 50/50 equation involved.
In a perfect world it would work that way; but we don’t live in a perfect world on this side of heaven. We live in a fallen world where unfairness is a part of everyday living. And what’s more, God tells us to “live a life of love” within all of that unfairness. It puzzles us, but then again, God does refer to marriage as a “mystery“; and it most definitely is!
Please prayerfully consider the following:
“Many couples enter into marriage with a 50/50 mindset, whether they recognize it or not. And at first glance it looks like a reasonable system: the husband and wife each give half, compromising their efforts, responsibilities, and needs so that they meet in the middle. He takes care of the trash and house repairs; she handles the dishes and the shopping. Or maybe she gets up early with him to make his breakfast before work, and he lets her pick what movie to watch that night.
“The 50/50 split appeals to many couples because it is fair, it attracts us because it makes a relationship equal. But the truth is no one ever really gives their half. We may think we’re giving our 50%, and our spouse thinks he/she is putting forth the same. But instead, we both offer more like 30% and suddenly there’s a gap in our marriage. We keep a tally of the ‘selfless’ tasks we’ve done for our spouses, but we are blind to the extra miles they have gone for us. We begin demanding that they give their half, convinced that we deserve it. And instead of ‘meeting halfway’ our giving becomes conditional…” (Stephanie Smith from her article, “Marriage is Not 50/50”)
That’s true, when you truthfully think about it.
We learned the hard way that it’s difficult to divide a marital house in half. It’s not sustainable. The 50/50 plan can work for a while, but not over the long run. Events and attitudes happen that just won’t allow that type of deal to stay constant for the rest of our lives. And if we don’t adjust, our marriage relationship eventually breaks down.
We look at what we do through our own partial lens. As a result:
“It is impossible to determine if your spouse has met you halfway. Because neither of you can agree on where halfway is, each is left to scrutinize the other’s performance from a jaded, often selfish perspective. Many times, in a marriage, both partners are busy, overworked, and feel taken for granted. The real question isn’t, ‘who faced the most pressure that day?’ The important issue is, ‘how do you build oneness and teamwork instead of keeping score and waiting for the other person to meet you halfway?’” (Dennis Rainey, from his Family Life article, “Super Glue Your Marriage”)
So… 50/50 or 100/100?
“We have to get over this idea that we each put in half the effort and think of marriage more like 100/100. We each jump in and dedicate ourselves to making the marriage great. The more you do that, the more benefits you’ll receive. One woman wrote: ‘Marriage isn’t always a 50/50 deal. Most days it is 60/40 or even 80/20. It all depends. BUT being married means meeting that other person wherever they are at that time. The more you tend your marriage the more it will flourish. You absolutely need to be totally selfless at times for it to work. It took me awhile to realize this and now that I do my marriage is the best it has ever been.'” (Sheila Gregoire from her article, “10 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Got Married”)
But what about fairness and equality?
“The problem with holding up fairness and equality as the main measuring sticks for a good marriage is that it turns what should be a partnership into a contest. Scorekeeping soon becomes the major pastime of the relationship.
“…Unfortunately, when you constantly fight for your part of the marital pie, pushing for your rights, agendas, fair share and expectations, you end up hurting your marriage. Even if you win, you actually lose. You lose intimacy in your relationship. You lose the joy of giving freely to another. Plus, you lose the delight found in simply delighting the one you love. And you lose the atmosphere of respect and honor in your marriage.” (Scott Means)
The Picture of a Biblical Marriage
“When you get married, you make a vow to God that you will remain committed to each other, no matter what. And if you try to keep a relationship like that going with the 50/50 plan, it doesn’t work. … With the 100/100 Plan, both husband and wife are willing to step in and do all the work. At home, both are willing to get the chores done. At the airport, both are willing to care for a fussy baby.
“The 100/100 Plan allows for the inevitable trials and difficulties that any couple will encounter during the different seasons of life. It keeps a family going when one spouse is sick, injured, or working odd hours, and is therefore unable to contribute as much. It allows for the richness of a relationship in which each spouse complements the other because of differing strengths, personalities, and abilities. In short, it’s the plan that provides the best picture of a biblical marriage.” (Dave Boehi from his article, “Why the 50/50 Plan Won’t Work in Marriage”)
On a personal note, we’ve been going through this for a long period of time now. Surgeries, heart attacks, strokes, a recent surgery, etc. has put constraints on our ability to even things out in a 50/50 way. This has greatly tested our commitment and the strength of our marriage relationship. But two important questions continually come to mind. What would God have us do? And what did we promise in our marriage vows? As a result, the answers keep coming to mind: we can do no less than give our all, with humility. So, we readjust our attitudes and do as God would have us. “For the love of Christ compels us…”
The Super Glue of God’s Plan for Marriage
We’ve pointed this out in another Marriage Insight, but it’s important to point this out again:
“Ultimately, the world’s plan, the 50/50 performance relationship, is destined to fail because it is contrary to God’s plan. What a marriage needs is the Super Glue of Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” It’s what we refer to as the 100/100 Plan, which requires a 100 percent effort from each of you to serve your spouse.
“The Bible describes this plan well in Matthew 22:39: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.‘ There’s no closer neighbor than the one you wake up to each morning! And since most of us love ourselves passionately, we are well on the way to implementing the 100/100 Plan if we take a similar approach to loving our spouses.” (Dennis Rainey, from the Family Life Today article, “Superglue Your Marriage“)
We hope this helps and pray this info ministers to your marriage. May you reach for God’s Super Glue plan, rather than man’s!
Cindy and Steve Wright
— ADDITIONALLY —
To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:
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7 responses to “Marriage Isn’t a 50/50 Proposition”
You know, I’m really glad that Our Father, God cares so much about me. Every time I get weary in well doing and go looking for evidence that I’m right and my husband is wrong, because I already know, just wanting more confirmation, He directs me to articles and websites that point the finger back at me. I’ve been extremely angry at times, wanting very much to break the computer or tell off the person trying to fix ME when I’m not the major issue. But in reality if I’ve gotten to that point I do need to look inward and realize that no matter what my husband does or doesn’t do, I’m accountable to God for the way I act. It isn’t easy by any means, to always look inward when you’ve been hurt or offended, but it is necessary.
I find the times I don’t look at myself, my focus is on the injustice done to me or the offender instead of God. As I write this I’m struggling with always having to be the adult, always having to take the initiative to resolve conflict, always having to say sorry and admit my fault first, etc. It just doesn’t seem fair, and that’s where I start to fall every time. Why me? Why do I always have to do my part even when it isn’t reciprocated?
That’s when Our Father reminds me of my own short comings with him. I forget to spend quality time with Him, acknowledge Him, love on and talk to Him. He forgives me, and He said to forgive seventy times seven. He also said in 1 Corinthians that true love doesn’t expect anything in return. You give, you do, just because you love them, knowing they may never return the favor. You give without expecting a return. There’s the kicker, nothing? I’m married, he promised to love and cherish me forever. Can’t I expect that? I believe it’s a no. Not to say you should always do and let him/her off the hook but that you shouldn’t do things for your spouse with the motive of a return, even as simple as a thanks.
I think we all need to check ourselves to see if we’re doing what God has willed or what the world screams. It isn’t about me. It isn’t about returns. It isn’t about my spouse or what they’ve done. It’s about having and showing love, compassion and grace because that’s what God has done for us. Will we be the wicked servant and be rough and cruel when we’ve been shown mercy and grace? Or will we be like Jesus, Stephen and so many others that when being literally murdered they cry out to God to forgive the murderers? It is possible, and I for one want to keep trying no matter how many times I fall and scrape my knees.
WOW Mary, thanks for sharing, with vulnerability, the things the Lord has shown you. It’s something for all who read what you wrote, to chew on the meat of the message you are sharing with us. May the Lord continue to minister to your heart and ours. We appreciate it!
I took screenshots of this Mary! You are so articulate in what you just said and it truly spoke to my heart! Wherever you are, know how thankful I am that I found this article Cindy, and this comment Mary! With love and thankfulness, Katie from Lancaster, PA
Thank you Katie. You have encouraged us greatly! “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” (2 Peter 1:2)
God bless you for this. It is very inspiring.
Thank you so much for this ministry. It’s over 15 years now since I’ve been a subscriber and I have grown so much and God has really helped my marriage as I come from a divorced family background. When my younger sister got married last year I also encouraged her to subscribe and she did. God bless you Steve and Cindy as you continue to shine the light for Him.
Carol, You have blessed our hearts more than I can express! It is the prayer of our hearts that God will use us to help grow marriages and to help new marriages grab onto the foundation of Christ. When we do, God will strengthen, help, and bless us in ways that could never have happened otherwise. Thank you for your affirming comment.
“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)