“Marriage is give and take, 50/50. Each person has to put in an equal amount.”
This dandy piece of advice has been handed down throughout the generations; and, while the counsel is well-intentioned, this marriage model simply does not work.
Here are a few reasons why:
- We are human. We are not always able to bring our 50%. When we are discouraged, sick, overwhelmed, or distracted we struggle, or may not even try, to put in our half of the load.
- It is a recipe for bitterness. Because we are human and cannot always give our 50%, our other half can become embittered towards us for “not holding up our end of the bargain.” The one who gave their half can easily look at the remaining tasks and say, “I did my part. My spouse needs to figure out a way to get the other half done.”
- Something is always lacking. When one spouse says, “I am not giving an ounce over my 50%!” and the other spouse says, “Me neither!” it is a rare occasion when everything gets done. This is because when we have a half and half mentality, we are always watching the other person out of the corner of our eye to see what he or she is doing. “She left the dishes in the sink all night. Yep. She did not do what she needed to do, so I think I will let that trash sit there another day or two. I dare her to say something about it.” (If you are newly in love, it may be hard to picture yourself having such thoughts; but, they can come easily after a couple has been together for some time.) So, one spouse only gives 45%, and the other decides that is all he or she has to give in return. Soon, it is 40% and 40%. Before long, many areas of their relationship need attention; but, instead of tackling it, couples continue feeding their anger and refusing to put in more than their fair share.
- It is not love; it is a contract. When we give our best regardless of what we will receive, that is love. When we only give as much as we are going to get, that is a business deal. Marriages will either fail or exist on life support if decisions are made selfishly.
- It makes the relationship about me and not about my spouse. When my attitude says, “I want to give to Eric out of my abundance of love for him,” we are both emotionally filled. When I think, “What has he done for me lately? He is so spoiled. He can get his own dinner tonight,” he feels uncared for and I feel grouchy. Not uplifting for either of us. The 50/50 mentality, even subconsciously, says, “You give me what I need and then I will do the same for you.”
Become Excellent in Your Gifts
Eric wrote a post several years ago addressing the economics of traditional marital roles, specifically in the area of chores. In it was a video clip which showed how much time is wasted when a couple tries to split every chore in half – all in the name of fairness. But economics concluded that when spouses specialize their chores and become excellent at specific tasks (instead of splitting them 50/50), the couple saves time overall and can spend it together.
This idea turns some people off because they want a completely fair situation. Maybe they watched one of their parents take on the lion’s share of the work growing up and they vowed it would never happen to them. Maybe splitting everything in half is how their parents did it and it seemed to work well. Some just assume taking turns is the normal way to achieve fairness.
If this is how you learned to divide the workload, I would recommend considering this new approach. Take on specific chores all the time and becoming excellent at them.
When I was growing up, Dad always mowed the grass and took out the trash. Those were his main chores along with some vacuuming, light cooking, and dishes added when Mom was incredibly swamped. He got into a rhythm with those tasks and could do them far more quickly and efficiently than Mom or I could because he was so practiced.
If a system is not working because one person is overly swamped, the other person can assume full custody of one (or more) of the chores, become great at it, and bring the household back into balance.
Lessons from My Marriage
When Eric and I got married, we both worked outside the home and so we shared the chores. He took out the trash, washed his laundry, and took care of the household budget. My main jobs were cooking, dishes, bathrooms, and vacuuming. He did the dishes and cooking sometimes – especially early on – but he did not go near the bathrooms. If there is one chore my man hates, it is cleaning bathrooms. As luck would have it (or, rather, God’s sovereignty), I do not mind cleaning bathrooms. It was one of the first chores Mom gave to me as a child and so I am quite comfortable scrubbing around in there. There are several other ways I would rather spend my time, but as far as housework goes, hand me some spray and old rags and I will make it shine.
I could be petty and declare that Eric has to clean the bathrooms every other time, but that would not bless our marriage. The bathrooms would get dirtier and dirtier. I would get mad. He would get mad. What is the point in that circus? I do not mind the chore and since I do it often, I have become pretty good at it. Our household runs more smoothly if I complete the tasks I have perfected.
Well, what if he is bad at all housework? Does that mean I have to do everything?! How is that right?
It is not fair for one person to jump ship on all household chore responsibilities and claim, “You are better at this than I am, Punkin! Happy cleaning!” Even if one person is naturally more talented at cleaning and organizing, there should be an attempt to share the household load. We can become excellent in new tasks after we get into a routine.
Another major problem with the 50/50 mentality is that we are not always the best judge of how much our sweetheart is actually contributing to the household. Before I came home to work, Eric handled our finances, trash, and his laundry, along with other less obvious tasks. He also worked a more mentally taxing job than I did, often putting in several hours of overtime each week. Sometimes, I would get angry with him for resting while I was cleaning; but, it was not until I came home and took over many of his responsibilities that I fully understood how much he had been doing for our family. Sure, some moments I work while he plays, but there are many moments he is hard at work while I am on Facebook, talking to a friend, or enjoying some leisure time.
Do Not Give 50/50. Give 100/100.
We keep tabs of our own workload because we feel the weight of it, but we are not fully aware of our sweetheart’s contributions. We may think we are putting in 65% when in reality we are barely meeting our 50%. This is another reason why it is wise to enter marriage following the 100/100 principle. I will do my utmost to give my best to this relationship, to the glory of God, regardless of how unfair it seems at times.
Because we are human, we will not always be able to give 100%; but, if my spouse is strong when I am weak, our relationship bucket stays full. Later, when I am strong, I can pull the weight until he is strong again. It is a partnership… a team… two people who love God and each other faithfully blessing one another.
If you want to be happily married (or happily dating), you cannot base your contribution to the relationship on your sweetheart’s contribution. Take it from a woman who has been married a while now. You will be so much happier if you give sacrificially without keeping tabs on how much your spouse is doing in return. After all, our rewards come from God, not from our sweethearts.
What percentage would you say that you give in your relationship? [Comment below!]