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Everything Falls Apart – A 50/50 Relationship

April 13, 2011

At some point in your life, you’ve probably heard someone say something like, “marriage is a 50/50 partnership that takes equal investment from both the husband and the wife to work.”

They probably meant well. After all, this little “gem” of advice has been floating around, seemingly forever. The only problem is: this is terrible piece of advice to give/receive.

The “marriage is a 50/50 partnership” advice is one of those cultural conceptions about marriage that people often spout out without really even thinking about what they’re saying. Unfortunately, the sum of the parts of our cultural understanding about marriage has resulted in over half of marriages ending in divorce. Thus, in our continual quest to look at the various factors that contribute to the breakdown of relationships and, ultimately, marriages, we have to confront of these sacred cows that make up our cultural mindset about marriage.

Let’s think for a minute about what a real 50/50 partnership in marriage might look like. Let me set the scene for you:

Imagine you’re in McDonald’s one day, grabbing a quick bite to eat over your lunch hour. In the corner of the restaurant you spy an elderly couple with one meal on the table before them. You watch as the man carefully cuts the hamburger in half, counts out the fries and divides them between him and his wife. The man begins to eat his half of the meal while the woman just sits quietly with her hands in her lap. Finally, curiosity gets the better of you and you walk over to the old couple and inquire whether you, perhaps, can pitch in and help by buying them another meal.

“Oh, no,” says the old man, “We’ve been married for 50 years and everything has always been shared, 50/50.”

Curiously, you turn to the old woman and inquire, “well, aren’t you going to eat your half of the food.”

“Of course, dear,” she responds, “but not until it’s my turn with the teeth.”

I use that story to illustrate the fact that, while not necessarily that extreme, thinking about marriage as a 50/50 partnership is simply an absurd notion. Imagine dividing up your household chores by the amount of time they take to be completed or, somehow, creating a formula to determine the energy expended on daily tasks to make sure that both the husband and wife were doing their “fair share.” You wouldn’t do that, unless you actually believe that marriage is 50/50 proposition.

Relationships, and particularly marital relationships, just don’t work in a 50/50 way. They are not like business contracts or employment relationships that includes job descriptions for each party. However, because we have in our minds that things are supposed to be 50/50, we tend to get very antsy when we feel like we’re the only ones pulling our weight.

Relationships built on the notion of a 50/50 split in love and responsibility are destined to bring only despair, contempt and separation because they fail to take into consideration that, as two individuals united in love, we bring different gifts and strengths to our “one body” of marriage.

The very way that both the scriptures (in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians) and the Church describe marriage shatters this notion of the 50/50 marriage. St. Paul casts the motif that the husband is to love the wife as Christ loves the church. In turn, the wife is to love her husband in faithfulness, service and love. Now imagine we applied to 50/50 marriage motif to the Christ/church relationship. Would we then say that the Church needs reciprocate the love and service of Jesus by literally going to the cross? Of course not!

Jesus expresses his love in one way. The church expresses her love in another. Together they contribute to the most perfect and loving relationship that the world has ever seen. The beauty in that relationship comes from each giving all for the service of the other, not just 50/50.

Discussion Questions

In what ways does your spouse show you that he/she loves you? In what ways do you show that you love him/her?

If you’re both trying to communicate love, are you “hearing” each other’s efforts?

How are the everyday tasks of your life (housework, yard work, child rearing, bill paying etc.) currently shared?

How did the roles for the completion of these tasks get assigned?

If you could ask your spouse to help you in one area, what would be your priority?

Now ask your spouse, where can I help you?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. kacy permalink
    April 13, 2011 1:40 pm

    Chris, great blog entry today. The idea that marriage is not 50/50 is intriguing in that we really do expect it to be, which sets us up for frustration and resentment. My husband and I were just discussing this last week and discovered that each of us are expressing love in ways that the other is not “hearing.” Well said.

  2. David permalink
    April 14, 2011 1:40 pm

    Chris, you’re absolutely right, marriage is meant to be 100/100. It’s love in it’s purest sense, the love Jesus gave us when he died for us. It’s sacrifice. Sometimes that’s painful because we give so much and don’t get much, but that’s the basis for unconditional love. But when you give 100% of yourself to your marriage, not worrying if you’ll get back, you find yourself filled with grace. God helps you, and anyone who can see the other when they give that 100% is going to be bound to give back. I wrote about this on my blog a while back, too.

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