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Making Marriage Work: If It’s 50-50, Why Not Make It 100%?

The groom hugging the palm of the bride with rings 4815.

I was fortunate enough to recently observe a middle-aged couple out celebrating their thirty-third wedding anniversary. Upon learning how long the couple had been together, a shocked hospitality worker asked them what the secret was. Without missing a beat, the husband said “marriage is not a 50-50 proposition. It is 100% or nothing.”

What a profound insight. It was so profound that the nice lady serving this couple was forced to stop and think about it. Her pause was not cursory, either. You could see by the look on her face that she was actually thinking about what she had just heard. A half-minute went by before she looked back at the husband and said, “I’m going to have to talk to my boyfriend about that.”

50-50 Is Give-And-Take

Marriage being a 50-50 proposition is a well understood concept in American culture. It is also not completely unreasonable if you understand what it means. A 50-50 relationship is one of give-and-take. When things work as they should, both partners give-and-take equal amounts – thus, the 50-50 paradigm.

But wait a minute. What if both partners gave 100% of themselves? If they succeed by both investing equally in a 50-50 proposition, can they not both invest 100% of themselves? And if so, doesn’t that make for a better proposition in the end?

50-50 Creates Expectations

The interesting thing about the 50-50 paradigm is that it creates certain expectations. When couples view marriage that way, each partner expects certain things of the other. If one of the partner’s expectations are not met, there is a temptation for that person to respond in kind.

For example, maybe a couple splits the dinner responsibilities 50-50. One agrees to do all the cooking while the other sets the table and cleans up afterward. What if the second person decides it is too much trouble to worry about a formal place setting? The other might decide that less effort can be put into cooking.

As their expectations remain unmet, they are gradually lowered. Eventually the couple finds themselves eating takeout from plastic containers six nights a week.

100% with No Expectations

Perhaps a better way to look at marriage is giving 100% with no expectations. Again, this is assuming that both partners give 100% – the same way we would expect both partners to contribute equally to a 50-50 relationship.

If I give 100% of myself with no expectations of my spouse, all of my spouse’s needs will be met. If my spouse does the same thing, all of my needs will be met. It really does work. It only requires a commitment among partners and a daily effort to make it so.

A Matter of Willingness

Relationships & More is a Rye, NY clinic that offers marriage and couples’ counseling, relationship therapy, adolescent counseling, and more. They frequently work with couples who are struggling with the 50-50 concept. How many of those couples will not make it due to the unwillingness of one or both to put forth the effort to fix things?

How many of those couples will overcome their struggles by truly investing themselves in solutions? If the ones who succeed willingly commit themselves to the 50-50 proposition, they can just as easily commit to 100%.

Perhaps that couple I observed was correct. Maybe marriage truly is a 100% or nothing deal. They seem to have made it work for 33 years. And these days, anything that works is worth trying. The alternative is to keep doing what doesn’t work, foolishly hoping that the outcome will be different.

Carolyn Bilyeu

The author Carolyn Bilyeu