Are Marriages 50/50 Relationships?

Rev. Dr. Steven Koster

February 20, 2017

I once met a young man who insisted marriage ought to be a 50/50 relationship. He dug into his position, and would not listen to my counter-arguments. Each spouse must contribute half, he said, or the deal is off. He was convinced that any other arrangement would not be fair.

Welcome to real marriage—it is not fair. It's a much better arrangement.

We at Family Fire do not believe the 50/50 model is compatible with a Christian view of marriage. Do you give up on a spouse who is ill and can't contribute their share? Would anyone really want a marriage where you throw out your covenant promises when one party is unable to carry their weight? And, a 50/50 split of what, exactly? A 50/50 relationship contract as a model for marriage doesn't work well, and here are some reasons why.

It distorts the focus

Marriage should be characterized by interdependence on one another. When we draw a line and say, “I will only give this much and no more,” or “I better get the same back from you,” we miss out on the intimacy potential in marriage. Sometimes your spouse needs you. Sometimes you need your spouse. A 50/50 split is more like being roommates, not real mates. The focus of marriage is clinging together, forsaking all others, and offering grace and love to each other before God. We will hurt each other because we are each broken, and we are able to show Christ-like love to one another in ways not possible in other relationships. The focus is not on how I can get my share, but on how I can glorify God by loving another.

It can’t be measured

Even if we could divide physical efforts like chores, how would we measure emotional investment in the relationship? We might assign what we feel is the half our spouse must complete, but our spouse might do the same with differing ideas about where the line should be. Who will decide? Who wants to spend the length of our relationship bickering where to draw the line? We are selfish people by nature, and are tempted to look to see if our partner has done "their fair share," but it's not that kind of partnership. It's better to ask how I can be encouraging my spouse in their God-given gifts.

It separates us

Marriage should display unity, but a 50/50 relationship is set up for failure before it begins. When we draw a 50/50 line down the center (whatever that is), we have already begun a focus separation rather than unification. The implication is that your spouse has to pull their 50 percent for this marriage to persist. So what happens when your partner perceives you as not pulling your weight? Real marriages will all experience times when one person—or both--feel like they are the only one contributing. What then? If your marriage is about you, you've already lost.

It is not biblical

Jesus called us to emulate his sacrificial love. He did not choose to love us only so far, but he loved us all the way to his death on the cross. I am glad that he did not quit! Jesus calls us to submit to one another out of our love for him. He did not call us to love to the halfway point, but to take on the form of a servant. In John 13:34, Jesus said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." To love as Jesus loved is a high calling and it is far more than a 50% love.

When we decide that our marriage relationship is worth 100 percent, we carry the burden of giving 100 percent of ourselves to it. When I am committed to giving 100 percent, there are no jobs outside of my responsibility. The focus is on what I am bringing to the relationship rather than on whether we are both doing our fair share. Don’t settle for a fair relationship; choose to give all of yourself and enjoy the blessings that follow.

About the author — Rev. Dr. Steven Koster

Steven Koster is a writer, speaker, and producer with Family Fire. Formerly the Director of ReFrame Media, Family Fire's parent organization, Steven currently serves at Grace Church and consults on ministry through The Joshua Lab. He also leads a hospitality ministry at The Parsonage Inn and enjoys family tree research as time allows. Steven and his wife Deb enjoy leading marriage retreats and family seminars to encourage people in their most intimate relationships. The Kosters are the parents of three awesome young adults and reside in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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