I’ve been married for a longish time by today’s standards – almost 19 years. And since I got married at 21 I feel like I should get some bonus year points for marrying against the odds of youth (though in truth I don’t agree with the common opinion on it being bad to marry young). So anyway, almost 19 years, together for over 20 I feel like that gets me the privilege of having an opinion on how to sustain a good marriage. I actually have a lot of opinions on the topic, but here is one: getting to 50/50 in your relationship ain’t gonna get you to a long-term successful marriage.
In their re-issued book, “Getting to 50/50: How working couples can have it all by sharing it all” authors Meers and Strober suggest that somehow if you and your partner each give 50% to the marriage, each do 50% of the work and the chores and the whatever you can “have it all.” First of all no one has it all, and no one can have it all, so whatever they mean by having at all is a load and sets up everyone who reads their book to feel like a constant failure. Or worse, sets you up to constantly point fingers at your partner because if you don’t have it all that must mean that someone isn’t doing their half of the work. What I think is actually worse is the suggestion that each party in the relationship is responsible for exactly 50% and only 50%. I am here to tell you that a successful marriage is built on each person being willing to always give 100%, all the time, everyday – because if you are not prepared to show up with your whole self everyday you are not fully invested in the relationship, in your partner, or in your life.
I understand that this sounds like a scary proposition. If I am giving 100% then my partner can give zero and that is certainly not a good marriage. But ask yourself: would you marry someone who is giving zero, would you want to be with someone like that? I hope the answer is “no.” But life is fluid and flexible and changeable and we have to be the same way in order to get along. So sometimes you may have a zero day, or your partner may have a zero day (like when your sick and can’t get out of bed), and if you have two kids you had better hope that the partner on duty feeds and clothes 100% of them. Or it may be that you have a big project at work that takes you out of town for a week, you are doing 100% work, you need to have someone at home who is able to not only do their work but also their home portion and your home portion. I think you get the point, and I know that Meers and Strober aren’t suggesting that there be no flexibility to what 50% might look like, but it is the notion that 50% is enough is the problem.
You don’t have to always give 100%, but you have to be willing to give 100%. Because, sometimes you will have to and sometimes you will need your partner to that for you. If you keep a tally inevitably you will be toting up resentments along with the list of what you have done versus what they have done. This is not a suggestion that there be one working partner and one staying home partner, though if that works for you that’s fine. This is also not a pollyanna view of the fact that statistically working women do more housework and childcare than their male counterparts. We do have to change social expectations for how men engage with the home and their children; we also have to change how women with children are perceived at work. Both totally valid, totally true issues that need to be dealt with. The issue I am focused on is how you get a long-term marriage that is full of love, friendship, sex, and all the other stuff.
I don’t think that in my marriage we have ever been at 50/50 on any given day, but I think that over the course of almost two decades we are probably spot on. I also don’t approach any day with the notion that I can show up halfway and that will be enough. We have two teenagers, full-time jobs, volunteer activities, pets, friends, family and so on, and I would say rarely can either of us give much more than 50%. But when we have to, when we are called on in emergency or unexpected schedule change or whatever we are willing, without thinking about it, without a negotiation, without resentment. No one has “it all,” no one is going to get “it all” no matter what formula you try to use, if you are willing to give it all then I think you have a much better chance of getting to 100% with the person you care about to help you along the way.