They say that marriage is about ’50/50′ – this idea of give and take. You get your bit and I get my bit. Give and take. We have to compromise along the way. It sounds entirely reasonable. The problem is, it just doesn’t work. Here’s why:
A 50/50 Approach Yields a 50/50 Result
In western countries almost 50% of all marriages end in divorce. It seems that the 50/50 approach is yielding a 50/50 result.
In marriage a 50/50 arrangement looks something like this: Well, he’s watched the football on TV all afternoon so tomorrow I get to go shoe shopping. Or – She’s just spent money having lunch with her friend so I’m going to get that new cell phone. Or He should have cared that I was feeling down, it’s not fair that he didn’t notice, he owes me.
Those responses are based on the 50/50 principle. If the other one gets something, then I have to get something too – that’s only fair. It’s about trade offs all the time. But underneath there’s this deep destructive thing called the 50/50 mentality. Her 50 becomes conditional on his 50, his 50 becomes conditional on her 50. This is a relationship based on conditional trade offs. It’s a relationship based, let’s be blunt about it, on what I get out of it. 50/50 is about saying, I’m entitled to my cut of this relationship, I’m entitled to my 50.
Get it? It’s subtle, but it’s so important.
Back to the Future
If you’re married, I’d like you to step back in time with me to what it was that you said to your husband or your wife on your wedding day. What was the vow like? Most marriage vows go something like this: Fred would you take Jan to be your wife? Will you love her comfort her, honour her, protect her, and forsaking all others be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?
And he says: Yep.
Then the wife is asked the same question, and she says: Yep.
Then he says I take you to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forth, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, ’til death us do part. And she makes the same promise.
Now let me ask you something: How much 50/50 is in these marriage vows? How many conditional statements are there? How much is there of: I’ll give you your 50 if you give me my 50?
In fact it’s exactly the opposite. It very specifically says that his vow to her, her vow to him is totally unconditional – for better or for worse. That means whether you’re having a bad hair day or it’s ugly, I’ll still do this.
For richer or poorer – You know even when you spent all my money on shoes or gadgets or whatever, and we’re struggling financially.
In sickness and in health – When I’m not feeling up to it; or maybe when you’re not feeling up to it; or when we’re tired; or when we’re sick; or when we’re not well, I will still love you and cherish you and hold you and protect you and honour you and be faithful to you forsaking all others as long as I live. Even when it’s tough.
Completely unconditional. Get it? And the moment we live our marriage relationship as a series of points that we score, then we’ve ceased honouring our marriage vows. Is that a sobering thought or what?
Love doesn’t keep tabs. Love doesn’t keep a score. Love forgets wrongs. Love delivers, even when the going’s tough. Especially when the going’s tough!
A Radical Thought
How different would your marriage be if you accepted your husband or your wife for who they are? How different would your marriage be, if your main goal was to make your wife or husband happy. And if their main goal was to make you happy?
How different would your marriage be if your soul-goal was to make sure that your soul-mate got 80, 90 – even 100 – no matter how well they ‘performed’ and no matter how little you feel that you’re getting?
Do you know what that’s called? It’s called love. Unconditional love. Precisely the sort of love that you promised your life long soul-mate on the day you married them. This is exactly what you promised to do.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Cor 13:4-7)
God’s wisdom is 180 degrees opposed to the 50/50 compromise wisdom of this world. And since so many marriages are failing, well call me a radical, call me stupid, but I have this funny feeling that the whole 50/50 conditional love thing simply isn’t working.
Time to try something new? You’d think so.
Berni Dymet is the CEO of ChristianityWorks.