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5 Reasons Why the Math in the “50/50 Plan” Doesn’t Work in Marriage

Discover and apply the ultimate “superglue” in your marriage and you’ll experience real love and intimacy with your spouse.

By Dennis Rainey

When two people get married, they have high expectations about their relationship. They are about to learn that their mathematics in marriage gets complicated and flat out doesn’t work.

An unspoken assumption by each one is that the other will “meet me halfway.”

Another murky assumption is: “You do your part, and I’ll do my part.”

When Barbara and I received premarital counseling from our friends and mentors Don and Sally Meredith, they warned us that we had been thoroughly indoctrinated in the world’s plan for marriage. They called it the 50/50 Plan, which says each partner should contribute equally in the relationship. You’ve probably heard this. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? But couples who use this plan are destined for disappointment and failure.

We spent the first year and a half of our marriage in Boulder, Colorado, where the winters are cold and electric blankets are standard equipment for survival. I can recall how both of us enjoyed sliding into those toasty-warm sheets after the electric blanket had thawed them. However, we couldn’t always remember to turn off all the lights. We would snuggle in, and Barbara would say, “Sweetheart, did you remember to turn off all the lights?”

I would hop out of our comfy bed and run barefoot through the 60-degree apartment, turning off light after light. It didn’t happen that often, so I didn’t mind until one night when I dropped into bed totally exhausted. Just as I slipped into the third stage of anesthesia, Barbara gave me a poke and said, “Sweetheart, aren’t you going to turn off the lights?”

I groaned, “Honey, why don’t you turn off the lights tonight?”

Barbara replied, “I thought you would because my dad always turned off the lights.”

Suddenly, I was wide awake. It dawned on me why I had been suffering occasional minor frostbite on my feet. I shot back, “But I’m not your dad!”

That was a “chilly” answer, followed by an Arctic cold front!

The expectations Barbara and I brought to marriage set us up to buy into the 50/50 Plan. Barbara was sure that I would do my part and meet her halfway by always getting up to turn off the lights. On the night I refused, I wanted her to do her part and meet me halfway.

Why the 50/50 Plan fails

The 50/50 Plan is destined to fail for several reasons:

1. It is impossible to determine if your spouse has met you halfway. This is the biggest weakness of the 50/50 Plan. Because neither of you can agree on the “math” of where halfway is, each is left to scrutinize the other’s performance from a jaded, often selfish perspective. That’s what our disagreement about turning off lights revealed. Selfishness also reveals that we don’t really know how to do the math while being married to another imperfect person.

Many times in a marriage both partners are busy, overworked, and feel taken for granted. The real issue isn’t who faced the most pressure that day. The important question is, how do you build oneness and teamwork instead of keeping score and waiting for the other person to meet you halfway?

2. Acceptance is based on performance. How you act and what you do becomes the glue that holds the relationship together, but it isn’t really glue at all. It’s more like Velcro. It seems to stick, but it comes apart when a little pressure is applied. What a marriage needs is the “superglue” of commitment—but more on that later.

3. Giving is based on merit. With the “meet me halfway” approach, a husband often gives affection to his wife only when he feels she has earned it. If she always cooks tasty meals and balances the checkbook then he’ll drop her a few crumbs of praise and loving attention. She, in turn, lavishes affection and praise only when he vacuums the carpet and helps put the kids to bed.

The marriage relationship must be built on mutual respect. If you only love your spouse when they earn it, that’s like quicksand—which is a poor foundation for the marriage relationship.

4. Motivation for action is based on how each partner feels. As a newlywed, it’s easy to act sacrificially because the pounding heart and romantic feelings fuel the desire to please. But what happens when those feelings diminish? If you don’t feel like doing the right thing, perhaps you won’t do it at all. I didn’t feel like turning off the lights that night at our apartment, so I didn’t. Performance based upon feelings is very dangerous.

Our friend Ney Bailey said it best, “Love is NOT a feeling! It’s a commitment.”

5. Each spouse has a tendency to focus on the weaknesses of the other. Ask a husband or wife to list his or her spouse’s strengths in one column and the weaknesses in another, and the weaknesses will usually outnumber the strengths five to one. Before marriage their strengths outweigh their weaknesses by a ton. But after the honeymoon their cozy little apartment has a third party that can take up residence ... and the name of that intruder is called REALITY!

So how do we move past our failure in “marriage math?”

Apply the superglue

Ultimately, the world’s plan for marriage, the 50/50 performance relationship, is destined to fail because it is contrary to God’s plan.

What a marriage needs is the superglue of Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” It’s what we refer to as the 100/100 Plan, which requires a 100 percent commitment and effort from each of you to serve your spouse.

The Bible describes this plan well in Matthew 22:39: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There’s no closer neighbor than the one you wake up with each morning!

Start by stating the 100/100 Plan like this: “I will do what I can to love you without demanding an equal amount in return.” In marriage you will hear a voice that says, “Why are you making the bed this morning when she wouldn’t bring you a soft drink last night?” Or, “Why should I not buy this outfit when he spent $100 last weekend on golf?” That voice has to be silenced if you are to live out the 100/100 Plan.

Yes, there will be times when one person appears to get the advantage in the relationship. But love requires sacrifice. Stick with the 100/100 Plan and you will see increasing cooperation and intimacy in your marriage.

A bit of grace always helps too. Sometimes a couple can make issues out of things that really don’t matter. Make the most of the best and the least of the worst! Barbara and I have learned over the years to not be picky and let a lot of stuff slide; we try not to focus on minor disappointments. A great verse to memorize is 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (Italics are mine.)

Marriage is the union of two imperfect people who, in their selfishness, sinfulness, and demands of each other, will cause disappointment and hurt. You must learn to a new math that lays aside those disappointments and difficulties. Committed love holds fast to forgiveness and Christ’s command to love even those who don’t appear to love you at times.

You will never have all of your expectations met in marriage on this fallen planet. But if you concentrate on implementing the 100/100 Plan, your life will be so full of satisfaction that you may not care. In our 50+ years of marriage we’ve found that commitment and this “new math” really works!

Adapted from Starting Your Marriage Right by Dennis and Barbara Rainey, ©Thomas Nelson, Inc. Nashville, Tennessee. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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