Should Relationships Really Be 50/50? A New Study Says No.

Should Relationships Really Be 50/50? A New Study Says No.
A recent article on YourTango argues that equality in marriage is a fallacy.

The article focuses on a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology of “millennials” – those born after Generation-X and Generation-Y. In the study, the writers describe millennials as “generation me” for their increased level of self-focus and introspection. It’s suggested that the millenial generation is more focused on the self and less focused on the group, society, and community – even more so than their aptly-named “me generation” baby boomer counterparts.

Author Jean M. Twenge, professor at San Diego State University, writes, “Young people have been consistently taught to put their own needs first and to focus on feeling good about themselves.”

High-self esteem is a good thing. It allows us to believe in ourselves, dream bigger, take chances and scale new heights. But has also created a society of young pleasure-seekers and narcissists who have unrealistic expectations in life. I should know: I was one of them.

Which is why I never lasted more than a year at virtually any job I had prior to becoming a dating coach. I was entitled. I didn’t want to do menial work. I thought that because I was smart, I DESERVED for people to recognize me. That same sense of entitlement bled into my love life – and I spent fifteen years, spinning my wheels on the wrong women because I was chasing a checklist of characteristics that are rarely found in one person. Fortunately, I learned my lesson the hard way. But the jury’s out on the millenials and their ability to put aside their selfish needs to focus on the greater entity that is a successful marriage.

Which brings us to the heart of the matter. Marriages aren’t about doing everything 50/50. It’s much more of an ebb and flow of constant giving and self-sacrifice. Says Scott Means, the author of the YourTango piece, “The problem with holding up fairness and equality as the main measuring sticks for a good marriage is that it turns what should be a partnership into a contest. Scorekeeping soon becomes the major pastime of the relationship.”

He continues, “Unfortunately, when you constantly fight for your part of the marital pie, pushing for your rights, agendas, fair share and expectations, you end up hurting your marriage. Even if you win, you actually lose. You lose intimacy in your relationship. You lose the joy of giving freely to another. You lose the delight found in simply delighting the one you love. You lose the atmosphere of respect and honor in your marriage.”

Whenever I refer to my patient, easygoing wife serving as an example to me on how to conduct myself, this is what I’m talking about. Acting with integrity. Keeping in mind the needs of your spouse. Saying yes to 95% of what my wife wants with no questions asked because it costs me nothing to do so and makes her happy. If you have to battle over every little thing where you disagree, you will have a lot of tension and friction along the way – no matter how much chemistry you have, education you have, or money you make. Good marriages are about making 100 tiny decisions every day with a minimum of conflict. If you’re keeping score, you’re not only wasting your time, but you’re hurting your partnership.

Read the article here. What would your relationship be like if you and your partner stopped keeping score and instead put each other’s best interests first? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Fusee

    A marriage is an opportunity to perfect the art of serving your spouse even when not in the mood of serving them. It’s not a game, therefore there is no score to keep. Simply giving, and keeping giving no matter what, will grow a solid, happy, and healthy marriage. Dating and courtship are very different though. There are stages of careful exploration before making the most important decision of ones life. While a crucial part of dating and courtship is certainly demonstrating ones own loving, appreciating, and giving qualities, the careful evaluation of ones partner’s abilities to love and serve in both happy and difficult times is absolutely necessary as well. In this assessement stage, focusing on the negatives and “keeping scores” are valid to stay on track and make sure that both partners have what it takes to build a solid, happy, and healthy marriage. A marriage where no partner will ever consider keeping scores.

  2. 2
    nathan

    I think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking fairness and equality in a marriage means keeping score, always standing up for “your rights,” making sure that everything is split down the middle all the time. This mistake leads some people to reject fairness and equality as attitudes all together (often another mistake in my view), while others fight and claw and never have any kind of long lasting, healthy relationship. In my opinion, having an attitude of desiring fairness and equality helps keep you from entering into a highly imbalanced relationship where one partner holds most, if not all of the power. However, that attitude needs to be checked by the understanding Evan clearly points out that every relationship has ebbs and flows, times when one partner needs to step up a lot, and other times when it’s more balanced. If you don’t develop the ability to give, share, let go, and choose wisely your “battles,” it’s doubtful you’ll find someone who will stick around for the long run.

  3. 3
    Goldie

    To me, equality in a marriage or relationship means equal rights, not dividing everything 50-50. It means no one refuses to do a job they’re capable of doing just because “this isn’t a man’s job”, “this isn’t a woman’s job”, or “I already bring the most money into the house, so I shouldn’t be doing anything else”. It means supporting each other and working towards mutual goals together as a team. When a couple is divvying things up 50-50, it means that there already was no equality in this relationship, and one side had to start keeping track of who does what, so the other side doesn’t dump everything on them and slack off. 50-50 is the opposite of equality — more like an attempt to fix an inequality. So the author’s very premise is flawed. I am also curious what the author can get out of studying a generation that’s still in middle and high school (which is the case for the generation born after GenX and GenY).

  4. 4
    Karmic Equation

    I was married for 9 years, was a live-in fiancee for 2 years prior. Then after that I was in a 6-year live-in relationship, for all intents and purposes, married but without the paperwork.

    I never kept score during the relationships, but as they came to an end and I reflected, I realized that I sacrificed a lot more than the other side. But at the time of the sacrifice, I didn’t feel they were sacrifices at all, but rather the right thing to do for the relationship at the time.

    I have no regrets for the sacrifices made as I knew I gave my all and did my best. I know that my exes have regrets because they didn’t give the relationship their all.

    From my POV if you always do the right thing for the other person and for the relationship, you automatically DON’T keep score.

  5. 5
    Leo

    The article is right in that you shouldn’t try to keep a scoreboard. I agree, but only to a certain limit.

    The truth is, everyone has a scoreboard, whether we admit it or not.

    The only difference is, “Are we still willing to commit 100% to the relationship regardless of how many points are written in the scoreboard?”

    Because you know when you’ve done a lot more for a relationship and your partner hasn’t. You’re not trying to keep the scoreboard. You just know the difference is there. You feel it.

    So do you still continue?

    Although I’m normally a strong advocate of fighting for genuine love, at some point, the difference in the scoreboard will get to you. Of course if one of you is leading by a few points, it doesn’t matter (I’m talking about a scoreboard where one person is putting in 100 and the other doing only 50).

    So the idea of not keeping a scoreboard is great, if both partners are doing 100/100, but that’s rarely the case.

    A scoreboard can actually be use for good. 

    It’s like someone keeping a journal of their progress in the gym.

    Sure you’ll run into plateaus, but you know whether you’re heading up or down, and you’ll know how to react to it. 
     

  6. 6
    David T

    As soon as someone tries quantify, they are on treacherous ground.  Merely thinking about workload/responsibilities in terms of “equal” or 50/50 (or 100/100 for that matter) means you are keeping score.

    As long as you are doing what you want to do for the other person andyourself and as long as both people are getting what they need from the relationship(*) that is what matters.

    This means you should say “Hey!  I know it is my turn, but do you think you can do the vacuuming this time?” because you know you are tired of it, but not just because of some perception of equality.

    Something that goes a long way that the Tango author wrote about is delighting in your partner’s delight.  When you love someone, knowing you did something that made them happy or their life easier is huge.

    (*) This means acknowledging being aware of, and feeling safe communicating what it is you need. This is not easy for everyone. 

  7. 7
    Selena

    Goldie, I was confused about the millenials being born after Gen Y also.  According to Wiki, millenials is another name for Gen Y (Those born in the 1980′s -1990′s). Which makes more sense. Gen Y’s kids aren’t even close to being adults yet – a person born in 1980 is only 32 this year!

  8. 8
    RW

    I read something once that stayed with me – “The best marriages are those where both partners fight to lose.”. It sounds a bit silly but it really made an impression on me.  If both spouses fight to lose, neither ever will.  I find myself behaving this way in my very new marriage and wonder if it will change over time.  My husband brings out the best in me and makes me want to fight for his happiness.  With him always fighting for mine, we are perfectly balanced.  Doesn’t mean we don’t have fights, but neither of us ever feels taken advantage of.

  9. 9
    Henriette

    I agree with this in theory but I’ve rarely seen it in practice.  I’d love a marriage like this, some day, but it requires a huge, huge, huge leap of faith and I am terrified.  I do believe that in every relationship — even a healthy marriage — each person has to have his own personal boundaries and it’s tough to keep those boundaries and yet be endlessly giving and sacrificing at the same time. 

  10. 10
    Moe

    Evan, youre a guy with a big ego, youre narcissistic, extremely prideful, you give to get, you seem very entitled, but what I love about you is that you know all this. Youre very introspective and you know yourself, youre able to point out your flaws. I love people like that. Cause Im like that. Anyways, I like your advices. I wish more people were able to see themselves for what they are.

    On another point, I once heard that the number one nemesis in the world was the : EGO. Yes, our ego is our nemesis. It separates us from true compassion, from giving, from loving, from everything else that would make our world better. Put our pride away and eyes will see everything clearer.

  11. 11
    Peter

    My narcissistic ex-wife was a marital equality score keeper excellence.  Every facet of our marriage could be measured in terms of how much I was contributing vs. she.  It was exhausting.  Of course, she set the bar on it all: housework, leisure, and of course sex.  That she wasn’t an effective contributor sexually, more a receiver, didn’t phase her nor prompt her to change.  Narcissists don’t have to do that.  So I went along with this contest and found I could reasonably co-exist with it and maintain my marital commitment.  Ultimately, she was convinced she was the greater contributor in the marriage, and her magnanimity demanded she act on that.  I advise everyone to learn about narcissism, running rampant in our society, and learn to spot that in a human being early on.  It’s extraordinarily hard to live successfully with a narcissist, and even an ostensible 50/50 relationship will not work with them.  There’s an inherent imbalance and you’re the loser.

  12. 12
    Nadia

    Peter (11), I could introduce your ex-wife to my ex-boyfriend and we could watch them be magnanimous to their death.

    David T (6), thank you for your thoughts. I agree that as long as both people are getting what they need, is what is important. I’ve been a score keeper before but I finally realized it was because I was constantly giving and not getting back. You’re clarification helped.

    Relationships will ebb and flow, and sometimes we take turns being the bigger source of energy dependent on life circumstances. I’m okay with that. But I’m not okay with being that source of energy exclusively. It’s too much work and not enough reward.

  13. 13
    Ruby

    I once read a great quote relating to the fact that each partner has to give up some of their autonomy in order to have a good relationship. Therefore, each person has to accept being the boss only about a quarter of the time, and the other 50% of the time, you both wind up compromising. And I really don’t see this as being age-specific.

  14. 14
    Evan Marc Katz

    @Moe“Evan, youre a guy with a big ego, youre narcissistic, extremely prideful, you give to get, you seem very entitled”

    Thanks…I think.

    Do I have a big ego? Yes.

    Am I narcissistic? No. Because if the definition of narcissism is vanity and self-absorption, I am neither vain nor particularly self-absorbed. The majority of my life is spent making other people happy.

    Am I prideful? Yes. I don’t suffer fools gladly and bristle when people take shots at my most valuable trait, my integrity.

    Do I give to get? Not so much. Maybe when I was younger. Now, I give because I can. To my wife, my kids, my mom, my sister, my readers. In fact, I give a lot more than I get. 

    Am I entitled? Also when I was younger. But after getting beat down by Hollywood, I realized nobody owed me anything. Now I take nothing – including my current success – for granted.

    I think if there’s one thing that my reply to you indicates, it’s this:

    I very much want to be understood. I write, so people can not only get “it”, but get “me”, if that makes sense. I think most writers do, as well.

    If that, in and of itself, is narcissistic, I guess I’m guilty as charged.

    But per the original post, my wife has said that I’m a helluva husband because I’m always trying to please her, I always admit when I’m wrong, and I won’t let any argument last for more than five minutes. I may be egotistical, but I’m not a selfish moron.

     

  15. 15
    David T

    @Nadia12
    If you are always doing a lot of things you don’t particularly want to do, and it feels like work instead of a natural expression of your gratitude, caring and love, you will wear yourself down and the relationship will suffer.
    In my experience (which has been good in all my relationships outside of my failed marriage) finding fun in the efforts you do and taking satisfaction in them for their own sake makes them not feel like a chore. For the tasks where it is ALWAYS going to feel like a chore (*) knowing I eased my loved one’s way or simple gratitude from them (even if it is just an earnest ‘thanks’)  has always gone a long way in making it not feel like work. :)
    Another thing to do that most couples discover is to trade off the stuff they hate with the person who only dislikes or even enjoys.  I knew one woman who enjoyed laundry.
    (*) There are some of those for all of us. For me for some reason also mating socks and cleaning drain traps. Now if I combined those two, I would have fewer socks to mate! Oh, and getting rid of stuff and organizing my space is a challenge too.

  16. 16
    Peter

    Evan,
    I’m sure you can surmise that people will throw that “narcissism” label arbitrarily.  I commend you for your thoughtful and considerate response to an obviously inappropriate and attention-craving indictment.  Most people using the narcissist label have not researched the criteria per the DSM.  In the behavioral treatment field, where I work, often amateur clinicians will throw out personality disorder labels to “broad brush” clients they feel they can’t work with.  The less advanced practitioners do this routinely, and feel empowered that they have a handle on what’s happening in a client’s mind.  They don’t, of course, but again, the motive is to feel better about oneself and to get others to agree that a the patient’s behavior is indeed irretrievable.  Additionally, as may relate to credibility of your critic Moe, he or she could at least check spelling and grammar.  In my view, his/her remarks are significantly invalidated by mental laziness.

  17. 17
    justme

    I have often thought in a marriage, each spouse should put the other spouse first.  In my failed marriage, I put him first and he put himself first.  I, like, Karmic, gave as a matter of love so it was easy.   It wasn’t until the collapse as I reflected back that I saw the giving was one sided. 

    there should be no score card.   there should be patience, understanding, flexibility and service.  When you serve others, you expand the love you feel for them.  

  18. 18
    Francesca

    This is something I have been grappling with since the start of my relationship 2 years ago. 

    When we first got together I had a massive falling out with one of my best friends. So at the beginning I was so lonely that I would jump into doing anything my boyfriend wanted to do. I became a guy – I learnt footy, I learnt how to chug beer, I learnt how to play darts- in heels. Basically I learnt how to have fun doing the things he enjoys. Now my other best friend is currently working in Japan, so I am left with a larger less group of friends. 

    This year I have tried to withdraw and become more of me again.  I started dancing and tennis again. The problem is that still so often my activities, my events get pushed to the wayside. It is like he is waiting for a better offer a lot of the time.  If I emphasise it is important he will come, no doubt. He has said a few times that I am not assertive enough in my communication. I guess since my events come up less often I feel they are more important, and I don’t like telling anyone what to do. I don’t have to be told that he wants me to come to his footy game (scoring card). Then I’ll feel a responsibility to make sure they have a good time. 

    When I am angry I say that he makes me go to his events. That I don’t enjoy myself. Its a angry lie though, no one can make me do anything. I do have fun. While the things I do now are much more blokey then they have been in the past, there is no doubt that I have come to enjoy the odd beer, the footy game and the reduction in female drama. 

    So where does that leave me? I do get angry about this, but as is my wont, that lasts about 5 seconds before I spill into upset. I hate being upset, and he knows it, so he’ll do what is required at the time to make me feel better. I do feel better. Then it happens again.

    I know the article said it is not a compromise, but for me at least, the compromise is be happy. I am the female stereotype – I do blow things out of proportion.  I don’t think being happy is generosity. I am reasoning with myself, it is self directed, and sometimes it is not in my boyfriend’s interest at all. It builds into an acceptance of sorts, rather then a gift to my boyfriend. The other alternative I slip into is “this is a problem for future me”. Which has its own set of hazards. 

    So thankyou evan for a very timely topic. I sometimes wonder why I still keep popping in here after I have gotten into a nice happy relationship, this is why.  

    Probs just fulfilled all of the gen y qualities in the reflection department. heh

  19. 19
    Androgynous

    Having to keep score in a relationship indicates that is it not  a personal love relationship but a business one. YOu don’t keep score with your children (oh look Junior disobeyed me so I will not give him dinner tonight ?), so why would you do it for a spouse ? If you feel you need to keep score because the other party is not “fair dinkum” then you probably shouldn’t be in any relationship with them, must less get married.

  20. 20
    David T

    @Francesca 18 



    I started dancing and tennis again. The problem is that still so often my activities, my events get pushed to the wayside. . . If I emphasise it is important he will come,
     
    You did not come out and say it directly, but it sounds like neither of you are ever doing your own thing.  You push aside your dancing and tennis if he is not coming.  You go to his events in preference for yours. He will come to yours if you insist.
     
    Being in a relationship includes spending time together doing play activities, but it doesn’t mean spending ALL of your free time together. This puts a lot of pressure on the relationship because it becomes your entire outside-of-work life.
     
    There are some relationships with two people going out and doing their own things and then coming together and sharing their experiences at the end of the day and never playing together. This is not a good sign either because it suggests a lack of common interests and possibly values and lifestyles.
     
    A balanced relationship has two people who share some of their activities and friends, and also have some to themselves outside of the relationship. Exactly what balance works depends on the couple and will ebb and flow over time.
     
    You are already feeling angry and resentful because you feel forced to do some things when sometimes  you would rather be doing something else. Eventually this will turn in major ennui and unhappiness and dissatisfaction with the relationship and could kill it.  You will know that is happening when your anger becomes deeper, or more frequent, or you don’t feel comfortable telling him about how you are feeling.
     
    Nurture your interests and outside friends. Don’t go to his football sometimes, maybe hang out with your own friend from work one evening when he is pubbing with his buds or on your own when he is home.
     
    This will represent a change in the unspoken agreement you two have made, and that might confuse him.  Communicate your needs. Tell what you want, and emphasize that you love him, but you want some of your own life and time. 
     
    And yes DO still go to his footy and pub nights some of the time and enjoy the new parts of your life that he has added to it! Hopefully he will reciprocate and take a tennis lesson or two so you can play doubles, and admire your dancing skillz. Refill your life and recharge your love relationship. Good luck! :)
     
     

  21. 21
    Diana

    My observation of my married friends is that the husband is basically his wife’s employee, with honey-do lists (why don’t guys give their wives honey-do lists, too?!) and the whole “yes, Dear” mentality that is supposed to come off as a joke, but to me is not funny at all.

    Because of this, I had to laugh at the idea that anybody thought a marriage was 50/50 in the first place.

    We are adults and should be able to make our own to-do lists and decide that we’re just not “feeling” that particular chore today and it can wait until the weather is crappy (or something) to do it, not because the wife said to do it. What amazes me is that a lot of these married men seem to LIKE being told what to do, as if they’d rather just DO the stuff than try to figure out what she wants and fail and make her mad. But that still begs the question, “why is the wife in charge?”

    “Happy wife, happy life.” Where are the sayings about happy husbands?  

    Is it, like the article says, “If you get X [husband does the assigned chores] then I get Y [to do some thing she isn't necessarily interested in]. It’s only fair.”?    It really seems to me that this is part of the “scorecard” mentality.  And I would say it is not a new thing at all! It has been a marriage staple since way before the  “millennials” were marrying!

  22. 22
    Joe

    @ Diana: a man’s honeydo list only has one entry: sex.

    :-D  

  23. 23
    Peter

    This is a different Peter.  The one who goes to Russia and sees a different order of things.  As Marx said “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” because life isn’t a symmetrical 50/50.  Both should have their needs met.  When my children quarreled, they and I would reject my wife’s split it down the middle approach.  It just guarantees that no one gets want they want.

    @Diana.  Very true.  Happy wife = happy life because women hold the power in normal relationships.  It always was a woman’s world inside the family and a man’s world outside it.

    1. 23.1
      JennLee

      “@Diana. Very true. Happy wife = happy life because women hold the power in normal relationships. It always was a woman’s world inside the family and a man’s world outside it.”

      I disagree to an extent. I do agree that a man should be focused on keeping his wife happy, and that if he does so, he is more likely to have a happy life, but the reverse is true also. A woman does not hold all of the cards. If she does not adopt the attitude that a happy husband = a happy home and happy life, then her husband may become unhappy. If he becomes unhappy, will he be motivated to continue trying to make her happy? No. He becomes vulnerable to a woman who shows him the appreciation he is lacking at home. So when his secretary laughs at all of his jokes, gives him come hither looks, dotes on him getting him coffee, or bringing him lunch when she knows he isn’t going to take time to go eat, then we should not be surprised when he falls in love with his secretary. If his wife is going out of her way to make him happy, the secretary’s actions won’t seem quite so impressive to him. He may appreciate it, but it won’t have as much power to make him fall in love.

  24. 24
    Beach

    peter speaks truth, having each others needs fulfilled is crucial, which means always putting the others needs first, when both need giving the role to the one with the best ability also makes the most sense, giving yourself completely to the other is hard to do these days because of self interest, insecurity, lack of intimacy and the resulting distrust.

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