No Such Thing As 50/50 Marriage
No relationship between two imperfect beings (yes, that’s everyone) whether a friendship, sibling relationship, parent-child, etc. can ever be “perfect.”
What’s perfect anyway? What does that mean? Who even knows, but I can tell you that my husband and I have had times of simple happiness that are too many to count. Good thing, too, because if after 12.5 years we could actually count the happy times, I think that would be a very bad sign. For us “simple happiness” is reading next to each other at night, going to a movie, enjoying a fantastic meal, even running errands together, and of course spending time with our family and friends.
We’ve also had times of pure joy like the first moment when we laid eyes on each of our children and felt that spark of the Divine.
And we’ve had times of . . . well, not joy, like the first 4-6 weeks following the birth of each of our children after we left the hospital’s 24-hour care and expertise. When Nate, our 4th child, was only 6-weeks old, our oldest, Sam, had his tonsils removed. Bryan and I now affectionately refer to those weeks of the boys waking up several times a night as “the dark days.” But when we were living those days it wasn’t so silly and affectionate around here. We bickered constantly, and I probably cried every single night for a month out of exhaustion, frustration, and the nagging fear that I would never sleep again now that we were truly outnumbered.
But we made it through those dark days and other ones as well. I’m sure we’ll make it through far worse times. I can only imagine that the challenges we might face will make us nostalgic for “problems” like tonsil surgery and “darkness” like around-the-clock feedings. Those are sheer blessings. We know that. Life is tragic and there’s no escaping that for any of us. If you’ve ever loved a spouse, a parent, a brother, a friend, or anyone, then there’s the guaranteed tragedy of one day experiencing a loss.
I’m optimistic for our marriage though, whether in light times or dark. I have to credit my mom for filling my head with solid, practical wisdom. She often told me that in a healthy relationship at least one of the adults is, indeed, acting like an adult. You can’t have all the kids and both of the parents simultaneously stomping their feet over this and that. One of the grownups ought to have both feet planted firmly on the ground. It’s not “romantic” marriage advice, but it’s advice that works.
As I’ve grown into my marriage and watched others grow into theirs, I see what my mom meant. People in a relationship have to take turns. Nobody should have to be the strong one all the time. Likewise nobody should get to permanently play the role of the needier one.
Taking turns doesn’t mean 50/50. I think that the concept of the 50/50 marriage is the stuff of legends and politically correct lore. The second I hear “50/50,” what I see beneath the surface is the image of columns and tally marks. I see someone keeping score.
In my opinion (formed via common sense and not a PhD in psychology) a good relationship might measure out to 50/50 over time, but week-by-week and month-by-month there’s going to be imbalance. There are times—whole years, I’ll bet—when one person is needier both physically and emotionally. Someone starts a new job. Someone gets anxious or depressed. Someone gets in an accident or a life-altering diagnosis. The other person picks up the slack in small and big ways; empties the dishwasher more often, reads more of the bedtime stories, does more than his or her fair share of listening to the same issues night after night, or does most of the keeping of the family afloat.
I wonder if in the marriages, friendships, and other relationships that fail there is truly an imbalance. Not a day-to-day, or week-to-week imbalance of 80/20, but a too-many-years-in-a-row situation of 80/20. We all need our turns in the needy spot. We also all need the ability to know when it’s our turn to stand up and shoulder the burdens for a while, too.
I guess this is my really long way of saying that I’m grateful to have found a partner I can lean on in life. I’m grateful he feels he can lean on me, too. I’m grateful that at least one of us manages to keep our wits, patience, temper, and good instincts about us at all times. All that plus the simple happiness—the reading next to each other at night, the errands, and so on—that’s as close to perfect as I could ask for.
Nina Badzin is a freelance writer and blogger living in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. She co-leads the book review site Greatnewbooks.org and was a cast member of Listen to Your Mother in the Twin Cities. You can read more from Nina on her blog. Follow her on Twitter, or Facebook..