Recently my newly-wed friend asked me what does equal partnership in marriage means, and does equal partnership mean splitting everything down 50-50 like Lena and Harold bickering over who should pay for the cat’s flea treatment in the classic movie The Joy Luck Club?
Most people see marriage as a “equal partnership” where each party brings their own contributions to the table. You will often hear things like: “If I have to pay the bills, then she will have to the chores”, “We both have demanding jobs so we decided that I pick up Johnny from school on Monday and Tuesday, then my husband does the remainder of the week”, or “We both have a savings target of $1000 every month, I contribute $500 and he does the other half.
HOW SHOULD MARRIAGE LOOK LIKE?
While there is nothing wrong with splitting chores and savings target, trying to achieve an equal balance is what is actually the recipe for disaster. Marriage is most healthy when it’s a union, not a partnership. In a partnership, your say depends on how much you are bringing to the table and their still the retaining of individual identities. But in a union, you both have a common purpose, therefore it doesn’t matter who is doing so much in an area or who is doing less. What your spouse doesn’t make up for in chores, they might make up for it in taking care of the kids or the bills. Partnership belongs in a law firm, not in a marriage.
50-50 IS EXHAUSTING
In a happy marriage, the key is giving 100% and being 100% helpful to your spouse according to the result of a survey carried out by the research team of Cornell University in the Legacy Project. This is something that I have also found to be true observing many couples in my therapy practice. When you decide to splitting hair on everything, you open yourself to exhaustion and frustration. Keeping tabs on how your partner hasn’t met you halfway is calculating and most likely leads to negative feelings of distrust. Constantly keeping tabs will only make create a feeling of resentment on both sides, which may transform a hairline into a fault line that will eventually break the marriage.
WHAT TO DO?
If a healthy relationship is the relationship goal, then both parties need to step it up and strive to be complimentary to one another. Even though every couple should have a mutual agreement of their duties and responsibilities, an attempt at creating a straight down 50-50 equality is not productive. You are both collectively responsible for the tasks that comes with your marriage and should both give a 100% all the time. Also, be fluid without being transactional. Don’t create a hard context. If something happens and the other person isn’t able to do their tasks any longer, recalibrate, and think about a new solution that will both work for you without trying too hard to get a 50-50 situation.
Marriage is sweet and messy. It is not clear cut and lines are blurry. You will have to take on loads on your plate at times. But with commitment, empathy, deep breathing and forgiveness, your marriage will not only work, but will be sweet and full of good memories.
Mabel Yiu is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in girls’ and women’s mental health at the Women’s Therapy Institute in Palo Alto, CA. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more tips or tools, or schedule an online appointment.