Is Marriage 50/50 or 80/20?

Let’s face it.  Having kids reveals more of who you are, and reveals more about your relationship and how much stress and joy it can take.

I think having kids has brought out wonderful things in my husband and I that I’m not sure either of us realized were there.  A fierce love of our kids.  A shameless dedication to our family.  A deeper admiration for each other.  It has also – of course – revealed our often very different approaches to important parenting and relationship decisions.  Like…What  are the right approaches?  How do we demonstrate that love for our kids, and for each other, in a way that everybody is cool with?  How can we agree on the right parenting techniques without wanting to rip each other apart?  How can we make everybody happy with how and when we show dedication to  family and spend quality time together?

You can imagine the things we typically argue about.  Bringing work home.  How to get the kids to eat their vegetables.  Whether to put a limit on toys and gifts, and why, and from whom.  Who’s job is it to change the diaper.  Whether it’s ok to sit the kids in front of the TV and have some down time for a while.  What types of discipline to use, and when.  The list goes on.

Given that he’s from Mars and I’m from Venus, and we’ve never been parents before, much less parents while both working full-time with a house to run, I think we’ve done pretty good.  But we can do better.  Our main way to do ‘do better’ is to talk about stuff during the few moments we actually have together each day – but more often, it is to fight, make up, and vow to be different next time.  Outside of that, I try to read stuff on marriage, parenting, etc., and bring it back to ‘us’ for consideration.  Books like 1-2-3 Magic, and the Secret Lives of Wives, and Screamfree Parenting, and so forth.

But I read  one sentence a few weeks ago that may have changed my our life.  Since like, forever, I’ve been dedicated to the idea of a 50/50 marriage.  After all, I’m a liberated working mom- right?  We are equal!  Equal means 50/50 right?  I worked just as hard as he did to have a career; I work the same number of hours he does; it should follow that parenting, childcare and relationship effort should be 50/50 *all the time*!  Anything else seems terribly unfair….   right?  But I’m slowly realizing, that idea may be where a lot of the strife on my end comes from.

Here’s the quote:

A long time ago someone told me that a good marriage is not 50-50. A good marriage is having a partner who’s willing to show up with 80% when you only have 20% and who can count on you to do the same.

It’s from an interview with Brene Brown who is one of my new personal heroes….  or more like, honorary guidance counselor, or something.  Her book, “I thought it was just me (but it isn’t)” may have changed my life.  Her Ted Talk on The Power of Vulnerability is among the top 10 Ted Talks viewed.  She is awesome and you should follow her on Facebook and Twitter and she is not paying me to say any of these things.  Her work on authenticity, shame and resilience resonates.  Strongly.

Here’s another concept I read about this week that has finally sunk in and helped me.

His way of parenting is not worse, it’s just different.

But back to the quote.  Why haven’t I thought out of the 50/50 box before?  I’m not sure, but I haven’t, and now that I have I can look at my marriage with new eyes.  I feel happier in my marriage already and actually nothing changed except my mindset.  I know my husband is willing to bring 80% when I can only give 20%.  In fact, that’s when he’s at his best.  When I can only give 40%, I may have to ask him to give 60% and despite maybe some grumbling, he’ll do it.  He has my back.

What’s important to make this work is to check in with each other, ask him (don’t assume he knows!) to bring more when you don’t have enough [strength, energy, diapers, insert your term here] and when he can only bring 20%, pony up your 80%, don’t fault him for only being able to give 20%, and don’t stop at 50% because you think that’s only fair.  Also when he’s giving 80% because you’re at 20% and he lets the kids watch TV the whole time… don’t complain.  The kids will survive, it’s not bad, it’s just different.


  • I totally agree. Mr. Sandwich is just as involved as a father as I am as a mother and as a member of the household (I do way more dishes, he does way more laundry) and we both try to give as much as we can and recognize and honor what the other is giving–but I can’t imagine that we’re 50/50 every day. You know what, though? I’ll bet we’re there on average.
    Tragic Sandwich recently posted..In RemembranceMy Profile
    Twitter: tragicsandwich

  • Shannon says:

    I very much needed this perspective this week. I do and do and do, but I know there are times when I just don’t have anything left in me and my husband gladly picks up the slack and encourages me. Thank you for the reminder to not be resentful when I have to do the same for him.
    Shannon recently posted..Mysterious, Unfair, and SadMy Profile

  • Madonna says:

    I never thought about it like that before, but I think it is something that my husband and I have been doing. We have been really careful to not get into the he/she gets this – does that – etc mentality that can happen after a lack of sleep and a lot of stress. And on occassion we bring it up in conversation just to remind ourselves that it is a partnership and we both want to maintain sanity!

  • Tracy says:

    This is so damn spot on! I’m OK being the 80% because when I’m down at the 20%, no questions asked…the hubs picks up the slack. I never thought of it this way, but it just makes the most perfect sense.
    Twitter: wa_tracy

  • diana says:

    I read a book recently that says that in France women are happier with their husbands ebcause they don’t think (like we do in America) that a marriage is supposed to be 50/50, they knew that they would end up doing more, and that was OK with them, and they fought less and were happier in their marriages. I stopped trying to 50/50, but i love that quote you put up, and i think I try to live like that, there are times when I need to do more around the house, because he works longer hours outside the home, and there are times when i need him to be around, and he tries his best! that’s all we can do, after all, try our best in this adventure called parenting!!
    Twitter: dianalimongi

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