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Are 50/50 Relationships Bad Math?


Are 50-50 Relationships Bad MathThe modern ideal for a romantic relationship is one in which each partner contributes equally—50/50. It seems like a reasonable configuration, but can be surprisingly difficult to calculate.

Even in straightforward scenarios, the relationship math doesn’t always compute. Say you are committed to evenly dividing household responsibilities: You do 50% of the work; I do 50% of the work. The problem is, not all tasks are created equal. It’s hard to determine the respective difficulty of scrubbing the shower versus vacuuming the house.

It gets even more complicated when trying to assign value to the emotional contributions of each partner: Who is bringing more to the relationship? Who is getting shortchanged?

Recalculating Your Relationship

Weighting the Scales
Because we cannot fully understand our partner’s mind or motives, we may be unable to objectively weigh our partner’s contributions against our own. We tend to overemphasize personal sacrifices: “I give and give and get nothing in return.” Our partner’s offerings may seem proportionally light. Before discounting your partner’s efforts, however, be sure you’re not unfairly weighting the scales. If the relationship is truly imbalanced, let your partner know what specific words or actions make you feel valued.

Living on Credit
Many couples operate, consciously or unconsciously, on a point system. If a husband does something thoughtful for his wife, it may earn him a certain amount of “wife dollars.” He typically knows he’s accrued some favor and may cash in immediately—or hold out for an even bigger reward. Likewise, if a wife does something nice for her husband, she knows she’s earned a certain amount of goodwill and she can use this currency to get something in return. However, it can be unhealthy for couples to hang on to relationship “debt” too long—or too tightly. At any given point in a romantic relationship, an individual may simultaneously “owe” and be owed dozens of different favors. It is impossible to perfectly reconcile these accounts. So it can be remarkably liberating to release each other from real or perceived emotional debts.

Settling the Score
If your partner has somehow wronged you, don’t keep subtracting points until you feel appeased. Communicate what is bothering you and give your partner the opportunity to make it right. Love doesn’t keep score—and not just because it’s impossible to accurately do so. When you really love someone, you put down the tally card and focus on what’s good for the relationship. If the simple joy of giving doesn’t feel like enough, remember that are we typically rewarded in proportion to our investment.

Going “All In”
A 50/50 relationship may seem like a fair deal, but it can sell your relationship short. Giving 50% of your heart won’t cut it; if you put that little in, you’ll never recoup your investment. Scary as it sounds, to win at love you have to go “all in.” Occasionally, this reward structure doesn’t work: someone takes advantage of our generosity or fails to honor an important debt. When that happens, it’s tempting to become miserly with our relationship assets. We may withhold compliments, assistance or affection. Generally, it’s not greed, but fear, that motivates this response. We’re afraid of losing, of getting taken for all we’re worth. In order to do a relationship well, however, you can’t think in terms of subtraction or division. Love operates instead by the laws of addition and multiplication: Two individuals, by each committing to the relationship with their whole heart, can produce something even greater. And two people who invest in each other’s happiness can multiply the happiness of both individuals—as well as their collective happiness as a couple.