A Crazy Marriage?
I recently saw something on TV that made my jaw drop. It was a blonde, fresh-faced young woman boldly sharing on a talk show with the whole world that she served her husband in every way, every day. “I make love to my husband whenever he wants. When he gets home from work I have a hot meal waiting for him. I don’t expect him to do any housework at all. It’s my job to care for him and I love it.” From the look on her face you knew that Courtney Joseph, author of “Women Living Well,” meant what she was saying. The faces of the women in the audience were harder to read. There was a mixture of surprise, pity, respect, and definitely confusion.
A wife who wholeheartedly served her husband?
I found this interview so unlike anything I had ever seen on a secular program, but there was another nagging thought tumbling around in my brain: I didn’t often hear other Christians talk like this, either. I decided to ask a few women what they thought. I soon found my opportunity at a coffee shop where some women had gathered for a Bibles study. I asked six different Christian women and the response was the same: “Sure, I’ll serve my husband that way as long as he holds up his end of the deal. It’s unreasonable to not expect your husband to help. I pull my weight, he pulls his.”
That makes sense – but the response begs an unnerving question that never seems to get addressed: What if he doesn’t pull his weight? What if you have a hard day and you’re not pulling your weight? Is it okay for spouses to hold their service hostage until certain terms are met? This type of arrangement seems contingent on a lot of “if’s.” If he pulls his weight…If he serves me…If he works as hard as I do. I realized something after talking to these women. While the world might call what Courtney does crazy, Christian wives have another word for it: Overkill. “I can definitely serve my husband without doing all the things she does. Serving my husband doesn’t mean being a slave!” Wives feel much more comfortable with keeping things even. What we’re essentially talking about is the 50/50 marriage.
Culture Vs Scripture
The idea of the 50/50 marriage has permeated our society since the women’s lib movement in the 60’s. It is permeating the church as well. It appeals to our American ideal of rights, freedom, and equality. We have a right to be treated fairly. We have a right to be respected. We deserve to get back what we put in.
While God Himself is our biggest advocate for the respectful treatment of women (1 Peter 3:7), the 50/50 marriage is actually found nowhere in scripture. It is an appeal to human logic rather than to God’s word. Scripture has a way of turning human logic on its head. In Christ we’ve been called to the truest freedom of all: freedom from sin. In turn we get to use that freedom in a very unexpected way:
“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)
We are free to serve, not to be served. This is a unique mindset that does not come naturally to us. In fact, without the regenerating work of God in our hearts, it is altogether impossible. As Christians we don’t find freedom in how we are treated by others, but in how we are treated by God in Christ.
This is in no way meant to undermine our value as women. Tragically, many wives are treated like doormats and the thought of serving more selflessly feels degrading. That’s when we stop and remind ourselves that our value does not lie in how our husbands respond to our service. They might appreciate it and treat you in like kind and they might not. We know we’re valuable because God sent His own Son to die for us. The difference is that now we don’t have to champion our own justice. God does that for us. Our lives don’t have to revolve around being treated fairly. We are freed from the self-centeredness that suffocates our joy and contentment.
Picture this. You’re standing at the sink doing dishes, happily looking froward to a relaxing evening at home. Suddenly something catches your eye. Your husband is sitting on the couch, feet propped up, watching the game. “Hmm. Wish I could be watching TV right now,” comes the first innocent thought. “I mean, why shouldn’t I get a little TV time once in awhile? Didn’t we both work all day? Didn’t we both just eat the dinner that I made? Oh, there’s the kids fighting again. Well, I’m definitely not breaking up a fight, not when I’m already doing dishes. That’s HIS job. I can’t believe he’s just sitting there. Doesn’t he hear them? Doesn’t he hear ME, over here with the water running and pots and pans banging around?” By the time you storm across the living room to tend to the fighting kids you are filled with rage. You were finishing up your chores with contentment only seconds before you noticed that your husband was getting more rest than you. Meanwhile he’s oblivious. He’s flunking every subject in husbandhood and he’s never even seen the report card.
The problem with the 50/50 marriage is that instead of creating fairness it creates bitterness. Why? More often than not the goal is to protect our own rights, not the rights of the other person. Think about it. “I really want to split up our tasks so you never do more work than me.” Isn’t it usually the other way around? We give ourselves too much credit if we think we truly have a 50/50 mindset. We don’t. Our hearts naturally favor ourselves. Should your husband help you? Yes. Is he more important than you are? Of course not. However, as Christians God has not charged us with devoting our lives to protecting our own rights. He says to leave that to Him. Instead He gives us a different set of instructions:
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
I was having lunch with a friend and she described how she and her husband split up tasks. “We both work outside of the home so when we get home we are exhausted,” she said. “He’s a better cook than me so he takes care of the kitchen duties and I take care of the laundry and the cleaning. It works out well because we don’t have to wonder every day who’s going to do what.” Her suggestions were awesome. When you know who does what it helps free up your time and your expectations. These lists can be very helpful. The problem is when we take that list and turn it into a contract. All of a sudden we start attaching all kinds of unspoken terms and conditions. When there is a breach of contract we feel justified in our bitterness and nagging.
We also have to remember that husbands and wives place different values on different tasks. A husband might think bringing home the bacon earns him enough points to relax as soon as he walks in the door. A wife might think his nine to five job is nothing compared to her 24-hour job of childrearing, interspersed with random moments of rest. Who gets to decide what’s more valuable?
Have you ever seen this conversation between Jesus and His disciples in the Bible? “John, if Peter heals the lame on Friday that means it’s your turn to do the preaching on Sunday.” When Jesus was about to leave His disciples he did not start dividing responsibilities to make sure everything was fair. Instead He knelt on the ground and washed their feet. Then He told them to do the same for each other. The 50/50 marriage mindset gets us addicted to the idea of what we deserve. If there was anyone who deserved to be served it was Jesus. He knew it, but He willingly laid down His rights and served anyway. “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
There are treasures of immense joy waiting for you in marriage when you let go of your expectations of fairness. One is that you might see your husband for the blessing he truly is. Whatever he does for you will be sweet icing on the cake. When he changes a diaper you won’t roll your eyes and think, “It’s about time.” Instead you will throw your arms around him and say, “Thanks, honey! I know that’s not easy for you.” There is another shocking phenomenon that happens when you stop trying to keep things even: You begin to realize all the ways he serves you that you never noticed because you were too busy being disappointed in him. You married him for a reason, long before the dishes and babies started piling up. There is a flame that will be rekindled – and he will notice. He will suddenly have a content, appreciative wife overnight which will inspire him to bless you even more.
There are a few tests to see if you are holding onto the 50/50 marriage mindset. Do you feel bitter when you see your husband resting? Do you constantly compare how much work you each do? Are you constantly expecting him to jump in to help and then always feeling let down? It’s time to let it go. It’s time to stop thinking about what he should be doing for you and focus on what you can do for him. It’s hard to let go because we are afraid of being taken for granted. We’re afraid of not having our needs met. We don’t have to be afraid. Our deepest needs are met in Christ. We ultimately entrust ourselves to Him, not to our husbands. “And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” (1 Peter 2:23) Our husbands will sometimes fail. If we expect our husbands to meet the needs that can only be met in Christ, we are setting them up for failure.
The expectations you think are protecting you in your marriage could actually be strangling your joy. The truth is you can’t maintain a constant standard of 50/50 and serve you husband with your whole heart at the same time. You have to choose. Protecting your rights is a full-time job. It leaves no room for grace. It doesn’t lead to the full marriage we often think it will. If you work tirelessly at half of the marriage that’s exactly what you’ll end up with: half of a marriage. Make your lists, divide the household tasks, and communicate clear goals with each other – but surrender your list to God each day and commit to serving your husband regardless of how well he holds up his end of the deal.
If marriage is about love it can’t be split up 50/50. Love is whole. Love is abandon. Love is 100% regardless of how much we perceive the other person is giving. We look to our example Who held back nothing in His love for us. Let’s love freely like our savior and share in that supernatural love that knows no bounds.
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13)
4 thoughts on “The 50/50 Marriage: Why it Doesn’t Work”
I am blessed with a super helpful and hands-on hubby who knows how sexy it can be to come to me and say, “how can I help you?” Sometimes he's so helpful that he stops at the grocery store and picks up things we already had, hehe.
But for those who's husbands are not like this, how would they even get their hubby to the table to make a list of chores together and split things up? I must say I know a lot of christian men who just sit on the couch and let their wives serve, serve, serve. Their expectation is to not help and for some reason men seem to get a pass when being selfishly oblivious just cause they are men. I think this is wrong but hard to change.
Thank you for sharing, and I agree for the most part with your point, but I also think that in a marriage where there isn't mutual serving an individual, especially if they are the primary caregiver of children, need to practice self-care in some way to be able to fulfill that role with joy, not to mention finding the strength to serve a spouse. I don't have a well formed thought that I am sharing, but I was just thinking of some specific friends who do a great job at working at marriages that are a struggle and this effort to put themselves as a priority sometimes to find space to breathe and refresh.
Molly, sadly there are many marriages like the one you described. I also am blessed with a very thoughtful husband. I think in cases like the one you mentioned it comes down to a sin issue in the husband's heart. I would encourage those wives to pray that God would bring someone (besides themselves) to confront their husbands. In extreme cases the wife would be within her rights to take the issue to her church leaders and ask them if they would be willing to intervene. The church is a body and when one part hurts the whole body hurts. A wife does not have to live silently with a neglectful husband, but nagging and bitterness are not the appropriate outlets. We need to always pray for the wives we know who are in difficult situations! 🙂
Chrissie, that is an excellent point!! You are right, ALL wives need an outlet for rest and rejuvenation. Unfortunately, some wives have to struggle harder to find that if they do not have husbands who are onboard with serving and helping. I love this article that was on The Gospel Coalition: “Self-Care and Self-Denial.” She does a great job explaining how self-care is a biblical concept. http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/self-care-and-self-denial