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 that she served her husband in every way, every day.
“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,” she said. From the look on her face, you knew she 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.
I decided to ask a few women what they thought. At a Bible 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 raises 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 OK 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 she serves me … If he works as hard as I do. 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 for years. 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.
There’s truth to that. A marriage where all the work and responsibilities fall on one of the spouses is certainly unhealthy. But the 50/50 marriage is actually found nowhere in Scripture. In Christ, we’ve been called to the truest freedom of all: freedom from sin. In turn, both partners in a marriage 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).
So we aren’t free to be served—we’re free to serve. But, this mindset 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 doesn’t mean you should shoulder every responsibility and never ask your spouse to help out. But to expect that all tasks will get split evenly down the middle and neither spouse will ever do more work than the other is not only unrealistic, it’s not the kind of sacrificial love God calls us to in any relationship. When we remember our value in Christ—and that God sent His own Son to die 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.
The problem with the 50/50 marriage is that instead of creating fairness, it creates bitterness. More often than not, the goal is to protect our own rights, not the rights of the other person. 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 spouse help you? Yes. Are they 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 I am, 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.
When Jesus was about to leave His disciples, he didn’t 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 (Matthew 20:28).
There are treasures of immense joy waiting for you in marriage when you let go of your expectations of fairness. When you stop keeping tabs, you’re free to see your spouse for the blessing they truly are. You will begin to realize all the ways they serve you that may not even have been on your list—things you never noticed because you were too busy being disappointed.
There are a few tests to see if you are holding onto the 50/50 marriage mindset. Do you constantly compare how much work you each do? Are you constantly expecting your spouse to serve you and then always feeling let down? It’s time to let it go. It’s time to stop thinking about what they should be doing for you and focus on what you can do for them.
It’s hard to let go, because we are afraid of being taken for granted. We’re afraid of not having our needs met. But if we expect our spouses 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 your spouse with your whole heart at the same time. You have to choose. Make your lists, divide the household tasks and communicate clear goals with each other, but leave room for grace. Surrender your list to God each day and commit to serving your spouse regardless of how well they hold up their 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 percent, regardless of how much we perceive the other person is giving.
An earlier version of this article was published at gospelcenteredmom.com