When two people get married, they have high expectations about their relationship. An unspoken assumption by each one is that the other will "meet me halfway."
When Barbara and I received premarital counseling from our friends and mentors Don and Sally Meredith, they warned us that we had been thoroughly indoctrinated in the world's plan for marriage. They called it the 50/50 Plan, which says, "You do your part, and I'll do mine." This concept sounds logical, but couples who use it are destined for disappointment and failure.
We spent the first year and a half of our marriage in Boulder, Colorado, where the winters are cold and electric blankets are standard equipment for survival. I can recall how both of us enjoyed sliding into those toasty-warm sheets after the electric blanket had thawed them. However, we couldn't always remember to turn off all the lights. We would snuggle in, and Barbara would say, "Sweetheart, did you remember to turn off all the lights?"
I would hop out of our comfy bed and run barefoot through the 55-degree apartment, turning off light after light. It didn't happen that often, so I didn't mind until one night when I dropped into bed totally exhausted. Just as I slipped into the third stage of anesthesia, Barbara gave me a poke and said, "Sweetheart, aren't you going to turn off the lights?"
I groaned, "Honey, why don't you turn off the lights tonight?"
Barbara replied, "I thought you would because my dad always turned off the lights."
Suddenly, I was wide awake. It dawned on me why I had been suffering occasional minor frostbite on my feet. I shot back, "But I'm not your dad!"
The expectations Barbara and I brought to marriage set us up to buy into the 50/50 Plan. Barbara was sure that I would do my part and meet her halfway by always getting up to turn off the lights. On the night I flatly refused, I was pushing her to do her part and meet me halfway.
Why the 50/50 Plan fails
Our disagreement revealed the biggest weakness of the 50/50 Plan: It is impossible to determine if your spouse has met you halfway. Because neither of you can agree on where halfway is, each is left to scrutinize the other's performance from a jaded, often selfish perspective.
Many times in a marriage, both partners are busy, overworked, and feel taken for granted. The real issue isn't who faced the most pressure that day. The important question is, how do you build oneness and teamwork instead of keeping score and waiting for the other person to meet you halfway?
As we teach at our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways, the 50/50 Plan is destined to fail for several reasons:
- Acceptance is based on performance. Many people unknowingly base their acceptance of their spouses on performance. Performance becomes the glue that holds the relationship together, but it isn't really glue at all. It's more like Velcro. It seems to stick, but it comes apart when a little pressure is applied. What a marriage needs is superglue—but more on that later.
- Giving is based on merit. With the "meet me halfway" approach, a husband would give affection to his wife only when he felt she had earned it. If she always cooked tasty meals and balanced the checkbook then he would drop her a few crumbs of praise and loving attention. She, in turn, would lavish affection and praise only when he vacuumed the carpet and always arrived home on time.
- Motivation for action is based on how each partner feels. As a newlywed, it's easy to act sacrificially because the pounding heart and romantic feelings fuel the desire to please. But what happens when those feelings diminish? If you don't feel like doing the right thing, perhaps you won't do it at all. I didn't feel like turning off the lights that night at our apartment, so I didn't.
- Each spouse has a tendency to focus on the weaknesses of the other. Ask a husband or wife to list his or her spouse's strengths in one column and the weaknesses in another, and the weaknesses will usually outnumber the strengths five to one.
Ultimately, the world's plan, the 50/50 performance relationship, is destined to fail because it is contrary to God's plan.
Apply the superglue
What a marriage needs is the superglue of Philippians 2:3: "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than yourselves." It's what we refer to as the 100/100 Plan, which requires a 100 percent effort from each of you to serve your spouse.
The Bible describes this plan well in Matthew 22:39: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." There's no closer neighbor than the one you wake up to each morning! And since most of us love ourselves passionately, we are well on the way to implementing the 100/100 Plan if we take a similar approach to loving our spouses.
Start by stating the 100/100 Plan like this: "I will do what I can to love you without demanding an equal amount in return." In marriage you will hear a voice that says, Why are you making the bed this morning when she wouldn't bring you a soft drink last night? Or, Why should I not buy this outfit when he spent $50 last weekend on golf? That voice has to be silenced if you are to live out the 100/100 Plan. Yes, there will be times when one person appears to get the advantage in the relationship. But love requires sacrifice. Stick with the 100/100 Plan and you will see increasing cooperation and intimacy in your marriage.
A bit of grace always helps too. Sometimes a couple can make issues out of things that really don't matter. Maybe we had parents who did that as we grew up, but that's not the type of person I want to be or one I'd enjoy living with. Barbara and I have learned over the years to let a lot slide; we don't take issue or talk about many minor disappointments.
Marriage is the union of two imperfect people who, in their selfishness, sinfulness, and demands of each other, will cause disappointment and hurt. You must lay aside those difficulties and hold fast to forgiveness and Christ's command to love even those who don't appear to love you at times.
You will never have all of your expectations met in marriage on this fallen planet. But if you concentrate on implementing the 100/100 Plan, your life will be so full of satisfaction that you may not care.
Reprinted by permission. Starting Your Marriage Right by Dennis and Barbara Rainey, © 2000, Thomas Nelson, Inc. Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved.