A friend who was recently widowed said a very profound thing about long marriages the other day. Reflecting on his happy years together with his wife (the day of her funeral would have been their 45th anniversary), he talked about marriage builders, two rules of thumb for couples that I had never heard before. Yet they rang true for my own 34-year marriage.
Rule number one: it takes 100% effort to keep a couple going strong, with each partner providing a share of that effort. You may be giving 25% while your spouse is putting in a 75%. Or your partner may be coasting along at 35% while you supply the remaining 65%.
Which brings up the reason for rule number two: It isn't essential that each person's effort be 50% at any given time, but over the course of the marriage, the partners' contributions should equal out to around half and half.
You can apply this measure to almost any dimension of a marriage: chores done, money earned, emotional support given.
Such a simple thing, yet so important. These marriage builders have certainly been a good measure of the longevity of my own marriage. Over the years, my husband and my contributions have rollercoastered up and down, but if you took the algebraic sum of our three decades together, I think you'd be pretty close to 50% apiece.
There have been times when Stephan made twice as much money as I did. There have been times when I doubled his salary. There was a time when I was struggling through a difficult, dead-end job. I was a whiny shrew and he was toting the emotional load for both of us. I like to think I returned the favor when he had complications after cancer surgery and was stuck in the hospital with a big black cloud swirling around his head.
What's helpful about keeping the 50/50 rule in mind is that when your marriage gets lopsided, taking the long view can put everything into perspective. Are you carrying your partner's load right now? Does that make you restless, resentful? If so, do a quick reality check. Have you been toting the big load all along, or is your spouse going through a rough patch when he/she needs the extra support? Would he/has she done the same for you?
I plan to run these calculations through my brain the next time I'm feeling grumpy and disgruntled. Who knows, it could give us another 34 years!