Debunking the 50-50 rule.

Dear Friends,

Last night Mr. Mom and I were in the bathroom together for our nightly ritual of teeth-brushing and other pre-bed preparations. As we finished up and walked toward our bed, Mr. Mom said: Oh . . . I’ll be right back. I think Kate forgot the leftovers on the counter and I’ve got to put the food away.

I said: Okay. I’ve got to crawl into to bed now and get really comfy and warm.

And you know what Mr. Mom did? He laughed. He laughed out loud as he walked out of the room to take care of what is typically Kate’s responsibility but became his on this evening because his daughter wasn’t feeling well and it’s a cinch his wife didn’t think of it.

As I crawled into bed and got busy getting really comfy and warm while he took care of the last of the nightly chores, I thought about the kind of man it takes to not only head to the kitchen while his wife goes to bed, but also the kind of man who laughs when his wife makes a joke about it.

Let me tell you — it takes a man who knows there’s no such thing as the 50-50 rule.

There’s an epidemic of working mothers who spend a lot of time contemplating the 50-50 rule. I know this because the women talk about it endlessly.  And in case you’ve haven’t heard of the 50-50 rule, it’s what I call the myth that married couples, especially working parents, should share “the burden” equally.

It doesn’t matter how you define “burden.” Housework, shopping, laundry, financial planning, child-rearing, pet care, lawn maintenance —  these are all part of the never-ending list of chores every married couple has to face and, more importantly, to negotiate responsibility and accountability for.

A woman I know recently got divorced over the 50-50 rule. Or so said her husband, who felt that his wife wasn’t pulling her fair share (whatever “fair” is). Another woman I know told me not long ago that she and her husband had a “come to Jesus” meeting about his failure to appropriately pitch in.

I mentioned the latter situation to Mr. Mom because the woman is a mutual friend.  After I told him the long version of the story, he said: You know, there’s no relationship that’s ever 50-50. Sometimes it’s 60-40 and sometimes it’s 70-30 and sometimes it switches the other direction 80-20. At any given time, somebody’s always giving more than the other person and somebody else is taking more. It’s never equal.

I thought about this for a minute because – given our long established roles with me as the earner and Mr. Mom as the caregiver/household manager – I hadn’t contemplated equality in a very long time.

Before I could respond, he added: It’s like this. In every relationship, somebody is the quarterback and somebody is the blocker. And, sometimes you’re just the trainer that tapes all the ankles. After all, somebody has to tape ankles. I don’t understand why couples waste so much time calculating and worrying over the percentages.

So now it’s obvious how I’ve managed to stay married for 20 years.   Choice is everything and I picked a good one, even though at the time I wasn’t smart enough to know it; I just knew I was in love.

But it does explain why my friend, the one who thought her husband needed a reckoning, later said to me: “You know, Joan, you and Mr. Mom seem to have the most natural partnership of any couple I know. It just seems like you guys have it all figured out.”

I’d like to think there’s something in this world I’ve figured out but, like always, I chalk it up to the man who’s a whiz at math but has never bothered counting who’s ahead.

With gratitude {for the man whose bedside manner while taping ankles is exceptional},

Joan, who thinks she got a bargain when she agreed to bring home the bacon in this deal

PS: I claim no special knowledge of human psychology or the path to marital happiness. And I understand that relationships are personal and complex and not easily condensed into tidy blog-advice packages, so you won’t hurt my feelings if you think I don’t “get” you or your situation. But I do know this: failure to keep a tally is the key to success in most things, including marriage, but also jobs and friendships and child-rearing and neighborliness and every other endeavor where it is more blessed to give than receive.



  1. Mr. Mom is a wise man. We’re coming up on our 34th anniversary and it’s always been give and take and 50/50 has never entered into it. I’d have to admit I am probably the one who never pulls my fair share. I’m very grateful for my husband who makes up the difference.

  2. I agree – the appropriation of “chores” has to be fluid. It occurs to me nearly everyone is doing the best they can see to do at any given time. I can only work on my own behaviors. Any energy I expend trying to get somebody else to do something “my way” is typically not well spent (or appreciated!). If I have a problem with somebody, it could be it is my expectations, rather than their efforts, that needs a second look.

  3. Excellent post! I agree, the division of responsibility should be fluid. Everyone does what they can when they can. Finger pointing and comparing doesn’t seem to help any of us. I actually needed to hear this because I was feeling guilt about having to travel and leave my husband to manage more than I would like, while he just sees it as a part of what has to be done now and “no big deal.”

  4. Instead of counting the beans lets cook’m up, eat them and move on.

  5. A wise woman once quoted a line to me that I never forgot (though I will likely butcher it) – it is: If in all relationships someone always loves more, let that person be me. That was you, Joan Marie 🙂

  6. SO well-written!!

  7. The author. says:

    Dear Friends,
    I really appreciate your kind words on this post. They make my day!
    gb — it is great to hear from you! And your words touched me more than you will know.
    Gerre — as a woman who knows great writing when she sees it (who birthed it), yours is high praise, indeed!
    With gratitude {for every single reader who graces me with their presence},
    Joan, who doesn’t normally use so many exclamation points but gets pumped about readers and their comments

  8. Love this post! I never really thought about it in this way, but it makes total sense what Mr. Mom said. It’s also hard to say that things are 50-50 when, like you said, there are so many different ways to define “burden” and each person in the relationship takes on these different kinds of tasks. If I go mow the lawn and he takes care of the finances, are we then 50-50? If I mow the lawn and he mows the lawn the next week, then we’re 50-50, although even then maybe we’re really 60-40 because mowing the lawn was way harder for me than it was for him. It’s just too complicated to calculate how much each person is “giving” in a relationship. I love how you two have got it figured out!

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