Why 50/50 is a problem

I'm going to quote from different places where I've used this example or told the story of how I came to my beliefs about the avoidance of 50/50 arrangements.
Don't aim for 50/50.
If 50% is right, then 49% is wrong, and 65% would be something get angry about. If you both aim for more than half, you'll meet around the middle, around half the time. If you want the other person to stick around, "around" is the goal.

[I wrote that as marriage advice to a young friend. It lives, in greater context, at Being a Happy Mom.]

The first time the idea really solidified for me was when my oldest left home. I told the story in 2012. If you would rather hear me tell it, click here and go to 28:35 in the recording. I'm not reading, I'm speaking. The notes for my talk are there at that page. This section says:
Too much counting...
Too much measuring.

The failure of 50/50

Kirby's roommate

Partnerships financial or otherwise.
The antagonism of 51%

and here is what I said, that day:
When you make a deal with someone—and I don't care if it's marriage, partnership, a little business, a lemonade stand, going on a car trip where you're both going to spend half and half on gasoline and food—the problem with 50/50 is that it never, ever works. Because one of you owned the car, one of you drove more, one of you had the sleeping bag, one of you had the charge card, and it's not going to be 50/50 and there's going to be something to argue about.

When Kirby, my oldest son, was 21, he went to live in Austin, and he had a roommate. It wasn't a roommate he knew really well, it was somebody he worked with and they just sort of like looked at each other and said
"Do you want to be my roommate when we move to Texas?"
"Yeah, I guess so."

So I thought "Here comes something that I have experience with, with just having roommates you don't know really well. And I said: Here's the deal, Kirby—don't do anything 50/50. Just give as much as you can give, be generous, do more than half of the housework, do more than half of the cleaning-up of whatever needs to be done, and buy more than half of the groceries.

After a while his roommate got drunk and told him that he was "the best roommate man, anybody ever had," and so Kirby came and told me what the roommate had said in front of all their friends in his drunken state. But it involved that Kirby was always generous, and wasn't cheap with money, and always was available to help out, and to listen to his problems and stuff.

So partly Kirby learned that at the house, at his house. Also what he learned, and he told me, was he didn't realize that toilet paper and milk actually had to be bought, and didn't magically appear.

So too much counting and too much measuring is harmful. It's like giving grades at home. It's like you're minding your own business and somebody gives you a 75%, or a 42. That's an "F"—that's failing.

So when you think that you're giving half, the half that you give isn't the half they needed, probably. And sometimes people get better at that by reading that book of love languages, or sometimes they just remember that some people don't like to do laundry and some people never change the oil in the car.

I've never changed the oil in the car, I don't have to.... (continued, at 30:38, in the sound file here at:)

"Happiness Inside and Out"
HSC presentation by Sandra Dodd
on Friday, August 3, 2012

From the archive of UnschoolingDiscussion, 2004:
I've heard parents say they want a 50/50 deal with a child (or more often, with a husband or a friend). Few relationships are 50/50 and none are 50/50 in every aspect.

I do some car repair and Keith does some sewing, but neither of those is 50/50.

In matters of fun and food and sleep and what channel to watch, if an adult will not give more than 50%, a child without skills and power will lose a lot.

What I have seen that was unFOREseen (for me, maybe not for everyone) is the huge change in peace in progress that can come when parents DO attend heavily to their child's whims and interests and curiosities.

balance of power, October 10, 2004, Sandra Dodd

Sandra Dodd:
One time long ago Keith was cranky and told me that because of me he had to go to work every day, and make house payments.

I heard him, and I let him rant, and I said fairly calmly that I was pretty sure that if we hadn't gotten married he still would be living in a house and going to work. Even if he was single, and I named some friends of ours who were single, who had jobs, and paid rent or mortgages. 🙂

I think women do that too, thinking they wouldn't be doing dishes or laundry or cooking if they hadn't gotten married or had kids.

Avoiding the negative rants is a giant step in the right direction, for having a peaceful, contented life. Being glad to HAVE dishes and clothes and food and a pan and a fire, that's the way to be. 🙂

ColleenP (NH):
Having lived on my own for a few years after college before I moved in with my now-husband, I'm happy I'm no longer the only one who has to do everything around the house - my single days were fun, but there was sure no one else doing dishes, and laundry, and shoveling snow and cleaning off cars and taking cars for oil changes and... and... 🙂 Yep I like *not* being Just Me facing all that!
I think the older a person gets, the easier it is to be patient with an illness or injury. I still remember how long a summer vacation seemed when I was six and seven years old.

Now a whole season can go by and I hardly notice. I'll be 60 this year. There are are whole big incidents in my marriage that I don't remember, unless someone mentions it. The idea that I would have kept a tally of "favors" or of hours spent, with Keith, to know who was "ahead" or "behind" seems even crazier to me now that it seemed before.

I knew that dividing 50/50 was never a good way to be with friends or spouses.Someone might go ten years being the primary cook/cleaner/breadwinner, and then go another 20 being disabled or depressed or something. But people in their 20's can't conceive of 30 years.

They think they can, but it's quite theoretical for them. 🙂

I think the ideas in The 5 Love Languages are powerful to consider when figuring out what generosity might mean.


And just as with "learning styles," it doesn't mean you should figure out that a child is kinesthetic and so never, ever provide or share anything that isn't exclusively kinesthetic. It doesn't mean that if my primary love language is not receiving gifts that I never want to receive another gift as long as I live!
ColleenP (NH):
the 5 love languages website has a child survey - I didn't realize that and found it the other day - so all 3 of us did surveys and determined our Language(s) - very cool!
Sandra Dodd:
It will help if each person can be prepared to offer more of ALL of those things--service, gifts, physical touch, kind words and gratitude and attention.
Chores, Serving others as a gift, tales of kids helping out voluntarily
pages 175-184 of The Big Book of Unschooling (2009 edition)
online chat, January 16, 2013

Schuyler Waynforth wrote, of improvements in her marriage:
When David and I were first married I can recall keeping a sort of mental tally of what each of us had done for the other. I didn't want to be left having given more than I received. I have no idea what the balance is now. I have no need to know. And I don't know when I stopped keeping my tally, but I do know that it was part of feeling happy and safe in my marriage. I don't know how you stop keeping score, maybe you just do, maybe you just decide that whatever happens tomorrow, now is what counts.

(there's more here)

Partnerships (index page)

Peace for Unschoolers