Striving For An Equal Marriage? That May Be Why It's Failing

Why keeping a scorecard is the worst thing for your marriage—and how to put it away.


I was born toward the tail end of the baby-boomer generation, which makes me part of the "me generation." Supposedly my generation was the first to put self-awareness and self-fulfillment ahead of work ethic and social responsibility. 

Although we got the self-centered moniker, subsequent generations (Gen-X, Gen-Y and Millennials) have each carried on the proud tradition, with self-absorption becoming normalized and institutionalized as a core value in our country. 5 Easy Steps to Self-Discovery


You hear it everywhere these days: Express yourself. Be yourself. Find yourself.   

A study of the millennials was recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, authored by Jean M. Twenge, a professor at San Diego State University; research associate Elise C. Freeman; and University of Georgia professor W. Keith Campbell. In the study, and her subsequent book, Ms. Twenge describes millennials as "generation me" for their increased level of self-focus and introspection. The book is subtitled Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before. How An Unhappy Marriage Can Damage Your Health


Although there isn't universal agreement on the study's conclusion, Ms. Tenge finds that young people today have "more focus on the self and less focus on the group, society, and community" even than their baby boomer counterparts. In her book she writes, "Young people have been consistently taught to put their own needs first and to focus on feeling good about themselves."

What is the fruit of half a century of self-absorption? Whereas Ms. Twenge points to issues such as a reduction in civic responsibility and community service, and a lack of concern over broader societal issues, I see implications for marriage… and they are that are not good.

The fallacy of fairness and equality

We hear a lot today about "fairness" and "equality," especially in discussing our country's various social and fiscal ills. I also hear these words tossed about a lot as important virtues in marriage. I don't buy it, and you shouldn't either. There's Only 2 Critical Tips For Fighting Fair In Relationships


The problem with holding up fairness and equality as the main measuring sticks for a good marriage is that it turns what should be a partnership into a contest. Scorekeeping soon becomes the major pastime of the relationship. "If you get X, then I get Y. It's only fair." When you spend the majority of your time worrying about whether or not everything in the marriage comes out even (or, if you are honest, how you might come out ahead in the game), you are setting yourself up for a constant battle.

This fairness and equality notion is where the 50/50 marriage ideal comes from. It's a zero-sum, relational poverty mentality that causes couples to spend a lot of time and effort fighting for their rights, struggling for power, and striving to have their expectations met. It reduces marriage to whatever I can get out of the bargain. The 5 "Golden Rules" Of Fighting Fair With Your Spouse

Unfortunately, when you constantly fight for your part of the marital pie, pushing for your rights, agendas, fair share and expectations, you end up hurting your marriage. Even if you win, you actually lose. You lose intimacy in your relationship. You lose the joy of giving freely to another. You lose the delight found in simply delighting the one you love.  You lose the atmosphere of respect and honor in your marriage.

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Generosity and sacrificial love are the best measure of a great marriage

Imagine a marriage where husband and wife try to out-give, out-love, and out-bless each other. Imagine a relationship where you don’t have to try to "get yours," because your spouse is already making sure that you do. When you and your partner have the best interest of the other and the relationship at heart, even preferring the other above your own interests, your marriage will be filled with peace, contentment, trust and passion. 

The truth is that marriage is not a zero-sum game. You can have as much happiness as you and your spouse are willing to work for. Instead of trying to figure how to divide everything evenly, to get what you feel you deserve out of the marital pie, work on growing your marriage and yourself. Couple Builder: Practical Generosity

You don’t have to settle for what is. Work on growing together toward what can be. 


Compromise vs. surrender

The kind of generosity and sacrificial love I’m calling you to is not the same as compromise or capitulation. Compromise involves doing something you don't want to do or not doing something you do want to do. It generally involves giving in, giving up or settling. It comes with the feeling that I lost and you won. This kind of capitulation can foster resentment, indebtedness and scorekeeping. This kind of compromise ultimately does damage to your marriage.

Now contrast compromise with what I describe as surrender. By surrender I do not mean giving up or giving in; I mean giving over.  Surrender does not mean losing; it means the willingness not to keep score. 3 Reasons Keeping Score Is Good For Your Relationship

I know the word surrender got a bad rap back in the days when Laura Doyle's book The Surrendered Wife was a fad. I think hers was an unhealthy, almost-manipulative representation of surrender. I'm not talking about surrendering in order to get your something from your spouse. I'm talking about giving yourself completely to the love of your life, holding nothing back.


Whereas compromise comes from a sense of obligation, surrender has to do with choice. Surrender means acting with integrity toward your core values while keeping in mind the needs and desires of your spouse and the importance of your relationship. Surrender allows selfless love to win out over your own preferences—because you want it that way. It lets you be willing to lose the argument in order to maintain your relational connection. Surrender puts relationship ahead of rights.

What would your marriage be like if both of you threw out the scorecards? What if you were both 100-percent in, putting everything you have and everything you are into your marriage? What if instead of equity and fairness as the measure of the quality of your marriage, you used surrender and sacrificial love as the measuring sticks? Cultivating the True Love: From Codependency to Self-Sufficiency

I can tell what it would be like. It would mean both of you adding strength to strength and allowing strength to cover for weakness. It would mean an abundance of generosity and pleasure, both given and received. It would mean coming together in a way that makes your marriage more than either of you as individuals. This is not loss of individuality, but rather it's each of you bringing your full and genuine self to your relationship, and doing so for the benefit of each other and your marriage.

What do you think of my notion of a "surrendered marriage?" One "without scorecards?" Leave a comment with your thoughts.