Why Brené Brown Says Marriage Will Never Be 50/50

Marriage, like life, isn't always fair, but world-famous research professor Brené Brown has some ideas for how to make it work.

brene brown, supportive couple Tim Ferriss - Instagram / Ground Picture - Shutterstock

How many times have you heard someone say that marriage is a 50/50 arrangement where both parties have to give equal effort in order for it to work? Then you step into the real world and realize that people don’t always have 50% to give.

Brené Brown, acclaimed professor and expert in empathy, vulnerability, shame and empathy, knows all-too-well that each partner continuously meeting the other in the middle is unrealistic. She discussed the topic on Tim Ferriss’ podcast, and one segment of their conversation is striking a nerve with listeners.


In the clip, shared on Instagram, Brown started by calling the idea that each partner contributes equally “the biggest crock of [b.s.] I’ve every heard”. Instead, she detailed how she and her husband, Steve, determine exactly what each of them can give one another on a daily basis. Based on the fact that they've been married for almost thirty years, Brown and her husband have earned the right to call out garbage marriage advice when it strikes her.

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How to set realistic expectations when you've given up on 50/50

Before diving into the process that Brown and her spouse use to gauge what’s left in their tanks at the end of the day, it’s vital that couples are open to communicating transparently with each other. It is also important that they don’t try to force one another to feel any particular way, but rather allow their partner to sit in whatever it is they are experiencing without guilt.


According to Brown, the most important part of understanding one another is having open and honest conversation. Here are the steps she and her spouse take when level-setting with one another:

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Find out where your partner stands

First, Brown and Steve sit together and take inventory. To do this, they look at “energy, investment, kindness, and patience” and tell how much of themselves they feel they can dedicate to meeting the needs of their mate. As an example, she says, one of them might say, “I’m at a 20,” and the other accepts what they are told at face value.

Meet your partner where they are

Secondly, once one of them expresses an inability to deliver their 50% to the relationship, the couple works together to fill in the blanks, ensuring that together, they are contributing 100%. For example, if Steve said he only had 20%, Brown would offer to give 80% that day. The goal is to his 100% combined, no matter how they get there.


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Find a way to be kind to one another

There will be times when, no matter how much talking a couple does, they simply cannot give 100% and that’s okay. Brown says that each day, she, and her husband “figure out a way” to be kind, no matter what their individual dispositions are. Even when you fall short, communicating that and still being kind to your partner can go a long way in avoiding feelings of neglect and apathy.

Marriage is not about being perfect.

Marriage is two imperfect individuals coming together to make it to the finish line of life. Along the way, they should love, inspire, support, and uplift one another. It’s also about loving your spouse, even when they don’t meet your exact expectations.

If you come into your relationship believing that your mate will show up in exactly the same way each and every day, you are in for a lot of disappointment. Be with someone who knows how to communicate their needs, empathizes with you, and is willing to be flexible when it comes to your feelings because the only thing constant in our lives is change.


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NyRee Ausler is a writer from Seattle, Washington. She covers lifestyle, relationship, and human-interest stories that readers can relate to and that bring social issues to the forefront for discussion.