When Marriage Isn’t Fair

A couple weeks after returning from our honeymoon, Tim and I spent a couple days with his sister and bro-in-law down in San Diego. We had done this several times while dating and despite having grown up in Southern California, traveling down to their home always felt like a mini vacation. Part of the vacation aspect was attending their church on Saturday nights.

With Tim in vocational ministry, Sunday sometimes ends up feeling like work instead of worship, but our times of fellowship at their church were always refreshing – a time to be filled, challenged and recharged. That visit, shortly after marrying Tim, was no exception. And wouldn’t you know, the sermon was on marriage!

What I remember from that sermon, more than a year later, is that marriage is not fair. The pastor illustrated his point with percentages. Both people don’t give 100 percent all the time – it’s a balance of resources and the scale is generally never even. When one person can only give 30 percent, the other has to give 70 to make it work. Not easy. Not fair. But neither is love.

when marriage isn't fair

That principle was not new to me, but I have since realized I’m not very good at it, especially the receiving part of the equation. I have my moments, but for the most part, I really enjoy giving to my husband. I like putting in the extra effort to meet his needs and support him in any way possible. It matters to me that I contribute to our relationship. It matters to me that I’m not draining. It matters to me that I give more than my (perceived) half of the effort to make our marriage thrive. It mattered so much that I began to derive too much value from my ability to contribute.

Looking back over our first year of marriage, there have definitely been times when I couldn’t give much emotionally. Our first few months in Idaho were tough and I see how Tim stepped in to compensate for my lack. However, in my mind, I was making up for my low emotional percentages by doing. I felt like I could make things more fair by cooking meals, maintaining a clean apartment, staying physically fit, and being actively involved in youth ministry.  My worth as a spouse was slowly being wrapped up in this contributing scale that I was so desperately wanting to be even.

Then I got pregnant. [pullquote]I have never experienced the truth that marriage isn’t fair in a more tangible way than during pregnancy[/pullquote]. Even if I had started with 100 percent to give, being pregnant quickly depleted my stores. This pregnancy was a surprise so I wasn’t always fully emotionally engaged in the process. (Subtract percentage points there.) I wasn’t prepared for the exhaustion aspects that truncated my ability to make up for my emotional lack by doing. (Subtract even more percentage points.)

Over the past nine months, I’ve watched Tim give and give because I couldn’t. He has cooked and cleaned and run errands after work and on weekends. He has never made me feel like a lazy turd for staying in my pajamas all day or reading when there were dishes to be washed or napping for hours at a time. (I could go on about the sweet things he does for me, but I will spare you the mush and the word count…)

It’s taken me all these 37 weeks of pregnancy to let go of the guilt and accept Tim’s extra percentages of effort for what they truly are – genuine expressions of love. I realized I was placing my worth as a wife in what I could give and have been deeply humbled through this process of acknowledging my lack and accepting Tim’s love without giving anything to deserve it.

I am daily reminded that[pullquote position=”right”] sacrifice is the foundation of love[/pullquote]. Sacrifice was the ultimate expression of Jesus’ love for us and marriage should be a reflection (though it will be murky at best because we’re human) of His ultimate sacrifice.

7 thoughts on “When Marriage Isn’t Fair

  1. Sounds like a great guy! What kind of vocational ministry is your husband in? My husband is getting his MA in leadership from the seminary he works at—but probably won’t be in vocational ministry for awhile, if at all.

    Can so relate to this. I was horribly sick during the first half of my pregnancy, and it was such a tangible reminder of our vows (and so humbling) to see my husband serve me and love me like Christ loves the church when I couldn’t do anything that I typically take pride in doing.

    This gives you such a great foundation when your little one is born too! So exciting!

    1. He is a great guy! :) Tim is a youth pastor. I met him in his last year of seminary (M div) at Azusa Pacific University. Is your husband a professor?

      Yeah, I feel a little bad knowing that my ability to “give” like normal won’t really end when James is born – it’ll just be different… But we are so excited to expand our little family!

  2. So interesting to read your take on this, Emily! I have a bit of the opposite problem, I feel like I’ve been pulling more than 50% of the marriage lately, and rather than taking pride in it like you, I get kinda resentful about it. I may be guilty of making my husband feel like a lazy turd at times… I know that there will always be ebb and flow in a marriage, not 50/50, but it feels like I’ve been carrying the load a lot lately. I guess I need to pray for strength and patience.

    1. Oh man, I totally understand about the resentment factor, despite taking pride in my ability to contribute. There have been times where I gave just to get back, or feel entitled to get back because of what I put in. Either way I approached it, I still have missed the point that love is a sacrifice and serving should be done with no strings attached. Although, I don’t think that prohibits conversation about feeling overwhelmed by the load you’re carrying or the resentment. I’m not that great of a communicator and have found my silence generally makes matters worse. Praying with you!

  3. As an unmarried woman, I appreciate this perspective. I’ve always been a giver (or perhaps, a doer) in my relationships, both romantic and otherwise. I am always having to remember that there is grace (even for me). xoxo.

  4. Hey Emily!

    I just looked this up deliberately as a cheer-up reminder. Even though I was sicker in my first pregnancy, I think I was better able to maintain my identity (and sense of usefulness): I was still working and had those titles (librarian, student), even if I could only do B+ work. With this pregnancy, I can really let a lot of things slide (which may be why it’s been milder physically), but then I’m left feeling useless and overly reliant on J’s household and parenting help. And they’re all such GOOD problems to have — a wanted pregnancy! an awesome husband! the freedom to relax during pregnancy! — but I’m glad to see it can be challenging for others to bear, too.

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