Bruce Fountain - Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist  

Bruce A. Fountain
101 Redlands Blvd
Suite 200
Redlands, CA 92373
(909) 792-9797

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50 Percent Falls Short in Marriages


The commonly held belief that a relationship is a 50-50 split leads to many unhappy marriages. On the surface it makes sense. The logic is if each individual contributes 50 percent to the relationship there will be a total of 100 percent. The reality is that on any given day one person may do more than the other. Does that mean the relationship can't flourish everyday? No, but it means that it is up to each person to take 100 percent responsibility for the success of the relationship and its enrichment. Few couples divide relationship roles and work equally. Circumstances, social and cultural norms, and how the couple determines roles, influence what an individual contributes to the marriage.

The 50-50 formula sets up a dependency model for fulfillment. "I can't be happy until you do your half ," is a hopeless situation to be in. I have come to believe that hope and fulfillment can only exist in a marriage if each person is 100 percent responsible for getting what they need. I am not talking about martyrdom, just an attitude of guardianship for the relationship. A Secret Service agent wouldn't say, "I am 50 percent responsible for the life of the President." Nothing good comes with only half effort. The only way to protect and promote a relationship is to take 100 percent responsibility for it. If you want a hug, give a hug. Sulking and waiting for someone else to please you is loaded with problems.

Couples entering counseling typically begin with a long list of complaints. This is perfectly normal and actually desirable as a way to reveal the needs that lie beneath the complaints. However, getting past the blame stage and into a constructive, collaborative phase of marriage building is critical. To take them out of the blaming mode I ask each individual this question. "If you were 100 percent responsible for the relationship, what would you do?" Their first response is usually along the lines of more blaming, but with a little instruction they begin to shift to answers that reflect creativity and forethought.

It is possible to create solutions that involve responding to each other with more understanding and patience. We have control of our perceptions and responses. We can interpret and respond to our spouses in ways that promote harmony and collaboration. When confronted with some perceived wrongdoing, instead of defending ourselves we can listen and ask for clarification. We can use a little emotional toughness and accept the criticism and try to repair the damage. We can use a kind, gentle touch to soothe our partner rather than counterattack with criticism. The list of constructive choices is virtually endless, but we can only access them if we take 100 percent responsibility for constructing the relationship we want.

If I want a warm, loving, relationship with my spouse, I need to have an internal image of her in mind that is warm and loving. I cannot let my identification with her become distorted by let downs, perceptions of unfairness, or perceived slights. I am the master of my thoughts and actions. I can promote bonding and harmony or detachment and hostility. I am 100 percent responsible.

This concept is not new but it is rarely practiced because it goes against cultural standards. It is one of the most liberating and powerful tools I know of for couples who want to have a satisfying, exciting relationship. There are special circumstances that are exceptionally complex. Alcohol, drug addiction, and abuse create dynamics that challenge the concept of 100 percent responsibility. Nobody is responsible for being abused and certainly we are not responsible for our spouse's addiction. We are however, completely responsible for our choices and how we handle ourselves.

Bruce A. Fountain, MS is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He has a practice in Redlands, CA and can be reached at (909) 792-9797 or via e-mail at © 2006-2010