The 50% Rule of Relationships

In every relationship you have, you own 50% of the responsibility. Not one percent more, not one percent less. This percentage is fixed. It never changes. Never.

If you approach every connection in your life this way, you’ll judge the people you love a lot less – but you’ll also stop blaming yourself for the full extent of whatever goes wrong.

When responsibility is split 50-50 for everything that happens, the question “Whose fault was this?” disappears. Instead, you’ll ask a better one: “What’s my 50%?”

If your partner doesn’t live up to their share of household chores, which behavior of yours might be enabling this pattern? Are they doing it on purpose because they’re angry about something else? Do they simply not know it bothers you? Or could it be a symptom of a much deeper, long-standing childhood trauma?

When you look for your 50%, there’ll always be a mountain of issues you are responsible for and can work on; a mountain so big it’ll make focusing on your partner’s (or friend’s, or boss’s, or parent’s) pile seem petty and vindictive – an act of chosen helplessness.

Problems come in various shapes and sizes, but when you agree that each one consists of half your and another person’s parts, the way forward no longer lies in a tennis game of deflection. “Who should fix it?” becomes “Why is this part here and that part there, and which ones do we need to remove or replace to get this thing going?”

The 50% rule may not always reflect reality, yet it is still the most realistic rule of all – the psychological, inter-human equivalent of Netwon’s third law of motion: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”

Even when we feel responsibility is split unevenly, due to our biased little brains, we can only ever comprehend a small fraction of the full picture, and that fraction is never big enough to draw accurate conclusions about who’s to blame for what. What we do know is that for every drop of fuel we pour on a fire, anyone else who feels the heat will throw in one too. The reaction may not always come in the same form, but it will always be opposed and, in the long run, of equal importance to the issue at hand.

Let’s say you miss an event that’s important to your spouse. Whatever they feel about this situation, it’ll affect what they do next. They might sulk for a bit before telling you they feel hurt. They could retaliate by not picking you up from work. Even if they say it’s not a big deal and take it well, the pain might fester and bubble back to the surface later on.

It’s impossible to measure the full impact of this occurrence, but the fact that it has an impact is certain, and that impact could potentially stretch out into infinity. When will it reappear? You’ll never know – but it might and probably will – and that’s what makes the 50% rule our best bet for treating others fairly and with kindness.

In lieu of the exact, objective truth, the 50% rule allows us to move our relationships forward, stay focused on what we can do, and make peace with our actions and the behavior of others. It is a way of maintaining our balance and evening the scoreboard…to zero, because relationships are not a competition but a cooperation.

Sometimes, you need to trust in the view before you climb the mountain. Will it still be worth it when you get there? This conundrum is the essence of life. Own up to and then own your 50%. That’s how you’ll find peace, fairness, and optimism in all your relationships – because responsibility is freedom, but in order to feel it, we first have to accept it.