Have you and your significant other ever found yourself drawn into an argument about housework? You’re not alone — one study found that housework (who does it, how much of it is done by whom, the manner in which it’s done, etc.) is second only to money as the biggest generator of conflict in a relationship.
Changing gender roles in society are blurring the lines over what used to be considered “women’s work,” yet even in heterosexual relationships in which both partners have full-time jobs, one person — typically the woman — tends to do more housework than the other. As a result, little chores can lead to big conflict.
As it turns out, men will tend to think they’re doing their fair share of housework while their partners typically feel they’re not pulling their weight. In an MSNBC poll, 74 per cent of men said household chores were shared equally, while only 51 per cent of women said the same — a classic case of differing perspectives that lays the groundwork for resentment and misunderstandings that can transform an otherwise happy relationship into a battleground whenever mops and sponges are involved. Before long, this can lead to tension and dissatisfaction that will seep into other aspects of the relationship.
Yet it doesn’t need to be this way. Here are six ways couples can defuse the strife over household chores and even make housework a positive part of cohabitation:
- Talk About It
The first step in solving the problem is discussing it — in a way that doesn’t cast blame or devolve into a litany of complaints, however. If one partner thinks he or she is doing an equal amount of housework while the other feels differently, common ground must be found. It’s important to admit when the division of labour isn’t equal and then take steps to rectify that in a way that suits both partners. Sure, it’s a negotiation, but aren’t most things in a relationship?
- Make a Plan
Once you’ve determined a change needs to be made, put it into action by determining who’ll do what, and when. If your partner agrees to handle laundry duties and you’re is greeted with the ever-popular “I’ll get to it soon” excuse while the mountain of dirty clothes in the laundry room keeps growing and you’re late for work because you can’t find any clean underwear, resentment stars brewing.
Setting out a firm plan that is mutually agreed upon removes any ambiguity and lays out clear expectations for both partners. One person may hate cleaning toilets while the other hates yard work, assign chores best suited to each person. And if both hate a particular bit of housecleaning equally, then take turns — or even tackle the hated chore together.
- Set Your Priorities
Some chores are more urgent than others. While one partner may be perfectly happy to walk past a sink full of dirty dishes, it may drive the other completely crazy. Discuss what you can and can’t live with, and set priorities as to which chores should be on the top of the list. Determine the most important household duties, who’ll do what and make a schedule. More importantly — keep to it. “The degree to which housework is shared is now one of the two most important predictors of a woman’s marital satisfaction,” noted the New York Times. “And husbands benefit too, since studies show that women feel more sexually attracted to partners who pitch in.”
- Explore Alternatives
If housework is really becoming a barrier to achieving a happy relationship, then put on those thinking caps and figure out other solutions. Perhaps there’s a way to free up some of the household budget (say, going out to eat a few times less each month) to be able to afford a maid service to come in a do the cleaning for you, thus removing those chores and the ensuing conflicts off the table. And if a couple has children — why are you doing chores that they should be doing?
- Stop Placing Blame
So you’ve come up with a schedule, agreed to it, and yet one person isn’t holding up his or her end of the bargain. Rather than jumping back into another argument, this is the time to step back and figure out why this is happening. Perhaps a male may have a deeply ingrained view that certain household chores are “women’s work”, or perhaps one partner is a night owl whose body clock dictates that chores late at night. Get to the bottom of it and allow enough flexibility for both partners to get things done in ways that work for each.
- Divide the Chores — Equally
According to a University of Chicago study, women are happier in relationships in which both partners value an equal division of labour around the house. If both members of a couple see eye-to-eye on sharing the housework, then neither will resent taking on more responsibility than they think they should. Equality in housework is a key concept in keeping other aspects of the relationship healthy, notes a recent study.
“Relationship quality and stability are generally highest when couples are happy with their divisions of labour and find them equitable and fair,” the study’s authors write, also pointing out that “perceived inequality has deleterious impacts on couples’ sex lives.”
Bottom line: couples who share housework equally fight less and have sex more — and do it in a clean house.