Household responsibilities are a pain. Even for those who like a tidy home, or find some satisfaction in cleaning and organizing things… It’s still an ongoing challenge to keep up with dishes, laundry, and all of the other messes and maintenance around the house – especially if you have kids.
For many couples, figuring out some kind of division of labor is a big part of keeping this endless task list manageable. It can come in many forms – whether it’s taking turns on specific chores, each person having their own responsibilities, or an amicable team effort. Even more importantly than “getting stuff done,” however, are the expectations couples put on one another for this kind of work…
In fact, the division of labor, gender roles, and unmet expectations surrounding housework are directly related to the overall happiness of your marriage. It’s less about what you each actually do, and more about how you feel about it – particularly for women. One study found that couples reporting the highest levels of marital happiness correlated directly with women who believed that labor should be divided equally – and the reality met their expectations. The opposite was also true: the couples reporting the lowest levels happiness were those where the wife believed in equal division of household responsibilities, but the reality fell short of expectations.
Now, this can extend from some gender roles (men thinking that housework is the woman’s responsibility), or simply from a lack of participation even after a division of labor has been established. And it’s not just men!
This trouble can come in many, many forms – and every couple is unique. Underlining it all, however, is the problem of unmet expectations.
Couples that don’t discuss this stuff can fall into bad habits, begrudgingly doing chores while blaming their spouse for not taking care of it, feeling like they do all the work, and getting angry about unmet expectations that were never laid out.
If couples DO decide on a way to split up household responsibilities, it’s just as troublesome if one (or both) people don’t hold up their end of the bargain. It still leads to resentment, feeling an undue burden, and can even chip away at the trust you have for one another.
Chores might not seem like a big deal to you (especially if you’re the one not holding up your end), but it’s serves as a metaphor for the rest of the relationship. Are you each taking an active role in taking care of responsibilities large and small? Are you both committed to helping one another? Are you acting as a team?
This is just one (very practical) way you can both get back on the same page and start rebuilding a marriage of love, trust, mutual understanding, and teamwork. Have a candid discussion about chores, division of labor, and how you each feel about it. Of course there will be some responsibilities you’d rather not have to deal with, but that’s just part of the reality. You can make it easier by forming a plan with your spouse. Decide on a division of labor that works for both of you, and stick to it until you have to revisit the discussion.
Again, the point here is about expectations – and that goes for way more than who folds the laundry or cleans the bathroom. When you’re fighting about unmet or unclear expectations, it means you aren’t communicating. It means you aren’t operating as a unit with each other’s best interests in mind. If you find yourself fighting about household duties, it’s time to take a step back, have a talk about expectations, and find better ways to support one another.
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Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com