It’s a commonly held belief that perception is reality. Nowhere is that more true than in a marriage. In alignment with this thinking is the idea that women who work outside the home actually work two full-time jobs, only one of which is paid.
In a 2007 Pew Research Center poll, 62% of married adults said “sharing household chores” came in at #3 in importance for a successful marriage, behind only faithfulness and sex. This was an increase from 47% in 1990. But according to recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time working men and women did about the same amount of paid and unpaid work.
This raises several big questions for couples trying to keep things fair and balanced in their relationship. First, what has changed for couples, both on the home and work front, since 1990? Who do you believe is doing what in your household? And, what, if anything, does it all mean for your relationship?
How you answer these questions has a lot to do with what’s going on in the mind of both you and your partner; something that can’t be captured by a time diary.
Women may let go of some household tasks. That doesn’t mean they don’t continue to think about them. They also tend to be the ones who keep the family schedule. (I once joked with my husband that if I got hit by a bus he’d never find the kids.)
Men, too, feel the work-family conflict. They often feel a greater sense of responsibility in these financially uncertain times. This stress is often not communicated to their loving partners.
The reality is that both of you are working very hard. However, if you believe that you’re the one doing more, you will be on the lookout for ways your partner is slacking. If you believe that you’re already so busy you don’t even have time to think, you will be resentful if your spouse wants to know why you haven’t gotten “x” done yet. The key is to expand your perceptions and acknowledge what your partner is really doing.
Keeping meticulous track of what you do and what your partner doesn’t, then either silently seething or openly fighting about it makes for “Home, Unsweet Home”. All of this back and forth, tit for tat, just adds up to strain on both you personally and the relationship as a whole.
Trying to defend your contributions and/or justify your shortcomings probably hasn’t worked out very well for either of you. The good news is that there are ways to manage this very real home/work challenge without ending up bruised and battered with your relationship hanging by a thread.
There are specific actions you and your partner can take to instill peace, harmony, and clean laundry to your world:
1. Identify what needs to be done.
Make a list of all tasks needed to keep your household running. This includes all housekeeping chores, parenting tasks, bill paying, investment activities, income generation, food preparation, home maintenance responsibilities, general errands, etc. Go through each day so you unearth as many as you can.
2. Set your priorities.
Define what is important to you and your partner. Look for activities you can let go of or outsource. All things that must get done, get done. If it doesn’t get done, it didn’t have to. We all are given only 168 hours per week. What you do in that time reflects your priorities. For me, I let go of housework. I like a clean house, but I would rather spend time with my family instead of clean. I confessed to my husband that I was a bad housekeeper. “No,” he said, “You’re just an indifferent one.” (I won’t trade that support for anything.)
3. Let go of the “shoulds”.
These are the gremlins that tell you that what you’re doing isn’t good enough. Women tend to suffer from the “shoulds” more often than men. This may be one reason women believe they do more. It’s hard for them to shut their minds off and let things go. It’s really okay if you do things differently than your mom or dad. We live in a different time and the old rules may not apply in your household. Another “should” is rigidly defining how a task is done. Agree on the standard that defines ‘complete’ and then let the ‘how it’s done’ go.
4. Decide who is going to do what.
This may be the most challenging task but you already have a list of what tasks keep your house running and the priority of each. Divvying up the chores lets you determine, upfront, what’s equitable. Paying attention to the parameters of your relationship is critical for this step. Parameters are things like type of job, hours worked, commute time, number of children, size of home and yard, etc. Play to each of your strengths. Your goal is to manage your time and energy efficiently.
5. Embrace the plan.
This is the key for success in avoiding arguments and resentment. Once you have agreed to a task, take ownership of it. You become responsible for completing that task in the agreed time frame and to the agreed standard. If it is not your task, back out of it. Be willing to revisit the plan if something isn’t working or if there has been a major life change for either of you that changes the parameters.
By following these steps, you and your partner can take control of your work/home balance. You will have an absolute awareness of what your partner is doing and why. Most importantly, you will have come together as a team, your perceptions of both your efforts will match reality, and you will have completely removed all reason for “chore wars”.
Does your spouse know all the ways you contribute to your household? Do you know everything they do? What needs to happen to feel you are both contributing equitably to the daily chores of living?