Working is stressful. Home life is stressful.
An uneven balance of household workload between you and a spouse or partner can cause resentment and additional tension.
There are some creative ways to divide up those household chores and help create harmony in the home.
How do we divide household chores?
According to the Pew Research Center, a November 2016 research study of heterosexual couples showed 56% of couples said sharing household chores is important in their marriages.
Another Pew survey of 1,807 American parents showed about half said they split household chores evenly.
The survey also showed:
- 41% say the mother does more household chores.
- 8% say the father does more household chores.
- In households where both partners work full-time, 59% said chores are about equal, 31% say the mother does more, and 9% say the father does more.
Two kinds of labor
There are two kinds of labor in a household, physical and mental.
Physical labor involves things like taking out the trash, folding laundry, washing dishes. Mental labor involves cognitive energy for things like keeping an eye on the kids to make sure they’re safe, putting laundry detergent on the shopping list to make sure you don’t run out, and making packing lists to prepare for a vacation.
“It’s exhausting. Think about how many things you are juggling in your mind,” says Suniya Luthar, foundation professor of psychology at Arizona State University and senior author of a study of how the division of labor impacts a woman’s well-being. “There’s research showing that multitasking is not good for productivity or for mental health and mothers are multitasking constantly.”
Luthar and her research partner Lucia Ciciolla published a study of 393 American women with children younger than 18 who were either married or in a committed heterosexual relationship.
- A majority of women reported they alone had the responsibility for maintaining household routines.
- A shared responsibility for keeping the household’s finances.
- Women who feel overly responsible are less satisfied with their lives and partnerships.
“I said to someone the other day, you know it’s not just that it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to support the mother, as she’s raising a child,” Luthar says.
How to divide responsibilities
There are some creative ways to divide household responsibilities so the time at home after work can be akin to a peaceful retreat rather than to a battle zone.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Talking about expectations can help divide responsibilities, and picking times for your conversations is important.
“Try to have the conversation when nobody’s cranky or tired or stressed. Try and schedule it for a time when everybody’s in a reasonable state of mind,” Luthar says.
She also advises:
- Avoiding “you” words, use “I” words to describe feelings instead.
- Don’t assign blame.
- Don’t dredge up the past.
“Just say look, you know, we need to talk about how many hours I’m spending on household stuff and how many hours you are, and can we come to some [decisions about] what’s next,” Luthar suggests.
During these discussions, talk about what your household was like growing up. It might help you better understand your partner. If they grew up with a mother doing everything around the house and for the family, they’re more likely to repeat this behavior. People have a tendency to fall back on what they know.
“Do the best you can to explain what your sentiments are and why you feel and how you feel and so on,” Luthar advises. “But understand that there may be a point where he just will not get the intricacies and nuances that you’re trying to convey.”
Don’t play games. If you’re purposely not cleaning up the bathroom hoping your partner will notice it is getting nasty and clean it themselves, chances are you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Discussing the days ahead on a weekly basis could help identify potential pitfalls. If one person has a really busy week at work, offering to take over a few chores might help keep the peace later on.
The weekly meetings are also the time to bring up any problems that happened the previous week instead of nagging all along the way.
Figure out all of the tasks that need to be done. Decide which are essential and which are optional. This will help you set priorities.
Some tasks to consider:
- Meal planning
- Grocery shopping
- Shopping for household essentials
- Meal preparation
- Cleaning toilets
- Doing dishes
- Making beds
- Mowing the lawn and yard maintenance
- Putting children to sleep
- Paying bills
- Laundry (doing the laundry, folding it, putting it away)
- Taking out trash
- Homework checking
- Monitoring while children play
- Setting up play dates
- Vacation/ weekend planning
- Cleaning floors
While discussing tasks, talk about which tasks you hate the most. Maybe your partner doesn’t mind this one can tolerate it better than you can.
Reevaluate divided responsibilities periodically. Priorities might have changed or some tasks might have become more or less difficult over time.
Involve the kids
If there are children in the house, they can take part in doing some of the chores in an age-appropriate way. Involving them will not only reduce the load on you and your spouse, but it will also teach them that responsibility and that chores are expected.
Since people model what they learned as children, this could help them in their own relationships down the road.
Pick a good time for chores and set limits. Deciding you want to fold all of the laundry when your partner just wants to go to sleep in the bedroom might not be a good idea. Be considerate of the other’s time.
If it’s not your chore, don’t worry about it
Don’t be a gatekeeper and check up on your partner.
Correcting a technique, redoing it after or constantly nagging will only push the person further away from wanting to complete the task.
If you’re one of those people who must have the towels folded a certain way or you will go nuts, make sure towel folding is one of your chores.
Appreciate each other
A simple thank you goes a long way. Even if a certain task is on the other’s list, showing you value your partner’s contributions makes a difference. Everyone likes to be appreciated. Don’t underestimate the power of positive reinforcement.
Eliminate what you can
If you two aren’t into housework and can afford it, pay for a house cleaner or someone to do other chores. Don’t have any guilt about it. It’s help for both of you, not just one of you.
It’s also important to cut yourself some slack. A 50-50 split of household chores isn’t always realistic since things always shift and change.
Be careful not to compare yourself to other couples. Even if your friend always posts how her husband happily folds the laundry, they might fight about putting it away. You don’t know what happens behind closed doors.
Tiffani Sherman is a freelance reporter based in Florida.