Reality Check: What’s fair in love and chores?

A recent study by a Norwegian researcher generated headlines with its conclusion that couples who share housework equally are more likely to divorce than couples where women do most of the household chores.

Almost simultaneously, a British study concluded that men who contribute to chores feel better and have a better sense of work-life balance. Contradiction or what?

While I don’t put much stock in such conclusions, they inspire an interesting question. How can a couple have a happy relationship while dealing with the unpleasant day-to-day necessities, such as chores?

Couples sometimes rationalize that their relationship would be great if only it was “fair.” Well, that sounds great–till you examine the details. How does one define fair? Is one load of laundry equal to one garbage removal? Does 15 minutes of dishwashing equal 15 minutes of window-washing?

Will a happy relationship result from ensuring that each partner puts in exactly the same number of minutes dishwashing, vacuuming, and diaper-changing?

Or might happiness have more to do with respect, support, encouragement, and caring of partners for each other?

When it comes to chores, if you live alone, you can be pretty sure who’s responsible for the mess. But when there’s another in the household, it’s tempting to place blame…on the other!

If you think you know what’s best, if you try to coerce your partner into doing it, and then if you blame them when they don’t perform to your standards, your partner may acquiesce—in the short term. However, what do you think of the long-term prospects of this arrangement?

What might work better? There is an alternative to blame. You could try what choice theory refers to as the caring habits, among them, support and respect. How?

Dishes done with the attitude of “now you owe me,” sets up a hostile tit-for-tat atmosphere. Dishes done with an attitude of “now we can relax and enjoy each other’s company” sets up a caring atmosphere.

Even better, dishes done together while enjoying each other’s company efficiently serves two purposes. Chores have to be done; you may as well enjoy the process with the person you profess to love, rather than treating the job with resentment.

Another helpful activity is to look seriously at priorities and set them with your partner. Is it more important that your walls be free of finger-prints or that you read to your kids? In his book, “Eight Lessons for a Happier Marriage,” Dr. Glasser (or possibly his wife, Carleen) quote Phyllis Diller as saying “Cleaning your house before the kids are done growing is like shovelling the walk before it stops snowing.”

Regardless of where chores rate in your priorities, make your decisions from the perspective of “the relationship is the top priority.” Keep the health of the relationship in mind. Just because someone says that “he should” do 50% of the ironing and “she should” do 50% of the car repair doesn’t make it right for you!

Do you think that asking, “What works for us?” rather than, “What do others think?” leads to a more satisfying relationship?

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