Sixty-two percent of adults say sharing of household chores is very important to marital success, according to a Pew Research Center poll.
But what are husbands and wives to do when they get stuck with chores they don’t like to do? They may carry on for years, silent about their unhappiness or complaining, but doing nothing to disrupt the status quo.
One of the areas this happens most is in parenting and discipline. For generations, this responsibility has been the domain of mothers. Look to the other warm-blooded creatures in nature, and it’s easy to conclude that this is by design rather than by accident. Mothers tend to be gifted in giving children the nurturing they need.
But a mother’s natural ability to care for children isn’t an excuse for fathers to defer all parenting to Mom, either. Many discover this like I did: Mom says something like, “Your kids need you to be their father.”
On a good day, that should lead to a discussion about what Mom wishes Dad would do more of, specifically.
This kind of discussion needs to take place from time to time about all the chores a husband and wife do. It’s not a good idea to take for granted that everyone is satisfied with his or her household to-do list or is the best person to do each chore.
Married couples do better when they openly discuss how chores are divided up.
Coming to an agreement about responsibilities in a marriage contributes to individual satisfaction, and to satisfaction with the relationship. Consider these tips for arriving at a satisfactory agreement on the division of labor:
1.) Talk about it. Make time to have an open discussion about how satisfied each of you are about the roles you’ve taken on in your marriage. Take turns opening up to each other about what a more satisfactory arrangement of roles would look like.
Talk about what you want, and avoid talking about what you don’t want. Use phrases like, “I wish you would…” and “It would make me happy if you would…” Making statements starting with phrases like, “I wish you wouldn’t…” and “I don’t like how you…” are like stepping on land mines that will explode into an argument.
2.) Make wishes come true. Once you each have your wishes out in the open, take turns offering to make some of the other person’s wishes come true.
Focus on what you will do, not what you won’t do.
3.) Consider dividing chores based on interest and skill. Each of you will have chores you’re better suited for than your spouse. One may be better at managing finances than the other. Another may be better at fixing things. One may be a better cook.
Offer to take on specific chores that interest you, give you a sense of purpose or accomplishment, and for which you have talent. Do this rather than settling into “men” do this and “women” do that.
4.) Help each other with the mundane and difficult tasks. Some chores will be unwelcome no matter who does them. For example, perhaps neither of you are good at managing finances, fixing things, or cooking. No one really wants to clean bathrooms. And parenting works best when both parents are involved.
When circumstances make it possible, agree to offer help to each other with specific unwelcome and hard tasks.
5.) Express appreciation. Once you’ve come to an agreement on how each of you will participate in household chores, express appreciation to each other for the initiative taken and concessions made. But don’t stop there.
Just as the chores keep coming back around, so should expressions of appreciation.
Jon Beaty, counselor and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”