Who’s doing what and how much are you arguing about it? When you first thought about living together, did you think arguments over housework would be part of the picture? I bet not. It turns out that housework is one of couples’ top three arguments and a big factor in separation and divorce. Keeping the many facets of a household running is a big job. Some refer to housework as the “second shift.” The second shift never ends. There’s no vacation or sick leave, no quitting time. And no paycheck.
The Second Shift
The second shift includes
- Housecleaning, cooking, laundry, and shopping
- House and car maintenance, repairs, and yard work
- Childcare, help with schoolwork, taking kids to school and clubs
- Errands, doctor’s appointments, scheduling
- Mail, bills, finances, insurance, and taxes
In surveys, more than 90% of men and women say that if both partners work full time, they should split these responsibilities down the middle. But the reality is far different. When both partners have full time jobs, women spend an average of 28 hours a week, and men spend an average of 17, on the second shift. The difference – almost 11 hours a week – is not lost on women. Almost a quarter of women think the division of labor in their household is unfair to them. Ten percent of men feel this way.
Top Complaints about Housework
What Men Say:
- There’s no pleasing her. I can’t do anything right.
- She gets mad if I want to unwind before I start on chores.
- No matter how much I do, it’s never enough.
- She doesn’t give me advance notice, instead demands a task has to be done now.
What Women Say:
- He waits for me to nag him before doing anything.
- He thinks of chores as my domain, and he helps out now and then.
- He doesn’t clean the kitchen like he cleans his car.
- He wants a medal for doing his fair share.
Not all couples think an unequal division of housework is unfair. When one partner’s job demands more hours, the other does more housework. Or if one partner works part-time, they do more at home. It’s not only women who complain about unfairness. Sometimes, it’s the man who is unhappy with how the work is divided. Regardless of which partner feels put upon, it’s the sense of unfairness that generates arguments. The party who feels wronged lobbies for change. If things don’t change, a downward spiral is put in motion that ultimately threatens the relationship. In relationships where one partner believes the division of labor is unfair, both are twice as likely to consider separation or divorce. Clearly, how couples handle housework makes a huge difference.
Housework, Happiness, and Sex
The next time you have an argument about who does what, think about the following. Wives who think housework is divided fairly
- Report feeling more warmth and affection toward their husbands
- Have sex with their husbands at least once a week
- Are less likely to consider separation or divorce.
There are health benefits to housework as well. People who do 20 minutes of vigorous housework a week regularly are 20% less likely to have mental health problems.
Three Steps to Happy Housework
- Take stock. List everything that has to be done – regardless of who does it.
- Drop or delegate. Find ways to lighten your load. Get rid of the houseplants so you don’t have to water them. Teach the kids to run the dishwasher. Hire someone to mow the lawn. Donate clothes that need to be ironed or dry cleaned.
- Divide and conquer. Decide on how the remaining tasks will get done. You can divide them
- Down the middle. You each do half of every chore, or alternate who does it
- By interest or ability. You each do chores that you like or are good at
- By difficulty. You rate each task for difficulty, and each take some difficult and some easy ones
- By time. You figure out how long each task takes, then split the hours
No one way of splitting chores is best. What’s important is that each of you is happy with the arrangement. My housework calculator has a comprehensive list of chores and lets you calculate the time and difficulty of each. It will help you get a handle on what has to be done, and how to do it.
Download the Housework Calculator (Microsoft Excel File)
How to Make the Plan Work
- Figure it out. Take initiative and figure out how to do things yourself. If you don’t know how to get candle wax out of the tablecloth, look it up on the web.
- Say thanks. Let your partner know you noticed their effort even if things didn’t come out perfect.
- Don’t critique. There’s more than one way to do things. Not everything has to live up to your ideal.
- Keep your commitments. Everyone let’s things slide now and then, but don’t let it become a pattern.
- Don’t nag! If your partner doesn’t do something on time, let it go. No one will die if the trash can is full. When the message gets across that you won’t pick up the slack, your partner will step up.
- Follow up. Schedule a time to review the plan and make adjustments. Troubleshoot. Find more to delegate. Hold each other accountable. Recommit to make it work.
What’s It worth?
If you’re still not convinced that solving housework problems is a good idea, think about this. If you got paid a million dollars to do the housework, you’d make sure it got done. Your partner’s love and warmth are priceless!