What’s “fair” when it comes to chores?
In my last Rockville couples counseling blog post, I spent some time discussing a common couple pattern: the pursuer/withdrawer dynamic. Today, I would like to discuss about another problematic dynamic: doing too much/doing too little. This pattern is most easily seen in the day-to-day tasks of managing a household: cooking, doing laundry, paying bills, walking the dog, mowing the lawn, etc.
As a Rockville couples counseling therapist, I think that most couples, if not all, report trouble managing the household chores. The word “fair” is thrown around a lot as one partner feels they are taking on the lion’s share of the chores. It’s not unusual to hear one spouse say: “I do everything around the house, while s/he does nothing!” Meanwhile, their partner responds: “I offer to help and even try sometimes, but it’s never the way s/he wants it done!” The partner who “does too much” might feel frustrated and resentful, while the spouse who “does too little” may feel criticized and useless.
One of the most challenging aspects of this dynamic is that the more one person does, the less the other person does, and vice versa. Couples in this dynamic are in a tug of war, unable to drop the rope and give up their stance. Here are a few strategies to help you manage this common, but problematic, pattern:
Daily vs. non-daily chores. If we’re being honest, we can agree that not all chores are created equal. Some chores require much more time and energy than others. For example, doing the dishes is a daily chore, especially in a full house, while mowing the lawn is a weekly chore. If both you and your partner prefer that household chores be divided equally, than it will be important to take a close look at how often a chore needs to be done and make sure you both tackle daily and non-daily chores.
Forget about the “right” way. It is very easy to buy into the idea that there is a right and wrong way to do certain tasks. For example, should dishes with food remnants be rinsed off before being placed in the dishwasher? It seems like a silly question, but if one spouse feels as though their way is “wrong” and worries that they will be taught the right way to load the dishwasher, than they will be less likely to complete this chore. And, in turn, the spouse who “does more” will have no choice but to take on more tasks. Differences in regards to cleanliness and order are simply differences in perspective – there is no morally right way to complete a household chore. My suggestion as a Rockville couples counseling therapist: try to shift your viewpoint from “this is wrong” to “this is just another way of completing this task.”
As I mentioned in my previous post, it might be helpful to sit down with your partner at a mutually agreed upon time to discuss how you will manage this dynamic. If you continue to try to solve this problem and find yourself frustrated or hopeless about your lack of progress, it may be a good time to reach out to a therapist for more help. A skilled Rockville couple’s therapist will be able to help you find balance in your relationship.