Do you adhere to traditional gender roles or does your relationship have a modernized spin? Perhaps you and your partner have a blend of modern and traditional responsibilities?
Whatever the style, we have a tendency to expect the same experiences we had growing up. If your mother did the cooking, cleaning and child care while your father worked outside the home, you may expect the same circumstances as you adjust to living with someone else. It could go the other way, too. Maybe you didn’t agree with the way your parents divided up the work and want a change.
I have a good friend whose mother also did the majority of the cleaning when she was growing up, but her father was neat and orderly, so it was a bit of a shock when she noticed her new husband leaving his clothes and towels on the floor. I also know plenty of women who work full-time jobs, but are still responsible for nearly all of the domestic duties.
A problem arises if your partner expects something completely different from what you had in mind. Further, the rigid gender roles don’t fit our society anymore. Now, more men are staying home with children while women pursue careers and provide financial support. At the very least, both partners are more likely to both work full-time jobs.
So, it’s not quite as simple anymore. My parents had an even, steady balance because my dad worked outside of the home while my mom stayed at home. In my relationship, that dynamic doesn’t work. If I’m responsible for working full-time and maintaining the house all of the time, I won’t have a life. The same goes for Cory. If I expect him to complete all household tasks, he’ll also be overwhelmed.
Compromise isn’t so simple, either. I mean, we certainly try to make it even. Much of the time, however, one of us ends up frustrated. For instance, Cory is responsible for all of the outdoor work—mowing the yard, taking out the trash, cleaning up after the dogs and managing the hot tub. He takes most of the responsibility for training the dogs. He’s also in charge of completing the house remodel.
That leaves the indoor work. I sweep, mop, do the laundry, fold the clothes, get groceries, load and empty the dishwasher and dust and wipe everything down. We each cook for ourselves for the most part.
This may sound organized and fair, but a lot of the time, one of us slacks on our duties. For example, I may have time to clean up outside, but I don’t do it. He may have opportunities to put dishes away or do a few loads of laundry, but he doesn’t.
Cue the frustration and bitterness.
Counteracting these feelings takes a lot of communication and a lot of compromise. We have to be willing to share that we’re frustrated, annoyed or overwhelmed with our responsibilities. There are many weeknights that run so late, I can’t possibly keep up with the housework. If I don’t communicate this to Cory, I can’t expect him to pick up the slack. Therefore, the house starts falling apart until the weekend, when I can dig back in.
Fortunately, we are both flexible. I think that’s the foundation—the ability to make adjustments and accept a changing world. If couples don’t talk about these differences prior to moving in, a culture shock is likely to ensue. It’s probably going to come with arguing and resentment if the couple isn’t able to compromise.
Compromise is an easy word for a difficult concept, though. Compromise means giving up what is normal and right to you in exchange for something foreign and different. Sometimes the old way isn’t always the best way, though. New ways aren’t always the best direction to go, either. It’s a matter of finding your own personal rhythm.
Each person must feel like they have some control in the division of household duties, and each person should have a fair amount of work to complete. Otherwise, there will be resentment, which will manifest itself as acting out behavior if feelings are not expressed.
Some people seem to function well with little structure—they complete the house work as a team without delineation of specific chores. Every now and again, Cory and I do this, but not very frequently. We both know what we’re supposed to do on a daily basis and we don’t typically separate from that.
If there is overlap in chores, it involves one of us asking for help. On that note, if you are going to ask your partner to wash the dishes or mow the yard for you, don’t complain if it’s not up to your standards. If you are going to micromanage, you should just do the task yourself. Though it may be difficult, it’s important to just appreciate the effort.
Additionally, I don’t think we should put so much weight on these tasks in the first place. Yes, they need to be done, but it isn’t the end of the world if they aren’t. I know I feel stressed when I come home and find dirty dishes in the sink. I immediately feel annoyed that he couldn’t take care of them. But, at the end of the day, that’s really all they are—dishes. Time is much better spent cuddling on the couch or chatting about the day.
The work will be there when you’re ready to do it, but the cuddle time might not be.
Published: October 1, 2012