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Household Chores… Why Are They Such an Issue in Marriage?

by | Sep 26, 2023 | Communication, Conflict, Marriage

One of the… “assets” Michael brought into our marriage was his grandparents’ vacuum. It was likely from the 60s, weighing almost 40 pounds. One of the features of this beastly machine was that it had a retractable cord, which only the most skilled and talented of people could actually get to retract.

I was neither skilled nor talented in this endeavor.

But, week after week, I diligently vacuumed our area rug, and week after week I struggled with the cord. Until one fateful day, when I pulled too hard. The cord would no longer retract. 

That morning we had decided to clean our basement suite, and so when I had issues with the vacuum, I just moved on to something different. We were in a bit of a time crunch, as we had already made plans to meet up with our friends later that morning. 

Meanwhile, Michael saw the problem and got straight to work, taking the machine apart, trying to figure out how to fix the relic. As I watched him, I started to get very annoyed. (Clearly it doesn’t matter if the cord is outside of the vacuum. It still works! And doesn’t he see that I am busy cleaning everything else? Why isn’t he helping me? Why is he wasting so much time on something that doesn’t matter?)

Little did I know, while Michael was head deep in the dusty old vacuum, he was in a stew of his own. (How could she be so careless? I’ve shown her the trick with the cord every week for two years! She must be trying to annoy me. And now because of her, we will be late to meet our friends!)

Household chores. They can bring out the worst in us, can’t they? In our marriage, the division of labour has always been an easy place for bitterness and resentment to fester.

And it makes sense, doesn’t it? We all have expectations from our childhood about who-does-what, none of us really want to spend our time scrubbing toilets and nobody likes the feeling of being taken advantage of. Plus, household chores bring our values to light. When Michael chose fixing the vacuum over helping me clean the rest of our place, I felt unappreciated. And Michael interpreted my flippance about the cord as disrespecting him and our belongings.

Here are FamilyLife Canada’s National Directors, Neil and Sharol Josephson, explaining why household responsibilities are such an issue for couples today. I will highlight a few of their key points in the paragraphs below.

Sharing household chores is one of the top three issues that contribute to a successful marriage — and the pandemic hasn’t changed this. In our marriage, it really has come down to communication. When I’m feeling overburdened, instead of silently resenting Michael — or voicing my annoyance in a passive-aggressive way — if I communicate my frustration in a straightforward, calm manner, we can deal with the problem. And the same goes for Michael. But if we don’t set aside time for these conversations, things can stew for a long time… and then eventually one of us blows up out of seemingly nowhere. 

One of the best ways to mitigate miscommunications or frustration from building up is to schedule a weekly marriage meeting. Here are some helpful ways to organize this intentional time together.  As Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The only constant in life is change.” Making space to discuss the ongoing ebb and flow of your busy lives is crucial for you to remain a strong, flourishing team.

Another way to face the challenge of household chores is to have clear expectations for who-does-what around the house. Now, this doesn’t mean each person is doomed to have the same jobs for the entirety of your marriage (see the above point about ebb and flow)! But it does mean that each partner knows what their responsibilities are until you both agree to change them. Wendy Klien, Carolina Izquierdo and Thomas N. Bradbury conducted an in-depth study of middle class families that was featured in The Atlantic. Here is one of their key findings: “The couples in our study who lacked clarity on what, when, and how household tasks and responsibilities would be carried out often said that they felt drained and rushed and had difficulty communicating their dissatisfaction in their lives.” How many of us resonate with that? I know I do.

Here’s another thing that helps: saying thank you. Early on in our marriage we quickly realized how important feeling acknowledged and appreciated was to each of us. Michael and I try to regularly notice what the other does, and then thank each other for it. That simple act of gratitude goes a long way to create empathy, teamwork and emotional intimacy.

Doing life in partnership with our spouse will always require us to share the burden of household responsibilities. The more we communicate with each other about what is working — and what’s not — the more we can grow in oneness, mutually serving and submitting to one another in love.