There are so many things going on before we get married that a lot of us never think about how the housework will get done. We don’t consider who will do what, when. But just because it wasn’t discussed before the wedding, it doesn’t mean it can’t be discussed afterward. In reality though, it would be better to do so beforehand.
How I wish that Steve and I would have discussed these things before we married. We could have laid out a good foundation to follow afterward! Regrettably, it wasn’t even close to being on the radar screen of our minds. That’s something we later came to regret. There were so many other things to think about (most of them didn’t center on practical details). But soon after we were married, arguments about maintaining our living space began to surface, and continued on for many years.
Food for Thought Concerning Housework
That’s why I’m writing this article. I’m hoping it will inspire you to work this out now so you don’t waste more time arguing about this issue than you already have. There are enough other “tyranny of the urgent” issues that need your attention. Why not work this one through in a more peaceable way before children come onto the scene, and you get more steeped in your habits and “roles,” and also before you accumulate more “things” that will need maintaining?
NOW is the time to begin to figure out how to divide up the chores that need to be done. You’ll probably find that it won’t be a “one time” discussion time.” That is because different situations will come up that will change things. But you really should do this before differing expectations lead to angry confrontations and hurt feelings. It’s easier to work issues through before resentments are experienced rather than afterwards.
I’m not sure why but it’s often assumed that housework is woman’s work. There’s even research that supports that assumption.
A new study suggests that getting married prompts a fifty percent increase in housework for women. While, for men the effect is totally opposite. According to the research published in the latest edition of the Economic Journal, when a woman is single doing housework it takes nearly ten hours a week. But after marriage, she normally does fifteen hours of housework every week. On the other hand, a single man does an average of seven hours of housework a week. But, after marriage, his housework hours reduce to five hours a week.” (Som Patidar, from the article, Marriage Means “More Work” for Women, All Headline News (UK))
And all of this is fine, if both the husband and wife are in agreement on this matter. But if this happens because nothing was said to each other beforehand, that can be problematic. One or the other may feel that the division isn’t as it should be. If that’s so, it can lead to resentment and eventually a lot of problems.
Male and Female Chores
Focus on the Family counselor Wilford Wooten, in the great book, The First Five Years of Marriage, noted something to consider. He said,
“It’s common to think in terms of ‘male’ and ‘female’ chores. But should a wife automatically be in charge of shower curtains, while her husband specializes in replacing shower heads?”
He goes on to say,
“Christian couples may tend to think such male/female distinctions are biblical rather than traditional. But the Bible doesn’t specifically support the notion that, for example, only women must cook. And it doesn’t state that only men must calculate the budget and finances. After all, Jacob prepared the stew that Esau ate (Genesis 25). Also, the ‘wife of noble character in Proverbs 31 dealt with business concerns.'”
Our Division of Work
For Steve and me, it works out best that I do a lot of the housework. There are different reasons for this. Some of them are because of Steve’s availability. He works so many hours outside of the home, and I am home much more. Also, Steve isn’t a “detail” person in maintaining a home. He doesn’t put in the same effort to cleaning as I do. (It causes more stress between us than it’s worth to have him be in charge of cleaning.) There are other reasons too (which aren’t as important to discuss in this article). What’s most important is that we’ve found what works for us.
Steve takes care of other things that we’ve agreed works out best for our lifestyle. He does help put away things after dinner, etc. He also helps out when he sees my schedule is over-loaded or when we’re having company. And this works out well for us. We still experience some clashes occasionally. But over-all, we’ve worked out a system that makes things much more peaceable.
Your System Could Be Different
Your system may be entirely different than ours and that’s ok. Different, in this case, isn’t right or wrong — it’s just different! What works for us might not work for you, and visa versa. The important thing is that you put the effort into talking about these matters. Make it a point to listen to each other’s view points. And then come to a compromise that works for both of you within your marriage.
“With most of today’s marriage partners holding down two careers, the challenge of establishing ground rules for household chores is often a source of heated conflict. If arguments over who cooks, who cleans, and who handles the finances are plaguing your relationship, take some time to sort out your assumptions and expectations about the home and how it should be maintained.” (Judith Balswick, The Healthy Marriage Handbook)
Life Delivers Surprises
Just make sure that you understand that life may throw you some “curve balls.” Things may change. So revisiting this issue again may (and probably will be) in your future. Some of these “curve balls” could be: health issues, availability of time because of varying schedules, having children (so there’s more to do). There could be other circumstances, such as visiting company, or a relative that moves in with you, etc. Or it could be that some of the things you decided on just aren’t working out as you’d thought they would. When this happens you need to renegotiate things.
Again, that’s ok. Life is fluid and circumstances change. That’s why we need to be flexible, as well. The old saying goes: “Blessed are the flexible, for they will not break.” And that’s true—especially in marriage!
So where do you begin?
Schedule a time to talk.
Do this when you aren’t distracted by things could H.A.L.T. the healthiness of your discussions. Don’t discuss things when either of you is “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired” if it’s at all possible! Your discussion time could be more vulnerable to being sabotaged during those times.
Make a list of all the chores that need to be done.
This includes the more infrequent ones such as maintaining the car and preparing your taxes. Discussing the way your parents handled these tasks may help you understand what’s behind some of your arguments. (Judith Balswick, The Healthy Marriage Handbook)
Figure out and Communicate your expectations.
We each come into marriage with different role models, personalities, and priorities. Talk with your spouse about the homes you grew up in and what your expectations are for a comfortable, clean home. I know a couple whose marriage didn’t survive in part because of their differing home priorities. The husband had expectations of coming home to a house similar to the one in which he was raised—clean and orderly. And the wife grew up in more of a disorganized, ‘tidy-challenged’ home. So she didn’t understand his need for orderliness. Rather than communicating their frustrations and being solution-centered, they bottled it in and the marriage unfortunately dissolved. (Terry Willits, from the article, “Good, Clean Fun!”)
“Any time you have an expectation you have not talked about together, you have an opportunity for disappointment and conflict. The more you can openly identify and discuss your expectations, the more likely your spouse will be able to meet them. Even if you openly voice your expectations, there are going to be some that your spouse is simply unable to meet. Many spouses would happily meet the other’s needs if they knew what they were and if they were capable of doing so. However, we often want a spouse to do things for us or to take on a role that is completely unrealistic.” (Dr Debbie L. Cherry, from the book, “Child-Proofing Your Marriage”)
It would be helpful to discuss what “clean” means for each of you.
That might sound funny but it can be true! Keep in mind that God created each one of us with different talents and ways of looking at situations. This might be one of the areas where you’ll need to build a bridge between your viewpoints.
“A common problem with housework is that we may think we’re talking about the same thing when we’re not. I value clean. My husband values tidy. I can walk by knitting projects strewn everywhere and not notice them while he may never notice a bookcase that needs dusting. Saying ‘keep the living room clean,’ then, means something different to each of us.” (Sheila Wray Gregoire, from the Marriage Partnership article, “Real Good Housekeeping”)
“It may be that your acceptable level of cleanliness just isn’t as important to your spouse. So you may need to compromise or, if you can’t lower your expectations, you may have to do the lion’s share yourself. If that’s the case, don’t allow your decision to make you bitter toward your spouse. Any help your spouse does provide will be a bonus!” (Sheila Wray Gregoire, from the Marriage Partnership article, “Real Good Housekeeping”)
Also, figure out “How can we maximize what we do?”
Don’t determine who’s going to do what around the house by what the world says is “woman’s work” or “man’s work,” but rather by interest level and available time.
“Concentrate on giftedness, not gender.
Rather than emphasizing ‘male’ and ‘female’ chores, talk about which jobs you enjoy or don’t mind doing. Which do you have a knack for? Which would you prefer not to do?” (Wilford Wooten, from the book, “The First Five Years of Marriage”)
Divide up the tasks each of you prefers to do.
Then decide how to handle the less-enjoyable chores. I encourage couples who have a little extra income to consider hiring out the jobs they either detest or are unqualified to perform, like home repairs or financial planning. Often young people in the church are happy to earn a few extra dollars by cleaning house or doing yard work.” (Judith Balswick, from the book, “The Healthy Marriage Handbook”)
Decide which of you has more time to do household tasks or if it needs to be evenly divided.
“One of the biggest reasons dual-worker couples have difficulty finding time to spend on their marriage is that [one spouse] doesn’t shoulder his [or her] fair share of household tasks. Evaluate who’s doing what when you’re home. Make a list of household chores, how long they take to do, and who does them. If you discover an imbalance in household assignments, make some changes and redistribute the housework more evenly. After all, a few hours working together leaves more time for fun together.” (Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, from the Marriage Partnership article, “We’re Too Busy,”)
Don’t go strictly by the numbers.
“Fair and equal doesn’t necessarily mean ‘one for you, one for me.’ Remember that some chores are more difficult and time-consuming than others.” (Wilford Wooten, from the book, “The First Five Years of Marriage”)
Designate a personal space for each of you if that’s possible and necessary.
“If you’re tired of tidying up after your spouse, consider designating an area of the house or garage where you can stick stray items for him or her to deal with later. Let your beloved keep this area for hobby paraphernalia, paperwork, or anything else he or she likes to leave out. This gives your mate an area to let loose without incurring your anger, yet the mess is out of your hair.” (Sheila Wray Gregoire, from the Marriage Partnership article, “Real Good Housekeeping”)
Decide if it’s best to do certain things faster or in more detail.
This could be an important point for you. “Which partner can tackle a ‘to-do’ list faster than a speeding bullet, getting things done in a reasonable order, even if they’re not perfect? And which of you is more detail-oriented, painstakingly laboring over every part of the process, such as getting out the brass polish before putting that candle holder back in its proper place? In most marriages, there’s one partner who can get more done faster and another partner who gets less done but will do an immaculate job. We need each other.” (Terry Willits, from the Marriage Partnership article “Good, Clean Fun!”)
Our Approaches are Different
We finally discovered (after too many years of hit and miss) that Steve is better at getting projects done faster. On the other hand, I’m better at organizing what needs to be done and doing the detail work. Steve gets glassy-eyed if you give him “fussy things” to do, like “prettying up” the table or living areas. I don’t mind doing that kind of stuff at all. But he can sure mow through the general cleaning faster than I can. We work great as a team when we determine to do so!
Steve eventually came up with a plan that works for us. When there’s a big project to be done he asks me the question, “What can I do to help?” I’ve learned not to expect him to just SEE what needs to be done. We’ve both come to realize that he doesn’t see everything I do and he doesn’t prioritize things the same way I do. I’m generally a better organizer of these kinds of things than he is.
We’ve agreed that when he asks this question, I’ll either point out things one at a time (after he completes each task) or I’ll write things down that he can check them off of a “to do” list once he’s completed them. It’s amazing how much smoother this process has worked for us!
Negotiate and work with each other’s “talents” in maintaining your home.
“Some personalities are less aware of or relatively unaffected by their surroundings. If one partner’s more affected by it, honor him by honoring his requests. That’s likely to make your marriage better. If one spouse is more organized, thank God for that. Don’t resist her organization, celebrate it and accept that God knew you needed a mate to help keep your life in order.” (Terry Willits, from the article Marriage Partnership article, “Good, Clean Fun!”)
Attitude of the Heart
“Parceling out household chores carries much more meaning than merely keeping the house clean, the grass cut and the car running. It actually represents an attitude of the heart. Our willingness—or unwillingness—to help out around the house speaks volumes about the value we place on our spouse.” (Judith Balswick, from the book, “The Healthy Marriage Handbook”)
When deciding who does what, consider each other’s energy levels.
“Women do have more energy than men, even though men have more start-up energy. Many women are like the Energizer ad on television that shows the batteries continuing to run and run and run. Men use up their allotment of energy and then need to stop to be recharged. A man goes on a personal retreat by taking a nap, resting, reading, or watching television. He needs aloneness to recovery whereas women are capable of rebuilding energy while carrying on their normal activities.” (H. Norman Wright, from the book, “How to Change Your Spouse”)
Through the years, Steve and I have learned to work as a team in maintaining our home. Steve has adjusted his approach to working around the house and yard to work longer—until we’re BOTH done (where before he just stopped working because he was tired).
And I’ve learned to give him more grace and space in getting things done and realize that he’ll probably need more “recovery time” afterwards if he pushes himself more than he normally would. I’ve learned to pace out the projects with relaxing times and fun times in between (which is healthier for our health AND our marriage). Things might not be as orderly or get done as quickly as I’d like them. But for the sake of our health and marital relationship it’s been worth the compromise!
Give advance “warning” for work projects that need to be done.
“The problem of energy or lack of it arises when a man doesn’t know in advance the details of a project his wife wants him to work on. Even though it may be limiting to a woman, a man needs to know what the task is and how long he’s expected to work. Why? He wants to know in advance so he doesn’t run out of energy. No, it’s not an idea concocted by men to get out of work. A man’s metabolism and fat system is different from a woman’s. Women have a fat reserve that gives them energy; men do not. A woman’s muscles use energy in a much more efficient manner than men’s do. Men do not want what energy they have to be misused.” (H. Norman Wright, from the book, “How to Change Your Spouse”)
Negotiating What Needs to Be Done
For Steve and me, this is an important point. I used to decide that certain projects needed to be done and “assumed” that Steve would do them (or we’d do them together) when he had a day off. This usually led to a huge marital clash on that day! I couldn’t understand why Steve didn’t see that these things needed to be done. And he couldn’t understand why they had to be done on a day that he considered his “day off.” I’d then ask, “when do I get a ‘day off.'”
We went around and around clashing on this crazy cycle at various times throughout our marriage until Steve finally figured out that even though he didn’t WANT to do the home projects, he knew they needed to be done. But it was the surprise element of doing these things that was the bigger issue.
In recognizing the importance of this point we were able to negotiate a different way of approaching things that needed to be done. We now talk ahead of time (whenever possible) about what needs to be done. Then we decide on the best time to do them. We now work on things like this in a more peaceable manner with both of us giving in a little (and sometimes a lot). Both of us are stretching ourselves a little (and sometimes a lot) until we both feel it works for us.
Acknowledge and give each other “grace and space” while working together.
“A woman may feel restricted by her husband [or visa versa] when her husband says, ‘Here’s the job we need to do. We’ll start here, go to this, stick to this plan, and be done in two hours. She asks, ‘Why?’ Being boxed in is an energy drain for her. That’s why many couples have difficulty working together. She may want to take some side excursions and detours and he wants to stay on the main highway. He needs to stay focused to conserve energy [and enthusiasm] and she needs variation for the same reason.” (H. Norman Wright, from the book, “How to Change Your Spouse”)
“All it takes for a couple to be able to work well together is to recognize and acknowledge these differences, discuss them, and talk about how they affect their work together. This recognition will help them understand if what they want their partner to change is reasonable and attainable. If not, expectations and desires can be adjusted and a greater level of acceptance attained.” (H. Norman Wright, from the book, “How to Change Your Spouse”)
Hard Lessons Learned
Steve and I have learned all of this the hard way. I sure hope this article can help you to short-cut or escape some of the pitfalls we’ve experienced.
I know the Lord is pleased when we work to consider each other’s needs as more important than our own. After all, isn’t that the example the Lord gave us in how he led His life? The Bible says in Philippians 2:3-4,
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.“
We pray you’ll work to do the same in considering the differences that are work style related. Not every male or female approaches work like it’s mentioned above. Your work styles may even be reversed. But the point is, whatever your differences are, WORK with them instead of against them. Look for ways to be a team in whatever situation you have in front of you. You may be working with disabilities or varying abilities and talents or whatever! But don’t let that stop you. We should never consider the work to be done, more important that the person to be loved.
Learn to work through the differences as a team so the Lord is glorified. Work to do every task that comes your way as “unto the Lord.”
Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International wrote this article.