Sharing Household Chores: Does It Help or Hurt Marriage?

Sharing Household Chores: Does It Help or Hurt Marriage?

Here’s what studies say about the real upshot of sharing chores with your spouse.


By Leah Maxwell

Past studies have shown that couples who share household chores report feeling happier overall. But one study on the long-term effects of chore-sharing challenged that notion. Its data suggested that sharing domestic tasks might in fact be detrimental to romantic relationships. But does the study really say that going halvsies on dishes and laundry will hurt your marriage? We took a closer look to find out.

It turns out that the research itself actually supports earlier claims that couples who share responsibilities at home are happier overall. “Both [partners] report the highest satisfaction with the division of housework when the housework is divided equally, and the lowest when they themselves do most of this work,” says the study by Norwegian researchers Thomas Hansen and Britt Slagsvold. “Women also report somewhat less relationship satisfaction when they do all or almost all of the housework: 76 percent are satisfied when they do (almost) all, 89 percent when they share.” (Interestingly, men’s relationship satisfaction was unaffected by the division of housework.)

So, where did the idea come from that sharing chores could damage a marriage? The study itself says it’s most likely due to “differences in values and attitudes” about marriage in general. Couples who divide chores in traditional ways (the woman does the majority while the man works full time outside the home) are more likely to have traditional views of marriage, and therefore, be less likely to let emotional dissatisfaction chip away at their commitment; conversely, couples with more modern views of relationships might not have the same resolve when the going gets tough.

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Regional, cultural, and generational factors, therefore, are more likely to influence the situation than the simple issue of who vacuums and washes windows. “It may be that more ‘traditional’ roles have a place in our society,” says Scott Haltzman, a psychiatrist and the author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men.“[But] from my understanding, it’s when couples’ roles differ from what they would like ... that's when marital dissatisfaction grows.”

As women’s roles have changed, it makes sense that there has been a shift in their domestic lives, as well. “Now that women are half the labor force ... men need to become more balanced on the home front,” says Paulette Sherman, PhD, author of When Mars Women Date: How Career Women Can Love Themselves into the Relationship of Their Dreams. “Ultimately … men and women [will be] more balanced people within when they develop an inner marriage of masculine and feminine energy, [and] this will then be reflected in more equal, whole, and flexible relationships, which will produce kids with fewer gender stereotypes and limitations,” she says. In short, well-rounded people create more well-rounded, happier marriages.

That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t dangers in seeking chore equity at home. If partners become obsessed with never doing more than their exact share, they may find their marriages strained. If two people constantly monitor the fairness of their situation, they tend to have significant power struggles if one of them steps out of line, warns Wendy Brown, couples therapist and a clinical member of the Ontario Society of Psychotherapists. “These individuals seem to carry a lot of fear that doing extra work is the sign of a loser, so it’s like there’s some giant competition going on, and there’s a lot at stake,” Brown says. When this focus on power and equality keeps spouses in opposition rather than working as a team, it’s easy to see how a marriage can suffer.

Tension can also grow when peers and family judge the marriage based on their own standards. “There is still some societal stigma/pressure [regarding traditional gender roles within marriages], and this can put undue stress on a couple,” says Sherman. She advises partners to discuss any judgment from outside parties and to reinforce the couple’s own mutually agreed-upon arrangement, whatever that might be.

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In the end, it’s up to the couple to decide how chores will be divided in their own relationship, even (and especially!) as jobs and family size change. Sherman emphasizes the importance of partners mutually respecting and supporting each other’s roles – an attitude that will strengthen the marriage and make living a life together feel like a true team effort.

How do you divide chores in your marriage?


Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

Image ©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages


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Sharing them equally, personally, really helped me and my current boyfriend. Especially when we first moved in together. A few of these tips also helped us not have as many petty arguments when it came to cleaning up the house: http://blog.cinqe.com/love/how-to-avoid-killing-each-other-over-chores/

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