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Sharing Domestic Chores With Your Partner

Why division of household labor can be a common issue in relationships

There’s nothing sexy about domestic chores — well, you’d have to work pretty darned hard to make them sexy! For many of us, they are a routine drudgery that’s needed to sustain a smoothly running household. 

Negotiating how to manage the household can be a common source of conflict between partners. Couples argue over domestic chores almost as much as they argue over money, and when they can’t resolve these issues, stress levels are likely to rise and resentments creep in. So why does this happen?

In same-sex relationships, the division of labor is likely to be evenly shared — or at least, this is the ideal that lesbian and gay couples often work towards. In contrast, research on heterosexual relationships shows that the responsibility for domestic chores falls disproportionately onto women.

Our domestic arrangements stem from a gendered — and outdated — model of work-life balance that no longer exists for most people. Emerging in the 1950s, it’s premised on the idea of men being the sole breadwinners. Women at the time didn’t have a job outside the home, so they were responsible for looking after the children and the household. 

Fast forward to today, dual-income households are a lot more common, if not the norm, but cultural norms are hard to shake off. So modern couples face the challenge of figuring out how to split the traditional “wife” duties fairly.

Whatever your relationship looks like, inequalities in the division of household chores are likely to reflect differences between you and your partner in terms of income, job status or childcare roles. And the perceptions each of you has of the time and effort you spend on housework may be different from reality. 

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So what does this look like in your relationship? Do you think you and your partner share household chores equally? Does the split in domestic labor feel fair? 

Research on domestic labor in heterosexual households has shown that men are far more likely to overestimate the time they spend on chores, while women underestimate their time. 

Women are likely to perceive certain household tasks as part of their role, whereas men believe that they’re going above and beyond when they complete the same tasks. Men tend to think they are "helping out," rather than getting something done because it needs doing. Clearly, it’s not a 50:50 split, and research shows that when husbands don’t do their share of the housework it can affect both relationship satisfaction and their wives’ wellbeing.

Having children extends inequalities in the gendered division of household chores even more. While women are now an essential part of the labor market — and often work as many hours as their male partners — they’re still expected to put a ‘second shift’ at home. 

Maybe you feel like you’re doing all the cooking, or you find yourself constantly asking your partner to clean up after themselves. Over time, these small annoyances can lead to built-up frustration and resentment. 

Does any of this ring true in your relationship? Maybe you’ve already identified this as a problem area and are trying to address it? If so, you’re not alone.

Discuss with your partner how you both feel about the division of domestic chores. Make a list of them, and see how they’re currently divided up between you. Is there scope to change who does what?

Remember, compromise is likely to be required here! If there’s a chore that your partner detests, why not do that one yourself? If finances permit, then you may agree to pay for a cleaner or home help, but remember to share the organization of this as well.

Want to keep household jobs from hurting your relationship? Download the Paired app for more relationship advice and couple exercises designed by experts.

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About the writer
Dr. Jacqui Gabb
Jacqui is Professor of Sociology and Intimacy at The Open University in the UK and Chief Relationships Officer at Paired.
Her 'Enduring Love?' study on long-term couple relationships has received widespread critical acclaim, with findings being reported in national and international media, including: BBC World News, CNN, the New York Post, and more.
Her research and impact activities have been recognised by three prestigious awards: the BSA Philip Abrams Memorial prize (2009, the Open University Engaging Research Award (2014), the Evelyn Gillian Research Impact Award (2016).
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