Well, housework certainly is foreplay if you have a young family!
Ask any tired parent.
Who makes the bed can be indicative of how much action happens in it!
Did you know that one of the most frequent things that couples fight about is still the division of household chores? Even in this age of greater equality, often with both partners working, this little old gem can cause some angst.
It’s important to realise that even if you think of domestic chores as somehow ‘less important’ than the bigger ticket items between you, things like who makes breakfast for the kids or mows the lawns can either be a gigantic energy drain, or a vital and supportive energy source in your relationship.
Housework as a form of communication?
Household chores cannot be avoided, at least not for too long. In fact, they’re part of the way we communicate with each other. We communicate through our approach: by completing our set tasks on time according to a mutually agreed schedule, by offering to take our daughter to gym class whilst our spouse finishes the vacuuming or by resentfully buying extra groceries on the the way home from work after a last minute call from a stressed chef. Are we communicating through willingness, cooperation, resistance or resentment?
A closer examination of how partners collaborate on their household duties, or how they fail to, shows how where we’re at in our underlying issues of gender role expectations, power, respect and intimacy influence in this area. It’s about more than just houework…
Take a look at the bigger picture
Stepping back to take a look at how you’re being in this part of your relationship can help you make different choices rather than live out your unconscious programming with more painful and less effective outcomes.
Have a think about where you’re at in the following areas and get together with your significant other to see where you might make some changes.
You can begin with understanding what constitutes the household chores at your place. Classically we think of cooking, cleaning, emptying the dishwasher, mowing the lawn and putting out the rubbish as household chores but there are many more than these. Things like, transporting children to various activities, shopping for food and clothes, garden maintenance, caring for those in ill health, house maintenance, equipment maintenance, paying bills, managing the household finances, organizing holidays, and buying presents for extended family are just to name a few. We also include monitoring the family’s emotional wellbeing, conflict resolution and organizing for everyone’s personal needs to be met, for example, the making and remembering of appointments and the picking up of pharmacy prescriptions and the dry cleaning.
Letting go of stereotypes
As you’re reading through this list you might be noticing some traditional gender stereotyping for the above roles ie. Women attend to the emotions, men manage the finances, but as we become more diverse in our gender expectations these old assumptions automatically apply no longer.
However, there are some stereotypes that do still occur, with women, even those working, remaining the highest contributors to household tasks, even though men have significantly increased their contributions over the last few years. Women largely continue to feel burdened and overwhelmed at home, often putting their own needs last and ending up micro managing or nagging their spouses for the support they need, rather than taking a more proactive approach. Men continue to have a degree of domestic blindness, resisting the emotional undertones in the nagging and missing out on the benefits of living with a well supported spouse as they head for the computer or the gym in order to decrease the stress of their spouses’ resentment.
What are the benefits of our household chores?
Consider what outcome each chore creates and what life might be like without these out comes and you might have a whole new level of respect for even the most basic of chores. Eg. Task: putting your dirty washing in the basket in the laundry
Outcome: The person doing the washing can put it straight into the washing machine without having to go through the house to find it, saving them significant time and leaving them feeling respected with energy available for other things.
Or you may decide some chores don’t need to be done at all, if they aren’t providing real benefit.
It’s also about our personal styles
It helps to recognize each other’s personal task management styles. Are you an intense micro manager, relaxed and laid back, Mr or Ms efficiency, an intuitive or lateral thinker, someone who instinctively has authority or one who seeks direction? Do you like to plan ahead or prefer to be spontaneous? Are you independent or do you prefer to be part of a team?
Can you find the gifts in your own, and in your partner’s personal style even if it’s the opposite to yours? Can you learn something from each other?
And what kind of management style do you best respond to- being supported, validated, directed, trusted or encouraged?
Is there a communication style that works best for you in regards to household tasks? Directly being asked, being hinted at or being told? Something impersonal eg. a list on the fridge?
Consider how you ask your spouse for what needs to be done? What tone of voice do you use and what is your body language saying? Do you include negative judgements? Are you open to suggestion or are you making a demand?
There are at least 4 different approaches
Think about what kind of approach would work best for you and when? Coordinating together, where you organize and do things together; Collaborating apart, where each person carries out their share at different times and locations, together but separate; Silent Collaboration where both partners work together in the same space without discussion or One partner as ‘Expert’ in which one person was considered an authority in a particular task, either humorously or with respect?
It also helps to recognize what is happening in your working lives. Is work outside the house a stress or a relief from the tasks at home? How much ‘me time’ do you currently require to bring more energy and motivation to the things that must be done at home? Are you at a point in your life where you have more or less to offer?
How to make your household chores a relationship energy builder:
– With a positive mindset (and your sense of humour intact) get together and make a list of what you both consider your necessary household chores.
– Include not just what has to be done but also when and how.
– Don’t argue with your spouse if they include something you consider irrelevant, you’ll get further by validating their reality at this point.
– Make a note of which ones anyone has an ‘expert’ rating in and allocate these tasks to them.
– With the remainder take into consideration the amount of time each person has to offer (including allowing time for personal space which helps each person feel nurtured) and allocate the tasks remaining.
– Take into account your personal task styles when allocating tasks.
– If there are more tasks for one than the other see where you or they could more evenly take on things that you could learn to do, if they’re not something already familiar to you.
– Consider which tasks could be done as a group lot to make them more effective, be done in a different way or done by someone outside the house, or be eliminated altogether.
– If you have children consider which tasks may be appropriate for them to participate in, as many hands make light work, teaches team building and self-efficacy whilst helping build a sense of belonging and self -esteem.
– If lists work for you make a list of who does what chores and when.
– When you notice someone attending to a chore that’s been allotted to them make sure you express your appreciation as appreciation is the best motivator.
– If one of you is taking on a new chore that the other usually does, to inspire more enthusiasm offer only support and encouragement rather than criticism or you’ll soon be back to doing it yourself!
– If you’ve covered the outline above and you still have angst about chore distribution, ask yourself if you have underlying feelings that are not being acknowledged here?
With greater understanding you and your partner will be able to undertake your chores with a lighter heart, leaving more energy for each other and for love!