A “traditional” marriage is generally defined as one in which the man goes to work and provides financially while the woman stays home and manages the house and child care. When this is the case, it is practical for the spouse who stays home to be responsible for the majority of the upkeep while at home during the day. However, more and more families do not fit into this “traditional” definition. Many families have parents who both work full time during the day. In this situation, no one is at home during the day to keep up with laundry, dishes, cleaning and all of the other responsibilities that go along with managing a household. Both parents are generally tired at the end of the day, and if one or the other is then doing the majority of the housework or child care, resentment can build and cause problems in the marriage. Despite the fact that more and more women work outside the home, studies have shown that they continue to maintain primary responsibility for most daily jobs around the house. The tensions created by this imbalance, however, are not inevitable. The following suggestions will help you and your spouse find ways to share responsibilities in a way that is workable and fair.
1. Be very specific about what you want
Remember that your spouse cannot read your mind and may not know what is bothering you. If it drives you crazy to have dirty dishes left in the sink overnight, discuss that with your spouse and make it a goal to have the dishes done each night before you go to bed. Perhaps the only difficulty is that you work at different times and can't see the work your spouse actually gets done. Pinpointing exactly where the tension lies will help you arrange things so both of you are satisfied.
2. Trade jobs
When one partner has constant responsibility for one area of domestic work, such as lawn care or cooking, it can become overwhelming or boring. One way to resolve the stress could include exchanging responsibilities so each spouse can take a break. You may consider taking turns with specific jobs. For example, you might take responsibility for the kids on certain nights so your spouse can have the night free. Then, on other designated nights of the week you can take care of the kids and give your spouse a break.
3. Be consistent and clear
It is important that you are consistent in your words and actions. If you express a desire for your spouse to help more in a certain area of housework, allow him or her to do it. If, for example, you want your spouse to help get the kids ready for bed, don't immediately take over at bedtime. This sends mixed messages, telling your spouse you really want to be in charge. Remember that there is more than one way to do a particular job well. Just because your spouse does things a little differently than you do does not mean that it is necessarily wrong.
4. Understand the roots of your particular perspective
Often things like your family background and your ideas of gender roles contribute to conflict. Children grow up watching their parents do things a certain way and internalize those things without even realizing it. Maybe you or your spouse saw your parents divide work in certain ways and expect your relationship will be the same. Perhaps you feel you should act in traditional ways but want more modern division of labor. Understanding where your feelings originate and talking about them with your spouse will help you work toward greater understanding and compatibility. Try to find ways to meet in the middle if your expectations are wildly different. For example, if you feel that men should be in charge of caring for the yard and garden but your husband saw his mother doing those things, be willing to meet your husband halfway by taking on a few of the tasks involved.
5. Work together
If one spouse has been largely in charge of a particular task, working together can provide an opportunity for the other one to learn how it is done. For example, if you have always done the laundry and your spouse is unfamiliar with which cycles to use for which types of clothing, working with you will allow him or her to see how it is done before taking it on alone. It is not always possible to complete housework when you are both at home, but do it when you can. Consider what you could accomplish, for example, by doing the dishes together. This would be a great opportunity to talk about your plans for the weekend, what you did at work that day, or any concerns you have. You will be sharing the tasks, resolving any issue of unfairness. And you can make it fun by turning it into a game or listening to music and singing while you work. Take the opportunity of work together to enjoy each other, get to know each other better, and strengthen your relationship.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.