How to Keep Housework From Hurting Your Marriage

When you or your partner is unhappy about the allocation of household chores, the stress level in your home can increase tremendously. Researchers have found that the unequal distribution of housework is one of the top stressors in many relationships. For example, one study found that wives reported that one of their top sources of stress was the fact that their husbands don’t want to do their share of work around the house.

While such research often reflects how traditional gender roles influence household duties, the uneven distribution of housework is not limited to heterosexual married couples. Couples who cohabitate as romantic partners are often prone to the same problems. Same-sex couples tend to divide chores more equally,2 although evidence suggests that this tends to change somewhat once they have children.3 Research also suggests that transgender and gender non-conforming couples manage housework and other duties in a more egalitarian fashion.

What may matter more than whether unpaid labor is divided 50/50 is how each individual in the relationship feels about the division of household duties. Stress levels increase in your home when either of you is unhappy about unfinished chores. Couples fight over who does what around the house almost as much as they fight over money.

Reasons Why Housework May Not Be Evenly Distributed

In the past, the division of housework was generally attributed to differences in the labor force; men were more likely to work full-time outside the home while women were more likely to perform the unpaid labor of managing the household.

Despite shifts in these traditional roles and employment trends, evidence indicates that women are still primarily tasked with the physical and emotional labor of running a household and caring for a family.6

What factors contribute to the uneven distribution of housework? Some that may play a part include:

Traditional Gender Roles

Gendered expectations for how men and women are expected to behave and the roles they are expected to play in a family often significantly influence how housework is divided. Chores that involve greater autonomy are often perceived as “men’s” work, whereas repetitive, mundane chores (like doing laundry or dishes) are frequently viewed as “women’s” work.7

One study found that traditional gender roles were associated with imbalanced household contributions. This imbalance was also linked to increased work-family conflict.

Impact of Uneven Housework

Relationships and marriage are partnerships, which involves the practical business of running the household. Aspects of household duties that couples share include:

  • Cleaning
  • Childcare
  • Cooking
  • Home maintenance
  • Managing finances
  • Planning
  • Scheduling family activities
  • Shopping
  • Transportation

When the practical aspects run smoothly, there is more peace and harmony. However, research suggests that individual perceptions about the fairness of how tasks are divided are more important than having an actual 50/50 divide in the work.9

So what happens when housework isn’t distributed fairly and equitably to each person in the relationship?

  • Decreased marital satisfaction: When one partner feels that they do more than their fair share, they are less satisfied with their relationship.12
  • Increased distress: Research has shown that thinking about the “double burden” of being responsible for both home and work leads to significant distress.13
  • Worse mental health: Studies have found that women overburdened with excessive housework experience more symptoms of depression.14 
  • Increase risk for divorce: A 2016 study found that the uneven division of unpaid and paid labor was the strongest economic risk factor for divorce.

How to Share Housework

The biggest mistake you can make in your quest to have your partner do more chores around the house is to ask for help. Asking for help implies that the responsibility for the chores belongs to just you.

In actuality, chores are shared responsibilities, and doing a good job dividing up the housework is essential to ensure a happy marriage. Here’s how to do it.

Learn About Priorities

Set your priorities as a couple. What is truly important to each of you? Many couples find they look at the division of chores differently.1 Domestic disorder simply doesn’t bother some people. But if you are comfortable with a messy home and it bothers your spouse, you both need to compromise.

Discuss how you both feel about home-cooked meals versus quick meals or eating out now and then.16 Find out your own and each other’s feelings about dust, a clean toilet, an unmade bed, a perfectly manicured lawn, paying bills on time, and so forth. If one of you feels that a toilet should be cleaned every two or three days, then you need to share that information so you can understand what you each feel is important.

Touch Base on a Plan Each Week

Let one another know what the coming week is going to be like: meetings, errands, special occasions, etc. Then decide who is going to do what, make a list, and post the list. Then let it go.

Keep Reevaluating

If one of you doesn’t follow through on promises to do your share of the work around your home, try and discover together why there is such reluctance. Sometimes one partner overcommits or underestimates the time it takes to get something done.

Hire Help

If you can’t or don’t want to lower your standards, you can hire some outside help if your budget can handle it.18 It requires some organization on your part to create a list of tasks.

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