Betty and Stan, both in their mid-fifties have been married for eighteen years. Their children are raised. Betty works at her job about 45 hours a week. Stan works about 30 hours a week. Betty also does about 95% of the housework.
Last week after much discussion about the inequity of their relationship, Betty and Stan agreed that the two of them were going to dig in and get their house in shape. Stan would do the dusting and vacuuming, help fold laundry, grocery shop, and grill dinner. Betty would primarily work on the kitchen, the refrigerator, the floor. She would clean the bathrooms, do the laundry, pay bills, and balance the checkbook.
Within a half hour of starting to work, a friend of theirs stopped by and asked them to go to a big garage sale across town. Betty said she’d love to but they had agreed to get their place in shape. Stan looked at Betty and said, “You don’t mind if I go, do you?”
Betty responded by giving Stan a dirty look.
Stan challenged Betty and said, “What’s wrong now?” In order not to argue in front of Stan’s friend, Betty shrugged and the guys left.
Later in the day when Stan returned, the two of them talked. Betty said, “I’m giving notice. The maid is quitting. I am not taking all the responsibility in this house.”
She gave Stan a list of chores and suggested that he pick the ones he would be willing to do each week. She would do the remainder. Stan took the list, dramatically tucked it in his pocket, and said he’d do it all. Betty explained that she didn’t want him to do it all. But to no avail. He insisted he would do all the chores.
When Betty talked to me she wanted to know what she should do. I told her to take Stan up on his offer for several months. When he stopped doing the chores, next week or next month, she could re-open the subject of splitting the chores.
She said she was worried that if he did all the chores she would lose her value. Stan wouldn’t see her as important.
I said I didn’t know many men who stayed in a relationship because the wife was a good maid. But men did stay in relationships because of history, because they have children together, because of finances, for companionship, sex, and love.
The other thing is that if Betty continues to rescue Stan by doing almost everything, he will have little appreciation for what she does. She will continue to feel dissatisfied with the marriage and probably act accordingly.
Stan and Betty are not alone in their struggle over who does what around the house. It is estimated that husbands have 15 to 20 more hours of leisure time each week than their working wives.
Furthermore, in most families, husbands do 20% of the household chores and child care while women do 80 percent of the chores and child care. This disparity serves neither gender. The wife feels like a victim, sees her husband as a villain, and eventually closes off emotionally. Or, she turns into a very critical mate. The number two reason women divorce is because of a husband’s unwillingness to share chores.
To not only preserve your marriage but to have a healthy one, visit the issue of chores and child care. Divide them up on paper if necessary to make them equitable. If you have an uncooperative mate, do only those chores that must absolutely be done.
Try hard not to focus on those that remain undone. It is not a woman’s job because she is a woman to take care of the house. It is the job of each person who lives in the house.
Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World,” “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide,” and “Thin Becomes You” at Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com.
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