Have You Had “The Talk” About Housework?

You are watching the roving dust elephants in your living room crash into the dust bunnies. And your romantic partner is expecting you to tame them. But your growing menagerie doesn’t bother you. Life is short. Should you really be wasting your time pushing a vacuum when you could be pushing pedals in your spinning class?

Over 60% of adults, according to a Pew Research study, say “sharing household chores” is very important to marital success—and both men and women feel this way. While faithfulness is still the very most important thing (no surprise there), sharing housework is viewed as even more important than “shared tastes and interests.”

So, how can couples figure out how to share household chores?

There is no right answer. But, here are three questions to figure out a formula that works for you and your partner.

How important is a clean house?
Is it more important to have sinks that shine, or to have more time to read the paper, go for a jog, or see a movie? What are your aesthetic standards as a couple? If they are different, what compromises can be made to live in a home you both enjoy? I can’t stand my husband’s newspapers piling up so he has a recycling routine. My husband doesn’t like it when I leave make-up strewn across the bathroom counter so I am more careful to put it away. But we both think a house should look lived in, and not like a museum–so our sinks don’t shine!

Should housework be split 50:50?
A fair division of labour doesn’t always mean an equal division of labour. Should you and your partner devote the same number of hours to housework, or should one of you put in more time–perhaps because you work fewer hours outside the home, or have impossibly higher standards? A friend of mine works full-time and her partner stays home, yet they share housework equally. As she put it, “no one likes to do housework.” In my case, I willingly put in more hours. I think this is fair because I work from home and have greater flexibility.

Should there be areas of specialization?
How will you determine who is responsible for which housework activities? Will it be based on traditional gender roles (the woman cooks; the man fixes the blocked sink); who prefers one activity to another (one of you hates vacuuming but finds washing dishes therapeutic); or, who is most skilled in a certain area (one of you is a whiz in the kitchen, and the other burns toast)? In my marriage, we specialize to avoid micro-managing each other. I am bossy in the kitchen, and like things to be done a certain way (in my mind, there is a “right” way to chop an onion). It’s less frustrating if I take the lead and ask for help. But I would rather have root canal than sort through newspapers and magazines for recycling so that’s in my husband’s court—and he has no one to blame but himself if he recycles a publication he meant to keep!

Marriage doesn’t come with a job description. It’s not always obvious whose responsibility it is for cooking, laundry or cleaning, or how housework will be shared. It’s easy to feel resentful when you think your partner is not pulling his or her weight on the domestic front. If you haven’t had the talk about how to share household chores, it’s not too late.

[Originally published in eHarmony.]

Sue Nador hashes out expectations in the messy world of love. Follow her on Twitter: @Sue_Nador and her weekly blog The Relationship Deal.

Image(s): Peter Willems