Take Lucy to soccer practice, drop Henry off at preschool, scoop the litter, fold the laundry, shop for groceries, cook, vacuum, dust – the list goes on. Daily responsibilities add up and can cause tension in relationships. And for couples that can’t get on the same page, it also can lead to divorce.
In fact, a working paper from the Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia notes that 25 percent of divorces are due to “disagreements about housework.”
It’s no surprise, says Dr. Terri Orbuch, a local relationship expert and professor at Oakland University in Rochester.
“I’ve been following 373 couples for almost 30 years, and conflicts about who does what around the house was one of the topics that created a lot of tension for couples,” Orbuch, also author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great, says.
But for couples struggling to see eye-to-eye on chores, outsourcing tasks you don’t like could improve personal happiness and help promote a healthy relationship, the paper notes. By spending cash on chores, couples were able to enjoy more quality time together – which is key, says Dr. Tracey Stulberg, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the director of the Birmingham Family Therapy Clinic, Inc.
“You could spend time buying services, but if you don’t spend that time with your partner doing something, it doesn’t actually help with marital status,” she says.
If you had $40 to spend on a service or on a material item, which would you choose? If you answered “service,” you’re onto something.
“In an experiment conducted on this topic, individuals reported greater positive mood and lower negative mood after spending $40 on a time-saving purchase (e.g., housecleaning or grocery delivery) than after spending $40 on a material purchase for themselves,” the Harvard findings note – in part because those purchases “protected consumers from the negative impact of time stress.”
Still, couples can disagree about how the money is spent, so you have to make sure you’re on the same page about these purchases, Stulburg says. If you’re going to argue about that cash instead of enjoying the time it bought, it’s likely not worth it.
A team effort
It’s easy to assume you know what your partner does around the house each day, but couples often aren’t fully aware. What you shouldn’t do, Stulberg says, is lob loaded remarks like, “What have you been doing all day? How can you let this happen?”
In order to understand each other’s schedules, both Orbuch and Stulberg suggest you each sit down and write what you think you’re doing around the house. Do this separately and compare notes.
Next, identify what you want or expect your partner to do. “Be specific about your own needs,” Orbuch says. For example, if you want to go to yoga on Tuesday and Thursday nights, ask your partner to tuck in the kids so you can make your class. Then, offer to handle bedtime on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Split or share the weekends. When communicating all this, Orbuch adds, delivery matters.
“First, give a very positive statement about that person, like, ‘Thanks so much for taking the kids the other day or picking up Susie from piano lessons,'” she says. Now, he or she is primed to hear exactly what you say. Be sure to use “I” statements instead of “You” statements, she adds, which tend to put the listening party on the defensive.
Try apps, too, such as AnyList, Stulberg says – it syncs up your smartphones’ calendars, so if one person adds an event or item, the other also sees it. This helps avoid scheduling headaches – another common cause of angst, she adds.
If you’re looking to outsource chores, go to TaskRabbit, an online marketplace that matches consumers with services like household cleaning. Or try ClickList for Kroger, Shipt for Meijer or other grocery ordering/delivery services to cut back on shopping time. Just be sure you’re on the same page about what you’re willing to outsource.
Having a team approach is huge. “There are ways every family can make changes in the way they support each other, regardless of whether it’s (making) time-saving purchases,” Stulberg says.
Orbuch adds, “The big theme is that it’s actually not the dishes or the laundry or the actual cleaning and the dust. It’s really about fairness, equity, respect and appreciation.”
Art by Jay Holladay