Dividing chores with your spouse can be complicated. I tried at first to use the same formula that I used with roommates to divide chores: each person is assigned something to clean that week and that was it. However, your husband or wife is more than your roommate. You share your lives on a much deeper level, your workloads will fluctuate much more, and the relationship that you have also includes a gender dynamic. Below I will examine each of these issues and offer some of the ways that my husband and I have dealt with them.
Sharing your lives
The process of dividing chores with your spouse will make you consider your entire life, and not just the “household.” Unlike the roommate situation, you share completely in finances and possessions. If one partner spends more time at work, the other may have to spend more time taking care of chores and household tasks. Of course, no one is simply buying a housekeeper. Even if one partner makes more money than the other and works fewer hours, that partner with more time available should keep in mind that the goal is to care for the spouse. My husband and I consider each others’ overall well being as the goal. It is not about “fairness,” but about love for one another.
Shifting Nature of Chores
Dividing the chores with your spouse will be something you have to frequently do over time. When we got a cat and a dog, we did not consider the burdens they would put on our time. The nuances of “chores” became something to consider as a whole as well. Did taking the dog to the dog park count as recreation or a chore? Did it matter if I enjoyed it? When I get a computer virus, my husband will usually take care of it, though it wasn’t something we decided he would do at the beginning of the week.
When I worked 2.5 jobs one month and my husband was waiting to start a new contract at work, he did all of the chores that month. During the summers, when I am not working in the school system, I do the great majority of the chores and household tasks.
Again, it is not about “fairness,” or contracts, but about trying to care for one another in love. When one person’s load becomes too much, the spouse, in love, should help. Remember, too, that sometimes you will need to ask for the help you need.
The Gender Issue
Dividing chores cannot avoid the gender issue. In the 1950s my grandma spent a lot more time teaching her daughters how to clean and almost no time teach her sons to clean because it was generally accepted that women would need the skills more. I found that even though my husband grew up in the 1990s, he too needed to have step-by-step written instructions on how to clean a toilet. Additionally, the month in which he did all the household chores as he waited for the next job to begin made him feel somewhat emasculated. Whether it is fair or not, men often see many of the household chores as something for women to do.
There are 3 ways that my husband and I have dealt with this gender issue in our marriage. Sometimes men just need to get over it and do the work. My husband did this the month I spent working 2.5 jobs. Other times, it is helpful to specifically assign things that could easily be seen as men’s work. For us this includes things like picking up dog poop and taking the trash to the dumpster. Sometimes women need to buck up and do some of the work out of respect for their husband’s feelings, even if it does mean that she will do just a little more work. I will often clean the entire house except for the vacuuming, which my husband does. Again, this is not about “fairness,” but about love. Household chores will never be fair, but they will be much more enjoyable if you do them out of love instead of obligation. In fact, sometimes it can be much easier to do things for someone else than doing them only for yourself.