Just the word “chores” makes us want to cringe. It’s literally defined as “an unpleasant but necessary task,” and splitting up household responsibilities between partners feels like a chore in itself. When a couple first moves in together, they quickly realize that sharing chores can be a bit tricky. Whether it’s based in gender roles or marital expectations carried down from how our parents acted around the house, the way we think about chores and perform household responsibilities likely won’t be the same for our partner. This can quickly lead to frustration, fights, and partners feeling unappreciated. But when a couple comes up with a game plan to keep their home running smoothly, their relationship will often do the same.
You Can’t Help With Chores
Maybe you’ve heard it, maybe you’ve said it. “Honey, how can I help?” The partner offering help may have good intentions, but offering help means that they are placing the responsibility of the chore on their partner and simply wanting to remove some of the burden. Chores should never be the sole responsibility of one partner, but instead the responsibility should be shared. Even as women are consistently working out of the house and creating a dual-income household, the brunt of the cooking, cleaning and chores still regularly falls on the wife. Changing this mindset and behavior can significantly improve the atmosphere of the home.
"The degree to which housework is shared is now one of the two most important predictors of a woman’s marital satisfaction," writes Stephanie Coontz in the New York Times. "And husbands benefit too, since studies show that women feel more sexually attracted to partners who pitch in." In a 2007 Pew Research Poll, sharing chores ranked as the 3rd most important issue associated with a successful marriage, falling just behind good sex and faithfulness. 62% of adults in the poll said sharing household chores is very important to marital success.
So, simply put, we need to stop offering or asking for help with the chores. We need to recognize that the chores are 100% the responsibility of each partner, and that coming up with a strategy to work through them together will help create a strong, stable, successful marriage.
Chat with your fiancé:
When you were growing up, how did your parents split chores? Who was responsible for what?
Are there any gender roles that stood out from your childhood? Would you change anything?
Should the amount of time spent on chores correspond with the time spent at work?
50/50 Isn’t a Quick Fix
We love to think about the fun parts of marriage, but we often forget that running a household is a lot like running a business - you have to keep the practical aspects running smoothly, including keeping financial records, shopping, cleaning, cooking, child care, and so much more. And because it’s a partnership, we may fall into the trap of thinking that a quick 50/50 split on chores and household responsibilities will solve all our problems.
However, according to couples therapist Lori Gottlieb "You can't treat a relationship like a spreadsheet. It has to be more organic than that. Each couple needs to find their own rhythm, where each person is participating in a way that makes you both feel like you're getting a good deal."
Instead of saying each partner splits the bills, groceries, and cleaning clear down the middle, it’s more about finding a balance that considers your preferences, schedule and teamwork skills. As a couple, you’ll want to have a conversation about your priorities when it comes to household responsibilities to see what is important to each partner. If one of you feels strongly that a chore must get done regularly, such as sweeping the floor daily, you have the opportunity to discuss what you want before there’s a fight about how there’s always cat hair on the floor.
You’ll also want to have conversations about ways that splitting the chores might work best for you. If one of you truly hates laundry and the other can handle it, great! If you both dread washing dishes, take turns or wash them together so the burden is lightened.
Options to Remove Stress from Chores:
Alternate weekly who does the big chores, such as laundry, cooking/groceries, and picking kids up from school. This removes the burden from one set of shoulders.
Create a point-based game where big, time-consuming chores get more points than smaller, quicker tasks. Each partner puts money in a pot at the start of the month, and then race to get the most points by the end of the month and win the money pot. Having initiative can drive many people.
Bring in some help if financially possible - this may mean hiring a cleaning service, or purchasing a tool to help with the process, like a roomba. The money may be worth your increase in time.
Assign tasks weekly, based on each partner’s schedule that week including work, appointments, and errands. This shifts the load smoothly so no one feels over-burdened, and it also prepares you for times when one partner is sick or out of town and the house still needs to be maintained.
Define how each chore is done “correctly” so each partner is happy with the work completed. And if your spouse can’t fold the laundry to your standard, you get to do the laundry!
Pay attention to your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your availability. Work together to find the best system so you’re both happy.
Be intentional about recognizing that neither spouse is “helping” with chores, but both are sharing a responsibility that is equally owned.
Talk about what’s working and what isn’t! As with everything in marriage, communication is key.
What Even Needs to Get Done?
We know that getting started on this conversation can feel like a chore in itself, and it’s even worse to think about listing out every single chore that needs to get done around the house. So we decided to do the hard work for you. Work through this list of standard chores and add any that are important in your home that we might have missed. Then think about which ones you absolutely hate, which you can tolerate, and what needs to be shared so you can maintain the home as a team.
Common Household Chores:
Wash dishes or empty dishwasher
Empty kitchen garbage
Sweep kitchen and dining room floors
Make the bed
Tidy common areas
Drive kids to and from school
Drive kids to and from after-school activities
Help kids with homework
Wash, fold and sort laundry
Clean dryer filter
Tidy family room
Take out garbage and recycling
Dust main areas
Mop kitchen and dining room
Plan weekly meals
Shop for groceries
Clean laundry room
Reconcile bank statements and review family budget
Dust pictures and ceiling fans
Clean outside of front door or entryway
Clean the fridge
Vacuum and wash cars
Do necessary home repairs
Tidy flowerbeds and trim trees
Change smoke detector batteries
Clean out gutters
Change or clean filter on fan above the stove
Clean vent/filter at base of refrigerator
Clean air conditioning unit
Organize hall closet
Clean bedroom closets
Clean under bathroom sinks
Change oil in cars
Schedule doctor's appointments and after-school activities
Shop for kids’ clothes and school items