You’re Not Crazy, Chores Are Ruining Your Marriage—Here’s How to Reset

Are you cleaning up after yourself?

Young man does dishes

Whether it’s the laundry piles, the broken fridge or the kids’ relentless schedules, the breakdown of household chores can significantly impact relationships in various ways, both positively and negatively. Dr. Regina Lark, an expert on relationships, with a particular focus on emotional labor, says that when one partner feels they're shouldering more of the household chores, it can breed resentment. “This emotion can simmer and, over time, result in more significant disagreements or tension in the relationship.” On the flip side, however, when both partners contribute equally and acknowledge each other's efforts, “it fosters a sense of value and appreciation, strengthening the relationship's bond,” says Dr. Lark. Here, we break down the biggest chore-related mistakes couples make and how to overcome them.

1. Not cleaning up after oneself. This can be anything from leaving dirty dishes in the sink to not taking out the trash. “Typically,” says Dr. Lark, “we see one person constantly cleaning up after the other and can see no amount of cajoling, nor expressions of frustration reminding the other adult to ‘Please clean-up after yourself!’ resulting in resentment and frustration.” Overall, it shows a lack of respect for your partner’s time and effort.“When you leave a mess behind, you're essentially saying that you don't care that your partner will have to clean it up,” explains Dr. Lark.

2. Having different standards. In many cases, one partner might be content with a bit of clutter, while the other needs things to be spotless. These differing standards can lead to conflict if not discussed. If couples don't talk about how much time and effort each chore requires, they may have unrealistic expectations about how much their partner can do, which again, may lead to disappointment and conflict.

3. Forgetting about “invisible labor.” Whatever you call it—invisible work, emotional labor, mental load—these terms, says Dr. Lark, encompass the tasks that often go unnoticed or unacknowledged but are essential for the smooth running of a household. “These tasks, although not always tangible, are critical to the well-being of the family, and to family happiness.” Yes, all that nudging and Google-cal making is part of the household chore list. “The most common invisible work-tasks include all of the remembering and reminding—about birthday and dental appointments, or meal planning and getting a date on the calendar for a romantic night out,” confirms Dr. Lark.

Other invisible labor tasks include:

  • Listening
  • Offering advice
  • Helping make a decision by offering to do research
  • Grocery inventory (camping supplies, pet food or the myriad other ways we take stock of families’ needs)
  • Scheduling
  • Bill paying
  • Yard/home maintenance
  • Social obligations
  • Managing relationships with neighbors, friends and family

4. Downplaying the impact chore breakdown can have on children

Says Dr. Lark: “The household chore breakdown can have several profound impacts on children, influencing their development, perceptions, and future behaviors.” Long story short, kids often imitate behaviors they observe, so if they see one parent shouldering most of the household responsibilities, they might come to believe that such dynamics are the norm, which can shape their future household roles, expectations, and perceptions about gender roles, thereby perpetuating the problem of dividing chores by gender, Dr. Lark elaborates. “Chore breakdown based strictly on traditional gender roles can reinforce stereotypical beliefs in children. For instance, if boys only see their fathers doing outdoor work and their mothers managing indoor chores, they might internalize these as gender-specific roles.”

So How Do We Divvy Up Household Chores Fairly? (And Actually Keep to It)

  • Create a routine together. Routines are important to make it through a whole week or month of household chores, but if there’s no clear routine or schedule, chores can pile up, leading to overwhelm and frustration.
  • Use a system. Without tools or systems, Dr. Lark finds that lots of “to-dos” fall off the radar. Utilizing tools like chore charts, apps, or reminders can be an effective way to manage household tasks and ensure nothing is overlooked.
  • Radical delegation. “Radical delegation is delegating the work to be done because it has to be done, regardless of who’s better at it or not,” shares Dr. Lark. To create this ethos, both members of a couple need to be on board, which requires open communication, understanding and collaboration. Initiate a calm, non-confrontational and open dialogue about the division of labor. And, directs Dr. Lark, rather than going down the rabbit hole of who’s better at something, decide what actually has to be done, and then divide the list through the process of radical delegation. “With traditional delegation, we delegate tasks to the person best suited to the job. If women are raised to do the bulk of household labor, and to notice the invisible nature of the labor, it’s neither fair nor equitable that she is tasked with all the labor.”
  • Appreciation. No matter who is doing the work, everyone in the household will want to get into the habit of acknowledging a job well-done. Failing to show appreciation for the tasks a partner does can lead to feelings of being taken for granted.

What If You’re Struggling with Buy-In from Your Partner?

Sometimes, “radical delegation” is easier said than done, especially when your partner thinks it sounds like a bunch of woo-woo. If communication isn’t going well, Dr. Lark suggests getting in front of a counselor or therapist and having open, honest, communication and loving dialogue about the volume of work at home. With a therapist, or even on their own, couples can write down everything they believe that they do in the household to make it work. “Without filters, judgment, blame, or resentment, write it all down,” directs Dr. Lark. Then compare lists without blame or judgment.

Communication becomes easier and opens couples to keep the lines of communication open over and through the lifecycle of their relationship. In fact, studies have shown that a fair division of household chores can lead to increased intimacy and satisfaction in the relationship. When both partners feel valued and respected, it often translates into a deeper emotional connection.

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Executive Editor, Frazzled Mom, Bravo-Holic

Dara Katz is PureWow's Executive Editor, focusing on relationships, sex, horoscopes, travel and pets. Dara joined PureWow in 2016 and now dresses so much better. A lifestyle...