A successful relationship depends not just on how partners
divvy up the household chores, but also on how they express
A new study sheds light on why one partner often gets stuck
with certain household chores while the other is oblivious to
the piled-up laundry or overflowing garbage. The trick to harmony
could be a simple thank you, the research indicates.
Household chores rank up there with money (and shoot way past
sex) when it comes to sources of marital rancor.
The division of labor at home is probably one of the
most frequent causes of conflict between couples, said
Benjamin Caldwell of Alliant International University in California,
who was not involved in the new study.
In a 2007 World Values Survey by the Pew Research Center, sharing
household chores ranked number three, behind faithfulness and
a happy sexual relationship, on a list of what makes a marriage
But conservative estimates, the scientists say, indicate women
take on the lions share (about two-thirds) of household
How chores work
The preliminary results of the new study are based on focus
groups of college students, as well as interviews with married
couples and survey results. For the focus sessions, the scientists
split a total of 33 undergraduate students into five groups
and video recorded them discussing domestic-labor issues.
When asked about chore duties that they had as kids, the
females remember that they did more domestic labor than did
their brothers, said co-researcher Jess Alberts of the
Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University.
The males remember it as being very equally divided.
Several past studies also show what is perceived as equality
among men usually is not equality, Caldwell told LiveScience.
Even in couples who perceive that they are distributing
household chores evenly, usually women do more than men.
The students didnt envision a brighter future, either.
A lot of the women in the focus groups talked about wanting
to have an equitable division of household labor, co-researcher
Angela Trethewey, also of the Hugh Downs School, but anticipated
that they werent going to have that when they got married.
This view of a lopsided future could stem from the labor imbalance
seen under their parents roofs.
With no exceptions, they revealed that their mothers
did all the household labor even if they worked full-time; the
fathers did the outside work, Alberts said.
Division of labor
Whether one partner or the other takes on dish-cleaning, for
instance, is partly based on that persons threshold for
For instance, if Ted is irked as soon as the trash
in the wastebasket approaches the rim, while it takes a mass
outpouring of garbage to move Jenny, Ted will get
Over time, the person who completes the chore will become expert,
and the other partner will see that chore as hers
or his. Even more, no thank yous
or other expressions of gratitude get exchanged since that person
is just doing his or her job.
Simple thank you
Alberts and Trethewey also asked subjects, including married
partners and students living in roommate situations, whether
they appreciated the chores done by those with whom they lived.
While most said they felt gratitude, they didnt relay
these feelings to their partners, assuming he or she just
Results also showed individuals who felt appreciated by their
partners had less resentment over any imbalance in labor and
more satisfaction with their relationships than other study
One of the things that can destroy a relationship is
when you have small resentments that build up over time,
Caldwell said. And even small expressions of gratitude
can make a significant difference.
Tipping the scales
Finding a way to balance the home-duty scales is especially
critical, the scientists say, in contemporary relationships
where both partners tend to work outside the home, often for
long hours. Husbands and wives who burn the oil all day at work
are exhausted when they get home, and housework is the last
thing they want to do.
The researchers found that simple actions can increase fairness
and gratitude in households.
For individuals who do the lions share of
housework, they suggest these strategies:
Avoid repeatedly performing a task you dont want to own.
Communicate to your partner when you feel a task should be performed,
rather than waiting for your partner to notice, for instance,
the mounting laundry pile.
Express appreciation for work your partner does, even if the
work doesnt meet your standards.
For individuals who are doing less than their fair share of
chores, the researchers suggest:
Perform tasks before they become necessary.
Stick to a schedule for specific chores.
Be mindful of the work your partner does and remember to express
Both partners can:
Write down a list of your tasks. Then, switch lists (and tasks)
for a week or month to better understand your partners
Understand that each partner has a different threshold for household
chores so you can address your partner in a calmer, less accusing