It is not difficult to find advice on marriage that includes recommendations to married couples to share equally in the work of maintaining a household, raising children, paying bills and all the other activities that our lives together require us to get done. Our son, Michael, recently sent us a link to an article on The Atlantic magazine’s web site titled: Spouses Probably Shouldn’t Try to Split Household Tasks Exactly Evenly by Noah Berlatsky. We found it to be a great discussion about the pitfalls of seeking to keep the division of labor equal and the benefits of working together and helping each other without “keeping score”. We recommend that you read the entire article, as well as our comments below.
In our marriage we have always had some agreement that I would be primarily responsible for some areas and Rita in others. We always knew that each of us could look to the other for help in a pinch and that sometimes one of us would simply pitch in when we saw the other hassled. When the children were small, I was working and she was at home with them, so it naturally worked out that she did more of the child care jobs, cooking and household maintenance, but I did help, especially with cleaning the house on weekends. I made an effort to get to sports events with the kids and would sometimes keep them for few hours, so that she could go shopping. We did some of the grocery shopping together. It was something we enjoyed and, as the kids got older, gave us some alone time.
When Rita went back to teaching, she asked me to take over cooking dinner and she offered to do the cleanup. I agreed and do the cooking most of the time. She does the cleanup, but I usually clear the table and put leftovers and other items away before going off to do something else. She still does the laundry, but leaves my clothes, sometimes folded-sometimes not, on the bed and I put them away. I have always dealt with the mechanics of our finances, but tried to keep Rita aware of our situation and we always shared major decisions. As we are aging, I’m becoming aware that it is time to involve her more in the mechanics of maintaining our finances as well.
The point I am trying to make, in support of the article, is that we found it useful to have some division of labor in a general sense. It is good to know what I am expected to take care of and what I can expect Rita to do, but we don’t consider anything to be exclusively the domain of one of us and always try to be aware when the other could use some help. Sometimes one of us will simply step in and do something for the other because we can and it’s a way to say, “I love you.”
That brings me to the idea in the article that I think is most important: When we are married, working together and helping each other is “what we do.” Not only does it improve our relationship, the mutual support and sharing “becomes our relationship”.
We read many articles on marriage. Some lead us to discussions about our own marriage and give us ideas for writing. Some lead us to laugh and then discard or delete. The article from Atlantic was one of those that instantly led to good discussion. My first reaction was that Noah Berlatsky gets it. He and his wife are lucky to have each other and to have figured out things about marriage and being in a relationship. I/we have known for most of our marriage that dividing things equally and keeping score is deadly. It puts each person on the defensive and always trying to measure up. We knew even before we were married that marriage is not a 50/50 proposition. It is about giving because I love. While we have fallen into patterns of who does what since we have been married based on time, ability and likes, things have shifted through the years. Like the Berlatskys we have parceled out some jobs to make our life easier such as having someone clean our house and we too order in food or eat out so that no one has to cook or clean up. In general we each just do what needs to be done. No chores are particularly mine or his.
I like the Inuit example of giving seal meat to someone because they are human. It is not a gift with the expectation of getting something in return. That is something too that we learned early maybe it was because we didn’t have a lot of financial resources. We have through the years only exchanged gifts at Christmas. On occasion one of us might give the other a gift on a birthday, anniversary, etc. It is not expected nor does it require reciprocation. The gift is enjoyed because it is given out of love. We have never kept track at Christmas about who spent the most money. We buy the gift that we think the other would enjoy.
This is a great article. Spend a little time with it. Mr. Berlatsky is right on and his last line says it all, “the helping [of each other] is the marriage itself.” Let us know what your thoughts about the article and how you “help” each other in your marriage.
Read the article here.
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