Maybe you and your partner constantly argue about how the dishwasher is loaded. Or perhaps you get frustrated by how your definition of “tidy” doesn’t match up with theirs. Or they’re grumpy that they have to re-fold the laundry because you didn’t do it “right.” Or one of you is resentful of the fact that they simply do more. The list goes on. Splitting chores — and especially the “who does what?” of it all — is one of the most common sources of frustration in couples. Those caught in the push and pull of household labor argument would be wise to perform a chore audit.
A chore audit is a process during which couples sit down and make a list of everything it takes to make their home run, talk about their feelings and expectations about each chore, and then assign the tasks fairly. While completing a chore audit may not be the first (second or third) activity you want to schedule for date night, it’ll go a long way in maintaining and increasing overall satisfaction in the relationship.
The Importance of Splitting Chores
According to a Pew Research Center survey in 2007, sharing household chores is so important to the success of a relationship that couples actually rank it as one of the top three desired qualities, trailing behind faithfulness and a happy sexual relationship. The maintenance of a smooth home easily eclipsed similar perspectives on child-rearing, political beliefs, common interests, and adequate income.
Making sure there’s a somewhat balanced perspective on chores matter: The US Bureau of Labor Statistics released their annual American Time Use Survey that noted women spent an average of 2.4 hours per day on housework and household tasks while men only averaged 1.6 hours a day. During the pandemic, men did take on an extra 16 minutes of chores but so did women with 11 additional minutes on domestic work. This didn’t account for childcare responsibilities.
While participating in domestic responsibilities is decidedly unsexy, the same Pew Research Center survey noted why 62% of couples prioritize this trait so highly. The ability to run a household together is an indirect demonstration of how well a couple communicates and works together. A successful relationship that stands the test of time requires a mutual give-and-take where partners show up in the dynamic equally. If not, one person may end up putting in more effort which breeds resentment over time.
Sitting down and having an honest discussion about chores is also a way to stave off any discrepancies in mental load or “emotional labor”. The invisible work that needs to be done — the “remembering to remember” as it’s known — pertains to such tasks as being the default partner in charge of, say, organizing vacations, coordinating school appointments, or knowing what drawer the big spoon is in.
It’s likely that you and your partner have divided the basic household tasks out already – dishes, vacuuming, making dinner, cleaning, and grocery shopping. But it’s essential to go deeper and get into the nitty-gritty of your individual standards and expectations for the chores. Done properly, a chore audit can quickly cut through the noise and realign how you can tackle domestic responsibilities.
How to Perform A Chore Audit
A chore audit is an operational exercise where you and your partner name all of the domestic responsibilities that make up the daily rhythm of your household. The goal is to talk about everything openly without bringing in past grievances to the conversation.
So, think about everything that makes your house run: bill management, cleaning, grocery shopping, driving the kids to daycare, house maintenance, car servicing, event prep, childcare, and sending out birthday invitations. Literally, any relationship or house task that you can think of that one of you would have to do.
After you have a firm understanding of the housework and its expectations, add all of the items to your chore audit list. Then, you discuss the individual expectations, desires, standards, and preferred frequency around each item. The driving question should be What would make you happy about how it’s getting done and how would you like it to be completed if you care at all?
For example, you may want the trash to be taken to the bin as soon as it’s full and your partner is okay putting it by the door until they leave for work the next morning. Instead of stewing in anger and feeling frustrated when you have to take the trash out yet again, you can now understand their decision-making process and they can recognize how much of a pain point it is for you.
From there, you can make an informed, fair decision about the best partner to get the task done with minimal frustrations on all sides. The idea isn’t to tackle the chore perfectly, it’s to make sure that the process is harmonious and you’re both on the same page.
Here are a few things to remember to ensure the process goes smoothly.
1. Gender and Society Play A Role In the Division of Labor.
When couples don’t have some type of regular conversation around chores, they might default to societal expectations or gender norms to execute on unsaid emotional responsibilities. Deloitte Global’s New Report reported nearly 80% of women noted an increased workload while 66% of women noted also having greater responsibilities at home. Another 2021 study found an uptick in mothers shouldering an increased domestic load due to being laid off, fired, or quitting to seek out more work-life balance. It’s good to be aware of how external factors could feed into your home dynamic.
Gender can play a big factor in uneven domestic inequity since society often sets up women as inherently more “skilled” at proactive domestic work and men as “helpless” reactive partners who experience their partners as scolders who nag them about chores. As women are traditionally seen as the de facto manager holding the house together, it sets up a flawed dynamic where women or the perceivably more responsible partner in the relationship takes over most of the domestic responsibilities. Compounding emotional labor is also weaponized incompetence, where one partner might pretend to be purposely bad at a task so they can get out of it, leaving the more competent partner to pick up the slack.
2. It’s Normal to Have Different Standards.
People have different definitions about cleanliness. Maybe your partner cleans as they cook while you wait to wash the dishes until the next morning. You’re both allowed to have your own interpretation. There isn’t a right or wrong way. It’s really just about what works for you. So, even if you don’t get it when your partner complains how you leave the dishes in the sink, believe them anyway and take the time to hear out their frustration. It’s easy to want to correct them or tell them a better way to do it, but that won’t make them feel heard and it’ll only fuel arguments.
With an active listening approach, you can begin to work out a path forward. As an example, you can begin to compromise by loading the dishes in the dishwasher when you’re done cooking so it’s at least out of sight. Then you can take it out in the morning.
3. Get Into the Psychology of Cleaning
Yes, really. A chore audit is about forensically laying out the what, why, and hows of a particular task. It’s not just about folding laundry. Do you even want to do laundry? Do you like folding the clothes or do you actually feel a little resentful you’re doing it at all because you always start the load? Do you prefer rolling the clothes or folding them up? How do you want it put away in the dressers? Does it upset you when they fold it on the bed because then they get cat hair on it? Does this task get completed in the time frame you want it? How do you and your partner manage folding laundry differently?
Once you understand that and play off each other’s strengths, move onto the next item on the list. By understanding the nuances of each chore, you and your partner can flow into the tasks that suit you best.
4. Let Them Help You By Helping Them
Despite how long you’ve been together, you may still hope in the potential of your partner. Maybe, just maybe after telling them to put their clothes in the basket for the thousandth time, they’ll finally listen. Or maybe the truth is that having a floor littered with clothes genuinely doesn’t bother them like it bothers you.
It’s important to be honest about each of your tolerances so you can begin to negotiate a trade-off. When you see that they’re not neglecting a chore as a slight towards you but because it’s just not one of their top concerns, you understand that their action isn’t a dig against you.
5. Be Realistic About What You’re Good And Bad At
Perhaps your partner really wants to grocery shop but they’re bad at shopping for deals. Why get into the same fight week after week? Instead of being annoyed they overspent again, meet them where they’re at. When you’re especially particular about a chore and they’re ambivalent about something you really care about, it’s easier to figure out which partner should take over the responsibility. It’s a neat way to disrupt potential fights and lean on your natural skills.
6. Follow Through On Your Agreements
Once you divvy up specific household tasks and the tasks have been accounted for, don’t let the chore audit languish away in the notes section of your phone. It’s important to commit and get your chores done and not simply wait for your partner to ask you about it. While it’s good to know your underlying motivations for each chore, being able to follow through is the only way the chore audit will work.
Keeping promises helps you maintain high levels of trust in each other. You want your partner to know they can rely on you to fulfill their needs. Breaking promises is a slippery slope and can impact the relationship negatively.
7. Put 100% Into Your Responsibilities
Splitting chores isn’t about achieving a perfect 50/50 compromise. It’s too black-and-white and devolves your house’s chore list to a scoring system. Situations will shift and conversations around chores will change. Rigidity will only lead to problems.
You both maintain the house and through your shared efforts, your house will transform into a home which is what you ultimately want – a warm, lovely, and clean space to be in together. When you feel responsible in cultivating your partner’s happiness, you’ll want to contribute your share which makes it easier to fulfill your chores.
8. Be Fair About The Effort You Can Put In.
The truth is you and your partner’s schedules will inevitably ebb and flow – sometimes, one of you will be busier and the other person will have to pick up the slack. It’ll be an interchangeable process. The good news is that after a chore audit the labor is no longer invisible. You’re aware of the house responsibilities and can factor in personal workload, mental health, and unexpected life events into the picture so you can fairly figure out how you can support each other.
A chore audit is a smart approach to openly streamline processes in your household so there’s nothing left unsaid. It’s about having a willingness to understand what you both want and forming a plan around it. Will this eliminate all arguments? Definitely not. But having everything out in the open and working to reduce chores to a low-stress activity allows you to focus on what really matters – the relationship you have with each other.
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