Can you settle an argument for us? We have been married for four years and have two kids. Usually things are good between us, but we are fighting so much lately that we forget the good things.
The thing we fight about most is how much work we each do for the family. We both work full time, but I start and finish my day one hour earlier than my husband. It seems that I do all the work with the kids and the house, while my husband just does his job. I work just as hard at my job as he does at his, but he thinks that he is done when he gets off work, whereas I have several more hours of work ahead of me at home.
He says he pays for more things so he shouldn’t have to do as much of the work at home. At the end of the work day, I am tired, too, but must prepare and clean up from dinner, catch up on chores, get ready for the next day, and get the kids into bed.
I feel frustrated and angry that my husband thinks that finishing work means he can relax. I don’t get to relax for hours after work, so it feels really unfair to me.
It is really wonderful that you have good things in your marriage and that you are willing to work on bringing them back into focus.
I think there are a couple of issues here — the division of labour between you, and the way that “work” is viewed.
If you take a step back from your lives and think of the bigger picture, it is easier to view all the ‘work’ involved in keeping your lives running; work to earn money, work to raise kids, and work to manage your home, and they are all equally necessary in family life. The idea that the workday is over when your paid shift ends doesn’t work well in families. The workday doesn’t end until all three types of work are complete.
Balancing and fairly distributing the workload is considerably easier when you take this broad view of ‘work.’
The big picture view is also useful in helping couples feel that things are fair when one partner has no paid work, or considerably less, or they work away from home. There is more balance when both partners are contributing a similar number of hours each day, or week, in total work.
Partners rarely earn similar salaries, therefore money can complicate the issue of work distribution if the person earning a higher salary views their overall contributions to the household as greater.
There is more to keeping a family functioning than the input of money, and the wage a person earns is dependent on many factors uncontrolled by the individual. While men a still generally earning a higher salary than women, the idea that more income means not having to participate in child rearing or housework is an unfair.
This point is easy to understand if you look at an example from the perspective of a single person; you wouldn’t expect that your bathroom would need to be cleaned less if your salary increased. Justifying a uneven workload based on income creates a serious power imbalance and fosters resentment, which is harmful to relationships.
Fairness is important in relationships, but not everything can be divided exactly down the middle, so it is important to review together all the tasks involved in making your family run. The best working system will depend on the job schedules, preferences, other obligations, and individual abilities of both partners.
There are many different ways of dividing the workload, so you need to find the one that fits for you and your family. Making a list of all tasks to decide how to share and distribute responsibility is an excellent way to make sure the issue is approached as a team rather than on opposing sides.
Set aside some time when you are both calm and won’t be interrupted.
Some methods that have worked well for other families include chore rotation, such as taking turns doing all various chores, or permanently assigned chores, for example: one partner takes care of all the laundry while the other is responsible for all daycare driving. The methods of labour division you and your partner settle on should feel balanced to prevent either person from feeling resentful.
Running a family is hard work, so remembering to take a break is important, too! Each of you need roughly equal periods of time off, and that can be easily achieved through scheduling a regular evening off for each parent.
The sense of achievement and teamwork couples feel when working together on a common goal usually increases satisfaction and connection between partners.
If you wish to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at email@example.com. Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Sara-Lynn Kang at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Thursday in the Record.