We’ve noticed that a lot of marriages take a very traditional approach where all the work HE does is money-earning, and all the work SHE does in unpaid – and usually unacknowledged.

So we ask, is this a good thing, or is it a problem?

What happens for those wives who take on more and more, and might even do all the housework AND are employed full time?

How does that work?

If you are a wife that is struggling because you are overloaded with employment and housework – or a husband in the same situation – what is reasonable? What should your expectations be? How can you work together to create a better balance in your marriage?

First: some personal insight into how this plays out in our own marriage:

For most of our marriage, Caleb has worked in the labour market and I’ve worked at keeping the home. We both like that best, although we have had periods of both of us working too.

During this time, Caleb let me do the dishes and would pitch in the odd time when things were really bad or he felt guilty, or whatever. He realized recently, that he carried an unspoken belief that dishes were part of my job description, not his.

Then he saw an uncle with a similar marriage to ours (she stayed at home, he worked outside the home) that had no concept of the dishes being on her job list and not his. After each meal, he just pitched in… and, so did she… and, so did all of their children. They had some great family mojo going on, and were all together in the kitchen after supper.

This got Caleb reflecting on his own values, and at the end of the day he realized he was just being prideful – like dishes weren’t worth his time and he had more valuable things to do. He also realized it was a power imbalance; that there wasn’t anything intrinsically special or valuable about him over me that means I should do lesser work than he.

The Bible talks about the husband nourishing and cherishing his wife, and about sacrificing himself for her benefit so that she feels loved.[i] He realized he needed to change how he thought about our dishes.

Now, most of the time, we do dishes together! What is really neat is our kids join us and we all do this together without us having to beg or bribe them, turning a chore into some great family time. What’s more, if Caleb or I have something on in the evening, we don’t mind the other not helping with dishes that night. It has given us more freedom and less of a martyr attitude.

So that’s how this has played out in our lives, but what does the research say?

In all industrialized countries, the division of household labour remains unbalanced and gender dependent. Women are still left with the major responsibility for housework and childcare, and wives perform two to three times more family work than their husbands do.[ii]

Here’s what happens that influences perceptions of fairness.

  1. Spouses who have employment reduce their participation in housework. (No surprises there)
  2. Most marriages assume that the spouse who creates less (or no) household income should assume a larger share of household work.
  3. Traditional women are socialized to accept an unbalanced division of household labour and are cool with this. They believe it’s legitimate.
  4. About 45% of women in this worldwide study believed the distribution of household labour was fair.
  5. The most influential factor on whether you think the share of housework you do is fair or not is gender ideology (#3 above). Your belief about what is fair is most significant. Which is why in marriage it’s really important to figure how/if these beliefs align, and if not, how you’re going to reconcile them.[iii]
  6. Couple more points. If a wife held a full time job (and low time availability) she felt more injustice if she still did the majority of the housework.
  7. If a wife was contributing income equal to, or greater than, her husband, she felt more injustice if she still did the majority of the housework.

What can we deduce from that? There is nothing wrong with traditional beliefs if there are traditional roles in place. These people are happy, and feminists have no business judging them.

But….

Husbands: you can’t hold the traditional belief that your wife should do most of the housework alongside the non-traditional belief that she should have a full time job. It doesn’t work out very well!

Wives: it is equally unreasonable for you to hold the traditional belief that your husband should work full time while you stay at home, and then you don’t do any housework either. We’re not saying you can’t do other kinds of work; we’re just saying that marriage is not a lifelong vacation for you!

If you, as a couple, are going to leave traditional roles at all, negotiations need to happen with the goal of both spouses feeling a sense of balance (equity) and equality.

Perceptions also come into play in a huge way. Comparisons happen. We talk about why comparisons are a bad thing in Episode 17, but you may make comparisons between your marriage and the social beliefs of the crowd you mostly hang out with. Or, you may compare between yourselves as spouses as to who does how much. You may even compare your spouse to other spouses of the same gender.

These comparisons affect our perceptions as to what should happen in our marriage. They are important because they shape our beliefs. Is there any objective right and wrong to this, or is it purely our perceptions that matter?

There is nothing un-Biblical about a man doing housework. The Bible does criticize men who do not provide for their families, assuming they are physically and mentally capable of doing so.

There is also nothing un-Biblical about a wife generating an income. The Bible does criticize women who it broadly labels as busybodies. As in, they’re busy accomplishing nothing – mere socialites who are contributing nothing to their family or their community. There ARE Biblical examples of highly respected working-women.

You can create a marriage where you divide the household labour in a way that works for you as long as you avoid those un-Biblical pitfalls.

How you balance all this out though, is through sharing – sharing power, sharing control, and sharing decisions. The research points out that the higher the level of shared control, the higher the level of satisfaction.[iv]

Regardless of how many demands there are, partners in a marriage want to feel like equals, and with a little work and discussion can get there!

This is where we want you to utilize the worksheet we’ve created for you. It will help you understand, in your marriage, where the division of labour is at now, and help you talk with your spouse about where you would like it to be. There’s a big list of typical household tasks that both of you can go through, identifying who does what right now, and then identifying how you would like it to happen.

Division of Labour

This practical worksheet will help the two of you have the conversations needed about how to fairly divide the housework in your home.

That worksheet is going to be a huge help, but you should probably plan on reviewing it every once in a while if your work changes, or you move homes, or have kids, or come into any of life’s transitions. It’s always good at that point to renegotiate roles and responsibilities.

Wives: don’t try to become the Ultimate Traditional Wife in non-traditional circumstances. We see this more often than we’d like, and it often looks like a Messiah complex (trying to save the world) or a Martyr complex (poor me, I’ll just have to do more… and everybody better be noticing!!!).

We don’t mean to come across as negative, but just want to point out that taking on more and more housework and other responsibilities is not coming from a place of fullness. We might call it selflessness, but really, it leads to crisis because you’re overloading yourself in all that you’re doing. That’s a tough place to be in!

If you are an overloaded wife, take the path to recovery before you burn out. First, understand your worthiness, as a person, is not grounded in what you do, but who you are. This is easier said than done, but this shift in thinking is critical.

Second, question your sense of self. How have you been defining who you are? What are the roles you’ve accepted in relationship with others?

Finally, become flexible about your roles and make personal choices that align with your own values.[v]

Housework can seem so trivial at times, yet can be the fuel for many arguments at other times. Learning to negotiate the balance between you and your spouse can make such a difference. Download the worksheet now to start your discussions, and reach out for some marriage coaching if you need further help.

Division of Labour

This practical worksheet will help the two of you have the conversations needed about how to fairly divide the housework in your home.


References:

[i] Ephesians 5:23-33

[ii] Michael Braun et al., “Perceived Equity in the Gendered Division of Household Labor,” Journal of Marriage and Family 70, no. 5 (December 1, 2008): 1145–56, doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2008.00556.x.

[iii] Consuelo Paterna Carmen Martínez, “Justifications and Comparisons in the Division of Household Labor: The Relevance of Gender Ideology.,” The Spanish Journal of Psychology 13, no. 1 (2010): 220–31, doi:10.1017/S1138741600003802.

[iv] Samuel Melamed Talma Kushnir, “Domestic Stress and Well-Being of Employed Women: Interplay Between Demands and Decision Control at Home,” Sex Roles 54, no. 9 (2006): 687–94, doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9040-0.

[v] Oksana Yakushko, “Do Feminist Women Feel Better About Their Lives? Examining Patterns of Feminist Identity Development and Women’s Subjective Well-Being,” Sex Roles 57, no. 3–4 (May 23, 2007): 223–34, doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9249-6.

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