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Spring Cleaning: Taking a Closer Look at Your Division of Labor

An important discussion you should have to help keep the peace in your relationship concerns your division of labor. Household chores are something we all have to deal with, and partners often enter the relationship with different expectations for who is responsible for what and how often a certain task needs to be completed to feel comfortable in your home.

Follow these simple steps to take an active role in securing a division of labor that fits well for you and your partner and that is flexible enough to meet your evolving needs.

Step 1: Determine Your Mismatch

It is near to impossible to find a partner that perfectly matches you in preferences for cleanliness and organization. We usually prioritize other qualities in a long-term partner so that a person’s chore habits are not a concern until cohabitation or marriage accentuates previous annoyances. Figuring out where you and your partner overlap or differ in preferences for division of labor is an essential conversation to have, similar in importance to discussing whether you want to have kids or how you plan to handle your joint finances.

Begin by asking each other how important a clean space is to you and what qualifies as “clean”. Talk about the homes you grew up in and how those experiences impact your long-term expectations. Do you hold a more traditional mindset where the man is the breadwinner and the woman is responsible for all household and childcare tasks? Do you envision an equal division of labor between partners? How is this influenced by who works more often or brings in a larger income?

This initial discussion is meant to be more abstract and help both of you become more aware of your subconscious preferences. Remember, having different preferences and expectations are normal, and there is no right or wrong way to divide household tasks. Once you bring these expectations to the surface of your awareness, you are ready to talk about the specific division of labor in your relationship.

Step 2: Map Your Tasks and Their Frequency

Start by setting aside an hour or two to list all the chores you are responsible for in a given day, week, or month. Categorize the tasks by how frequently you think they should be completed. Then, begin to divvy up the tasks in a fair and flexible manner.

It is helpful to highlight the tasks that are most important to you, as those are things you should be responsible for since you are more likely to judge your partner harshly if he or she does not meet your standards. Consider the constraints you each have in helping with household chores, such as one partner who works more hours in a given week and who then has less time to help out at home.

Whichever partner has the higher standards for cleanliness needs to either take on more responsibility or be willing to sacrifice these standards for the sake of having a partner who tries to help. It is not fair to impose an opinion of what you feel should be done a certain way on your partner, and you risk falling into a harmful parent-child dynamic if you are not careful and flexible.

You need to work with your partner to find a division of labor that feels balanced for both of you, and you need to express appreciation for the tasks your partner completes. It is easy to fall into a routine and take for granted things your partner does for you, and this simply requires you to remain mindful and express direct appreciation for even the smallest task. A small task for you may be quite meaningful for your partner.

Step 3: Revisit the Division of Labor

This is not a one-and-done conversation. After you have spent time discussing your preferences, needs, and flexibility, you must revisit your division of labor on a regular basis. As time passes, you and your partner’s needs and constraints evolve. It is unlikely that a check-in will take as long as the initial conversation to map out your tasks, and it shows significant respect for your partner that you care enough to check in and see if anything needs to change.

Make a habit of setting aside time at least once a month to discuss management of household tasks and invite your partner to bring any concerns or changes in flexibility to your attention. Be honest about your ability to maintain the status quo or if you are feeling overburdened. By staying ahead of any changing circumstances and potential stressors, you are better able to take an active role in preserving harmony and a sense of partnership in your relationship.

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