Many couples in our country experience tension and strife when deciding which spouse should complete which chores. This phenomenon is often referred to as the chore war.
It’s quite possible that couples in past eras didn’t experience this because gender roles were clearly defined (i.e., certain tasks were considered to be “men’s work” and other tasks were “women’s work”). Today there is much more flexibility. In most families, it is completely acceptable for either spouse to load the dishwasher, change dirty diapers, or mow the lawn.
Though my husband and I are “old fashioned” in some ways (e.g., we believe in male leadership in the home, he is the breadwinner and I am a stay-at-home mom), we appreciate having flexibility when it comes to who completes which chores around the house.
As you might guess, we’ve experienced tension on occasion because of this flexibility. In working through this, we’ve found that there are a number of things that help us achieve mutual victory in the chore war.
How to share victory in the chore war
Dispel the myth that a happy marriage is one with an equitable division of labor.
There are two people involved in a marriage, so it makes logical sense that each should contribute 50% in order to have a marriage that is 100% successful. In reality, though, both spouses have to strive to contribute 100% for the marriage to succeed.
On a very practical level, there is no way to divide work evenly. Does vacuuming the living room take the same effort as mopping the kitchen? Does changing a diaper take the same effort as folding some laundry? My husband works during the day and I stay home to care for our kiddos. Do those balance out one another? There isn’t a way to accurately quantify the effort required to complete various chores.
On a less practical level, we aren’t supposed to seek equality. The Lord made us individually (Psalm 139:14). We have different abilities and are each capable of handling different amounts of work. Moreover, the Bible teaches us to value others above ourselves and to look to their interests (Philippians 2:3-4). This applies as much to marriage as it does to other relationships.
Don’t misunderstand me here—both spouses do have to contribute in order for their marriage to be a success, but which spouse contributes how much is going to vary depending on personalities, abilities, and season of life.
Consider your talents and interests when dividing chores.
If one spouse is really gifted with numbers, then it’s generally best for him or her to be the one to set up a spreadsheet to track a budget. If one spouse loves to cook, then it is generally best for him or her to do the cooking (this is a big portion of the reason why I do the cooking in my house). It’s often counterproductive to assign chores to the spouse who doesn’t have the skills or interest necessary to complete them well.
Of course, there are some chores that don’t interest anyone (scrubbing toilets, for example), so sometimes we just have to buckle down and do the work. When it comes to these tasks, it is nice to make sure both spouses are completing a couple of them. However, if a chore aligns with one spouse’s skills or interests, why not assign this chore to him or her?
Be willing to help with chores that aren’t assigned to you.
Even when you divide chores based on skills and interests, there are times when each spouse will struggle to complete his or her tasks. When this happens, it is nice for the spouse who isn’t struggling to step up and help the spouse who is struggling. This is a great way to serve your spouse (Galatians 5:13) and to make sure work gets done around the house.
When possible, complete chores together.
Chores are a lot less cumbersome when completed in partnership with your spouse. The actual work is lighter because you are sharing it, but you also have someone to fellowship with as you work, which helps the time pass quickly. Quality time is hard to come by in marriage (particularly when you have kids). Thus, it is important that we take advantage of any and every opportunity to spend time together. Though not as exciting as a date, my husband and I have found that we can share meaningful conversation and laughter while working on chores together.
Say “thank you.”
We don’t often stop to thank our spouses for the everyday work they do. We might thank them for going above and beyond to do something special, but not for things like folding underwear, wiping off the kitchen table, or taking out the trash. If we pause and take time to do this, it makes such a difference! I’m always encouraged when my husband thanks me for doing some mundane task. Honestly, it helps me be more enthusiastic about the task! I try to thank him regularly for his contributions and I think it energizes him in a similar manner.
There is no single way to divide chores that is going to be appropriate for all marriages. Hopefully these general strategies that have helped in my marriage will also benefit you and your spouse as you divide up the chores.
Do you and your spouse have experience with the chore war? What have you done to achieve mutual victory in this struggle?
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