Today we’re talking all about how couples split housework. We asked over 100 women what the divide looks like in their relationship and here are the results!
Up there with finances, in-laws, and sex, household duties is one of the top causes of contention in relationships.
Does this ring true for you?
Have you ever cleaned the kitchen, seething, while your partner sat on the couch, oblivious? Maybe you’ve been the recipient of a “Why do I always have to be the one to take the trash out?”
Whether you’re knee deep in house cleaning bickering or trying to fix a problem before it starts, this post is for you.
We asked over 100 couples how they split housework and learned a lot.
Short on time? Scroll right to the key takeaways at the end!
Before we start: Problems with the data
We are not professionally trained statisticians (although I, Elisabeth, did study a lot of econ back in college) and this study is far from perfect.
First off, the question was answered entirely by females. The females were not randomly selected to participate and chose to answer the questions posted on social media (in theory, the women who chose to respond were different than those who chose not to respond). These questions were posed to large groups of women online and those who were interested in answering, did so.
We are also unsure of the accuracy of the answers. When the female partner reports an unfair split, has she taken into account all the household work? Did she factor in finances, outside work, fixing things, etc. When couples say the “fell into” their current division, have they just forgotten the conversations or arguments they had about it seven years ago? There was no additional verification beyond asking the main questions.
The responses were almost entirely given by heterosexual couples in committed relationships with children. Most are married, as indicated by the use of the word “husband,” but they were not asked about their marital status.
How would these results differ if partners answered them together? What if we had a more diverse group of people answering questions? Are the women who feel compelled to answer these questions different than those who just kept scrolling (I think so – my theory is it means we get a more passionate sample…women who are currently feeling the burden of housework or those who are extremely proud of how much their partner does).
However, even with imperfect data, the findings were too interesting not to share.
Initial findings: Six ways of splitting household duties
We posed the question, “How do you split household duties in your house? How satisfied are you with the split and how long have you and your partner been together?”
Sorting through over 100 responses to how a couple splits household duties and the female’s level of satisfaction with the division showed a wide variety of ways to divide. All answers fell into one of six different set-ups. Let’s take a look at them.
She does it all
She handles all the household duties. Usually she is a stay at home mom and her partner works outside the home but, surprisingly, not always. A handful of responses came from working women who’s partner also works and who reported doing all the household responsibilities.
She makes assignments
She is in charge of making sure the housework get done (usually a self-assigned role). She is in charge of asking for help. In some couples this means she creates a daily or weekly chore list for her partner. In some cases it means she asks for help at the end of the day if she needs it. The level of help and involvement from the male partner varied, the important distinguishing factor here is that she was in charge of asking.
Split by interest, skill, and availability
The most common household setup was one where there was an understood division by interest, skill, and/or availability. In some cases this happened as a result of an intentional discussion and in some cases couples “fell into” these responsibilities.
Within this setup, the most popular division was with her taking inside duties of cooking, cleaning, and laundry and him taking outside duties of yard and car maintenance. Financial duties were hardly mentioned (and when they were mentioned if was usually as something the female partner did, but given that the responses were all from females and given that people are more likely to report work they do, we still assume most of the finances are done by men).
In some cases the inside / outside designation was used in a different way with men taking care of household work done outside of the home such as grocery shopping and doctors appointments with the women taking care of the work inside the home.
Do what you value
In these families, couples report doing the tasks that are important to them.
This often led to a reported uneven division of labor, but as one woman pointed out, she doesn’t expect her partner to do loads of work that he doesn’t care about. For example, she tidies up the house each evening because it is important to her and he washes the cars because it is important to him.
Do these couples agree on a base level of cleanliness that needs to be achieved and share those duties? Do they begrudge the other for not caring about the things they care about?
Just wing it
Many couples reported having no set division of tasks and each partner “just doing what needs to be done.” These couples sometimes had division for things like dishes (one person does the cooking and the other does the dishes) or laundry (she washes and he puts away) and then everything else just falls into place by both partners chipping in.
A handful of these women praised their partners for noticing what needed to be done and not having to be asked.
I wonder if this set-up works well only if both partners have a good understanding of the work that needs to be done, both value the work being done, and notice the work when it is undone.
Divide by date
A handful of couples reported having each partner do all household responsibilities, usually including childcare, on specific days of the week.
Couples with this setup usually reported working a non-traditional schedule.
In one situation this looked like her taking all the childcare + household responsibilities a MTW, and her partner taking them Th, F, Sat, with them sharing responsibilities on Sunday.
In another, one partner was in charge of waking up with the kids in the morning on specific days and was in charge of the evening routine on specific days.
Which division led to the highest satisfaction?
Couples where the female partner reported an even split in household duties were more likely to say they were satisfied with the division of work, unsurprisingly.
More surprisingly, though, was that there were highly satisfied and dissatisfied women at all ends of all divisions.
There were stay-at-home-moms who did all of the housework and reported being very happy, grateful their partner worked hard so they could be home. On the other hand we had women who reported their lazy partners not helping around the house at all and having it be a big source of contention.
Things that may lead to higher satisfaction:
Be intentional + set expectations:
Sit down with your partner and be clear about who is responsible for what. Also discuss what each of you should do if the other doesn’t do their work so you can avoid nagging or being nagged.
One couple said they made lists on their own of all the work they thought they did and then they came together to discuss it. They had a lot of overlap and got very clear on what each person was responsible for.
It’s okay if somethings aren’t designated. Maybe you’re both in charge of cleaning up the living room in the evening.
Here are some common splits that couples used:
- Zones – each partner is in charge of deep cleaning or straightening specific areas (sometimes these are fixed and in some families they rotate)
- Inside vs. outside
- When one partner cooks, the other cleans
- When one partner takes care of kids, the other cleans
Don’t rest until everyone can
A personal favorite anecdote from the responses was the advice to “not rest until everyone can.”
How would this rule change the shared workload in your home? Who would need to hold off on resting? If you talked about it, what conversations would you have?
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude
Couples that were happy with their setup often expressed gratitude for what their partner did. How can gratitude decrease the contention in your relationship around housework?
Are you happy because you feel grateful? Does you expressing gratitude make your partner more likely to work? Does expressing gratitude make your partner express gratitude which makes you feel like your work is valued?
However it works, try expressing more gratitude to your partner (or even just to yourself) for your life and how they contribute to it.
Remember to consider all work
You are more likely to count the work that you do. Try and get a clearer picture about all the work that each partner does. You might forget your partner handles all the yard work, spending 10-20 hours a month outside or that he handles all the insurance details for the family and vehicles.
Couples that mentioned outsourcing always did so fondly and many said it was the best money they spent. Studies show that money spent to buy back time usually results in the most bang for your buck at raising happiness levels. This means that you might think that new dress is going to make you happy, but having the maids come is going to do more for your happiness levels.
There is so much more to say on this topic. After finishing “Fair Play” after writing this post I want to keep discussing it! It is so interesting to me that there was no correlation between how couples split household duties and their satisfaction with the division. What makes it work for some couples and not work for others? Is it differences in the people themselves? Or a difference in attitude?
How can Ben and I better share the workload? Although is that even the right question? Maybe it is “How can Ben and I feel more equitable in the sharing of the workload?”
I’d love to hear how you split household duties and if you have any thoughts on this!
Want more on this?
- I recently finished the book “Fair Play,” a hands-on, real talk guide for navigating the division of labor within couples. I love that the author breaks down each task required in maintaining a household AND offers so guiding principles to understand before discussion this hot button issue.
- Takeaways and Summary of “How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids.”
- Tips for strengthening your relationship after kids (its not what you think)