Do you feel like you’re doing too much of the housework? You’re not alone! Have you tried talking to you partner about it and it’s quickly turned into a fight? They say they do half, but you know that’s not true? These arguments turn emotional fast, but in this post we explain why these fights happen, and how to change the conversation.
Why does my partner think they’re doing half when they’re not?
If you’re doing too much housework, the first thing to understand is that you might be right. But before you start a conversation with your partner, consider the following:
- Do you know everything that they do for your household?
- Do they know everything that you do for your household?
When interviewing heterosexual couples with children to understand how they think about their household work, the overwhelming majority of women I spoke to estimated that they do between 60 and 75 percent of the work in their household. When I spoke to their partners, they consistently believed they did half. So why the difference?
What do they believe? What do they see?
Most partners won’t deliberately do less than their share. Admittedly, some will, or will try their best to avoid having to do more, which is a separate issue. But the root cause of this disagreement for many couples is that while you might feel like you do most of the work, consider whether you partner believes they’re not doing enough.
Interestingly, many of the men I spoke to – particularly those with children – believed they should do half the work. And it seemed to be a part of their identity to be an equal partner. They worked hard at it, and their intention was to do an equal share. But they quickly became defensive when asked what percentage of the work they do. It was important to them that they do half, and they were upset at the idea that this was being questioned. I concluded that this might be because they saw it as attacking their sense of identity – as a good parent and partner.
After getting this reaction from many of the men I spoke to, I believed that they believed they did half. But I also believed their partners who said they did most of the work. This is when I realised that there was a crucial difference in these two perspectives.
Most of the work you do is invisible – but that’s a two-way street
So why would your partner believe they’re doing half, when you believe they’re not? Consider, for a moment, this:
Most of the work you do is invisible to the people that aren’t doing it.
That seems hard to argue – our work is more real and more visible to us than to anyone else. Now think about your partner – do you really know everything they do in your household? You may feel that you notice when they do things, but is it possible that they’re doing more than you appreciate? If you’re a bit uncomfortable about that, try flipping it around. Do you think it’s possible that you are doing more than they appreciate? You’ll almost certainly say yes. So the first thing to understand, is that there is an information inequality at play when it comes to household work.
I think this information inequality also goes some way to explaining why these discussions get emotional when a partner tells them they’re not doing enough.
Changing the conversation: Make the work visible
If discussions about the division of housework get emotional, it may be because the discussion is about opinion and feelings. I believe I’m doing too much housework. He believes he’s doing half. But the discussion needs to move away from belief and feeling, and into objective data. To have a discussion about an equal division of housework, first we need to understand what we’re dividing up. That means accounting for everything that needs to be done to keep the household running and everyone in it healthy and happy.
When asked about what they do in the household, many heterosexual men with children will think of the three c’s – cooking, cleaning and childcare. Those categories do make up a lot of the work, but it’s certainly not all of it.
Breaking down the work
Try making a list of all the thing you’ve done this week in the following categories, and ask your partner to do the same:
- Food – including grocery shopping as well as meal preparation
- Cleaning – both daily cleanup after meals, tidying, as well as weekly and deep cleaning
- Childcare – not just active childcare, but pickups and drop offs, monitoring health and making medical appointments, restocking nappy bags, preparing snacks and sterilising bottles, changing and baths, overnights, help with homework, and much more.
- Laundry – remembering to do put it on, hang it out, fold and put away – many times a week if you have kids. As well as remembering to wash sheets and towels regularly.
- Social and family – remembering birthdays, organising catchups and celebrations, keeping in touch. Managing kids and family calendars, organising outings and playdates. Ensuring your kids talk to their grandparents and see their cousins. As well as organising the logistics to support extracurricular activities, and more.
- Maintenance and repairs – if you have an outdoor space like a lawn or garden that needs care, someone needs to take care of it. There’s also cleaning out gutters, handling boiler repairs, electrical or plumbing issues and DIY. And who keeps track of what needs to be done, even if they won’t be the one doing it?
- Finances – who pays the bills, manages household budget and cashflow, saves for holidays, thinks about pensions and manages rent or mortgage?
- Vehicle care – if you have a car or other vehicle, who manages registration, servicing, cleaning and other routine maintenance?
- Pet care – if you have pets, who feeds, walks, cleans up after them, gives them baths, takes them to the vet, and plays with them?
- Reminders and Remembering – does one of you have to keep track of everything and make sure it happens on time? If so, you might be bearing the mental load for the family. Find out more to understand why this is a problem.
If you want a faster solution, you can try using the ThirdShift Quiz – it only takes 3 minutes. Just enter some basic household characteristics – nothing personal or sensitive – and what you do currently. We’ll give you a quick overview on your hours of work, share of workload and the value of the work you do. Ask your partner to complete it as well to see if your understandings differ. Then you have some data to start a conversation about how to find a fair division of work in your household.
One of the biggest challenges in finding a fair division of household work is everyone taking complete responsibility for their tasks. Do you still have to remind others to do their tasks if you want them done on time? Read more about understanding the whole task to find out how to get everyone on the same page, and reduce your mental load at the same time.
If you want to understand more about your household work, you can try the ThirdShift app. It helps you to measure, manage and value the work in your household. Start by taking the ThirdShift Quiz to get an overview of your current workload. It will help you understand who is doing what, so you can find a fairer balance. It’s completely free, and you can then choose whether to signup for a more comprehensive solution. Start now.
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Ready to start reducing your mental load?
Find out how you can save time, reduce your workload & free yourself from the mental load. Take the ThirdShift Quiz to start understanding what your work is worth.