The Challenge of Different Standards (Part One)
Do you and your partner have different standards for housework, or different ideas of what a task being done properly means? This common problem is called the Standards Challenge. In this three part series we explore why it happens, and how to fix it. This introductory post looks at why the standards challenge occurs and where your partner might be coming from. Part Two looks at understanding the whole task – a common source of conflict. And Part Three looks at how to talk about it to keep discussions in your household more collaborative and less combative.
The standards challenge is when household members have different ideas of what doing a task means. Depending on the intentions of the people involved, there are different reasons why this could be the case. Below we explain different forms of Standards Challenge:
1. Standards Challenge As Difference Of Opinion
This is the most benign version of the standards challenge. It’s where two people simply have different views or understandings of what’s involved in completing a task. It could be because of how they were raised, habit, or inexperience with a task. It’s entirely possible the issue is genuine ignorance of either common conventions or your particular preferences. Therefore it’s always best to approach any conversation around different standards for housework on the assumption that the other person isn’t aware of the problem. This version of the standards challenge most frequently occurs when approaches and expectations surrounding a task have never been explicitly communicated.
For example, a couple may argue because one person prefers to do a weekly grocery shop to save time and money, while the other might prefer daily shopping so they don’t have to plan ahead. Certainly, neither approach is right, it’s simply a difference of opinion, preference and perhaps priority. The goal is to agree on what works for your household. It will likely involve compromise by one or both of you.
2. Housework Standards Challenge As Evasion
This is the more harmful version of the standards challenge. This is when a task isn’t done properly by one partner, often in an attempt to manipulate the other into doing the task instead, by making clear that the task won’t be done properly unless they do it themselves.
For example, Partner A asks Partner B to help by doing the laundry because they have two children and there’s a lot to be done. Partner B says they’re happy to do it. A week passes, they haven’t even done one load of laundry and the kids are running out of clean clothes. Partner A asks Partner B why they haven’t done the laundry as they said they would, and Partner B says that there’s no need to do laundry yet, because they still have plenty of things to wear. So Partner A points out that the kids are running out of clothes, and it’s important to consider the needs of the whole household, not just themselves. Partner B says, well if you don’t like the way I do it, you can do it yourself.
In other words, in the event of a standards challenge, a household member may claim the duration, frequency or completeness of a household task isn’t being satisfied to the required level. They may also claim that the expectations of the other are unreasonable, unnecessary or controlling.
The Importance of Communicated & Agreed Household Standards
The solution to the standards challenge is to agree on what is a reasonable and necessary standard for your household. It can also be helpful to write it down where everyone can access it, because we’re all human and may forget. But agreeing on standards can be a challenge in itself. So before we look at how to handle these conversations, first we need to understand what an agreed standard means.
A household is like society; we give up certain freedoms and agree to certain constraints in exchange for the benefits and privileges that come with communal living. Reciprocity is baked into the model. We benefit from the functioning of the household (having our laundry washed and dinner made for us). So we have to take on certain responsibilities in return (contributing to the workload and resources of the household). This means that the things we do are in service of the community, and not solely ourselves as individuals.
Unfortunately, not everyone is in the habit of prioritising the needs of those around them – or in some cases even thinking about them. This isn’t necessary deliberate. Sometimes it’s simply lack of awareness. That’s the reason why the most important step to addressing differences in standards is to talk about them. Make them conscious, get everyone to think about them, and agree what is important and works for all of you.
Up Next: The Challenge of Different Housework Standards (Part Two)
Read Part Two to learn more about how to establish a common understanding of what a task involves. Part three covers how to discuss and agree household standards without turning it into a fight. It also includes tips on further reading if you’re still struggling with different standards of housework in your house.
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 completing the ThirdShift Quiz that gives you an overview of your current workload. More complete data helps you understand who is doing what, and 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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