Seminar Offers Tips on How to Get Your Partner to Help Around
By Jennifer O'Sullivan
make the bed, you do the dishes, and six months later you
have to start all over again."
The division of household labor is an ever-changing equation,
and one that varies according to whom you ask.
"In general, everyone thinks they're doing too much, and
many feel that their partners aren't doing enough," says Jeff
Jones of the Counseling and Postdoctoral Services Department
at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI). Jones recently spoke
on "How to Get Your Partner to Help Around the House" as part
of the ongoing Lunch & Learn seminar series for TSRI employees.
Jones, a clinical psychologist who works with individuals,
couples, and families at TSRI and in his private practice,
presented the seminar in three parts, discussing trends in
housework, the "division of labor" in the household, and practical
strategies for resolving conflicts about who does what.
Of the people who attended the seminar, roughly a quarter
admitted to being the "messier" half of a domestic partnership.
The consensus among the remaining three quarters was that
they each did the majority of the houseworksome 80 percentin
their home. Jones acknowledged that 80:20 is a common housework
ratio for couples, and that the imbalance, whether actual
or perceived, can cause tension in all areas of the relationship.
"Marital satisfaction increases when partners help out around
the house," says Jones. So just how do partners achieve harmony?
Perhaps the first thing to do is answer an important question.
Are You an 80 or a 20?
Referring to specific studies on the issue, Jones summarized
trends in housework over the past 40 years, reporting that
in general couples are doing less housework overall, but that
women still spend more time cleaning, cooking, shopping, and
doing laundry than their male partners.
Of course, the division of labor doesn't always fall along
gender lines, and the ratios can change when other activities
not necessarily thought of as houseworkvehicle maintenance,
yard work, gift buying, and taking care of petsare factored
in. Still, avoiding what Jones calls the "power differential"
is important to keeping a relationship healthy.
"The person who feels he or she is doing 80 percent of the
housework often takes on the role of boss, adult, or authority,"
says Jones, "while the person who is doing less work becomes
the child being told what do to. This results in resentment
on both sides."
One of the keys in approaching a reasonable balance in the
division of household chores is to identify each partner's
expectations and motivations. "Some people are just naturally
more comfortable among clutter, while others are on the more
compulsive side," says Jones, who urges couples to identify
where they each fall on the cleaning continuum. "If you have
different needs, you may have to adjust expectations," he
"Start with How You Would Continue"
Jones asked participants if there was ever a discussion
of how housework would be divided in the beginning of the
relationship, and if any kind of agreement or "house rules"
were ever decided. No's all around.
"This is more common in a roommate situation," Jones responded,
and suggested that designating certain jobs can be a great
way for couples to resolve housework issues. "And if you are
already well into the relationship, start with how you would
continue. In other words, identify each other's needs and
expectations, and designate the division of labor." This can
be done by voicing preferencesone person may abhor cleaning
the bathroom and would be willing to take over the yard work
in exchange. Another suggestion is to weigh various choresdoes
one take a lot more time and physical energy than another?and
divvy them up accordingly.
Other suggestions for how to get your partner to help around
the house included giving positive feedback when he/she does
pitch in, and avoiding criticism of the way in which it is
done. Jones also cautioned against equating time and money,
for example expecting your partner to do more housework because
you bring in more income, or expecting him or her to pay for
dinner out on Saturday night because you have done all the
laundry that week.
As one employee said after the seminar, in the end it really
is all about communication. And when they're coming from a
partner, the words, "I really need your help" do indeed hit
Jeff Jones of TSRI's Counseling and
Postdoctoral Services Department led a seminar for TSRI employees
on a thorny issuehousework. Photo by