There’s something about newlyweds that inspires all sorts of unsolicited advice. These words of wisdom range from the helpful (“Talk to your husband instead of your mother if you are angry with him”) to the benign (“Don’t forget to have date nights”) to the downright quirky (“Only have arguments standing up. That way you’ll get tired and want to resolve it so you can sit down”).
And yes, I received all of those valuable nuggets in my early days of marriage!
However, I also received a piece of advice that proved to be toxic for our marriage. I’m guessing that you received this advice as well.
“Make sure to split the work 50-50.”
On the surface this appears to be excellent advice. I mean, we are in the 21st century after all. Many women work outside of the home, and yet they are also expected to shoulder most of the household work and the childcare. So, it seems to make logical sense that we should try to even things out.
Many marriage experts even recommend that couples create a list of household chores and assign them to each partner–taking care to make everything come out even. 50-50. You’re a team. It’s only fair.
However, I found that trying to make everything “fair” made me a bitter wife.
-I began keeping track, keeping score. If I did the dishes, I put one imaginary tally mark in my column and expected my husband to make a correlating mark in his column.
-If I thought that I had done more household work or childcare than my husband, I began to grow resentful. As an introvert with a passive-aggressive streak, I typically kept this resentment inside.
-But that resentment would come to the surface. I would make sarcastic comments to my husband. I would blow up about a fairly small incident. I robbed myself of joy.
Reasons That Splitting the Household Chores Doesn’t Work
1. It Will Rarely Be 50-50
Life happens. At various times in a marriage both partners will not be able to do 50%. Perhaps one has a new job and works late hours. Maybe one spouse gets sick. Someone has to take care of a parent or a sick child. One goes through depression or struggles with mental illness.
Right now my husband is a full-time student who also works part-time (around 20 hours a week). His hours are long and mentally strenuous. It is just not feasible to split our work evenly.
2. Resentment is Real
When couples first get married, they often cannot imagine ever resenting the other. True love conquers all. All you need is love. Etc., etc., etc. But I found out that resentment is real.
By having the unrealistic expectation of a 50-50 workload, I was approaching marriage as a contract. When I thought that my husband hadn’t fulfilled his part of that contract, I grew upset and allowed that anger to grow into bitterness and resentment.
What To Do Instead:
Talk instead of fume. It’s harder than it seems. If you feel taken for granted or overwhelmed, discuss it. Try to come up with a solution together–remembering that the solution may have to shift over time.
A couple of months ago my husband and I had a talk. He rightly pointed out that my expectations were causing bitterness, which was putting a strain on our marriage. We both knew we were committed to our marriage and wanted to love and support each other, so we needed to change something.
During the discussion, I realized that, for this time in our lives together, I would need to shoulder most of the household duties. Because of my husband’s stressful work of dissertation writing, he would be working long and odd hours. My schedule as a teacher was more predictable, and I had evenings free.
Once we had this conversation, my entire approach to housework changed. I realized that I was serving my husband and children by doing laundry, washing dishes, and giving baths.
2. Assume the Best
When we feel as though we are doing an unfair portion of the household work, it is easy to assume the worst of our spouse. “I do all of this work and he just sits there watching T.V.” “He knows how to take out the trash, he was just being lazy.” “She knows I hate it when she forgets to wipe out the bathroom sink.”
If we assume the best of our spouse, however, our attitude completely changes. “After a long day, he needs an hour to unwind.” “He’s been so busy lately, he must have forgotten today is trash day.” “I’m sure she didn’t deliberately forget to wipe the sink.” By assuming the best and communicating with our spouse, we can nip bitterness in the bud.
3. Give 100%
As I said before, marriage is never 50-50. My priest put it like this, “Marriage is about two people giving 100% of themselves to another person.” 100%. Not 50%.
In the Orthodox Church we wear crowns in our weddings. The reason is twofold: first, it symbolizes that God has crowned us king and queen of our household, and second, it reminds us of the martyrs. Marriage is a martyrdom. It is a dying to self and living for another.
But the amazing thing is, that while I am dying to myself and living for my husband, he is doing the same thing for me. It is the path of salvation for us both. (If you are interested in reading more on the Orthodox Christian view of marriage, St. John Chrysostom– a fourth-century saint whose sermons still pack a powerful punch today–wrote extensively about this in On Marriage and Family Life. If you are looking for a book on marriage to read together this year, I highly recommend it!)
And so, I reject the advice of the well-meaning friends who say, “You need to split everything 50-50.” Because marriage isn’t about fairness–and it’s not even about me. It’s about love. It’s about mutual sacrifice. It’s about salvation.
As St. John Chrysostom said, “Then we will be perfectly one both with Christ and each other, and our pleasure will know no bounds.”
(This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.)