Division of Labor in Marriage: 10 Easy Steps to Make it Fair

By Sebastian

Updated October 16, 2022  

If there's one thing couples always argue about, it's splitting chores.

Maintaining a household is exhausting if you're not on the same page as your partner.

Communicating is key to tackling the chore problem, no matter how "unsexy" the subject may seem.

The majority of household chores fall to women. 

One report even found out that women in the US spend two hours more EACH DAY cleaning, cooking, taking care of children, and doing other unpaid work than men.1

But why is that the case?

This problem arises from understanding how labor is divided in a marriage.

If you want to practice fair division of labor in your marriage, keep reading.

Effects of Inequality in a Relationship

All married couples face tons of tasks on their to-do lists that must be checked off.

Not surprisingly, the lion's share of work usually falls on women.

A big chunk of the reason why this happens is due to tradition.

In the past, many women didn't have careers.

They were expected to take care of the household.

But the role of women has evolved.

Now, women have careers and are focused on their personal development aside from being a wife and mother.

Since the 70s, the percentage of families where both parents work has increased drastically from 49% to 66%.2

The thing is:

Maintaining a successful relationship also depends on how tasks are divided.

If one partner ends up doing most of the chores, it is a manifestation of power imbalance. 

And resentment slowly creeps in.

Women in this situation tend to experience personal strain and are less satisfied.3

Even worse:

The emotional burden on women even causes them to experience depressive symptoms.4

Fair division of household chores is so important and here’s why:

In a study that involved couples married before 1974 (who have more traditional views on division of labor), the wife's share of household tasks affected a marriage's risk of divorce more than education, race, and religion.5

Wives who took care of 75% of the housework were less likely to divorce than wives who did 50%.

This just proves how expectations of unpaid work can impact a marriage.

But it's not just about work.

Even vacations and leisure time are affected.

One study found that most women plan their family’s leisure activities, such as outings and vacations.6

Despite this set leisure time, they still work more than their partners.

Especially when it comes to cooking or caring for their children.

When only women take care of household chores (because that is what a "traditional wife" would do), it significantly affects their mental health and capability to climb up their career ladder.

In many ways, a marriage with an unbalance in work isn't healthy.

But what happens when it's men who face the brunt of chores?

Both men and women find inequality distressing.

But:

Women get distressed by inequality that benefits them more.

It's not just the ACTUAL division of labor that's important in marriage.

But the BELIEF on who should take care of chores.

10 Steps to Make a Fair Division of Labor in Marriage

Developing a fair division of labor in marriage doesn't happen overnight.

Here are effective ways to make the division of labor fair.

1. Acknowledge that both your time are equally important

Around 53.3% of households today are dual income.7

But why is it that for women who work full-time, there's no shortage of advice on how to "manage" their time better? 

What about men?

When both spouses make money and are working on their careers, it’s imperative to reframe how you see the time.

No matter how you look at it, you only have the same 24 hours a day.

When you look at time this way, the whole marriage experience changes.

2. List all tasks, ask each other which ones you want to take care of, and split the rest

Wives continually take up 8 of the 12 essential household tasks in most households.8

What should you do to avoid this?

Rather than just agreeing on dividing chores, list everything that needs to be done around the house.

Do not be ambiguous.

Aside from focusing on daily chores, list weekly and monthly chores as well.

If you find it hard to list all tasks in just one sitting, come back to your list from time to time.

After you've listed the tasks, decide the ones you want to take care of.

Now comes the hard part - splitting all the remaining tasks.

Keep in mind that you are bound to take care of tasks you loathe doing.

If you can rotate these tasks around to improve your share of labor.

3. Be flexible

Not all marriages can split household tasks consistently.

For example:

Your partner may have a very busy Monday and isn't able to walk the dogs because they’re preparing for a work presentation.

If this applies to your marriage, do not lose hope.

It's okay to rotate household chores.

Let's say Sunday is the day your spouse is most available to do household chores.

Why not assign your spouse to do most of the work on their day off?

The key to making this work is for you to be flexible.

Routine is important, but respecting each other's time, duties, and capabilities is more important.

Additionally, do not forget to discuss how you see the division of chores in your marriage.

Aligning your views on chores matters because while some people are not bothered by a messy home, others can't stand it.9

The goal is to arrive at a compromise.

When you agree on your principles and trust each other, your household chores will feel lighter.

4. Think about your skills and talents, not traditions

Women were expected to cook and clean for years, while men were supposed to take care of the yard and garage.

Although times have changed and many no longer believe in old-fashioned gender roles, many women still find themselves stuck in the kitchen.

Now is the perfect time to think outside the box.

A great way to find a fair division of labor in marriage is to think of your skills and talents.

Do not confuse it with gender norms.

For example, if a woman loves plants, she can take care of the yard work.

If her husband loves being in the kitchen, he can take care of your meal prep.

This trend has been evident in recent years when the percentage of college-educated men cooking jumped from 37.9% in 2003 to 51.9% in 2016.10

It's perfectly okay to follow gender norms if they suit your relationship.

However, taking advantage of your skills is more crucial.

Just because society dictates that women should be in the kitchen does not mean men should feel emasculated whenever they prepare a meal for their families.

5. Touch base every week on your chores

Just like it's important to maintain deep conversations with your partner, it's also integral to discuss your chore rotation regularly.

You can also discuss unforeseeable events.

For example:

If one of you has an important meeting on a day you usually do your chores, you can easily adjust your schedule.

Roadblocks are inevitable.

Especially when it comes to tasks you hate doing.11

Intentionally carving out time to talk to each other about chores can help keep your household running smoothly.

And talking about your chores keeps your mind in a positive place.

You will be able to work as a team if you see that it's possible to divide your household work fairly.

6. Stop nagging and criticizing, but be clear about expectations

It's natural to feel frustrated when you feel like your partner is not pulling their weight in the chore department.

This becomes even more interesting, considering 34% say their partner purposefully completes chores poorly so they can avoid doing them in the future.12

The word “chore” commonly conjures images of the usual household and yard work.

It can also include any responsibility that is not a direct part of the job - such as reminding your partner to do their job.

Most relationships have one person that is seen as the “nagger."

If you find yourself in this position, stop for a moment and look at how you interact with your partner.

  • Have you been direct about what needs to change?
  • Have you clearly explained what you want to achieve nicely?
  • Do you criticize your partner without providing solutions?

If you have, it’s time to try something new.

One study found that when you feel conflict coming, speaking about the whats, whens, and hows of chores can dramatically reduce confusion-based friction.13

Your spouse is not a mind reader.

If you want your partner to spend more time on chores, you need to clearly communicate this to them positively.

7. Appreciate each other’s effort

Even if you have a fantastic relationship and thoughtful communication, there will be days when you feel like you’re doing more work.

And this can lead to feelings of frustration.

A show of gratitude from your partner will turn your day around, so why not practice the same thing?

When you notice your partner doing more work, let them know you appreciate their effort.

Say "thank you," or tell them they did a good job.

One study likened the function of gratitude to “find, remind, and bind."14

In the context of your marriage, by attuning yourself to your partner, you can find and identify good things about them.

This will remind you of the goodness of your marriage and then bind you to them.

In turn, showing gratitude will help your partner engage in actions and behaviors that will help prolong your relationship because they feel appreciated.

8. Think about outsourcing

Studies suggest that the housework time of wives falls steadily as their earnings rise since they use their resources to outsource or forgo time on other household chores.15

You can hire a professional cleaning service to clean your home regularly.

Or find someone to cook for you or hire a nanny during vacations.

Let go of the notion that hiring help makes you less of a husband, wife, or partner.

There's no denying that doing household chores can be time-consuming and draining.

By outsourcing tasks, you can focus more on important things.

9. Plan for unexpected situations

Carve out time to devise a plan that covers how you will deal with unexpected situations.

For example:

You may come down with the flu, or your spouse may need to take an emergency work trip.

Planning for unexpected situations will help you enjoy your lives instead of becoming overwhelmed by household chores.

Don’t allow these unexpected situations to make way for negative feelings.

Simply work together to solve the problem and get back to chores as soon as you can.

A contingency plan becomes even more important for couples transitioning into parenthood and tasks relating to childcare, which is one of the instances where an unequal share of housework becomes obvious.16

10. Give your partner time to adjust

As you prepare to start your new labor division consider that your partner needs time to adjust to these changes.

This way, you build a mutual understanding and respect for each other.

According to a study, it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit - not 21 days.17

The average is 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.

It’s safe to say that your partner needs time to change their thinking patterns and behaviors.

Establish realistic chore divisions that can be sustained.

If your partner finds it hard to adjust, encourage them that they can do it.

Doing this will make them feel good they will be more willing to participate in chores in the future.

A good rule of thumb is to allow your partner to adjust to the new chore division for at least a few weeks.

When that’s not enough, you can discuss the issue with them and renegotiate your chores to fit the new situation.

Bigger Picture: Fairness & Equality in Marriage

It's normal for married couples to want to achieve equality.

But many people equate this to having a 50/50 division at all times.

This suggestion is unrealistic and can harm your relationship.

The truth is, it requires more than a 50/50 effort - in chores AND all aspects of your relationship.

Marriage requires fairness.

There's no way to put this in numbers.

Instead, it relies on action and understanding.

Fairness in marriage suggests that you are dedicated to understanding your tasks and needs as a couple.

It also means you are ready to put in the same effort as your spouse.

It's about being willing to go BEYOND your usual level of effort when the situation calls for it.

Fairness in marriage allows you to settle differences and work together as a team.

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About the author 

Sebastian

Sebastian loves analyzing statistics about anything that has to do with the dynamics in a love relationship. He enjoys researching why people behave the way they do (and drinks horrendous amounts of coffee when he's in the zone).

He uses his knowledge to help couples in troubled relationships reconnect with their partners and create a perfectly imperfect relationship.

Dowload my free 14 mistakes ebook 

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