How you divide household chores can determine how happy you are in your relationship

Doing chores together can give you the opportunity to catch up with your partner after a busy day, experts say. Jose Luis Pelaex Inc./Getty Images

A couple that cleans together, stays together — at least, that’s according to a new study by the Council of Contemporary Families, a non-profit that researches family dynamics.

According to the report, which studied household chores and their impact on relationship quality and sexual satisfaction, found that certain chores helped couples reduce relationship disagreements.

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“The general finding is that sharing chores is better for relationships than not,” lead author Dan Carlson of the University of Utah says. “People are especially dissatisfied when they have to do the majority of tasks.”

For men, greater relationship and sexual satisfaction stemmed from splitting the household shopping with their partners than men who did most of the shopping, as well as men who did the least compared to their partners.

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For women, however, washing the dishes was found to have the most impact on their relationship satisfaction. If the task was shared with their partner, women tended to be happier. However, if they were left to do the chore alone, women experienced lower relationship satisfaction.

There are a few theories as to why that may be, Carlson believes.

“First, I think it’s because it’s the task least likely to be a woman’s sole responsibility — which used to be shopping,” he says. “Just by comparing oneself to one’s peers, women who do the majority of dishes are likely to assess their relationships negatively.”

Second, he speculates, dishes can be one of the dirtiest tasks. Although some people may enjoy doing the dishes, the task can be quite unpleasant, he says.

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“Third, dishwashing is a task that can be done together, which may increase couples’ time together and help their relationship,” he adds.

One overarching pattern the study found was that the more common it was to share a task, the more damaging it was to the relationship quality for just one partner to shoulder responsibility for it. This, the report states, is why shopping and dishwashing seem to matter so much to a couple’s relationship quality.

“None of these routine chores are typically done by men,” Carlson points out. “Dishes and shopping are the two most likely to be shared, but even then it’s only 30 per cent of couples. We did look at more typically ‘masculine’ chores, like home maintenance, but found they mattered little for relationship quality.”

What we learn from this report, according to Carlson, is that the majority of people want relationships based on equality, and people are doing what they can to make that happen in ways that benefit their relationship.

The study included 3,560 individuals from 1,780 couples.

For relationship experts Chantal Heide of Canada’s Dating Coach and Shannon Tebb of Shanny in the City, the results of the study make sense.

“Dishes are something that tends to be the last mess of the day, and can be the biggest eyesore when not done,” Heide says. “Doing them together, or having your partner take care of them while you handle putting the kids to bed, feels like teamwork.”

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If chores aren’t shared, Tebb adds, it can make one partner more resentful and feel less appreciated, overworked and bitter.

Plus if your days are busy as a couple, taking that time to do chores together is just another creative way to spend more time with your partner and catch up on their day, Tebb says.

So to take advantage of that time, Heide and Tebb have a few solutions and tips.

When dividing the chores, try dividing them based on strengths.

“Splitting those chores into strengths means those tasked with specific chores are more likely to do them too,” she says. “So if someone likes shopping or dusting more than the other person, those are the tasks they should be taking on.”

Tebb suggests even buying a whiteboard to keep things organized.

“Write all the chores down and give a specific day when the chore will get done,” she says. “Also, check your schedules in case you have brunch planned on a Saturday when you thought of doing yard work. If we don’t assign a day for the duty to get done, it can be forgotten. Cross off each duty as it gets done and remove it from the board.”

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Also, don’t be afraid to reward each other when the tasks are done — reward however you see fit.

Lastly, keep it interesting by rotating the schedule of the chores each month so you both experience the full household duties as a team and don’t get bored, Tebb says.

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