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If you’ve ever felt like you’re the only one who ever washes the dishes, sweeps the floors, or folds the laundry in your home, you’re in good company. Research conducted by Procter & Gamble last year found that in 65% of households, the responsibility for chores falls on just one person. The so-called “chore gap” can show up in any living situation, but it can be especially common (and frustrating!) among romantic couples.
To address the importance of closing the chore gap, actress and celeb cookbook author Tia Mowry-Hardrict and her husband, actor Cory Hardrict, have opened up about how they balance their household routines. “If I make dinner one night, he’ll do the dishes. We take turns,” the busy mom of two told BET. “That’s how we raise our children to understand the importance of teamwork.”
Married since 2008, Mowry-Hardrict adds, “Cory and I strive to model equality for our kids because when we do so, we are influencing how they act outside the home. We are raising our children to understand the importance of balance, equality, and love.”
Even if you don’t have kids, figuring out how to balance chore loads can improve your partnership (and, of course, keep your home tidier!). Spurred by the widening gap ignited by the pandemic, we spoke with marriage counselors and relationship experts who know a thing or two about offering this type of advice. Here are five practical ways to get the conversation started with your partner about closing the chore gap.
1. Address your own assumptions and expectations.
Feeling alone doing the lion’s share of the housework? While your partner should be contributing more without being prompted, marriage and family therapist Talia Bombola encourages thinking about whether you’ve ever discussed expectations about chores before you actually start a conversation.
For example, maybe you’ve assumed your partner either wouldn’t want to do the dishes or wouldn’t be able to do as good a job doing them. No matter what, taking on the role yourself isn’t helping matters (in your home or in your relationship). Take time to address your own ideals and goals before you open up the topic with your partner. This way you can communicate clearly and offer specifics.
The longer you wait to speak up about the imbalance of the chore gap, the more resentment you’ll develop for bearing the brunt of the duties, according to experts. Also, remember that your partner is not a mind-reader and, if you haven’t said anything, might not know that you’d like help with the dishes. Once you decide to address the problem, remember your partner probably supports home life and decreases stress in other ways you aren’t aware of. “Then, when requesting change from your partner, lead with appreciation of what he or she is already doing, even if it might feel minimal,” suggests Brynn Cicippio, a marriage and family therapist.
3. Play on your strengths and preferences as a couple.
As you create a system for dividing chores, couples therapist Bridgit Dengel Gaspard suggests rethinking how each person defines “fair.” Rather than taking a tit-for-tat approach, work on creating a system that follows each individual’s natural preferences.
Gaspard suggests making a master list of all of the household chores — including things like cleaning, bill paying, and getting the kids to school — then rating what you prefer to do, what you don’t, and who has the right skill set. “A couple may be happily surprised that, by doing this together, the majority of tasks are naturally divided without argument,” she explains.
4. Find a solution for tasks that neither of you like.
As you assemble your list, there are bound to be chores neither person likes or is good at. In that case, Gaspard suggests either doing the chore together and making it fun — like going grocery shopping as part of your date night — or taking turns, like Mowry-Hardrict and her husband.
If there’s something you both don’t like and you aren’t good at, then consider hiring a service for that particular demand. It’s a privilege for sure, but using a pro housecleaner or paying for an Instacart Express membership can significantly improve the division of labor in the house.
5. Consider your partner’s values too.
It’s important to remember a relationship is a two-way street, and that you may have different values than your partner. It’s possible you find yourself constantly working on laundry or decluttering because those are the things that matter to you more than they might matter to your partner.
When you broach the chore gap topic, Cicippio suggests asking your partner about their values and offering to support what they need. For example, you might feel your partner isn’t contributing to making dinner or washing the daily dishes, but they might feel like there’s not enough time to exercise or hang out with friends. As you come up with a chore system to meet your couple goals, be sure to listen to your partner and find practical ways to help them achieve their personal goals, too.
How do you work to close the chore gap in your home? Tell us your tips in the comments below.
Ashley Abramson is a writer-mom hybrid in Minneapolis, MN. Her work, mostly focused on health, psychology, and parenting, has been featured in the Washington Post, New York Times, Allure, and more. She lives in the Minneapolis suburbs with her husband and two young sons.