Anyone who knows me knows I like thinking and talking about relationships. Lately I’ve noticed an eye-brow raising piece of relationship advice cropping up again and again, either in pinterest listicles (“9 Ways Your Cat is Sabotaging Your Relationship”) mainstream journalism sources like the New York Times, or as informal relationship counsel via facebook or in person.

The advice usually goes something like this: “Don’t ‘keep score’ about who’s doing what in your relationship. Don’t worry about the distribution of labor being 50/50. Sometimes you’ll be doing more, and sometimes your partner will be doing more, but keeping track of that kind of thing is damaging to your relationship, so you should just let it go.”

Y’all, no.

First of all, this advice is *almost always* directed at women in some way, either because women are the primary audience for this type of journalism, or because it’s being marketed specifically to women, or because people are giving women this advice.

And here’s the thing. Sure, maybe it’s not beneficial to your relationship to tack a giant scorecard to your living room wall and mark down every time one of you takes out the trash or empties the dishwasher or puts the kids to bed. But because this advice is always disproportionately directed at women, it reinforces the same messages that we’ve received from our families, our schools, the media, and our culture for our entire lives: that it’s our responsibility to keep all the balls in the air: gracefully, constantly, uncomplainingly, and without breaking a sweat, and on top of that, we’re expected to pretend like we don’t notice or at least don’t mind that we’re doing a disproportionate amount of the relationship work, whether that’s doing the dishes or planning a party or picking out a wedding gift or remembering to pick up toilet paper at the store.

This advice ignores the reality of the second shift: the fact that (while we might be moving slightly closer to parity,) women still perform an inordinate amount of the dull, unskilled, unpaid, thankless tasks that it takes to run a household and raise a family, and that we’re also expected to perform the majority of the emotional labor that our relationship requires. (Some like to argue that the disparity is a result of the fact that men work more hours than women on average, but a recent study demonstrated that women still do more housework than their partners even if their partners don’t have jobs.)  This incredible thread is full of stories from hundreds of women, talking about the ways they perform labor, emotional and otherwise, unequally in their relationships, and the ways that their male partners are blind to that inequality.

Want some evidence? In his book “The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work”, relationship researcher John Gottman talks about how it’s been proven that men overestimate the amount of housework that they do. He explains that his wife is satisfied when he begins to complain that he’s doing all the work, because then she knows that he’s actually doing half. Gottman goes on to argue that men need to work hard to bring the division of household labor closer to parity.

The solution to the problem of resentment over who does more in heterosexual relationships is not to “stop keeping score,” because a refusal to examine the problem inevitably preserves the status quo, and the status quo places the majority of the labor on women. Instead, men need to take responsibility for taking on more of the physical and emotional labor required by their relationships, and for educating themselves about the ways in which women perform so much relationship labor that goes unnoticed or unappreciated.

2 thoughts

  1. Regarding cats…my husband’s cat did her best to sabotage our relationship back in our dating days. She hated me.
    Re: the second shift: If one isn’t married or in a long term relationship yet, I think it is a good idea for one to get a handle on your husband’s views in participating in managing housework etc. Look at his family of origin for clues, how does he behave around his family…does he sit on the couch at Thanksgiving while the womenfolk clean up, or does he try to help. Listen for clues when he talks about other women. Look at the demands of his job at how that might affect his ability to help. Have a conversations about traditional roles.
    The sorts of articles that bug me are the ones that not only tell you not to keep score, but to make sure that after you have been slogging away at scrubbing the kitchen floor, that you have plenty of time carved out for sexy time etc.
    My husband is usually pretty good at splitting things equally as far as time. Right now I think one of the chores we most dread is schlepping our teen son around, but we still try to take turns.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s