Why Splitting Chores May Strengthen Your Relationship

Who does the dishes? When should you vacuum? How often should you cook rather than eat out? These are all questions cohabitating couples must face. And sometimes, the answers aren't so straightforward. Chores are a common point of contention that even otherwise peaceful partners often struggle with. In fact, a Yelp survey found that 80% of Americans living with a significant other have disagreements about housework. On top of that, about 20% say they fight over chores often.

Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, told Inc., "One person almost always feels like they're carrying more of the load than the other." In heterosexual relationships, the person doing more tends to be the woman, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, even same-sex partnerships can be plagued with unbalanced housework, particularly once children enter the picture, says The New York Times.

Splitting chores may start to feel like a lost cause, whether you're the one avoiding the chores list or the one nagging the other to finally clean up their socks. But sharing housework can be totally doable with a few tweaks — and the payoffs will make all the scrubbing, dusting, and tidying worth it.

Couples who clean together stay together

It may not sound romantic, but relationship success hinges on rubber cleaning gloves and vacuums more than diamond rings and roses. At least, that's what the research says. A survey conducted by Pew Research Center revealed that the majority of married people consider sharing chores to be a "very important" part of maintaining a happy marriage. Another survey by Harvard Business School looked at divorced couples and found that 25% listed "disagreements about housework" as the primary reason for their marriage ending (via The New York Times).

Clearly, collaborating to get chores done is essential to happy, healthy relationships. But rather than simply dividing up tasks and trusting the other person to do their part, the most satisfied couples actually participate in the same tasks. "It turns out that the more tasks couple[s] share together, that they do jointly, the greater their feelings of equity, the more satisfied they are with their housework arrangements," Daniel L. Carlson, a researcher and associate professor of family and consumer studies, explained to Time. He added, "Those who had 50/50 housework, but they didn't share any tasks together? Only half of them thought their relationship was fair."

You don't always have to complete chores together, side by side. Tag teaming or taking turns can also lead to greater satisfaction. What matters, according to Carlson's research, is that couples share at least three household duties.

Women are happier in relationships with shared household labor

Since historically — and still today — housework has been managed by women more than men, it makes sense that splitting chores in heterosexual relationships would benefit women in particular. When men step in to do their share, women can spend more time and energy on career goals, personal hobbies, and much-needed self-care. A 2012 study published in the Brazilian journal Revista Brasileira de Epidemiologia also revealed that women who are overburdened with housework are more likely to experience mental health issues, such as depression. Balancing chores can increase women's happiness, which could have a ripple effect on their relationships.

It's important to note that domestic equality isn't only a "women's issue," even if women have more to gain from it. In fact, when men value egalitarianism alongside their partners, couples are more likely to be satisfied with their relationship, according to a 2014 study published in Sex Roles. Lower rates of mental illness, a happier relationship, and a clean home to boot when partners work together to finish chores — sounds like a win all around.

Chores can be a form of quality time

Housework may seem to steal quality time away from you and your significant other, but doing chores together can actually become a bonding experience when done right. Jacqui Manning, a relationship therapist, explained to Realestate, "Sharing tasks means you're connecting and touching base over small decisions which will help with the big ones down the track." Manning added, "Time together is connecting, whether that's on a date or doing chores together. It gives you time to be around each other and to chat about other things going on in your worlds."

Relationship expert Susan Quilliam suggested to Good Housekeeping, "Find ways to make it fun, so you can turn monotonous household chores into quality time." This could be playing upbeat music, competing to see who can tidy the quickest, or making a game of matching up lost socks.

Still not convinced that you and your boo can connect while cleaning? Quilliam offered another option: "Or you could set aside time in the evening to do a blitz of the house, and ensure you reward yourselves by snuggling up on the sofa to watch your favourite box-set." Either way, the chores get done and you don't have to sacrifice quality time together.

Splitting chores might boost your sex life

If you don't think floor cleaner can be a turn-on, think again. Couples who split chores have better sex lives, according to research. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology discovered that when partners, particularly male partners in opposite-sex relationships, contribute their fair share to household labor, the couple has sex more often. Moreover, the couples who tackled chores together were more likely to be highly satisfied with their sex lives even one year after the study finished.

A 2022 study published in The Journal of Sex Research supported these findings. In this study, women who reported higher rates of relationship equality in a variety of areas, including housework, experienced more sexual desire toward their significant other. If sexy time has turned lackluster lately, talk to your partner about how disagreements over chores could be the cause. Mopping the kitchen might just lead to a romp in the bedroom.

Here's how to divvy up housework for a stronger relationship

Sharing housework can boost your relationship in multiple ways, but getting started can be tough, especially if you've already fallen into certain cleaning habits (like picking up after the other person or waiting to be told which tasks to do). One place to start is at the kitchen sink. According to a 2018 study published in the journal Socius, dividing up dishwashing, above all other chores, was found to impact relationship quality the most. Additionally, a survey by Lombardo Homes discovered that Americans' most hated chore is cleaning and sanitizing bathrooms. Giving your partner a hand, or asking for help, with either of these chores is a great way to start working together as a team.

If one person still isn't pulling their weight, strike up a conversation and be clear about what you need. "Many times chore discussions become arguments because one partner brings up something that the other partner isn't doing," Justine Mastin, a marriage and family therapist, told The Everygirl. "It's very common for couples to make assumptions that their partner should 'just know' what chores need to get done when really this must be a discussion."

When the other partner does start helping out, keep in mind that their standards and way of cleaning might differ from yours. For complete no-nos (like, say, throwing delicate lingerie in the washer alongside grimy towels), offer clear directions so they can learn, but let smaller things slide.