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The weekend was off to a great start: We went for our usual run up the Hudson River on Saturday morning followed by a trip to the grocery store to pick up the necessary ingredients for dinner (our favorite Aleppo pepper chicken kababs). After dinner, both exhausted and a little beer-buzzed, we agreed to leave the dishes for the following day. It shouldn't take a relationship expert to predict where I am going with this...
Come Sunday, when it was time to tackle the sink full of pots and pans, my boyfriend decided that he would rather lay in bed and scroll through social media. Not in the mood to argue, I threw in the towel and completed the chore alone. While I always felt it was important to chip in around his apartment—I spent most of my time there, after all—I was frustrated by the fact that he opted out of helping and, what’s worse, failed to say thank you when he finally got up. In that moment, I felt both taken advantage of and unappreciated.
“The idea that someone will magically read your mind is why many relationships end early on.”
While I recognize that such a mundane household task may sound trivial, experts agree that how these day-to-day responsibilities are managed is important to understanding the long-term health of a relationship. “A relationship is made up of little things like the dishes, grocery shopping, and picking up the socks on the floors,” says Dr. Ramani Durvasula, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of Should I Stay Or Should I Go. “These everyday chores can serve as a glimpse into future role division, including how you will handle your finances or discipline your kids. Is it to be expected from one person or done jointly together?”
There is a host of evidence that shows couples who create an equal partnership have healthier relationships. In fact, one study out of Cornell University found that couples who share household chores have better sex lives. "Feelings of fairness and satisfaction with the division of housework are central to couples' relationship satisfaction, which is strongly related to sexual intimacy," write the authors of the study. “It all comes down to respect,” adds Dr. Durvasula. “Where there is respect in a relationship, there is more intimacy and closeness.”
So, while it is never fun to fight, I’m glad we had this argument before moving in together. Consider it productive, assures Dr. Ramani. “Small conflicts become practice for healthy communication. The idea that someone will magically read your mind is why many relationships end early on.” Couples in it for the long-haul don’t shy away from frustrations that could easily be swept under the rug. Learning to navigate disagreements is an essential skill.
To work toward compromise on topics like how to divvy up chores, Dr. Ramani says to avoid criticism and approach the conversation with an open mind. Take turns talking about areas where you would like to see your partner contribute more, as well as those in which you are willing to compromise. Remember that an inflexible pursuit of equality will only lead to resentment. So, maybe you are fine with the doing the dishes after dinner if your partner is willing to take out the garbage in the morning. Me? I cook, he helps clean.