Marriage Mondays: Division of Labor

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before how I nannied kids in order to pay my way through grad school. Towards the end of grad school, I worked for a family friend who had a little boy. One day, I got to work only to find the couple fighting. It was soooo awkward. The dad tried to stop fighting, but the mom was so angry she couldn't stop. The father left for work pretty quickly, leaving me, the mother, and the baby boy. I took him to the front of the apartment to keep him occupied. As I heard the back door slam behind the father, the mother blurted out, "Asshole." I remember feeling so uncomfortable. The tension was palpable, and unfortunately the mother was working from home all day. I have known the father for years, longer than the wife. I know he can be frustrating, but for the most part, he was the most accommodating guy ever! I couldn't understand what had happened that could get the mother so riled up she would flip out in front of me. Later, I found out that the argument was about cleaning. And then, I understood.

More than anything else, A.P. and I fight about cleaning. We fight about what needs to be cleaned, who is doing more cleaning than the other, and who cleaned what last. The thing is, we hate cleaning. Actually, I don't hate cleaning. I just hate cleaning this apartment. We are outgrowing this space, and there's crap everywhere, and it gets harder and harder to find space for stuff, despite my large purging of things last summer. And A.P., who used to not mind cleaning the kitchen after I cooked, has fallen onto hard times. He loathes keeping that kitchen clean. The layout sucks, we barely have any counter space, our sink is small, and we don't have a lot of cupboard space, which means we're constantly stacking and rearranging to make things fit.

Part of being married is figuring out a division of labor that keeps things running smoothly. A.P. and I are, sometimes, supremely lazy. Despite the fact that we've lived together for over three years, this is still something we are working on. Part of the issue is that our roles have changed a lot over the past three years. I used to do a lot more cleaning than him, and now that I work so much, I barely do any. This drives him crazy. I do a lot other things, though. I am the one who does the shopping, cooking, and pays the bills. I manage our joint finances, and I take care of 2 out of 3 of our pets. The point is, we may fight about cleaning, but truth be told, we both contribute to the households in different ways. And yet still, we fight. (When I say fight, btw, I mean that we get annoyed with each other or yell at each other for like 5 minutes every day, and then move on. These are not permanent, damaging, hurtful fights. These are more like nagging arguments that won't go away.)

The fighting drives me crazy, and makes me wish for peace. I have no idea how to achieve that. I'm one of those people who sweats the small stuff, and I'm not good at picking and choosing my arguments. Not on a daily basis, anyway. My only solution is to keep figuring out the division of labor and getting better about routines. I am also a big believer in outsourcing things. I no longer do laundry, for instance. We do not have an in-unit machine, and there is no machine in our building. In order to do laundry, we have to walk a block to the laundromat. It began to take up so much time to go to the laundromat and wait for the clothes and go back and forth all the time. So I started dropping off our clothes and having them washed. It costs a little more, but saves me the stress of trying to find time in my smidgen of a weekend to do laundry.

It's said that married couples often fight about the same things over and over again. They, in essence, keep having the same argument, though the context might be different. I used to think this was a myth. Now, I know it's the truth. If A.P. and I had an argument that defined our marriage, it would be cleaning. I know, I know, it could be worse. But it is so frustrating to have *that* argument over and over again. You almost wish for something meatier instead of something so mind numbingly boring. But I'll take cleaning over other things, and in the mean time, I'll keep trying to figure out how to, as Tim Gunn would say, make it work.

What argument "defines" your relationship? How do you divide labor in your household?


  1. I'm single and living alone, as you know, but I can totally see how cleaning and decluttering can be an issue! I'm a firm believer in outsourcing as well, though - in fact, I have outsourced that job already so I don't have to deal with my own mess at the end of an exhausting week of work. It avoids fights with myself ;-)

  2. Dude and I's defining argument is about car maintenance, hands down. We'll spar here and there about other things from time to time, but pretty much the only issue that ignites full-on fights is car maintenance.

    This stems from a couple of things: First, I know cars. In fact, I know cars better than he does, having been raised by a man who was always and forever working on one, either for himself or a friend, and insisted that I know how to do so as well. Call me crazy, but I'm convinced that this makes Dude insecure, because while he's rather progressive in a number of ways, he's rather traditional in others, and I'm think he believes that cars should be be the guy's domain and women should know their place.

    So that's one reason that this issue causes us both to get our backs up. The other reason is that he's very much an advocate of following the manufacturers maintenance schedule to a T, while I'm more of a cherry picker and believe those schedules to be a carefully crafted means of separating ignorant people from their money.

    So yeah, that's our big trigger issue. Cleaning really doesn't cause much conflict for us because we're fairly similar in terms of how clean we like things to be and we've also fallen into a division of labor setup that seems to work for us without much discussion. There are certain things that each of us is solely responsible for, and other things that we both do whenever the mood or need strikes. For example: He vaccuums, cleans the garage, takes out the garbage and recycling, does the yard work, shovels snow, and cleans his bathroom (yes, we have separate bathrooms). I sweep and mop, dust, clean the litter boxes, do the grocery shopping and meal planning, manage our finances and clean my bathroom. We both do our own laundry exclusively, never, ever touching the other person's under any circumstances (his choice, not mine), and we take turns when it comes to cleaning the kitchen and washing sheets and towels.

    I really wish we could resolve the car maintenance issue once and for all, but we both feel so strongly about our own perspective that I just don't know that we'll ever reach a place of peace about it.

  3. Guy and I have totally different ideas of "clean." I do all the cleaning now that I am unemployed, but when we are both working things get tricking and there are arguments. I dream of the day when we both have jobs and can hire someone to come in every few weeks to do a deep clean - floors, bathroom, etc.

  4. Ha. Cleaning is TOTALLY our fight, too. We mostly do the chores together, but both dread laundry and the dishes. We both tend to get a little snippy when they pile up. We're working on it, though.


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