Love and Housework

One of the peculiar aspects of the identity of many women seems to be a feeling of responsibility for everything in the lives of those closest to them. This feeling leads us to not only overlook failings of men in our lives, but to actually justify them and assume them as our own responsibility. While overlooking faults can sometimes be a great grace (or at least a coping mechanism!) it is not ideal. The highest form of love is one which sees the faults of the beloved and then continues to love. Such a great love first accepts reality and then offers the beloved appropriate help in pursuing the remedies within reach.

But most of the women in my life are very much like myself in their failure to love well because of their inability to honestly accept and confront the failures of others. If something is wrong, it must be my fault. If only I were better at this, then he never would have failed at that!

I do not have the resources to deal with the deep problems of abusive relationships and codependency, so I will stick with something concrete which is a bit less troubling in itself but distressingly pervasive. You know where this is going, right?


In a recent conversation with a few other young women the topic of housework came up after we asked one newly married woman how marriage was going. She replied with a simple “it is a lot of work!” and we all laughed, until we understood what she meant. The woman in question works full-time and then returns home to do all of the housework. Instead of doing her own laundry, cleaning up after herself, and heating up pre-made food or leftovers, she is now doing laundry for two, cleaning up after herself and a man who is home most of the day, and cooking a full meal each night. She said that she likes taking care of her husband, but she is absolutely exhausted.

This story is striking because it is absolutely clear that the husband in question is selfish and fails to love his wife half as much as he loves himself. But it is really only a slightly worse situation than that in which many women find themselves. Somehow there is this idea that women are responsible for the domestic work, no matter what their situation, and that if a man “helps out” it is exactly that–helping with something which is viewed as the woman’s problem.

If a woman is a student and a man works full-time everyone knows that she should do the vast majority of the domestic work. After all, her schedule is flexible! But if a woman works full-time and her husband is a student everyone knows that she is still responsible for most of the housework because he is busy with school! And we know that school is so much more demanding than an easy 40-hour work week.

The problem is even worse when children are added to the mix. Even in the case where the woman is not employed outside the home, she is often expected to do far more work than the man. She may work at home all day cooking, cleaning, buying Christmas presents, and chasing toddlers while he works away from home. But somehow at 6:00pm when he comes home everyone expects that he will rest while she keeps on working. The old rhyme “a man works from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done” is suddenly not funny. It is a sad way of phrasing the reality that in many homes, the wife is viewed by both spouses as less worthy of love, care, and honor. At the end of a workday the husband clearly deserves a break, but not the wife. Even when the wife is pregnant and exhausted she is expected to feel particularly indebted to her husband for “helping” her with a little bit of the housework!

I am painfully aware of all of this because in my house er.. apartment, things have been reversed for the past few weeks. I have done virtually no housework. It is true that Josh works from home and it is easier for him to do some things (I can’t exactly toss in a load of laundry in between phone calls at work). But at the end of the day it is still the end of the day for both of us.

When Josh starts the day by washing out my water bottle, grinding flaxseed, and making a smoothie for me to take with me, and then makes himself lunch (while I am at Mass, and then maybe back at my desk on Twitter drinking the rest of my smoothie, but certainly not doing anything resembling cooking), and then both pulls together and cleans up from supper while I lie dazed on the floor… two things are clear. First, Josh loves me. Second, I don’t really love Josh.

Because love does not take advantage of another.

Love does not neglect obvious opportunities to make the beloved’s life easier.

Love does not continually take from another without seeking to give more in return.

Love does not allow sexism to justify selfishness.

Love does not leave dishes for another to do “because I’m too tired.”

Love does not wallow in obliviousness while housework is miraculously taken care of by another.

Expecting one’s spouse to do all of the “extra” work is an indication of a serious lack of love.

I told Josh about how clear it seems to me that certain men simply do not love their wives and asked him what reasons he could think of other than pure selfishness which explain this behavior. Josh responded that many men may simply not notice or think of housework as significant. I asked him what a wife should do in such a situation. His answer? Nag.

Oh dear!

I don’t think that nagging is a particularly good solution most of the time (more on that in another post!) but I also realize that it is unloving to do nothing. If you passively allow another person to take advantage of you without honestly and lovingly addressing the situation, you fail to provide the space and support which they clearly need to mature into a mutually self-giving relationship, that is, Real Love.  It is not enough to simply do more of the physical work in a relationship, real love requires that one be willing to occasionally pick up the slack in initiating work on the hidden issues.

Of course real love is not always possible. Not everyone cares enough about his or her spouse to be willing to work for love. Sometimes caring enough to address an issue means that one just gets burned by the glaring fact that one’s spouse does not love enough to work on resolving the problem. Sometimes the best one can do is to pick up the pieces and move on while nurturing the hope that someday somehow things will get better. Real life hurts, and sometimes love does as well.

And sometimes you get lucky and the one who is slacking off happens to have been socially programed to do housework. In that case you can get away with patiently waiting for a few weeks and then she will get her act together and return to love in the form of grocery shopping.

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51 thoughts on “Love and Housework

  1. Deacon Todd Carter

    Sounds like you don’t need to nag Josh as all! Be careful, Rae. You’re going to make other women jealous. ;) I remember when I was in college constantly telling my house mates (one more than the other to be fair) to clean up after themselves. It was such a huge pain and I don’t think one of them ever learned from what I can tell when I visit his apartment.
    God Bless.

  2. Craig

    Rae, this is perfectly to the point and both enlightening and surprising. It is so much about love and love is giving. It wasn’t an obvious fact to me before the reading, but during the reading it became clear as cloud free winter dawn.

    A SAHM or SAHD is working full time. A full time working mom or dad is working full time. The time when they are together is the time for both workloads to drop, not stop, but be cut in half by loving each other enough to work together as one. This is a jaw dropper and eye opener Rae. It is wisdom, and love, and ten shades of awesome.

    Thank you.

  3. Christy

    Really good points. =) I know what you mean. I sometimes get exhausted, myself with house work. But it’s a sacrifice I am happy to make, if I am beyond my limit I simply ask for help! Fortunately I’m blessed to have an understanding husband who comes to help at the drop of a hat. But unfortunately I know what it’s like to have a husband who doesn’t, and seems to only use you. In my case, I could not confront him, nor really ask for help without a load of anger projected at me. Talking did no good. It takes a very strong person to stay with someone like that. You have to have someone strong by your side to keep you strong, if your spouse is highly lacking in doing so. (Which, should be God.) All men (and women) are fallible. God is the perfect one, the ONLY one to rely on 100%, and He can work MIRACLES. I can testify to it, my ex-husband is slowly beginning to change. (St. Rita’s intercession helps too!! :)

  4. Christine

    This is a really interesting topic for me at the moment as my current job is “House Wife.” My husband doesn’t do too much housework (except his own laundry), as that is my current “role.” It will definitely be interesting to see how the work gets divided up once I start working. I do like doing some types of housework more than others as I know it is a way that I can show my husband that I love him.

    I guess I’m lucky because when I was finishing up my last year of university, my husband really did a lot to lessen my work load by doing more housework. :P

    1. Rae Post author

      It sounds like you have a perfect fit! I certainly didn’t mind doing most of the housework/cooking while unemployed. Now I wonder why on earth I made bread every day etc. but it seemed perfectly fitting at the time!

  5. Kathleen

    The problem is that this is only half the story. The other part is the way that women nag husbands, and are never happy, and nothing is good enough. As you so beautifully demonstrated with the latter part of your post, these issues aren’t one-way problems. Nonetheless, I think it’s safe to say women suffer more from the “never satisfied” syndrome than men do. We tend to consider ourselves victims, and look for all the faults of the man, so that all the while we’re doing the housework, we’re seething with resentment instead of talking to the men. And when we do have it out, if we’re honest, we have to admit that our husbands have as much to resent as we do.

    I sense a blog post coming on… :)

    1. Rae Post author

      Oh yes, every family has its own version of dysfunction and failure to love. But in many such as my friends there isn’t any nagging going on, she really just does everything. I look forward to your post!

  6. MyFeminineMind

    When we were both working, my husband and I had this way of dividing household/childcare tasks fairly. You have now inspired me to have hubby create a web app that will allow others to use our method and customize it to suit their circumstances. Thanks for this post! Loved it.

  7. Young Mom

    Our rule of thumb right now is each of us does the chores we actually like/don’t detest and the ones neither of us can stand, we do together. Our biggest obstacle is finding motivation when we are BOTH feeling tired and would rather be doing something else entirely. :) Most of my memories of enjoying a chore is when I did it with someone, so I hope that we can get better and better at working together. I think you are right on nagging vs. communicating , it is not love to passively take whatever your partner dishes out, it is very hard to do otherwise though. I also think that it’s not always just selfishness or lack of love, sometimes it’s ignorance or tradition/training. Old habits die hard.
    And I think you are wrong about you “not loving” your husband, unless you are denying him love and companionship and keeping all your earnings to yourself! ;)
    I’ll stop rambling now!

    1. Rae Post author

      I think that working together is really smart.

      I don’t think that sharing earnings and spending time together makes up for failure to help around the home. Even if I were earning tons of money, money is a poor substitute for love!

  8. Elisa

    Awesome post, Rae. I feel like you should have a forum on here or something, since there is always so much to discuss. =) Can I get college credit for this? I’m still a few short. ;’)

    So, my dad had been a bachelor for 35 years until he met my mom, who is 14 years younger than my dad. My mom, is a nurse, the oldest of 7, and her father died when she was in her teens. She is used to doing everything for everyone without taking care of herself. What’s worse, she thinks it’s “holy” or “her cross” or something, to be a doormat for the ones she loves. She has trained my dad to do nothing. He does his own laundry b/c he has a particular way of doing it. My mother has complained to me about the lack of help she gets from her husband or my younger brothers who were living at home until just a few weeks ago. I have told her that she should have been more honest when she was first married (28 yrs ago) and asked & required that her husband help her. He had no idea how to be a good husband. He was on his own since he was 19.
    When I was first married I felt I needed to do everything in the house to “earn my keep” because I was staying home while he was working. After nearly 6 years of marriage, we help each other a lot. My husband frequently does the cloth diaper laundry, changes the kiddo, makes the meal, and cleans the kitchen. We really take turns, but not so much on a legalistic schedule, but we just ask if we need help, or help when we see the other person is particularly exhausted from work/being 38 weeks pregnant/staying home with the crazy loud boys. Sigh. I’m so proud of my husband. I really do feel like he loves me SO much because of the way we both share the parenting/housework. It has not always been like this. For the first couple years of marriage I was like my mother and was bitter after cooking a great meal for friends and not getting enough thanks and having to nurse the baby and then eat a cold dinner. What was I thinking? I didn’t ASK for help. I was prideful and bitterly wanted to do everything myself, as if to prove my worthiness as a wife or something silly. And when people thanked me & complemented me on the meal, I couldn’t just say: “Why, thank you!”, I said something like: “Oh…no problem…”

    I really believe in being HONEST and COMMUNICATING. Why does it seem like married couples don’t talk to each other? My husband and I talk about everything. If something is bothering me, we’ll talk about it. If something is not working in the home, we talk about it and together we come up with a solution.

  9. Salome Ellen

    Aside from the wives who think that the housework is their duty (or even like “being martyrs”), what about the ones who have taught their husbands that their way of contributing to the housework is “wrong.” My dad was very ill (at home) for a year when I was young, and when he was recovering he decided that he was feeling well enough to cook dinner every night. (My mom was a teacher, and he thought that relieving her of dinner responsibility would be a big help.) But he NEVER did a “good enough job.” She always found something wrong — too fatty, overcooked, whatever. I suppose the VERY loving thing to do would have been to keep serving even when she complained. But it’s not surprising that I don’t remember my dad cooking dinner ever again.

    1. Rae Post author

      That is so sad. Thankfully it is outside my experience. Both Josh and I grew up in homes where even though there was a very different division of labor, pretty much anything our dads did was right and our moms never would have “corrected” them. I was also taught that if one asks for help one isn’t allowed to complain about the way in which the help is given!

  10. Kevin

    Just another prespective: In my experience, women are mistaken that men “expect” them to do all the work. Men let the women do the work because the women take the initiative sooner. The fact is, when you’re picking up his socks, they weren’t laying on the floor because he expects you to pick up after him. They’re there because that’s where he put them and he will move them when he doesn’t want them to be there any more.

    I’d take a closer look at that chart too. I’m not sure what you think it says, but it looks to me like men do only slightly less house work when they are married … probably because women have a lower tolerance for dirt and clutter, and will clean stuff before they get to it. But women are doing a LOT more work when they get married. The SUM of the two is greater for a married couple than for two singles, when in reality it should be lower because of efficiencies. The objective conclusion seems to be that women get married and then start raising their standards and inventing chores for themselves.

    1. Rae Post author

      I’d argue that it isn’t loving to leave mess around for one’s spouse to live with, even if one does intend to pick it up later. Josh is great about being able to leave my things for me to pick up later, but it is still completely unfair to him because it means that he is living in mess until I do! It is completely uncool to make ones spouse live with dirty socks on the floor with the excuse that one plans on moving them eventually.

      And all of the bachelor guys that I know who maintain typical bachelor dirty apartments expect things to be cleaner when they have wives and kids. I still think that love means figuring out what the other person needs and being willing to put in the work to give it to them.

      1. Kevin

        I strongly disagree. A guy doesn’t leave something on the floor “for” his spouse to pick up. That’s the female perspective talking. The most important thing for women to realize is this: If the mess only bothers you, and you tell yourself that you’re cleaning it up “for him”, that’s a self-serving lie. You’re doing it for yourself — because you want things cleaner.

        My advice to a woman that finds herself cleaning up in the evenings while her husband relaxes in front of the TV would be: Stop what you’re doing. Leave the mess where it is. Open a beer for your husband and sit down next to him on the couch, and vegg out with him. From your perspective he may be “not helping”, but maybe from his perspective he is waiting for you to finish a chore that isn’t that important in the first place, and have some time to spend with him.

      2. Kevin

        Re: “And all of the bachelor guys that I know who maintain typical bachelor dirty apartments expect things to be cleaner when they have wives and kids.”

        … because they know how women are. The mess may not bother them, but they know a woman won’t put up with it.

        If you expect the person you’re marrying to change their obviously well-established habits once you tie the know, I recommend having a conversation about that ahead of time.

        1. Kathleen

          Neither of you is wrong. There’s definitely something to a guy thinking it’s just not that important, and a woman taking it upon herself in resentment because she thinks it is. And we do have a tendency to be pathologically incapable of sitting down and doing nothing.

          But OTOH, the couple needs to come to consensus about what is and isn’t important. If their cleaning habits differ, they have to reach a decision mutually about what they’re going to accept, and it’s not fair for the guy to say, “I just don’t think it’s that important, so deal with the mess.” Both parties have to compromise, not just one or the other.

          1. Claire

            I agree. There is a standstill in many relationships because of the one person in the couple insisting they don’t mind and therefore neither should the other one. That is not fair and it is not respectful, nor loving.

            And I also agree that women are often the ones to mistakenly believe that they NEED to do the chores, instead of asking for help. That is exactly my situation and quite honestly, I don’t know what to do about it.
            One person says they don’t care about the mess and in fact they don’t notice it, and the other one says they do and would like the other one to make an effort to notice more. The burden ends up being on the person who wishes for a cleaner home to communicate about it better and the other partner needs to wait for each communication dispatch? This doesn’t seem fair, either when you consider that they HAVE said it…At some point shouldn’t the more relaxed partner take up some of the responsibility wihout having to be asked? I mean, come on!

            I am speaking for my own marriage, here, but I think both parties wish this could be less of a conversation and more of a way of life now that we know each other’s preferences/tolerance for dirt…

          2. Kevin

            It’s always difficult when a spouses’ preconceived notions of How Things Will Be get challenged. But the reason relationships are “at a standstill” over disagreements is generally (call me Captain Obvious) that they haven’t found a compromise that they can agree on. I don’t see why that is necessarily the fault of men. If you are a woman who wants something extra from your husband, maybe you should consider bargaining with him. Maybe there’s something he wants from you too. Or maybe you could try NOT cleaning up as much and see if that motivates him. I suspect there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. What I do know is that it just isn’t helpful to say your husband is not being “loving” because he doesn’t give in to your demands. Dress it up however you like; You wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that claim if it was a disagreement where you felt justified in standing your ground.

            Here’s something I’ve noticed about spouses, and about people in relationships generally: There’s a tendency towards a sort of myopic, whithered version of the golden rule in which you love someone by doing the things you would want that person to do for you, without considering how different they are from you. Ever receive a gift that you know the giver would love to have, but you don’t have any use for it? A woman makes the bed, thinking she is doing it for her husband, precisely because she would appreciate if he made the bed. He fails to notice at all. One spouse or the other who is looser with money may splurge on buying an expensive gift for the other, which only causes the receiver to cringe about the cost. A man might go and try to pick out clothes for his wife, and probably ends up with something she doesn’t really like. He is always happy when she picks something out for him, so he doesn’t realize how futile his generosity is. Etc etc.

          3. Claire

            I am sorry, I still don’t understand. What do you mean that a husband would feel “justified in standing their ground” if he expects his wife to ignore the discarded socks? You simply mean that you want her to give into his standards of cleanliness, from what I am reading. So, how exactly is that a compromise? Where has he conceded anything in this scenario?

            (btw: I am no longer speaking of my own situation, I am trying to understand your perspective b/c I truthfully would like to make some progress in this area at home)

            Also: I did a lot more housework before I was married and had a bunch of roommates in the name of the “good of the home.” I realized that was silly and so I resolved to spend more time on bike rides now and less time mopping on any given Saturday morning!

          4. Kevin

            Claire, I don’t claim that he has compromised yet, but his wife has asked him to do something and so far he hasn’t agreed, so we can suppose he thinks her request isn’t reasonable. And after all, he didn’t hide his habits from her before they were married. They never had a discussion about agreeing that he would change his habits once they were married. And the socks aren’t exactly hurting anyone sitting on the floor, are they? The only harm being caused is her mental distaste for seeing them there. And here’s another thing: it’s easier for her to pick them up than it is for him to pick them up. Doesn’t that sound crazy? But it’s true. For a task as simple as putting your socks in the hamper, about 95% of the effort he would expend is the mental part – changing a long-standing habit. Now multiply that effort by the ten other ways she wants him to change, and remember that he probably has a long mental to-do list of the things dictated by his own preferences, on top of the stress of going to work everyday, where he has to remember all of the little details about how his boss wants him to do things. No matter how menial or repetitive the job of keeping a house and cooking meals is, I think most men are a little envious of their stay-at-home wives, if for no other reason than that they essentially answer to no one but themselves. They set their own hours, and their level of effort is dictated by their own conscience. Nobody is micromanaging them. Nobody is telling them to stop doing that and give more priority to this. And nobody is going to fire them if they don’t keep on their toes and appear motivated and professional. It’s from this envious position of freedom and authority (over herself) that she makes a request that he pick up his things, which are not harming anybody. This from the person whose standards of cleanliness are significantly higher than his own. Really try to imagine living with someone whose standards are consistently more strict than your own: No matter your love for them, you can’t help also feeling at times that they’ve gone a little bonkers. Why are they scrubbing the kitchen floor right now, when you remember they just did it a few days ago? Do you start doing everything that person asks without question, when your own reasonable judgment says to let things be? Do you start to feel a little strange about the fact that your partner keeps asking for little changes in who you are, when you love them just as they are? Maybe you feel resistant because the request feels like a judgment that you are a slob, or maybe it’s because the request seems like an unfair presumption that you have to rise to their standards. Or maybe it’s because you feel they haven’t really allowed for the reality that it is your bedroom too, and the only one you have, and you are an adult, so why should somebody be dictating what you do with your socks when you take them off? Not that it’s hard to put them in the hamper, but isn’t that request … a little weird?

          5. Kathleen

            Kevin…I get your point, but a SAHM is definitely NOT answering only to herself. As an example, in between that sentence and this, I had to go put my son on the toilet. Now, you can say that I’m choosing to take that task upon myself: toilet training. But there really isn’t a choice. He has to learn to control his bodily functions, and the only way it’s going to happen is if I do it–at great inconvenience to my own schedule. And as I type, said toddler is now crawling all over me, yanking my body this way and that as I try to accomplish a task or two. My schedule is NOT my own. I spend every day trying to figure out how to write, to do dishes, to clean, to take care of responsibilities–all around my kids’ schedules of naps and play time and pickups.

            I don’t discount long hours and demanding bosses. Women most certainly need to think of those stress factors that their husbands face–but please, PLEASE don’t imply that men shouldn’t have to do the same for their wives.

          6. Kevin

            I don’t think we were talking about people with kids, although most of the same arguments would apply – no boss is looking over your shoulder telling you how to raise you child, and considering whether it wouldn’t be better to fire you and get the kid a new mom.

          7. Claire

            Oh this just makes me want to cry.

            I thought that we were talking about couples lovingly and humbly accomodating each other in even small ways (because certainly socks are very small, if smelly), but it turns out that my gut feeling that it was more than that was right all along.

            Rae was right to write this post because to some men
            a) women are proving just how irrational they are by requesting help around the house. (obviously this is a WANT and not a NEED, so they should let it go)
            b) wives have no basis for requesting help unless their work is as important and essential to the family’s wellbeing as their spouse’s. (note that you have made housework into the WOMAN’S work)
            c) childrearing and housework is not in the category of important work.

            But Kevin, you don’t actually believe that garbage about men’s work (=breadwinning) being more important, do you? Not only are a wife’s needs further down on the hierarchy of priorities, but also even her desires.
            How is that not the opposite of loving?

            Who puts what into the hamper is not really the issue. When my husband works long hours and can’t help, I don’t want him to work harder on housework when he gets home–of course not! But when I’m working hard, too, why shouldn’t he help out in at leat the very easiest ways?

            ps: It’s not HIS bedroom. It’s OURS.

          8. Joshua Michael

            “Not that it’s hard to put them in the hamper, but isn’t that request … a little weird?”

            No. Asking someone to pick up after themselves isn’t weird. It’s requesting the bare minimum politeness you would give to a roommate, much less someone you claim to love.

            But writing paragraph after paragraph explaining how it’s okay to treat your wife as if she were your maid? That’s weird.

          9. Kevin

            Hi Joshua, thanks for the nicely veiled insult.

            Like Claire, you have completely failed to comprehend what I am trying to say in this conversation. Have I said that housework is women’s work? No. Have I said that men shouldn’t help their wives around the house? No. Have I said that women shouldn’t ask for help, or that men shouldn’t give help when it is asked? No. Have I said that men should treat their wives like maids? No.

            And yet I’ve been so surprised by comments like yours that I’ve gone back and reread my words on more than one occasion to try to find where I said these things you seem to have read.

            What I have done, which is apparently completely futile, is try to help women understand what’s really going on in their husband’s heads when he disappoints them, and suggest some ways they can more effectively get him over to their side. But I’m beginning to suspect that the only purpose of this conversation was for some wives to commiserate together about how they’ve been wronged by their husbands. If that’s the case please pardon the intrusion.

          10. Joshua Michael

            Kevin: Perhaps you’ve been misunderstood. But given that this “misunderstanding” seems to have occurred with most of the readers in this thread, perhaps there is something in your words which others are seeing and you aren’t.

            “A guy doesn’t leave something on the floor “for” his spouse to pick up. That’s the female perspective talking.”

            The implication seems to be that the female perspective is less important.

            “… because they know how women are. The mess may not bother them, but they know a woman won’t put up with it.”

            So it’s fine to make a mess and not clean it up because she’s the only one who cares if things are clean.

            “If you are a woman who wants something extra from your husband, maybe you should consider bargaining with him.”

            So a husband picking up his own mess is extra?

            “And the socks aren’t exactly hurting anyone sitting on the floor, are they? The only harm being caused is her mental distaste for seeing them there.”

            The “mental distaste” caused by things like that can actually have huge impacts on mental health. Living in a chaotic and messy environment which you are unable to effectively control can cause tremendous stress.

            But even if it was minimal, you’re claiming that his “mental distaste” at cleaning up his own mess is more important than her “mental distaste” at seeing the mess.

            For what it’s worth, I’ve been on both sides of this situation, and it’s amazing how much (necessary) work is just taken for granted when it “magically” happens during business hours.

          11. Kevin

            I can see this isn’t going to go anywhere because you’re so determined to interpret every word of mine in terms of who is more important than whom, and whose mental distaste is more important than whose, and so on. Where did I start talking about one spouse being more important than the other? Is this the kind of blog where you have to state up front whether you think one gender is less important than the other? I sort of assumed that I could start with an understanding that we were talking about a relationship of equals.

            What should I make of your reading all that into what I wrote? Most of my comments are merely trying to shine a light on what might be going on in the mind of the person being roundly condemned for their alleged selfishness and lack of love. But I notice that we’ve also heard from many people about how a woman feels when her husband doesn’t do what she wants. So the pattern seems to be:

            Expressing how the woman feels = a righteous appeal for equality.

            Expressing how the man feels = an unfair assertion of male superiority.

          12. Rae Post author

            Kevin, you’ve re-read your comments, but did you ever fully read the original post? I think the problem is that everyone else is having a conversation in the context of the post, and the only way I can get your comments to fit with anything remotely loving is to take them out of context. So maybe that’s the issue? If you look at more than the chart you’ll find:

            No mention of socks
            A clear mention of how this issue is crucial when children enter the picture
            No male-bashing
            No need for “insight” into the mind of the person being condemned, since that person wrote the post
            A complete focus on LOVE- not on less-respect-than-roommate relationships

            Perhaps in light of the actual post you can see how people could misunderstand you?

          13. Kevin

            Rae, a lot of what I wrote is in response to other people’s comments, but initially what I was objecting to is that you seem to believe that you can hear some gossip and make a judgment about a person’s motives and the quality of love they have for their spouse. Here’s what I read in the original post:

            “it is absolutely clear that the husband in question is selfish and fails to love his wife half as much as he loves himself.”

            “in many homes, the wife is viewed by both spouses as less worthy of love, care, and honor.”

            And yet when you asked your husband about this, his first inclination was to steer you away from that:

            “Josh responded that many men may simply not notice or think of housework as significant.”

            Obviously this failure to notice housework or consider it a big deal is a huge character flaw that can only indicate that a person is extremely selfish… right? And you think this because that’s what it would take for you to act that way. But you’re bordering on solipsism. I don’t think you really heard what your husband was trying to say. Men’s brains work differently than women’s. There’s two very interesting books by Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn about this. Reading those books together with my wife and talking about them has been an incredible eye-popping experience. We keep asking eachother “You really think that way? You really feel that way? That is so weird!” Men and women really are from two different planets, almost.

            You may believe that slacking off for a couple weeks means there’s no need for additional insight into the mind of the men you are condemning, but I think you’re wildly mistaken.

          14. Claire

            I think I finally get what you are saying. You are saying that men operate so differently from women, that if indeed there exist some general trends within American marriages regarding the division of domestic duties, that can be explained in part by the fact that men view these duties in a very different way from women. Furthermore, the demands that some wives have on their husbands to contribute more is probably linked to their unrealistic expectations that men will magically change after they are married.

            I believe that is exactly what Rae is writing about: the need for spouses (both of them) to adapt once they are married. It is no longer just “I”, but “we” after marriage–for every married couple. Therefore, men can no longer afford to do the same amount of domestic work as they did pre-marriage–they certainly cannot afford to do slightly less (as you pointed out that chart reads). They are no longer cleaning for one, but two (or more, once there are kids—and certainly more when the in-laws come to town!) so their numbers on that chart should rise proportionally, too.

            Yes, it does hurt when my husband has to make me understand that any of my words or deeds have hurt him. Usually, it is not that I have stopped feeling love for him, or that I have consciously stopped loving him. It is the other love that is lacking–that love that means that everything I am and everything I do places his needs as “better than my own.” Why shouldn’t I be sad when I do not live up to that? So, no, I have no problem saying that although I do in fact feel “bad” when I am on the other end of this, that doesn’t mean it’s not still good for me to hear.

            Several times you mentioned a woman’s expectation that her husband will be different once they get married. I am not sure exactly why you bring that up, but since you have, I would like to respond: there is no such thing as a prenuptial agreement that will work out every potential conflict before the wedding day. You know that, of course. But perhaps what you meant was that a guy could be justified in saying, ‘well, you knew my preferences before we married, so you’re stuck with them because I ain’t gonna change for YOU.’
            Well, why the heck not?

            I hope my husband helps me to be a better wife and person, however painful it is to hear it when I have let him down. And I am not always receptive. Usually I whine and whimper about it, but maybe one day I’ll be mature enough to at least think (if not say) “thanks for showing me how self-centered (or oblivious, or weak, or distracted) I am being so I can move on and learn to love you better.”
            But I’ll probably just keep kicking and fighting the whole way. :)

          15. Kevin


            It doesn’t make any sense to me that the total amount of housework done by both people combined goes up rather than down after they are married. There’s only one bed to make, right? There’s only one kitchen to clean, even if you’re cooking for two instead of one. There’s only one living room to vaccuum. I would expect that the housework for a family of two would be maybe 30% more than a household of one. Instead it seems as if it is 2.5 times the amount of time spent on a household of one. And remember, this graph excludes people with children! I know this will go over like a lead balloon, but it seems likely that married women are more likely to have the luxury of doing chores that are optional — adding things to their routine that they wouldn’t bother to do for themselves if they were busier and living alone.

            Think of it this way: between the two of them they are spending enough time to maintain BOTH of the their previous residences, plus an additional 7 hours of work that has seemingly materialized out of nowhere. That can’t all be due to having bigger houses. So what is it?

          16. Rae Post author

            Note: Comment threads are getting a bit messy but this is in response to Claire’s first comment.

            I think that you are right (obviously you know your own marriage, but right in a wider view as well). I remember my mother warning me about the danger of marriage without a strong gendered hierarchy (which ends up being a hierarchy of value as well as roles). When I told her that I had considered the potential problems and thought that communication could solve them she said that I was right, but that it would be a lot of work. I don’t think we can have love without work (on both sides of the relationship) this side of heaven.

            And sometimes I think that if I had children to deal with I would be too exhausted to try to maintain, let alone improve, my marriage! So all I have to say is that you do have my prayers for you to find a little time and energy to continue to love your husband in a way which enables him to better love you.

  11. NomadLibrarian

    Very thoughtful post- I agree with you, but I do have to say that I don’t think an imbalance in the division of labor means that someone is being selfish. I do agree that if the imbalance is for selfish reasons, than that can indicate a lack of love.

    My husband and I have gone through many different seasons of labor division. Sometimes I have done everything except taking out the garbage (his one domestic chore for almost 2 years) and other times he has done everything except keep my day planner for me. Right now, we tend to split fairly evenly when he is home, but when he is away (which is roughly half of the time) I am obviously responsible for everything- which since we have a house and two cars and the social obligations of a married couple, is significantly more than when I was single.

    I think you make an especially cogent point that circumstances can be used to justify stereotypes and selfishness, but i think that there is also something to be said for the role that personal preference and personality play in splitting work.

    1. Rae Post author

      Good points. I guess I should clarify that I don’t have a problem with one spouse doing more domestic work than the other. It is only when one spouse is doing more work overall and there isn’t a real reason for it (as in your case when your husband is away) that I see red flags.

  12. Jodi

    I think there is great truth in this article. It really can be unloving to be lazy and assume your spouse will do the work for you. I think the great danger (at least for me) is to assume that lack of help IS unloving or even intentional. Assuming worst intentions on your spouse’s action (or inaction) is incredibly dangerous and can lead to great bitterness.

    Personally, I find it exhausting to figure out “who is working harder” or how to split up tasks fairly. It is a nearly impossible task. The duties required to support and care for a family are so varied in time and physical or emotional energy that I don’t see how one would measure “fairness”.

    The solution, I assume, is communication, communication, communication. Both parties need to be willing to compromise on their own expectations and be willing to serve the other in the way the OTHER needs.

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  14. MyFeminineMind

    I’m feeling very lucky right now that my husband used to be the one who stayed home. He says doing the housework and caring for the children is harder than going to work all day. So he really appreciates what I do. As I’ve been a working mother and a stay-at-home mom, certainly both have their positives and negatives. In some senses I order my own day, but then in other ways I am continually challenged to have detachment from my projects as I can scarcely get anything accomplished in one sitting without interruptions from the little ones. I often feel my whole day is spent in the service of others, and not my own at all. So while no one is looking over my shoulder telling me how to parent, that doesn’t mean I have complete freedom. Sure, I COULD neglect my children and allow them to be soiled and hungry, but that’s not an acceptable option. So then my other option is to provide for my children’s needs. The one who works outside the home has to perform the tasks of that job as well if quitting or being fired isn’t an acceptable option.

    If one partner has spent their valuable time making the environment more presentable, it seems like an act of courtesy and gratitude to try to maintain that. When I’ve spent time tidying, and then others immediately begin to make it messy, I feel like I’ve just finished writing a paper only for the power to go out before I’ve saved it. Sooo disheartening and frustrating. Or in the case of socks, it can make me feel unappreciated. But I also understand the need to come home and just BE for awhile before a bunch of demands need to be met. Thus the need for each partner to make sacrifices, i suppose, each for the other, and never only one them doing all the sacrificing. Although socks may be a small matter, if they are hurting one partner’s feelings…well feelings are NOT a small matter and disregarding the other’s feelings is big. It seems the partner can try to pick up after him or herself better. Likewise, if the other person needs some time to veg and unwind, the other partner could sacrifice their agenda for the evening to let the other person just be. I suppose in cases like this, it is difficult to be prescriptive because it isn’t the exteriors that matter, but the intention and thoughtfulness with which each partner brings (or doesn’t bring) to the circumstances. And that is probably different for each couple.

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