Dating Advice #95 - Sharing the Load


Is it better to keep score, or just to give freely with no expectation of return?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

If "love in marriage" means total giving of yourself to your spouse without expecting anything in exchange, then how does one protect oneself from a lazy and selfish spouse. Won't you end up doing all the housework?. When do you say "enough"?


Dear Shirley,

The statement that "love in marriage means totally giving yourself to your spouse without expecting anything in return" is a loaded phrase and very easy to misinterpret.

Everyone is entitled to expect certain things from the person we want to build a life with -- like their making our marriage a priority, being there to share life experiences, caring and giving emotional support, sharing financial and other responsibilities, and otherwise making their best efforts to help our home function and our relationship grow and thrive.

Of course, that doesn't mean that each time we do something for our spouse, we are entitled to expect a quid pro quo (that's Latin for "something for something"). There are times during every marriage that one partner may seem to be pulling more than his/her share of weight, such as when the other spouse is preoccupied with an important or troubling matter, but over the course of most marriages the load shifts back and forth between partners and balances out in one way or another.

Furthermore, each of us has different abilities and strengths, and it isn't practical to always expect both partners to make equal contributions of time and effort. What's important is that each spouse makes their best effort to benefit their marriage and family.

Some people have a tendency to "keep score" over the contributions they view each partner making toward family life. A person may do this because they have a unrealistic view of what marriage is about or how responsibilities should be divided. Or they may not be able to understand or appreciate what contributions their spouse may be making to their lives together.

No matter what the reason, scorekeeping is a very unhealthy and unproductive practice that leads to the deterioration of the marriage. It reinforces the scorekeeper's often incorrect belief that he is being taken advantage of.

If one of you has started to keep score, we recommend that you call a time out and reassess your expectations of marriage in general, and your relationship specifically, and discuss the best way each of you can contribute to your home-life and to strengthening your relationship. If you can't do this on your own, you will probably benefit from the guidance of a trained marriage counselor who can help facilitate this reassessment.

We'd like to digress a bit and talk about the expectations many of us have when we get married. A large percentage of newlyweds have no idea what sharing a life with someone else entails. We are blissfully unaware that we will soon clash on issues as simple as our own personal habits -- e.g. how a night owl and an early bird adjust to each other's schedules? Or how to go from eating on the run and keeping an almost-empty refrigerator, to sitting down together to a meal in our own kitchen that one or both of us shopped for, cooked and cleaned up after. How do we make the transition from handling our personal responsibilities and filling our free time as we please, to coordinating all of this with the person with whom we will share the rest of our life?

This transition isn't easy, and it's especially difficult when a couple with vastly different expectations hasn't yet reconciled them. That's often the root of problems such as the one you described in your letter. It usually doesn't arise because one spouse is "lazy and selfish," but because the husband and wife have different expectations about neatness and cleanliness, and about how to apportion responsibility for errands, paperwork and chores or how often they have to be performed.

Furthermore, someone who cares more about getting certain things done around the house may take on greater responsibilities than the other, and later resent the imbalance. This may happen when, for example, a man who expects his apartment to be in perfect order marries a woman who doesn't mind a modest amount of clutter. He could resent the fact that he's always the one to throw out old newspapers and straighten knick knacks.

If any of these scenarios leaves one of the partners feeling resentful or overburdened, its time for the couple to engage in the type of discussion and resolution we mentioned earlier. The couple needs to understand each other's outlooks and come to an agreement about housekeeping standards and division of responsibility, even when it comes to tasks that neither of them really want to do but that nonetheless have to be performed.

We hope this has been helpful, and wish you the best of success,

Rosie & Sherry

Next Steps