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Let Your Husband Do the Dishes

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Why would anyone assume the specific work of a home and a marriage should all fall on only one spouse?

Hot off the presses! John Gottman is at it again. His relationships institute conducted a study that found that men who help with the housework have happier marriages. I wonder how much money and how many hours it took for them to discover that.

"Splitting the chores eases resentment that can build up when only one partner does it all."

Duh. What's important about this study is not what it reveals -- even though we are all subject to the martyrdom syndrome, we recognize that there is frequently a frustrated, nagging (possibly screaming) fallout! -- but that it needs to be said at all.

Whatever the work is of a home and a marriage -- housework, child-raising, the care of elderly parents, earning an income -- why would anyone assume it should all fall on only one spouse? How could we possibly hope to build something together if only one person is doing the building? Couples may agree to many different types and styles of chore-sharing, but the essence is in the sharing.

There are no fixed percentages that guarantee domestic bliss, but to be married and feel alone is an extremely painful state.

It's also important not to be rigid about the chore divisions. Maybe your husband is in charge of baths (lucky you!), but there are times when he's just too tired or he's tied up and you can pick up the slack.

When we work together as a team, we can conquer most problems.

Obvious? Yes. But I've seen many an argument over whose job that was supposed to be! Maybe you always make dinner. But it's been a long, hard day. Your husband can boil some pasta, scramble some eggs, do something more elaborate and gourmet, or telephone for take-out! We need to be flexible.

When we work together as a team, we can conquer most problems. But when we create strict behavior guidelines and take note of every violation, we become competitors, not allies. And we both suffer.

I find that it's more efficient and the "team" functions better when people help out in areas where they are competent. Although my husband will sweep if asked, he doesn't really enjoy it when I point out all the spots he missed. And since I have to do it over again anyway(!), I haven't really gained by his participation in that chore. On the other hand, he always clears the Shabbos table and has a particular affinity for finding just the right size container for each of the leftovers. (It's that spatial thing!) So we should lead with our strengths -- in chores, in parenting, in earning money.

And with our priorities. Our shared priorities. Perhaps a messier house in favor of time with the kids or each other. Perhaps a lower income in favor of a more meaningful or pleasurable job. Or a shorter commute. Or more time at home.

Whatever it is, the key is unity, teamwork. The authors of this study didn't break any new ground, but they still provided a public service. Because marriage is about what we can accomplish together, not separately.

The Torah teaches us that when marriage partners operate in tandem, in the spirit of love and shared goals, with unity and sanctity, the Almighty's presence descends to rest between them.*

Even if there are still a few dust balls around...

(Exodus 25:8, Reishis Chochmah commentary).

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