Opinion piece by Sherri Mills, author
A right thing done in the wrong way will cause havoc. That’s the story twice-over behind the recently headlined study saying married men who participated in housework reported 1.6 times less sex per month than traditional couples where the woman did it all ““ all 51 hours weekly.
Sociologists from the University of Washington Seattle looked at answers to questionnaires from 4,500 couples in 1992-94 and concluded that perhaps husbands lost that bedroom allure when they took up dishcloths, but kept their sex-appeal if they did some manly mowing of the lawn ““ or didn’t do any household work at all.
Unfortunately, neither the data nor the sociologists defined whether the men “helped” with chores or “owned” those chores as theirs forever.
What? There’s a difference? Most definitely!
“Help” is a favor you do for someone when it’s convenient, you feel like doing it, or you don’t have a golf game.
When a husband “helps” with housework, the job remains the responsibility of the wife. She must keep track of what needs to be done, watch deadlines, have tools on hand, ask for help, and tell her husband what and when to do it. If these requests come repeatedly with lots of directions or criticism, the husband will call it nagging. The wife will pull her hair and call it another job on her already overflowing list.
“Help” ultimately isn’t helpful. It’s a dirty four-letter word sinking marital satisfaction and intimacy.
According to the study results, even in the more modern households of that era where the husband pitched in, he did on average about 20 percent of the indoor work that week and 52 percent of the more manly outdoor chores. That left “¦ sigh “¦128 percent to be done by the wife that week. (I know, that’s not how the math works, but it sure must feel that way to the wife!)
Resentment, anger, and frustration multiply with the imbalance of household work and are far more taxing than the physical labor. Resentment kills passion.
But when a husband shifts his perspective from “helping” to dividing ownership of household chores, he gives his wife something far more romantic than flowers. Now she will have more time and energy for her day. Less resentment. More room and reason for love.
When a husband selects his share of household chores to do forever, he can do them on his own schedule and in his own way. That fits a man’s style better than being in the subservient position of waiting to be asked for “help” and then being told what to do.
It may not be easy at first, but it’s a win-win situation for the whole family.
Here’s a story from my lifetime of research:
Dennis came in for a haircut. He had heard about my first book (I Almost Divorced My Husband, But I Went on Strike Instead) and started discussing it, half mockingly. He said, “I work very hard on my job. Why should I do housework too?”
I teased him back. “Does your wife work very hard on her job?”
Dennis laughed, “She sits down all day in an office, how hard could that be?” Then he added, “I mow the lawn, wash the cars, and do all the outside work. She can do all the stuff inside.”
Hmmmm,” I mused, “how often do you mow the lawn and wash the cars?”
He thought for a minute and didn’t answer me.
I pulled out a copy of my book and said, “Why don’t you go through the list of chores in the back of the book and choose 4 or 5 chores that you could do for the rest of your life.”
He whirled his chair around and said, “For the rest of my life?!”
I calmly stated, “Why not? She works just like you do and when she comes home she has 76 more chores that she has to do for the rest of her life.”
He didn’t say anything. He took the book and read the chore list while he was still sitting in my salon. They had one toddler and three children in grade school, so all the chores hit home.
“No wonder she’s mad at me all the time,” he said, sounding rather shell-shocked. “She never told me I was supposed to be responsible for any of that.”
I believed him. First his mother and then his wife probably had just asked him to “help” once in a while. His wife grew angry when he didn’t automatically keep helping unless he was thanked all the time. Or when he didn’t read her mind while she was drowning in a sea of expectations.
Dennis stepped up to the plate and insisted on taking his turn cooking, buying groceries, watching the baby, and many other chores.
Since then, over haircuts, we’ve have had numerous conversations about how he sometimes has to remind his wife that she is just as important as he is, and how sorry he is that he hadn’t acted on that fact before.
This is a success story where “sharing” banished the dangerous quick-sand of “help.” It’s a story that I hope becomes typical as more men understand the vast difference between “help” and shouldering their share of the chores that will keep their household a home.
Sherri Mills, a hairdresser of 45 years, is determined to change the painful divorce statistics by removing the underlying cause of so many needless divorces ““ the imbalance of householder work. To that end, she has written I Almost Divorced My Husband, But I Went on Strike Instead, and a book to be released in May, Marriage 101 for Men: Why Taking Out the Trash is a Turn On.