Photo created by Freepik — www.freepik.com
My friend Harold was indignant. He had had an intense argument with his wife and he was drowning his anger and frustration in beer.
“Rose is getting crankier every passing day. She’s always tired and blames me for everything. I just don’t get it. I’m a great husband! (burp) I help her do the dishes. I help her take care of the kids. I help her clean the house. I help her do the gardening. I help her walk the dog, man. I even help her cook sometimes!”
I decided to settle for a listening role in this conversation, as the amount of nonsense Harold was saying was too much for me to handle. Also, he was getting drunk faster than usual, and that’s never a good sign.
“I’m telling you, I have to put up with her anger all the time. And no matter how much I help her, she’ll never stop complaining. Take my word for it, Joe: Women are impossible to please. Think twice before you get married!”
Now, let me tell you something before you start hating on poor Harold: He’s a nice guy, and I’m sure he meant well as he attempted to help his wife. He was simply confused by the negative feedback he was getting from her, as he was wrong in blaming her for the relentless bickering they were going through.
As husbands, we tend to assist our wives. After all, help is a manifestation of love itself, which is the cornerstone of every household and the main pillar of all romantic relationships. However, there’s a chance you’re undermining your good intentions with a negative attitude and a misplaced understanding of the word assistance.
The housework-distribution problem in the modern world
The traditional premise of a working husband and a stay-at-home wife has always been an unfair family model, as taking care of a household and properly raising children technically counts as two jobs for a married woman. This is why babysitter and housekeeper are listed as two different positions.
Even now, after decades of shifting work trends, advances in civil rights, and feminist activism, there remains an uneven distribution of household responsibilities. According to Catalyst.org, married women are still in charge of most of the housework, or at least, dedicating much more time to it than their husbands, as shown in the chart below:
There's an invisible problem when you "help" your wife
Again, Harold meant well when he said he was constantly helping his wife. However, despite his good intentions, there was — and there still is — a problem with the idea of a husband assisting his wife in housework matters, which may seem insignificant at first glance, but is actually quite profound when you think about it:
By saying or even thinking you’re helping your wife, you’re perpetuating the obsolete idea that household chores are the inherent and sole responsibility of a woman, even though both of you share the same physical space, amenities, commodities, basic services, and children (if any).
To put it simply:
- You don’t “help” your wife clean the house: You live there too. Your house will inevitably get dirty and untidy after a while, and you’re both responsible for cleaning and keeping it habitable, presentable, lively, and cozy.
- You don’t “help” your wife cook. You do your part in the cooking process. You’re going to be eating that food too. By extension, of course, you don’t “help” your wife do the dishes, either. You eat on those as well.
- You don’t “help” your wife take care of the children. They’re your children too. You made them together, and therefore, you both share responsibility for their safety, education, moral guidance, emotional integrity, health, and overall upbringing. And yes, this extends to stepchildren. Just because you didn’t partake in their procreation doesn’t mean you’re not fully responsible for them now. You married their mother, for crying out loud.
When a man says or even thinks he’s “helping” his wife with the housework, he’s fooling himself into thinking he’s somehow sacrificing his time or personal interests to assist someone who apparently can’t cope with “their inherent part” of marriage duties.
When a woman is convinced that her husband is “helping” her with the housework, she’s fooling herself into believing she should be thankful for having a considerate man by her side who’s willing to bother to make “her job” more manageable.
Both these ways of thinking are obsolete and misplaced. Household duties in marriage are based on teamwork, not assistance from a partner.
Does that mean you should never help your partner?
Not at all. As I said before, when responsibility is shared, there’s no such thing as “helping the other one or getting help from them.” However, when one of the spouses has an individual, specific responsibility, then help is valid and welcome.
As educators, my wife and I understand this: These days, for instance, her workload is considerably heavier than mine, and since she’s busy teaching online courses, I offer some help by checking part of the homework, designing evaluation tools, and producing some of her digital didactic material. I happen to have more free time right now, so why not?
You see, that’s actual help. The course she’s teaching is her responsibility, but since she’s my wife and she’s visibly struggling to do the ever-titanic job of a teacher, I’ve willingly decided to lend her a hand. And that help includes looking after my stepdaughter and taking care of anything around the house that needs doing, aka house chores.
There have been occasions when I’m the one neck-deep in courses to teach, tests to grade, didactic material to create, and lessons to plan. On those occasions, my wife takes care of most of the housework and usually offers to give me a hand with my teaching obligations.
That’s the difference between thinking you help your spouse and actually helping them. In the end, it all comes down to identifying exactly whose responsibility certain obligations are: If they’re shared, there’s no room for “help”, but for cooperation and teamwork. If they’re not shared, then help can safely — and thankfully — take place.
Assigning home responsibilities is fine as long as those duties serve a purpose based on collective convenience and workload balance. My wife and I, for example, have a kitchen rule: I cook, you clean. If I make breakfast, she does the dishes. If she cooks lunch, I do the dishes. If we both cook, then we both do the cleanup.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the rule is absolute and unbreakable. For instance, if one of us is busy pulling unwanted weeds out in the backyard, the other one does both the cooking and the cleaning up. That way house chores are redistributed for the sake of convenience, consideration, empathy, and balance.
Does this principle apply exclusively to the traditional man-woman marriage model?
I chose to present this idea from a straight point of view because a) that’s the type of marriage I happen to be in, and b) that’s the type of marriage that best showcases this centuries-old, female-centered, housework-responsibility model.
However, the same principle applies to same-sex marriages: If the two partners share household duties, there should be cooperation and teamwork rather than a misplaced urge to “help” each other. When the spouses have specifically separate, individual obligations, then help can happen. The idea is valid and remains the same regardless of the type of marriage you’re in.
Housework is a shared responsibility. The sooner you realize this, the better. Chores will be distributed more fairly, both of you will be happier, and you’ll be setting a good example for your kids. As a result, some of the harmony you’ve lost along the way will make a swift return to your marriage, and the bond with your partner will be stronger. Trust me on that.