“She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” is the title of a 2016 blog post by Matthew Fray about the ending of his marriage in divorce in 2013. Fray described how every time his wife walked into the kitchen, she found his drinking glass by the sink—inches from the dishwasher. He realized, too late, that he left almost all of the household chores and child-care to his wife.
Most divorces in the U.S. are initiated by wives. Women’s predominance in wanting a divorce (among couples who divorce) seems to have been consistent over time, according to Michael J. Rosenfeld of Stanford University who conducted a recent longitudinal study of relationships in the U.S. about “How Couples Meet and Stay Together.”
Household Chores: A Big Thing Or Little Thing?
For women, it’s a big thing.
Here’s the data from recent polls:
- Working women spend about an hour more a day on both housework and child-care than men.
- Working women spend about as much time in activities with their children as stay-at-home mothers in the 1970s.
- The “housework gap” stopped narrowing in the 1980s.
- The additional time women spend on domestic labor, particularly child-care, is a leading cause of the gender gap in pay and promotions at work.
During the days sheltering at home with his family during the coronavirus outbreak, Mr. K. entertained himself by taking his drone for a spin around the house, revealing the household clutter. Ms. K., a nursing student, was not amused. She created a meticulous spreadsheet revealing her 210 tasks to his 21.
For men, it’s a little thing.
Here is how Fray describes his approach:
I passively left her to manage housework, our schedules and the logistics of caring for our son…I call it accidental sexism…Of course, I’m disgusted by inequality, I’m not sexist!
Fray knows from his work with men that the “average Joe” is not going to read “The Five Love Languages.” Husbands respond in one or all three of the following ways when faced with inequities in housework and childcare.
- Dispute the facts of the situation highlighted by their wives.
- Agree with the facts, but believe their partner is overreacting.
- Defend the actions (or lack thereof) by explaining why they did it.
The Sexiest Thing A Man Can Say To His Partner: “I’ve Got This.”
Fray says he acts as a kind of translator to the men he counsels about avoiding divorce. He tells guys to check their calendars—it’s not 1960 anymore. “Step up and Show Up” is how he talks about noticing what is going on in your house. A couple of his tidbits:
- It should not come as a shock that dinner needs to be prepared every night.
- Figure out how you can pitch in without being asked.
Are Men Acting Entitled?
There’s an easy but unsatisfying explanation for the continuing difference in domestic responsibility taken by men and women. There are four things that seem to be going on: it’s learned early, you must notice what is going on, there’s a psychological component, and it requires sharing power.
1. It’s Learned Early
Writer Tiffany Dufu had what she called “home control disease” This is “…the insidious, internalized sexism of the woman who’s been raised to see an impeccable home as a sign of her worth.” Men just don’t get “home control disease” because they don’t attach a clean house to their value. A man who values domestic cleanliness is just a clean man.
2. Noticing What’s Going On
Being more aware of how you contribute to the gender difference in domestic responsibilities means you must engage in self-reflection—not an easy thing to do. It involves a conscious consideration of your beliefs and actions to learn a new way of organizing your relationship. Reflection gives your brain the time to sort through your experience and create new ways of living together with equality and fairness.