Small, Actionable Ways Men Can Address Unequal Division Of Labor At Home

Relationship experts share their advice for easing the burden of household tasks on women.

If your female partner often feels frustrated about the number of household tasks she carries out in comparison with you, she’s certainly not alone. Study after study has indicated that women shoulder most of the burden of household and parenting labor.

“It is true that in cisgender heterosexual couples where both partners work full time, it is often the female doing more work around the house and when it comes to caring for the children,” said Rachel Needle, a licensed psychologist and co-director of Modern Sex Therapy Institutes, told HuffPost. “While we have certainly seen changes towards equality in this area, it is likely that these beliefs are so ingrained that it is often what is expected both of ourselves and our partner.”

She noted that many adults observed this unbalanced dynamic in their childhood homes as they grew up. Given the disparity between maternity and paternity leave offerings, society seems to reinforce the notion that child care should be more of a woman’s priority than a man’s.

Clearly, the world still has a long way to go in dividing household labor more equally. But in addition to general goals of social progress, men have other incentives to do their part.

“Research shows that heterosexual couples who share household chores have sex more often!” Needle said.

Shifting the status quo can feel daunting, but it’s actually quite simple. Here, Needle and other experts break down eight small but actionable steps men can take to balance the division of labor at home.

Acknowledge Your Partner’s Work

“Men can start by acknowledging both the physical and mental load women may feel when they are responsible for domestic tasks, as well as homework helpers, party planners and household managers,” said relationship therapist Judith Aronowitz. “Many women have to keep all these balls juggling in their heads all the time.”

She emphasized the value of feeling seen and supported, and she suggested showing appreciation regularly. Acknowledge that your partner’s time is valuable and consider whether your time has been prioritized above hers.

“Reflecting that you see how much she has been doing and telling her how much it means to you and supports you will help to make the invisible visible,” said Kaitlin Kindman, a therapist and co-founder of Kindman & Co. “You may even notice that feeling genuine gratitude for your partner also helps you feel more connected to her, which can fuel more motivation to take over some of the tasks with increased eagerness and ease!”

Jump In On The Little Tasks

“Just look around the house for something that needs to be done and then just do it,” advised therapist Kurt Smith, who specializes in counseling men. “Find the toilet bowl cleaner, and go into the bathroom and scrub the toilet. Bathe one of the kids tonight and handle all of the bedtime routine. Don’t make a grand proclamation to your partner about what you’re going to start doing differently ― just start doing.”

Picking one thing and jumping in can stop you from feeling frozen and overwhelmed by the weight of all the various household tasks.

“Men looking for practical action items should grab the low-hanging fruit and wash those dishes,” recommended Elisabeth LaMotte, a therapist and the founder of the DC Counseling & Psychotherapy Center. “Not just once in a while, but each and every day. Don’t wait to be asked; just scour those pots properly without leaving egg traces! Load the dishwasher with thoughtful placement for optimal cleaning.”

Set Daily Reminders

Once you’ve set your mind to help out more with household tasks, make sure you follow through. Start with those small goals if needed, and get something done every day to help around the house.

“If you have trouble remembering, put a reminder alarm in your phone, book it in your calendar or use a task-tracking app like Trello where you can both see which tasks are assigned to each person and when it’s been done,” said Damona Hoffman, a dating coach who hosts the “Dates & Mates” podcast. “Nagging causes additional stress and strain on a relationship, and putting your partner in the position of needing to remind you or hound you to do your share is exhausting for both of you.”

Rather than waiting to be asked to help, just dive into chores that need to be done.
Richard Drury via Getty Images
Rather than waiting to be asked to help, just dive into chores that need to be done.

Bring An Attitude Of Fun And Positivity

“The chores involved with raising children and running a home can feel endless and boring, and many couples fall into an unfortunate mindset of becoming competitors rather than teammates,” LaMotte said. “Try taking a psychological step back from the daily grind to join your partner’s team so that you execute chores with an air of positivity rather than resentment.”

Rather than unhappily keeping track of every dish you wash, understand and internalize the joy of having the opportunity to build a home and raise a family with someone you love.

“Make it a game. Have fun with it,” said marriage and family therapist Becky Whetstone. “The important thing is not to assume she is going to do these things. Most women deeply resent being a default maid, cook, breadwinner and nanny. Create an evening routine of helping with chores and the kids that ... [gives] your wife some peace in the evening. She will notice, and your life will get better in return.”

Involve The Kids

As you inject a sense of fun into household tasks, you might be able to bring your kids into the fold as well. In addition to providing more relief to your partner, this approach sets your children up to foster a more equitable division of labor as they get older and move into their own homes.

“If you have children, give them household responsibilities to take on at an early age,” Hoffman said. “If they get the message that the house is everyone’s responsibility and each person takes a little bit off the load, it can add up to a great burden being relieved for a woman who is caring for many people.”

Take Stock Of Your Surroundings

“Women tell me they wish they didn’t have to ask for help from their men and say their fantasy mate would look around the house, notice what needs to be done and dive in. So I would suggest taking initiative in this regard instead of waiting to be asked,” Whetstone said. “If your wife cooks a great meal, doesn’t it make sense that you clean it up? If the laundry is piled up, why not bring the basket into the family room and start folding and putting it away?”

Don’t wait to be asked but instead try to keep your eyes open and take care of things proactively. And if you’re still feeling unsure, you can always gently talk to your partner about what would be most useful for you to do in the moment.

“Pay attention. If your partner looks overwhelmed, use a kind, calm voice and ask, ‘Hey, how can I help?’” LaMotte said. “Even if the request is to scrub the toilets, follow through and finish the job.”

Communicate with your partner about needs, expectations and goals around household tasks.
svetikd via Getty Images
Communicate with your partner about needs, expectations and goals around household tasks.

Communicate Openly And Often

“The best thing couples can do to change and improve their experience of the division of labor is to communicate,” Needle said. “Be clear on expectations and desires for the division of labor in the household.”

If your partner hasn’t initiated a discussion about household responsibilities, go ahead and do it yourself. Kindman recommended Eve Rodsky’s Fair Play card deck, which offers a gamified way to delineate tasks.

Make sure this isn’t a one-time conversation either. You can ask about overall goals, but make sure you follow up on a weekly or monthly basis. There may also be short periods when you or your partner have additional work obligations and need extra support at home.

“Have frequent relationship check-ins where this is one of the topics discussed,” Needle said. “And don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed. Do not wait until you have built up resentment and have reached your limit. Talk before that and be honest about your feelings and what you need.”

Focus On Sharing Rather Than Dividing

“I would suggest sharing the housework instead of divvying up household tasks, as these can be perceived as gendered and unfair,” psychotherapist Noorhayati Said told HuffPost. “Sharing more chores could lead to a mutual understanding of all the work that goes into managing a home while also creating an atmosphere of teamwork. Sharing chores also eliminates resentment that one partner may be doing more work than the other.”

She recommended making a list of all the work that needs to be done and setting reasonable goals.

“Discuss the standards of tidiness that you both agree on, and then make it into a simple system that doesn’t require a constant reminder of what needs to be done and when,” Said advised. “Also, share the management of the household chores, or what is called the ‘mental load,’ not just the chores themselves.”

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