Studio 5 Marriage & Family Therapist, Dr. Liz Hale weighs in on just how much impact sharing housework makes in a marriage.
Dr. John Gottman is one of the main marital researchers on the benefit of household chores. Here is his conclusion: The men who do housework are not only happier in their marriages but also have lower heat rates and better overall health. These men also reported less stress even four years following the initial research and were less likely to have been ill. Perhaps it’s just simply the resolve of this marital issue that reduces conflict at home, which in turn reduces stress on the individual partners.
In the research coming out of the University of Kentucky, when BOTH husbands and wives reported that duties were fairly divided in their household the results were profound:
Happy Household Habits:
• Wives less likely to have affairs.
• Fewer considerations of separation/divorce.
• Greater report of overall marital happiness.
But you warn us to be careful in how we look at the research: we can’t just say that housework has curative powers – housework is not necessarily the key to fabulous relationships.
Husbands Viewed as Supportive & Cooperative
It isn’t housework itself that cures troubled marriages. While housework was tested as a separate factor in the study, cleaning the commode was really not the issue. The husband who pitches in tends to be viewed as a “supportive” and “cooperative” partner. This mutuality became evident in the life task of housework. The feeling of “we’re in this together” is what leads to a good marriage where there is greater physical intimacy.
I met a woman who, over 20 years ago, was way ahead of the marital research on the importance of sharing household responsibilities. As a matter of fact, she felt she had no choice but to go on strike as a wife and mother. Sherri Mills suffered the doing-it-all syndrome as a full-time wife, mother, and breadwinner. She tried many schemes to get her husband’s, Gerald, attention but nothing worked until she came up with a contract that she knew would speak to his head since he was familiar with negotiating contracts with his union employees.
Just over 25 years ago, Sherri Mills suffered from the do-it-all syndrome. Working full-time in her own beauty salon, she also cared for her husband, home, kids, pets, and endless chores that come with those bundles of love. Her husband, Gerald, grew up believing the woman had her place and housework was it! Sherri’s complaints and cajoling fell on deaf ears; the only thing that caught his attention was a labor contract that Sherri painstakingly spelled-out over a number of months, detailing the numerous chores and household responsibilities that she demanded be equally divided. Although initiailly Gerald wanted to prove that he could do it better than Sheri, he quickly succumbed, begging her forgiveness in all that she had been left to do alone, and willingly signed the contract. Even to this day, the division of labor is not “his &* hers” but “theirs.”
Present Changes With Love
It’s interesting to note how the kids responded; they were really angry with their mom. Sherri didn’t do this to take a feminist stance. She did it because her husband and family were worth it. It improved every relationship within the family. I had a chance to interview daughter Nicole who was 10 at the time of the strike. She said something very interesting: “After the strike, dad became a parent. He was someone we turned to as much as mom. Before the strike, I knew him as the man who came home in a suit, carrying a briefcase.”
Sherri also took some responsibly for her husband playing a lesser role in the family home initially.
Guard Against Maternal Gatekeeping
It’s something for all of us to pay attention to: Maternal Gatekeeping. Gatekeeping describes how our beliefs and behaviors inhibit a collaborative effort between men and women in housework and childcare. We believe that we can do it better/best! We discourage our husbands by criticizing, redoing tasks, or creating unbending standards. This is most evident when women take on the roll of “household manager” by organizing, delegating, planning, scheduling, and overseeing the work done by husbands. Husbands then are placed in the position of “helper” by doing what is requested. Sherri admitted the mistake she made in referring to everything as “mine;” “my kids;” “my house;” etc. If Gerald did anything it was for her kids, or her house. This also encourages men to wait until they are asked to help and to request explicit directions; far from a partnership. Paying more attention to our maternal gatekeeping can invite men into an equal partnership.
Sherri Mills has a special mission in getting the word out. For over 45 years, she has been a Psy-Cosmetologist. In her salon, Sherri has had intimate one-on-one conversations with clients over a period of years and lifetimes with even three generations of families. She has seen and heard it all! It was the excruciating pain of seeing her clients go through the hell of divorce (unnecessarily so) that compelled her to write her book. She is pro-marriage, pro-family, pro-making a difference. Her information is on our website at studio5.ksl.com.
During this interview, even the photographer was particularly touched. I turned to him after he taped our conversation and just said, “What did you think…that was a little different interview than you normally record over at KSL News?” He said, “You know…I’ve been divorced about 15 years now. Had I known some of this back then, I might still be married. I had no idea how much my ex-wife had done during our early marriage. I grew up in a home where our mother catered to our every need. I entered marriage with that same expectation. Today, I have to cook and clean for my daughter and myself, and now I get it.”
Dr. Liz Hale is a licensed clinical psychologist and a regular Studio 5 Contributor. Your comments and questions are welcomed! Please visit www.drlizhale.com to add your thoughts to today’s discussion or learn more about her private practice.
For more information about Sherri Mills’ story, and her book, visit www.nomoredivorces.com.