Sharing the load: Duluth experts talk dividing chores, happy partnerships

Talking about responsibilities isn't different than a discussion about money, sex, family or life goals. The sooner couples get good at that, the better off they’ll be.

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He hates doing laundry. She hates cleaning the bathroom. They found a way to make it work.

When Katrina Marini and her husband got married, they were both in graduate school. With limited free time, they split household chores when they were home.

What one person dislikes, the other is OK doing. For something like mowing, they share it.

The trick is finding a way to accomplish what needs to be done so you both feel like you have free time and you’re not always working on your home, said Marini, of Duluth.

And: “Be willing to be flexible and try to compromise," she said.


Sharing chores is in the top three contributors to a happy and successful partnership — third to shared interests and sexual compatibility, according to a 2016 Pew Research Poll.

Chore difficulties are a common issue couples bring to Dustin Holden, licensed marriage and family therapist with Moving Waters Counseling in Duluth.

Clients report disagreements about the timing or urgency of tasks and who should do what; feelings of lacking equity; and misunderstanding or not feeling appreciated. This is highlighted now due to COVID-19 prompting different dynamics in families, with people working from home more or people out of work, he said.

The ultimate thing that trips people up is a lack of clarity or a shared decision about how to approach household responsibilities.

Time magazine reported in a study of 500 families, men performed 33% of tasks at home; women completed 67%. Women also assumed the “mental labor” and “invisible” work of task coordination and planning.

It’s also common in heterosexual relationships that women default to taking care of more, Holden said, and that can be a frequent source of resentment, disappointment and hurtfulness.

A 50/50 split isn’t realistic, so instead of striving for that, couples are encouraged to find out what fits their preferences. Avoid making assumptions, or falling into ways that reflect the roles of your parents if that’s not what you want.

Discussing tasks at home teaches negotiation skills, which is very practical in a relationship, said Robin Wheaton, counselor at Creative Counseling in Superior. You start building this when you’re dating, making plans or when you move in together.


Talking about responsibilities is in no way different than a discussion about money, sex, family or life goals. The sooner couples get good at that, the better off they’ll be, Holden said.

You can start talking about this when you're dating, Wheaton said, or at least when you’re considering moving in with each other.

Discuss family cultures, comfort levels, priorities, values and differences. From there, delve into specifics.

Figure out who you are as a couple, how you want to build your relationship and work together.

It’s never too late to reset, or re-evaluate how you want to approach your household together.

So if this is an issue at home, pick one or two topics that are most impactful or problematic.

Be kind and respectful, and it’s important that each person feels they have an equal voice in the process.

Issues with chores can often be a symptom of something larger, such as a couple has grown apart or they no longer share the same goals, Wheaton said.


Sometimes, an issue with chores is an issue with chores, Holden said, but it's sometimes not.

“I’ll do the dishes tomorrow” might be OK on a practical level, but on an emotional level, there could be problems if there have been discussions about preference, or for instance, an understanding that clutter creates anxiety.

A focus on “You put your shoes over here and not over there,” may mean “I feel hurt and upset because we’ve talked about this and I feel you’re not respecting my needs,” Holden said.

People don’t always access that deeper meaning for them, so dig into the emotional backstory. That will help connect you and to understand the significance of some actions at home.

Keep in mind there may be a deeper reason for not liking some tasks, so feel free to engage and ask, “Why does this bother you? What gets hard about this?”

And, from a place of understanding, figure out how to help or create more teamwork at home, Holden said.

On a practical level, if you can’t figure it out, keep working at it if it’s important to you.

Wheaton suggested finding books on self-help, relationships and love languages.


But, added Holden, we either learn how to communicate well and how to solve problems and manage differences, or we acknowledge that we are too different and it’s not going to work and the relationship is over.

As for Marini, willingness and flexibility are key, and “recognizing that it is your way to serve.”

Helping with chores and household responsibilities shows care for your family, spouse or roommates.

“Doing this act of service is how you demonstrate your love,” Marini said.

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