Dishes and Dustpans, Couples Therapy in the 21st Century
Sweeping, chopping, dusting, mopping. It sure does take an obscene number of passes with the Swiffer to maintain gleamingly clean floors, not to mention streak free stainless steel and mirrored surfaces! Churning out all of that elbow grease but to be honest, how much time does one have left to maintain a vague notion of assembly on the home front? Considerations become compounded when we note that most families utilize some form of a two person income. Divide that amongst X number of young ones and suddenly you are welcome to an insurmountable heap of work and the typical affair of most Middle American families, in case you haven’t already encountered this nuance of cohabitation, division of household duties is an increasingly common source of marital strife. I assure you that more squabbles are provoked by who does the majority of toiling and bills than issues such as extra marital affairs or other relationship traumas. Division of labor is the kind of long standing issue which if not properly mediated, can and will chip away at the bond.
Lately have you been noticing that you’re feeling like some frazzled version of Cinderella or a haggard snow white minus all of those helpful dwarfs? Maybe your mate is beginning to remind you of that slovenly beast or some other godless tyrannical archetype? While such fairy tales speak to the deepest reaches of our consciousness because they are relatable, however when your life and relationship is out of balance these polarized versions of identity may feel even more relatable. Relationship erosion occurs with each member of the relationship becoming polarized on opposing ends of the spectrum.
When it comes to domestic chores in many homes there may be the expectation that the female gender take care of the cleaning and cooking. Superficially, perhaps even the woman herself having watched her mother and grandmother sew and cook and care for the sick and in her eagerness to live up to these ideals she goes beyond her own capacity gritting her teeth, smiling yet feels suffocated by the weight of responsibly. Growing children or not, piling heaps of dishes in the sink, those near and dear not quick to offer help in distributing an equality to household work, in homes such as this the sentiment for the domestic caretakers may be over worked and undervalued. Or perhaps you are a part of a family where both lovers do chip in and do their fair share of dishes and laundry it may not be without some ambivalence. For instance one gentleman who I know is easily able to incur the expenses of weekly made service in the family home, yet felt intensely confused about whether this was as ok as his wife was a stay at home mom, he was left wondering if this detracted from her worth as a caretaker. Still others who performing manual labor by their own toil, may wonder “Should I do these kinds of chores?” “I didn’t do them as a child and my mother is infuriated by my wife’s suggestion that I should lift a finger to pick up a mop or wipe a countertop!” The wealthy, the just scraping by, and indeed same sex marriages must contend with the distribution of household labors, gay and lesbian couples assign the role of which partner will do which tasks when it comes to cleaning, cooking, tending the yard, mending the broken cabinet handle and on and on. The problem comes into effect when the opportunity for productive conversations is not taken and one of the partners is unwelcomingly thrown into role of caretaking for all of the home, the mounting efforts may be taken for granted and the laboring partner feels that their values are not noted or received with gratitude.
Still another curveball is when inevitable change occurs, perhaps one of the spouses enters the workforce and is suddenly less willing to maintain the same level of responsibility which will be a time of renegotiating terms within the home. The opportunity is within the risk, these are all such productive considerations for the ever evolving family unit. As a psychotherapist however even when it comes to such tangible responsibilities the issue is seldom the issue, quaking under the veneer of dishes and dustpans are vast and bold themes of division of power, respect, communication, and even the unwelcome embodiment of bold archetypes, like some matronly version of Cinderella.
There is no one sized response which will or abolish these issues for the marriage or couple, the welcomed news is that by duly and mindfully approaching such sensitive topics more fair and logical distribution of domestic duties can be achieved. Even more importantly, a growing understanding of the self and opportunity to redefine the relationship is possible but only when taking the risk to assess both your and your partner’s deepest intimate selves. If you are too often gauging that mounting resentment within yourself for the unnoticed or barely noticed efforts which dominate your to-do list each day, perhaps feeling that familiar sensation of sadness or frustration maybe it’s time to try something different such as Couples Psychotherapy or Marriage Counseling.
In good health,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Offering Psychotherapy and Marriage Counseling
Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233