When the University of Missouri surveyed the issues that most enrich relationships. sharing of the household chores ranked third only to fidelity and good sex. This finding will come as no surprise to many modern couples battling over the division of domestic duties, and baffled by the conflict this creates between them. Even in the most capable dual-career households, where partners hold down high-powered jobs whilst juggling house renovations and a child or three, the issue of dishwasher, dustbin and packed lunch responsibilities regularly raises voices and tempers. Come summer, who goes online to book the holiday? Come Christmas, whose job is it to buy the tree and write the cards? 60 years after feminism entered the consciousness there is still no collective consensus on who does what in a high-pressured household.
Complaints about idle, or uncomprehending partners, come up constantly in the counselling room. Therapists would be rich if they had a pound for every work-weary woman complaining that her man invites her to leave the washing up for him to do, adding the woolly proviso “I’ll do it when I’m ready’ . ‘And when will that be? ’she acidly demands as he watches the football on TV . ’ When the game’s over, or the middle of next week? ‘The floor doesn’t need sweeping’ insists the man who wants his wife to join him with a boxed set rather than see her clatter about with a broom. ‘You’re ridiculously OCD.’ She is not – she just can’t relax until household order is restored.
Who would not want a spouse like Wimbledon champion Andy Murray who says that unloading the dishwasher relaxes him? Or a Nick Clegg, taking his turn at the school run (despite the demands of Westminster) and so enabling his wife, the international lawyer Miriam Gonzalez to raise her professional game. In her newly published recipe book/memoir, Miriam makes it plain that she refused to be shoe-horned into the classic politician’s wife role, concerned with dinner table flowers and place settings. How liberating to learn that she refused to cook for George Osborne, whom she heard had tried to foment bad press for her husband. She went out when he came over to discuss policy, leaving Nick to order in Thai for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
It takes confidence and audacity to step so smartly out of role, and of course it helps that Miriam has a nanny, and doubtless a cleaner as well. A goddess in her own, independent way (she slightly scoffs at Samantha Cameron for serving up roast chicken lunch with bottled mayonnaise), she has clearly come to a domestic understanding with her husband – and how many wives will envy that? For women who have no potential help beyond the husband, and who believe that equal opportunity ought also to mean equal elbow grease, such agreements are at worst elusive, and at best patchy. It’s tricky to generalise, but men do often seem to have different standards in the home. ‘No point ironing that duvet cover. It will get rumpled as soon as we lie on it ‘, he rationalises. Or ‘Why are you icing fairy cakes at two in the morning? You’ve got that critical meeting at work tomorrow. You could have bought some for Flora to take to school. ’ Tucked away somewhere in the dark recesses of his mind, this guy already has the answer to his own question: if there had been a better time for his partner to bake she would have used it. He gets that providing the cakes creates the feel-good factor that most other chores do not. But if he denies her need to get busy with eggs and flour in the small hours, then he doesn’t have to feel guilty he’s not donning an apron himself. Then again, some men lack the domestic guilt gene entirely and maybe less is expected of them: ’Be honest’ said one woman, ‘ if visitors arrive and your house looks quite a tip, do they look at the man and say ‘What a slacker.’ They do not. They point at the woman.’ The buck certainly stopped with the counselling client businesswoman whose husband pledged to take on the vacuuming. ‘You promised you would, but after a few weeks you just gave up’ complained the wife. ‘I meant when I said I’d do it’ said the husband, none too apologetically, ‘but I’ve changed my mind. It’s boring.’
There are, doubtless, many men out there, daily wiping surfaces and folding clean laundry. Men who dislike boring as much as the women, yet recognise chores as the essential oils of homemaking. As The University of Missouri reports “The more wives perceived that husbands were engaged in routine family work tasks, the better the relationships were for both partners.’ Counselling offers no universal blueprint for the division of household labour. But it does offer a calm space where resentments and negotiations can be – honestly but kindly – aired on both sides. There is no need to duel with dustbin lids at dawn.
What do you think?
Is this a fair assessment of the male and female blueprint when it comes to domestic chores?
What are your thoughts on how best to generate that sense of domestic bliss?