Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I know you’re a believer in the idea that housework needs to be split 50-50 between two spouses, but I’m wondering if there are any exceptions.
We recently moved from a small apartment in the city to a house with a big yard in the suburbs. I really, really didn’t want to make this move, but my spouse really, really, really did, so I ultimately decided to do this for my spouse.
Now my spouse thinks we need to share equally in the extra yardwork. I feel like my sacrifice was making the move in the first place, and the additional work should fall on my spouse. I would gladly move back to a small apartment in the city if my spouse decides the yardwork is too much, but I would not gladly take on extra work as my thanks for making this move for my spouse. What are your thoughts?
Splitting the Housework
I’m actually a believer that housework needs to be split fairly, which isn’t always 50-50.
Fairness warrants a 50-50-ish split when two people share a home, both work a similar number of hours at similarly demanding work, and can live with a mutually acceptable level of cleanliness and home, yard and car maintenance. The percentages change, though, when one partner is an at-home parent, or works fewer or lighter hours, or travels often for business, or is neat-freakish or germophobic, or (thanks for the new variable!) when one has a special housing preference that involves a lot of extra work.
It’s obviously unfortunate that you didn’t resolve this before you moved, but it’s doable even now. Go out somewhere, away from the house, ideally someplace with a nice atmosphere, and have a thorough discussion of what constitutes fairness here.
It’s not my plan to draw up, but if it were, I think it would include liberal use of paid help, as much as I could afford. That still costs you more than it does your spouse, since this discretionary money spent on your spouse’s priority would mean less cash available for your priorities, but I’d still see that as preferable to weeding flowerbeds I never wanted in the first place.
And, too, I think you’re going to have to accept shouldering a little extra work. While in principle you’re justified in saying it’s your spouse’s dream home, not yours, and therefore not your problem, that kind of thinking rarely ends well for a couple. Instead, I suggest reframing it as the need for each of you to be willing to do a little extra to support the other.
If your spouse then does a little extra for you to balance out the extra yard care you’re absorbing, then you’ll be in a much happier place.
Presumably you both know of something you value that your spouse could provide as a “Thank you for my big, labor-intensive yard” gesture. If not, then suggest one that would pre-empt this yardwork resentment: “I was happy to move to the suburbs for you – and it would go a long way toward keeping me happy about it if you agreed to (accommodation you’d appreciate here).” Balance at home isn’t just about the chores.
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