Marriage Monday: Division of Responsibility



Have you ever heard the term Division of Responsibilities? It wasn't really something I was familiar with before I got married, but now I feel like we talk about it all the time: I cook, you clean; you feed the dog, I'll cut his nails; you tidy the house, I'll vacuum it... even things like, I earned more money this month, you take on more work at home.

I've spoken with other couples and there is no formula for splitting up the work it takes to run a marriage. Between working to earn a paycheck, taking care of the home, each other, pets and children, there is no one way to go about it. I got curious as to how people make sure that the division is fair, and the more I talked about it, it became more clear that almost no one thinks the work or effort is quite equal. Generally speaking, both parties either thought they we doing the majority of the work, or that they were doing a chore that bore more weight than the tasks their partner had to deal with.

For example, a friend of mine, let's call her Lisa, who also runs a creative business from her home recently got engaged and started living with her fiance. She complained that because he worked outside of the home, she found herself doing chores and errands in the middle of her workday, when she should have or could have been getting work done for her business.

This story was all to familiar to me. Like Lisa, my partner has almost always earned more money than I have, so I felt a burden to care for him and the home more, mainly by doing the shopping, cooking, and laundry -- cleaning was never my forte. But that meant that sewing and other business-related tasks got pushed further into the evening leaving little time to actually be with my husband.

When I was chatting with this friend about our common dilemma, we both thought that we carried more of the responsibilities than our partners. We worked full time, took care of our partners, pets, and the home, and our relationships suffered as a result: there just wasn't enough time in the day for everything.

Maybe this was a woman thing? Like some sexist tradition that we had to be Suzy homemaker, or whatever. But then I remembered that Alex really does to all the cleaning and dish-washing. I do the chores I find fun. I go to Target in the middle of my workday for laundry detergent and feminine products because it's a good excuse to get out of the house, and also to look at the latest display of glitter sandals and gold flatware. So, that was my choice. But was cooking every single meal?

I always tease Alex that he never should have set the precedent of scrubbing the bathroom floors way back when we first started dating. As soon as the tile cleaner touched the grout, that became his responsibility forever. Same thing with my cooking. I started cooking way back when, so Alex never had to. Now, it's kind of a drag only because I know I have to do it.

So what's the solution? How do we find balance in our marriage and in our lives? I've talked to a lot of couples, and talked with Alex about this ad nauseam, and I have no idea. I guess the answer is to take it day by day. If Alex works extra long hours, I wash the dishes. When I'm too tired to cook, we order out.

When I look at these pictures, I'm reminded of a different way we divide responsibilities. When I was sewing this skirt, I stitched right through the nail of my ring finger. It was horrifying and I was completely hysterical. Generally speaking, I am the care taker, but in this moment of great need, Alex totally stepped up. He calmed me down, cared for my wound, and encouraged me to take a break. When the roles were reversed, he took on a responsibility he wouldn't usually handle.

Weeks later, when I asked him to shoot these photos for Marie Claire China, the job of photographing me fell on his plate, and he was glad to oblige. He's always been my cameraman, and I can always count on him to snap my picture in the same way he can count on me to fill out forms: he's more skilled with the camera, and my handwriting is better than his.

These images kind of give me the warm fuzzies because of what I see beneath them. I guess the moral of the story is that there is probably definitely no way to split our responsibilities evenly, but if the goal is to support each other as best we can, the work will seem more fair. You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours.