Trying to hash out fair division of domestic labor
March 12, 2018 3:20 PM   Subscribe

... under amicable conditions.

The rundown: boyfriend and I have lived together for about five years. Our relaysh is in good shape, but about 7 months ago we moved across the country to live in San Francisco for my work. I actually work about an hour away from SF, but boyfriend needed a job and we agreed to live in the city so his career would have room to flourish as well. I probably spend about 3 hours a day commuting, he probably spends about an hour (walking).

I have tried to be more useful around the house but I am so far not that great at it. We’re both on the messy side but boyfriend has a “this is disgusting, I must clean” impulse (i.e. changing shower curtain, taking out garbage) while I have a “clutter is driving me crazy, I must clean” (putting away laundry racks, folding clothes, organizing) impulse. So we tend to consider different things urgent.

We both like cooking and hate dishes, which is mostly OK because we have a dishwasher. We each do our own laundry except in “emergencies” (like someone has 0 underwear and throws some in to the other persons wash). The real imbalance is that he’s simply home more often than me, and therefore does most of the cooking, dishes, and random house and life maintenance like picking up groceries or putting parcels in the mail. He cooks 99% of the time because if I did we’d eat at 11pm, but he usually cooks one big elaborate Sunday meal for us to enjoy with lots of leftovers for the week, and when we run out we eat simple meals like a cheese plate with veggies. It’s pretty common for me to come home and see he already has the washer and dishwasher running and is getting dinner ready while I’m wrapping up things from work or decompressing

Overall this isn’t the WORST division of labor ever but he definitely does way more than me. I make more money, so I pay for a lot more things, including both necessities and leisure, but I don’t feel like this really makes up for the drudgework. I want to have more of a helpful attitude, but I don’t want to infringe too much on his routines or try to do chores that are doomed to fail (I’m probably going to always suck at knowing when to run the dishwasher because I’m home and awake much less). Mostly I want to do certain things where it legitimately takes something off his plate because I do it consistently and he can depend on me. So probably the less time-sensitive stuff?

If you family looks anything like this, how do you manage?
posted by stoneandstar to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
When we’ve wanted to correct imbalances like this it’s been like, well, BF spends at least 3 more hours a week on chores than I do so I’ll block off 2-3 hours Saturday and go down a list of chores. If you start with bathroom + floors every week that will be two things he doesn’t have to fret over.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:26 PM on March 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

In a somewhat similar situation. My first advice is to let him know you notice and appreciate the extra work he's doing, if you haven't already. (And do so regularly!) Then, you could have a conversation about how you could help. Maybe something like "I know that it's harder for me to contribute due to my work schedule. Is there something I can do i every weekend to make our house run smoothly? Or something I can buy for us to make these chores easier?"
posted by beyond_pink at 3:31 PM on March 12, 2018 [9 favorites]

I would consider the commuting part of the "drudge work," especially if you're living far away from your job specifically for his benefit.
posted by lazuli at 3:33 PM on March 12, 2018 [80 favorites]

My husband and I have a somewhat similar situation and have agreed on paying for a weekly visit from a house cleaner. Honestly, it's some of the best money we could ever spend to maintain our schedules, sanity, and marriage. While it doesn't take care of everything, it does reduce the amount of general filth and clutter around the house, which gives us both more time to focus on the things we care about and enjoy.

Why not give it a try for a month or two and see if it makes things feel a little more balanced?
posted by joan_holloway at 3:34 PM on March 12, 2018 [14 favorites]

I think that what many people do is to hire a cleaner - maybe twice a month. That resolves a lot of this stuff.

Think about meal prepping. It can make life much easier. It may involve a ton of Sunday cooking but it means that you'll be better stocked for lunch and dinner for the week.
posted by k8t at 3:41 PM on March 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Is he bothered by it? Sometimes I end up doing more housework/cleaning/cooking than my wife for a while and I'm happy to do it, especially if it's because she's late at work or something. This is just me, but I would be more stressed out if we were trying really hard to always keep it 50/50.
posted by Polycarp at 3:41 PM on March 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

My household works a lot like this. Husband works from home in an assortment of jobs that are not highly paid, I earn more money, have a significant commute, and a tendency to work long hours. Because he rarely leaves home one of my jobs is grocery shopping. I can stop on the way home and get things because I'm out of the house - not generally "food for tonight" since he's usually cooking by the time I get home, but the weekly shopping trip and general needs, like tomorrow's dinner. Because I'm not home during the week I have assigned myself more weekend and periodic jobs, like wiping up in the bathroom, washing sheets and towels, etc. Also I'm usually the one to declare that it's time to sweep and vacuum. He does the dishes, but I usually help with the kitchen - so he stands at the sink puts things in the dishwasher or drainer, and I putter around the kitchen bringing all the dirty things to the sink, putting leftovers away, wiping down counters, throwing out trash and junk mail, etc. So I'm not trying to take over his dishwashing routine, but I'm also not sitting around while he works, and they're two tasks that fit together well, because the whole kitchen is clean at the end. I also notice the stuff that he doesn't want to do (folding laundry, emptying the dishwasher) and make those my jobs - they're quick but even if it's not "fair" in minutes spent, he places value on not having to do them, so it's a fast way to earn myself some appreciation.

Advice: When he does something to help the household when you're not home, say thanks; when he's doing household stuff while you are home, show your appreciation by also helping the household (just find a task and do it, so long as you're not in the way, bonus points if it's something he hates doing)
posted by aimedwander at 4:00 PM on March 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

I’m in a similar situation- came to Bay Area for work, horrible commute down the peninsula, hubby is home more than me.

I hate to say this but I don’t think you have a problem that needs solving here, unless boyfriend thinks it’s unbalanced, but even if that were the case, nah.
I think in your situation it all comes out a wash. He gets the benefit of being closer to work and the city atmosphere then yes he should be doing everything he’s doing. You pitch in with paying for more stuff and doing chores on weekends when you have the energy then I think you’re doing great.
posted by bleep at 4:03 PM on March 12, 2018 [16 favorites]

So, first off, talk to him about this--ask if he finds it a problem, if he's unhappy, if he thinks you aren't "doing your share." Figure out if this is an actual problem, or just you feeling guilty. That's important because...

My partner and I look like this! They're home much more often than me, and they bring in a lot less money. I'm also chronically ill and don't often have the energy for chores. We have decided it's perfectly amicable and reasonable for them to do the majority of housework and in return I pay for most things. They find this a totally reasonable arrangement. In fact, they sometimes feel guilty because they feel like they aren't doing "enough" in comparison to what I pay for/the amount of time I spend at work and I have to reassure them that they are, in fact, doing enough. I essentially view it as paying them a living wage in the same way I would a cleaner or a chef (I've never actually calculated if it's living wage, but I pay for their portion of rent and food and most leisure things so I assume it's a living wage as they are, in fact, living, in reasonable comfort).

One other thing to think about is whether you're doing more labor than you think. I take care of a lot of things most people don't instinctively count as labor, for example: planning meals, managing budgets/money, taking care of paperwork, scheduling appointments, planning trips, etc. Basically tasks that take a lot of executive function or involve planning/organization--my partner is really bad at those things and finds them super stressful. But generally they're super easy for me and I can usually get them done during a 10 minute break, so I just do them. Whereas if my partner were to do them it would probably take an hour of agonizing and fretting. Sometimes I forget that that also counts as labor, and sometimes then I'm the one who feels bad for not doing enough, but it really counts just as much as chores and cooking. So I would take the time to think about whether you actually are doing other things and just not counting them as domestic labor.

One important aspect of this kind of division of labor is you really need to let your partner know that you appreciate the work they're doing. I always say thank you when my partner does the dishes or cooks a meal or whatever, and often let them know how much easier that's made things for me or how it's improved my mood or really any benefit at all that it gives me. I'm also happy to pay for pretty much anything they want, though I caveat that this may only work because my partner comes from a very poor household and has a hard time justifying buying things, so despite my encouragement they don't ask for much except lattes and a $3 sparkly pillow--if your partner has more lavish tastes you might need to actually calculate a living wage minus their half of rent and food (or some such formula like that) and allocate that much money to leisure spending. I also do try and do some chores either when I happen to have extra time/energy, or when they're feeling unwell, just so they can have a break/some days where they don't have to deal with it.

Basically what it comes down to is I don't think it's unreasonable for one person to do more chores and the other to pay for more things if it's a situation both parties are happy with and come to a mutual agreement about. It's worked very well for my partner and I, and we've lived together the past 4 years. Feel free to Memail me if you want to know more about what our experience has been.
posted by brook horse at 4:11 PM on March 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

3 hours a day for you commuting vs. 1 for him? And it's divided that way for his benefit? Your division of chores is fine. I would be comatose at night with that schedule, let alone doing anything around the house.
posted by gatorae at 4:32 PM on March 12, 2018 [16 favorites]

Yep, chiming in to say that my family looks a lot like this, with my husband always having done 90% of the household chores. He also makes more money. I have the longer commute, but he's home more and also just more willing to do the drudgery.

I also constantly want to "help" my husband with household work in part to feel like I'm doing more, but also in part to just take some things off his plate. This is because I want to appreciate him and recognize how everything he does in terms of cooking and cleaning makes our lives easier.

I also don't think you necessarily have a problem, if he's okay with the arrangement as is (my husband is as well). It's more likely that as women in this somewhat non-traditional setup, we just feel more guilt than men in this situation would.
posted by spicytunaroll at 4:42 PM on March 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

In addition to your boyfriend getting a shorter commute, it sounds like he gets a better commute, as you say that he walks, so he knocks out two birds with one stone - his commute is also his exercise. Agree with all the posters who say the division of labor is just fine given that you have taken on this extra commute time solely for his benefit.
posted by unannihilated at 4:44 PM on March 12, 2018 [10 favorites]

I agree that a longer commute, especially for his benefit, is part of the "drudge work." Is there anything that you could do on your commute that would make things easier, e.g. pay bills on your phone if you're not driving, or be the one to stop and run regular errands on the way home?
posted by rpfields at 4:47 PM on March 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I really think this is only a problem if it feels like a problem to your boyfriend.

Otherwise I think you're really undervaluing the tradeoff you're making in commute time and financial contributions.

Think of it this way -- every week he has 10 hours more leisure time than you do.

At the end of a year, that's roughly 500 hours more leisure time than you've had. 500 hours is about twenty 24-hour days or sixty 8-hour work days.

So every year you do this, he has the equivalent of 2 full months of 8-hour work days to do whatever he wants, that you don't have.

I say this because: I was you. I did this setup exactly -- boyfriend walked 30 minutes to and from work in SF. I commuted 1-2 hours each way from SF. I made way more money so I contributed way more financially.

First year was fine, second year I was tired. Third year I was kind of always tired and depressed. Finally by the end of the 6th year I was a mess. There were other factors, but for me it became untenable. So my advice to you is: don't underestimate the sacrifice you're making by commuting, and also consider the possibility that this lifestyle may not be sustainable long-term.
posted by mrmurbles at 4:51 PM on March 12, 2018 [14 favorites]

This sort of power balance is extremely common in the Bay Area because it seems when a couple works in different areas, either both parties have a bad commute or one person has a horrible commute and one person has a short commute. It's a fact of life here.

In our house, my partner has the horrible commute (East Bay to South Bay) and I have the short commute (bike to work). This means I'm taking care of the bulk of the household stuff in the week - errands in the week, dropping off and picking up the kid from daycare, making dinners. My partner handles a lot of the executive stuff he can take care of after the kid goes to bed or on the weekends.

This works for us because we talk about it a lot, but also that's just the situation. His commute won't be changing much and we don't want to move, so here we are. I agree that it's good to talk to your partner about it, but also recognize you're not alone.
posted by kendrak at 4:54 PM on March 12, 2018

You've taken a hit with your commute to give him an extra two hours in his day while you lose two hours. It seems very unfair that you then have to lose even more time doing extra chores.

You don't mention if he's complaining about having to do more, but to a certain extent he has to understand that there's only so many hours in a day and if you've had to move further out from work for his benefit, if he is now home more than you, due to this, he may have to pick up some of the slack. The rest I would outsource.
posted by Jubey at 5:51 PM on March 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

A fair division of labor is whatever the parties believe is fair. (It’s also really hard to quantify what 50/50, or whatever split, really “means.” So that too must be agreed by the parties. I could cook for three hours every night and to me that’s not labor. Three minutes of dealing with the garbage feels like punishment.)
posted by kapers at 6:55 PM on March 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Our household is a bit like this, in that I do the lion's share of the cleaning. One thing my partner does to make it up to me is clean the bathroom regularly - a job I loathe. Sure, in terms of time I still do more, but it's a trade I'm happy to make! Is there something your partner really doesn't like doing that you could pick up, even if it's infrequent.

The other, important, thing to me is that she acknowledges the work I do.
posted by smoke at 6:59 PM on March 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hire a cleaner to come once a week. Since you make more money, you could offer to pay for it. It's so fucking worth it.
posted by radioamy at 7:23 PM on March 12, 2018

Another voice saying--yeah, my household looks a lot like this, except in the specifics; and my husband and I agree that it's not a problem as long as neither of us feels overburdened or unappreciated. He cleans a lot more because his reflex is "clean every weekend, whether it's dirty or not" and mine is "clean if it's actually getting visibly yucky or hard to use". I cook more because I'm home earlier (which is on me: he has a longer commute because it means a lot to me to live in the city) and because I'm a fussier eater. We each do our own laundry, but I do the sheets because I'm the one who uses the coin laundry instead of hanging things up to dry. And so on.
The important things are: a) we've agreed in so many words to speak up if either of us starts feeling put upon, unfairly burdened, etc.; b) he thanks me for cooking, I thank him for cleaning, we try not to take each other for granted.
One other thing we do is that, because our weekends don't match, I'll ask him on a Friday night if there's anything he wants doing this weekend--take in a package, clean the bathroom, buy a birthday card for his niece, whatever--and he'll ask me the same before his days off, so we have a regular chance to offer/ask for help without it being a big deal.
posted by huimangm at 8:26 PM on March 12, 2018

Yet another vote for this is actually OK. When my husband and I first lived together we had a 4 hour vs 1 hour daily commute and I happily did all the cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning and laundry because I had an extra 15 hours a week available to do them. When we moved to more or less equal commutes we renegotiated an even split without much trouble. He's always contributed overall what I consider a fair share of the household work since, he's not in any way a freeloader, it's just that for our first place that split made most practical sense.
posted by *becca* at 12:50 AM on March 13, 2018

The partner and I have sit and have this conversation twice a year and re-allocate chores as our work, hobby, and social lives shift. We can identify the chores we hate, the chores we like/don't mind, or are neutral about, then re-assign as needed. We each work on things slightly differently, so out methods are different, but as long as the chore gets done, we work really hard to make sure not to impede on the other's process. We also looked into outsourcing stuff that neither of us liked doing or took up too much time (ie laundry, occasional meals, etc).

So as many others have mentioned up-thread, start with a conversation about it. He may not mind. He may mind, but not say so, but you can't read his mind on that. Consider out-sourcing some chores, and just make sure you are both on the same page. And make time for the two of you to do things together.
posted by RhysPenbras at 9:21 AM on March 13, 2018

The various relationship books by Gottman have some exercises where household tasks are listed and divided. Maybe that would help?
posted by k8t at 4:04 PM on March 13, 2018

I would consider taking over the laundry, assuming you have a washing machine in your apartment. It doesn't actually take much time, about 15 min all up per load, but it does take planning and attention. You could put a load on every second evening and delay it so that it's ready as you get home. Then toss it in the dryer. It's always nice when a laundry fairy washes your socks. Or, do a washing marathon on Saturday morning. Make brunch at the same time.

A 5 min daily tidy up seems appropriate too, especially if you dislike clutter. It's so much easier to clean if there isn't shit everywhere. You'll have to agree on where you should put his important things. You don't want to accidentally hide stuff from him. But a quick walk through that returns everything to it's home at the end of the day, makes a house that's much nicer to come home to.

And finally, a deep clean every six months or so.
posted by kjs4 at 6:50 PM on March 13, 2018

Are you female? Do you feel guilty because women are "supposed" to do the housework and men aren't? If so, maybe remember women also aren't "supposed" to earn the most money or have the hardest commute, so.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 12:28 PM on March 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

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