Thinking Out Loud


Many, perhaps most, couples at one time or another, struggle with the division of labor in their household. How does it get decided, who does what? Is it fair? Who is better at what tasks—and what if one person is better at doing most things? What value is given to which tasks? How much time does each devote? I’m sure there are more questions, but that’s plenty to make the point.

The point is, there is plenty of work to be done by both people and it takes some organizing and cooperation to make sure everything is accounted for.  I have many conversations about the division of labor in my counseling office and have read countless articles on the subject in popular publications.  Usually, the conversation is about fairness, how to make requests, and negotiation.

Missing from most discussions is appreciation—how (and how frequently) do you communicate your appreciation for what your partner does? That’s where I like to begin the discussion. Fairness is important, too, but without appreciation you remain invisible—and that just isn’t okay. When you communicate appreciation, you are also giving attention and affection.

Here are some examples:

  • “Thanks for dinner. Fresh green beans are so good.”
  • “I don’t know how you juggle everything with all three of our kids going in different directions every day.”
  • “Thanks for bringing home the bacon. I know it’s a lot of responsibility.”
  • “The grass looks great.”
  • “Why don’t you just relax this afternoon—you’ve had a long week and worked around here all morning.”
  • “Thanks for all the things you do for us.”
  • “I appreciate you organizing our trip. Making arrangements really isn’t my strong suit.”

Yep, they sound corny and even if you use your own words, they might, but delivered easily and with a smile and a hug, they will sound sincere. We all need attention and affection, and most of us could probably use more than we are getting. Attention and affection are validating—you are being seen and cared about; and it reinforces the connection. When the connection is stronger and appreciation is freely given by both partners, the discussion about division of labor is very different. In fact, sometimes it’s not even necessary.

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