I can be having the best day ever and yet my blood pressure rises when I walk into our kitchen and see dirty dishes in the sink. The tension immediately builds in my upper back and then, in no time, the pressure erupts from my mouth in unkind words. Nothing pushes my emotional hot buttons more or launches me into a tirade faster than dirty dishes left unattended. If they are dried and crusty or if they are only soiled by a pool of fresh milk, I have the same reaction — an instant temper tantrum resembling that of a tired, hungry 2-year-old.
I felt vindicated for my reaction when I read a summary of recent sociologic research and learned that I’m not alone in my disdain for dirty dishes. The brief showed that other women disliked messy kitchens, too, and they were happier if they shared dish duty with the man in their life.
The nonprofit Council on Contemporary Families sponsored a literature review of studies from 2012 to 2018 on relationship satisfaction and household tasks, including grocery shopping, doing laundry and housecleaning. Researchers found that for women in heterosexual relationships it’s more important to share the responsibility of doing the dishes than any other chore. Women who washed the majority of the dishes themselves reported more relationship conflict, less relationship satisfaction and less satisfaction with sex than women with partners who helped with the dishes. Here’s my takeaway: Women who had a husband who stepped in and helped with the age-old job of washing dishes were happier in their marriage.
But before you approach your husband with a sponge and a bottle of dish soap, consider these tips:
- Sit down with your husband and share what this article has revealed and why you would like to consider a joint effort in the dish department. Share openly with your husband how you’re feeling about dividing the chore workload within your home. Speak from your heart, sharing vulnerably and authentically about what you desire from him.
- Discuss approaching everything in your marriage with a team approach, which helps you see that together you can accomplish more than one of you can individually. Affirm that you desire to navigate all areas in your marriage with a win-win mentality.
- Be open to listening to your husband’s response. Although you would like to hear, “Sure, honey, I’d love to join you in the kitchen!” you may hear something else. Your husband may be going through a season when he’s feeling overloaded and stressed. If that’s the case, ask, “How can I come alongside you and assist you as your teammate?”
Especially if both spouses work outside the home, research shows that de-escalating the household “chore wars” is more important than ever for relationship satisfaction. Recognizing that each couple will share household responsibilities differently is also essential. Don’t expect your spouse to want to take on what your best friend’s spouse does.
Unknowingly I’ve tested this finding — and maybe stepped a little beyond it. One day my husband, Greg, asked me, “If you had to pick one household duty for me to own, which one would it be?” Immediately, I responded, “The dishes!” (He later shared that inside he was screaming, Please don’t say the dishes! Anything but the dishes!) However much he dislikes it, he’s owned this task like a champ during the past three years. He loads the dishes before we go to bed at night and unloads them before I get up in the morning. I wake up to an empty sink, and a sense of euphoria washes over me!
Now, you may be thinking, My husband will never take on the dishes like that! Maybe so, but as the research shows, a woman’s satisfaction with the marriage increases when dish duty is a joint effort. So invite your husband into the kitchen to share the joy.
Erin Smalley serves as the marriage strategic spokesperson for Focus on the Family’s marriage ministry and develops content for the marriage department.
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