The Dirty Work of Life


It’s bad enough having to clean up your own mess, but in marriage, there are two of you making messes. So, who cleans what?

When you’re a kid, you grow up thinking when you’re older, you won’t ever do chores again. As you get older, of course, you realize that you’ll be doing chores for the rest of your life. Garbage doesn’t empty itself. Clothes don’t wash themselves and how often you clean the bathroom depends on just how much dirty you can stand.

It’s bad enough having to clean up your own mess, but when you get married, there are two of you making the mess. Now, who cleans up?

You would think this would be an easy discussion. It’s not. One of the reasons it’s not easy is that each person has grown up in a different family. When you grow up in a family, you consider your family “normal” and any variance from your family’s habits and traditions as “abnormal.” What’s more, we bring these unspoken assumptions and expectations into the relationship.

For instance, if the husband grew up in a family where the mother didn’t work outside the home, he’ll unconsciously expect his wife to fulfill the same roles whether she works outside the home or not. When she doesn’t, he’ll find himself getting angry and he may not even know why.

That’s why it’s important for a married couple to sit down and talk about how they’re going to do things in their house. Who’s going to cook? Do the grocery shopping? Keep the budget and pay the bills? If there are children, what is each parent’s role with them? Who will maintain the house and the cars? If you aren’t making conscious choices about these matters, you’ll end reverting to old habits and assumptions that may or may not work. The result can be a lot of useless arguing.

There are no right or wrong answers. There are not “guy things” or “girl things.” The choices only have to work for you and your family. Is one of you more gifted in an area than the other? Then take that chore. Are there things you really can’t stand to do? Then negotiate a trade. This stuff has to get done. There are always chores, but if you work as a team, these moments can actually bring you closer together. There is something about seeing your spouse do something better than you could that makes you appreciate them in a deeper and different way.

For instance, my wife is very detail oriented and I’m not. We’ve recently been dealing with a project where her persistence and determination saved us money—a lot of money. Yep, I love her in a whole new way now.

Sit down together, make a list of what needs to get done and work out the assignments that work best for you and your family. The things you just can’t get done as individuals can be done and done well as a team. Chores don’t have to be a pain. They can be opportunities to find ways to love each other a little deeper. So, work it out…together. It’s one of the reasons you got married in the first place—so you wouldn’t have to do life alone.

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