Question: Lately my spouse and I have had several sharp disagreements about the division of chores and responsibilities in our household. What’s your perspective on the proper distinction between masculine and feminine roles in marriage?

Answer: Good question. When you fell in love, the thought of how to divide up the burden of household tasks probably wasn't on your radar. Now that you’re married, chores are the one thing you can’t escape. It’s important to find a mutually satisfactory way to manage this aspect of your life together.

Chores are not divided by gender

It’s common to think in terms of "male" and "female" chores. But should a wife automatically be in charge of shower curtains, while her husband specializes in replacing shower heads? Christian couples may tend to think that such male/female distinctions are Biblical rather than traditional. But the Bible doesn’t specifically support the notion that, for example, only women must cook and only men should calculate the budget and finances.

This is not to say, of course, that there is no basis whatsoever for distinguishing between male and female roles in marriage. Scripture states the fundamental principle: "[God] made them male and female" (Matthew 19:4; Genesis 1:27). From this flows a multitude of implications – inescapable "givens" inherent to the nature of sexuality itself. These "givens" tend to assert themselves most noticeably in those areas of family life that are most directly connected with issues of childbirth, child-care and child-rearing. When it comes to simple chores, however, couples tend to take their cues from their parents’ example. This can lead to problems if unspoken assumptions and misunderstandings are allowed to explode in anger and arguments over the sharing of household responsibilities.

Guidelines to keep in mind

As we see it, there is no "right" solution to the problem of dividing up the household chores. But there are a number of guidelines you can bear in mind as you seek to resolve this issue in a fair and balanced way.

  1. Communication. First and most importantly, sit down and talk about this facet of your marriage relationship. Even the act of discussing and apportioning the workload can lessen stress and conflict. Don’t take anything for granted. Lay all your assumptions, expectations, and personal preferences out on the table. Approach the situation as equal partners and work out an arrangement that’s acceptable to both of you. You’ll be glad you did.
  2. Think positively. Remind yourselves that this is not an insurmountable problem. Once you’ve made up your minds to share the load, you’ll probably find the rest of the process unfolding in a smooth and natural way.
  3. Consider the rewards. Many hands make light work. Tackling chores together eases the burden. This is particularly true when both husband and wife work outside the home. A workable system will leave you with more time for togetherness and more leisure for individual activities.
  4. Concentrate on giftedness, not gender. Rather than emphasizing "male" and "female" chores, talk about which jobs you enjoy or don’t mind doing. Is there anything for which you have a certain knack? Anything you’d really prefer not to do? Let these natural tendencies guide your choices.
  5. Allow for exceptions to the rule. Helping each other out with chores during times of stress, busyness or illness is always appreciated by a spouse. It also tends to be reciprocated.
  6. Stay flexible. No matter how fair and equal things seem at the start, you may have to make adjustments along the way. One spouse who was at home may begin a full-time job at some point. Another may endure serious illness or injury.
  7. Don’t go strictly by the numbers. Fair and equal doesn’t necessarily mean "one for you, one for me." Remember that some chores are more difficult and time-consuming than others.
  8. Write it down. Making a list of what needs to be done is essential. It’s too easy to forget who’s supposed to do what. Be sure to include a chart that clearly sets forth the division of labour in terms of "yours, mine and ours."

As you go through this process, try to view it as an opportunity for cooperation rather than conflict. A key to the challenge of marriage is striving to understand each other and seeking to meet each other’s needs. This is a great area in which to put these principles into practice. If you need help drawing up a workable plan and putting it into effect, don’t hesitate to give our counselling department a call. Our staff counsellors will be happy to listen to your concerns and offer their perspective over the phone. They can also provide you with referrals to qualified counsellors in your area who specialize in marriage and family therapy. You can contact them Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800. It will be their privilege to serve you in any way they can.

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2006, Focus on the Family.

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