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April 07, 2008

Power, Sex, and Housework

The Editorial Staff (wisely) were not going to comment upon this conversational minefield until we saw an opportunity to lob largely pointless snark:

If marriage relieves a man of one hour of chores per week and adds seven hours to the woman's burden, what conclusion does Occam's Razor demand? Obviously, men are seven times more productive at household chores than women.

Those of you who see flaws in my reasoning should discuss in the comments.

Flaws in the reasoning? Aside from the one big enough to drive a truck through?

A few observations:

1. This isn't about housework. It is never about housework.

2. It isn't about money either, though the Editorial Staff once read that money is the #1 subject couples fight about. We find that odd, because in 29 years of marriage, we can't really recall fighting with the spousal unit over money. We've had many a rousing marital 'discussion' over the years, mind you.

But about money? Give us a break.

Sex is worth fighting over. Children are worth fighting over. Certainly your marriage is important enough to fight about (or for) on occasion.

Money, on the other hand, is just about the least important issue you will ever deal with. Nearly always, fights about money are a proxy for something else: power, communication, commitment to the relationship, respect, the setting of boundaries. If you get along, differences of opinion regarding your finances are not difficult to resolve.

Hard to see how housework is much different.

Sure, most women do the lion's share of the housework. Most women are more interested in maintaining an attractive and pleasant home (which is not at all the same as enjoying housework). On the other hand, most women are not particularly interested in seeing that the car is tuned up regularly, or that the weed whacker gets fixed, or that the couple's investment portfolio isn't tanking.

These are gross generalizations which don't hold true across the board even at Villa Cassandranita, but they remain (nonetheless) broadly true.

The Editorial Staff would wager that what really matters to most women is not how many hours of housework a man does, but that (all other things being equal) her husband demonstrates in concrete ways that he is committed to making the relationship work. Being a manly man (and not - contrary to the fevered dreams of Madison Avenue execs) a frustrated mezzo soprano, the manner of making the marital contribution is likely to be in some realm other than housework. However, that is a matter best left up to the parties involved.

"Twould seem that if women truly wish to be thought of as competent and fully equal partners in the boardroom, they might best accomplish this goal by demonstrating the ability to negotiate mutually satisfactory outcomes in the bedroom (where arguably, they hold the whip hand) rather than constantly coming out with moronic studies that contradict the very premises they labor so diligently to promulgate.

But then we always were notoriously insensitive.

Update: We saw this last week - also courtesy of the Murderously Funny One - (Men... can't live with 'em, and if you kill them someone always finds the bodies... go figure) and meant to get back to it. We found it amusing for several reasons:

1. We very nearly (despite the posting date) bought into it hook, line, and sinker.

2. After realizing it was a joke, we found ourselves reflecting that after 29 years of successful marriage - yes, to the same man - we rather thought a few of Dr. Melissa's snarky suggestions, taken in moderation, of course, have quite a bit to recommend them. We thought the following deserved a bit of comment:

2. Call rarely--It's so annoying to have your work interrupted by mindless blather about nothing. One of the biggest myths is that your significant other actually cares what you're thinking about when you're chomping your food on your lunch hour. Newsflash! No one cares.

Oddly enough, we rarely call the spousal unit at work. It's not that we don't love him, or like to hear his voice during the day.

It's that he's working. And so are we.

Also, a tiny little voice in the back of our curly little head keeps whispering that a little absence doth indeed make the heart grow fonder. And we don't really need to interrupt his hectic work day to ask him inane questions about plumbing or car tires or whatnot that we - as a mature adult - are perfectly capable of dealing with on our own. If we need to ask a question, we usually employ email, which allows him to deal with such mundane queries at a time of his choosing.

Life is stressful enough as it is. Why not make our rare times during the weekday pleasant, and why not allow him to deal in his preferred mode (i.e., work things at work, home things at home)? Just a thought.

3. Retreat from conflict--People often deal with conflict by trying to resolve it and talk it out. This can be a big mistake. Most likely, the things you fight about today are the things you're going to fight about forever. Don't resolve it. Accept it. Stay away for as long as possible. The other person will eventually get tired of being angry.

This is something the Editorial Staff has been working on.

While we by no means mean to suggest that serious matters should be ignored, not all ongoing conflicts are serious, and not all in a marriage are solvable either. So why talk them all to death?

Sometimes it may be preferable to employ a Gallic shrug of the shoulders and agree to disagree. In other words if it's just a minor annoyance, maybe you don't really need to talk about it. Shrug it off and let it go. Sometimes a hug and a corny joke - even when you don't much feel like it - works wonders.

5. Spend time cultivating interests that don't include your spouse--One of the biggest problems in marriages is that people think they should do stuff together. Why? If you like golf, and your wife hates it, well, she'll just have to get over it and understand that golf makes you happy. If she likes shopping, she needs to do it when it's convenient for her. Her man will understand. Togetherness is overrated.

Again, of course a couple have to have some interests in common (personally we vote for sex) but there is really nothing wrong with maintaining a few separate interests and/or friends either - it's a great way to keep your relationship from growing stale and I'll guarantee your spouse is a lot less likely to lose interest in you or take you for granted if you have your own friends and your own life and encourage them to do the same.

You were a person in your own right before you got married.

The problem here, I think, is twofold.

Men sometimes push the boundaries by continuing to act, when they are newly married, as though they were still single. This isn't right because in order to make a marriage work it is necessary to do two things: put the marriage first, and submerge (at times) some parts of yourself. This doesn't mean the woman is demanding or needy. It just means that marriage is supposed to be a relationship between two adults, not between a man and his mother.

We all have to suppress parts of our personality to get along with others at times. We do it in the workplace, we do it in line at the store when we don't pull out an Ouzi and waste the lady with the screaming, obnoxious brats who won't stay in the grocery cart. But that is not the same as giving up your identity in the expectation that the other person will "make" you happy. Your spouse cannot possibly satisfy all of your emotional needs. No one person can do that, and it's unfair to expect that they would. In the long run, your relationship will be a lot healthier if you preserve some outside interests and friendships to fill the gaps between your needs and those things your spouse is willing and/or able to provide for you in the relationship.

We hit on men earlier. Women often engage in unconscious 'trading'. We want the man to behave in a more positive manner so we 'trade' favors, unconsciously hoping he will reciprocate with the desired behavior.

There's just one problem with this. Actually, there are several problems:

1. Most guys aren't paying attention, and they're perfectly happy to let you trade your little heart out until steam is coming from both ears. If you're waiting for him to notice and you are holding your breath, you aren't much smarter than this gal.

2. He didn't ask you to do those things for him and may (in fact) be completely uninterested in engaging in the kind of trade you envision, especially with someone who - from all appearances - has not only inexplicably lost the power of human speech but expects him to read her mind. On the other hand, if you just make it plain to him that not only are certain things Extremely Important To You, but that a successful marriage requires the same amount of hard work and dedication as any other commitment he thinks is important to his future (i.e., his career), he will understand. It's just that when two people with different priorities form a partnership, the only way for them both to get what they want is for both of them to learn to communicate and bargain without getting nasty about it.

Marriage isn't a zero sum game. That's probably the greatest single thing about it.

Posted by Cassandra at April 7, 2008 07:39 AM

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I kill me.

Posted by: TigerHawk at April 7, 2008 09:10 AM

Flayed reasoning is more like it. It isn't that men are more efficient; they are lazy. My point: Snow White took an entire day to clean the pig pen that the dwarves called 'home.' The animals helped her because she sang so beautifully.

Posted by: Wicked Queen at April 7, 2008 09:37 AM

And it took the dwarves one hour every day to make a mess. That is seven dwarves, therefore Snow White had to clean up 49 times the mess they would have made in a week. Now, compound that by years' worth of Bad Habits, you can see that women will not only clean, but do it thoroughly.

Posted by: extemely evil stepmother wannabe at April 7, 2008 09:41 AM

And with the time Snow White saved them, they could dig for more gold and jewels, thus adding to the investment/retirement account.

Problem solved. She got paid well enough in benefits to hire her own help.

Posted by: Cricket at April 7, 2008 09:43 AM

Careful Tiggy baby, someone else might! :)

Unseriously enough, I would wager the following:

1) Men are generally stronger than women, and can accomplish some housecleaning tasks FASTER than women; I know this too be true, and I am hardly Charles Atlas.

2) The results are probably skewed, because it is more likely that a married couple has children, than a single man or woman. Those kids generate an exponential amount of cleaning up (my youngest son is a real slob), unless you run a tight ship like Cricket and have the little CLU's working their fingers to the nub. :)

Yay Cricket!

3) Cass, you must be about the one in fifty couples that never fight about money. Seriously, that can bring about a lot of tension in our household.

4) The two biggest time consumers in our house for "housework" are Laundry and Meal preparation/dish washing.
Laundry is time consuming to load and unload, and tote all the clothes up and down stairs and sort all that stuff out, but everything is pretty automatic, really.
My wife makes the lion(ess's)share of the meals, but I usually help clean up the kitchen if I am home for dinner on time.

I spent four hours yesterday putting new brake pads on one of our chariots, and two hours on Saturday putting a new backboard on the kid's basketball stand. Does that count as housework? :)

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at April 7, 2008 09:43 AM

In my experience, if men have the effrontery to do some of the housework, the following scenario will play out.

The man will get chewed out for not doing the housework correctly, read: up to the standards of the woman. It doesn't take too long to figure out that the man will get his ass kicked for not doing enough housework or get his ass kicked for doing it substandard. The conclusion to be drawn is to do nothing and take the ass kicking. LOL

Vacuuming is the great equalizer at our casa. Also, doing the dishes and cooking occasionally on the weekends. Mutual respect is the order of the day. It is fun to help out also.

Married 37 years!

Posted by: vet66 at April 7, 2008 09:59 AM

Nearly always, fights about money are a proxy for something else:

Bingo. Money (and Time) are about values. You don't spend money on things you don't value.

When one spouse spends so much money on junk that you have trouble paying your family's bills, you've just said that you value "I" more than "We".

Expect the other one to be a little miffed about that.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 7, 2008 10:11 AM

I spent four hours yesterday putting new brake pads on one of our chariots, and two hours on Saturday putting a new backboard on the kid's basketball stand. Does that count as housework? :)

BINGO. No - for the purposes of these dumb studies -- but it should. But it's huge on 'commitment points' :p

Posted by: Cass at April 7, 2008 11:22 AM

Several points in this one. Fights about money. I've not seen it. In my twelve years of marriage, it's not fighting about money but miscommunication. She thinks I said something I didn't, etc. In my parents' 65 years of marriage, they never fought about money as far as I know, and the worst fight they had that I know of was about a car clutch. Go figure.

The "10 Ways to Keep Your Relationship Smokin' Hot" bit... Like you said, there are a number of items there that actually DO make sense. I will tell you personally, it DOES annoy guys to call every day with really nothing to talk about. It's not that we don't CARE, it's that talking for an hour about how you washed your hair and went to the store and saw this really great sweater but it wasn't on sale but then you talked to the cashier and she said it WAS on sale but you didn't buy it anyway... Please just stop. Seriously. You'd be bored to tears if I called once a day and related the fact that I had to debug this subroutine and I was thinking it was an error in the if statement, but then after digging through each line of code (and MAN was that function written badly... and not even commented, can you believe it?!?!?) I found it was a SYNTAX ERROR!!! You'd listen, and you'd make empathetic noises (because that's what the female rules demand to show you care... as far as I can tell), but you'd get sick of it rapidly. Key difference between men and women... we call to pass a message along, we don't (normally) call to socialize. Moving on...

"Spend time cultivating interests that don't include your spouse," if you don't, then you're going to be awfully sad when you're excited to go to the big cross-stitch convention only to find out your spouse really doesn't want to go. Sorry ladies, but guys have interests you find dull (auto-repair, sports, spitting, etc) and you have interests we find dull. By all means, an interest in common is GREAT, but having something that your spouse is not involved in is good too. That way you have something to do if they want to engage in the interest that you dislike.

"Don't change" I support this 100%. Sure, compromise. Be understanding of your partner's differences. Be flexible. But if you marry someone and think they're going to be magically transformed and that you'll get rid of those pesky personality traits you don't like somewhere down the road... expect to eventually see a judge to dissolve your wedded bliss. You marry the person AS THEY ARE. If you don't like that, you shouldn't marry them. You'll grow as a couple, it's true. But people do NOT fundamentally change short of a "Road to Damascus" epiphany. Don't expect a ring to work the same magic.

"Don't give tokens of affection" If your relationship depends on raven-like hoarding of shiney objects, that's a bit sad. Sure, tokens of affection now and again are nice, but they can be words, or a special favor (look honey, I know that you hate cleaning the toilets, so I did it for you), or breakfast in bed... personal touches go a lot further than getting her flowers for the third time this week will.

And on "trading favors". This is a very 'game-like' behavior. As Cass said... you've suddenly lost the ability to communicate? ASK! You might not even have to go nuts doing the favor for us in the first place! Men are obtuse. There, I've said it. Do NOT expect us to understand that because you cooked our favorite meal and cleaned up the house, that we're now supposed to get you season tickets to the opera. We're NOT going to realize that. We don't make those jumps of intuition. ASK! Chances are, we'll do it. But I will take Cass to task on one sentance:
On the other hand, if you just make it plain to him that not only are certain things Extremely Important To You, but that a successful marriage requires the same amount of hard work and dedication as any other commitment he thinks is important to his future (i.e., his career), he will understand.
Actually just try saying "I want you to put your damn socks in the hamper EVERY TIME, that's now on your chore list for every day." We'll get that.

Posted by: MikeD at April 7, 2008 11:27 AM

I guess with money, if we disagree (and we do sometimes) then we compromise or one of us gives in, knowing that the other one will get their way next time. It always evens out.

When we had no money and I wanted something, I just went out and did odd jobs to finance my little projects. The way I looked at it, if I could fit that into my work day and still get my stuff done, I was just working harder b/c I was the only one who wanted whatever it was. I always bought things for the house anyway: furniture to refinish or fabric for curtains or upholstery, or garden supplies or shrubs. So it's not like I was getting my nails done.

Now, we have more money but neither of us necessarily asks first. He has his own bank account and I have mine.

That helps a lot because we both have some autonomy and can manage our own funds. Recently I realized we were keeping a stupid amount of money in checking and moved it out of both our accounts (I asked his permission before moving $$ out of his, but he agreed this was smarter). He and I both have the ability to move funds back in if we want to spend them.

We try to talk before making major purchases, but not always.

Posted by: Cass at April 7, 2008 11:33 AM

Actually just try saying "I want you to put your damn socks in the hamper EVERY TIME, that's now on your chore list for every day."

See, for some reason my husband doesn't respond at all well to that sort of thing.

More than anything, he doesn't like to be told what to do. He is the easiest guy in the world to get along with, but God help the person who tries to budge him if he has decided not to budge and he hates nagging. So I don't have a "Honey Do" list.

At all.

Ever. But, he does things naturally. And what he won't I live with, just as he lives with the really annoying stuff I do. But a lot of guys say the same thing you do, so there must be a fair amount of truth to it!

Posted by: Cass at April 7, 2008 11:38 AM

Enbrace the quirks of their personality. Trust me on that, if you lose them you'll pray to have those quirks back.

Posted by: Allen at April 7, 2008 12:12 PM

We hit on men earlier.

earlier than they hit on you?

Posted by: John Gevalt at April 7, 2008 03:02 PM

Nobody hits on me anymore, except maybe when I have had too much ice cream before going to bed. :p

I believe that ship sailed long ago.

Posted by: Cass at April 7, 2008 03:26 PM

Today is spring cleaning. After purging the sewing room, organizing my food storage, cleaning the schoolroom and detailing the kitchen, down to alphabetizing the spices and replacing the shelf liners, we are scrubbing walls and baseboards and will have the carpet shampooed this week.

Outdoor housekeeping is pruning back the rosemary bush/tree/shrubbery, getting the flower beds ready, marking which trees need to go away and laying out the retaining wall, getting the pool ready and cleaning the french drains.

I did not do all of that today, just mentioned what I have been doing over the past couple of months. I think housework is best done in small bites, but laundry never seems to get done to where it is not the Bane Of My Existence.

The Washing Of The Walls and scrubbing of baseboards is a standard that we do every month
and week, respectively.

The CLUs get food, clothing and shelter. heh.

I DO pay them for the hard stuff that I can't do myself, such as climbing and pruning, but they are pretty good about sticking with it and believe it or not, children DO like a clean orderly house. Not because mom is now happy, but because it is easier to find things, you can bring your friends over and you can have pool parties and barbecues.

Posted by: Cricket at April 7, 2008 03:49 PM

The Engineer and I have had a few knock down drag out fights...about family. And it had to do with money.

The Engineer had money that his mother had access to, even after we were married, and his sister needed tuition for college, so they dove into the fund and supplied her. The money was repaid, but it was done without telling him or me (I was on the account but we were overseas at the time and access back then was difficult) and the money was repaid over the course of a year, no interest.

I was all for the money being repaid with interest. He thought I was being mean.
However, when we got back from Germany, my MIL showed us a book where she kept track of the kids' expenditures that she funded, and the payments due...with interest.

He asked her about the college loan, showed her the statements and asked why she hadn't repaid the interest HE lost. His mother just said "Well, she didn't have the money."

At that point, he took her off the account. I just didn't say a word.

Posted by: Cricket at April 7, 2008 04:07 PM

Years ago, we fought more about raising the kids than any other single topic. I think, as Yu-ain said, that was a values issue - where our values collided, we fought.

But we argued privately where the kids couldn't see us and then presented a united front.

Posted by: Cass at April 7, 2008 05:58 PM

Cricket: interest? Amongst family??!!?? OK... seriously different from Asian types. Or at least my family. My Dad's brothers owe him pots of cash and has he ever seen a red cent? Not one! But he just writes it off. Not kosher according to my book, bnut maybe he's just a better Christian than I am.

Cass: at the risk of having my comment being your blogpost-fodder again...

Marriage is living together, plus a hefty dose of property contracts, inheritance issues (children), and spiritual commitment - and each of these components requires work.

It certainly is true that we cannot remain the same - or rather, we can, but our behaviour as it impacts and affects the other spouse must change.

However, because a marriage is also about equity, each partner has to consider what they are bringing to the table. I always thought the two-becoming-one-flesh was great, but it's not two *minds* becoming one mind.

So. Traditionally, the man went out and expanded the castle. In essense, making the money and fighting the good fight to increase the asset base. The woman 'held' the castle (hence, the chatelaine) or defended the asset base (usually, by having kids who could help out). A gross generalisation by way of appeal to mediaeval analogies, but it more or less held true. Household chores were part of 'holding' the fort. And it's not that one is better than the other - they're both important, and complementary.

Are there any successful single-income households anymore? I think there are, and I further believe that if at all possible, we should hold our traditional roles, while keeping in mind Ephesians (you know to which passage I refer).

I agree with you completely, when you say that the commitment to the marriage must be shown on both parties. The problem is, both men and women tend to undervalue their spouse's contributions.

For example, I could live with a less-than-tidy house for a few weeks, months even, before I go on a cleaning rampage. My sister, on the other hand, cannot. She finds cleaning toilets therapeutic, and her kitchen is strictly hands-off to everyone else - including her husband and even our mother on occasion. But if you stay in the same room, then one standard must rise and the other standard must fall. Or else, you will have troubles.

Similarly, I have heard my mother complain before that my father is a lazybones and she has to do all the housework. True, dat. Well, now that he's retired, he does do housework more often. Twice in a blue moon, a 100% increase.

But when he was working? I mean, I don't know whether my mother would truly have been fine with someone drawing down half my Dad's pay if he did twice the housework. Hypothetically speaking, I mean.

And then, you have my brother, who draws about 3 times the pay what my sister-in-law does. And he still does the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry... and what does she do? Bugger all, from what my mom says. Oh, she did get pregnant, and she does have scoliosis, which is no joke, but still...

Marriages work best when you share common values, even if those values are expressed differently. My brother-in-law is a neat freak as well, it seems, so it should work out.

A note to all women: most men have a far, far longer timer and tolerance between cleaning phases. When you say we don't do enough housework, you simply mean that your timer expired way before ours did. And so you did it yourself. We need synchronised (or semi, at least) timers.

As for me, well, I do pick up after myself. Mostly. And I do clean my room. Every now and then. And yes, I do the dishes. At least my own. Occasionally cook. And laundry, I can do too - except my mom takes care of that. Staying at home, I do tend to get spoiled. Got any daughters who can live with that? :)

PS: What is it with women and elephant memories? I swear, you ladies can dig up events from decades ago and beat us over the head with it...

Posted by: Gregory at April 7, 2008 10:28 PM

I clean the house (and I do mean *clean* -- I was a Professional at one point in my checkered past).

I cook, turn the kitchen back into a Martha Stewart set, do the pots 'n' pans 'n' dishes 'n' utensils.

I take out the trash, manicure the lawn, prune the Jungle Out Back, rebuild the koi pond and waterfall when Kate-the-Luddite-Wife thinks it needs updating (whatever *that* means) and keep the garage and tool shed presentable.

Now I'm in Iraq and KtLW's been cussing me for *not* doing all of the above.

Just no satisfying a woman, I guess...

Posted by: BillT at April 8, 2008 07:07 AM

Awww Bill, she just misses you.

As to interest, his sister borrowed a whopping three grand. Had it been a few hundred, no big deal to repay just what she borrowed.

Her parents, my inlaws, couldn't help her because 'they' didn't have the money. Their excuse was that the Engineer was the only one who had money they could (their words, not mine) 'play with.'

I was counting on the interest to pay for the
car seat and the crib. I had to wait for about
four months before I could order it, and we got them a month before the baby came. We resisted getting a credit card because we didn't want to
get into debt, but looking back, two hundred dollars wasn't much, but to us then, on an E-5's pay, it was a week's salary.

After we had the initial 'discussion' I didn't bring it up again until his mother showed him her 'Domesday Book.' Fortunately for us, he hadn't needed any help from his parents. He asked me what I thought, privately of course, but
all I said was 'Oh.'

We never loaned another dime to his family. Some things are very obvious and don't need gilding to make the point. Others, like children trying to play both ends against the middle, need and invite spousal discussions, argument, etc. in order to preserve domestic harmony...the children need to know the parents are united and will not be budged. We call those 'limits.'


Posted by: Cricket at April 8, 2008 09:44 AM

On interest to family members: Just don't do it. Never loan money to family. If you have it, give it to them. If they give it back, great. But it is a gift, you do not expect it back. If you can't do this (whether because you don't have it to give, or do expect it back) then you don't do it.

For those of a religious persuasion, Proverbs 22:7 provides some help here: "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.

You do not want to change the relationship from one of family to Master/Servant. As Cricket has found out, it's a permanent change and the little bit of interest that could be gained is never worth it.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 8, 2008 12:06 PM

If you have it, give it to them.

Yup. My RVN paychecks helped put my sibs through college.

I figured it was an investment -- good education meant good job prospects, so they wouldn't be sponging off me for the remainder of my life.

And it *worked*...

Posted by: BillT at April 8, 2008 12:23 PM

Heh. His sister was denied a full ride scholarship because she is testosterone impaired. Had she been built like a running back, she would have not had a problem.

As it was, she pulled a four poin oh average and during her third year in college, got a job and repaid the principal. Had I been on the board of regents at that college, I would have given her a full ride simply because she was worth the investment.

She is doing very well and we do keep in touch.
What I was pointing out was that the two main reasons couples quarrel is over family and money.
In this instance, it was both.

Posted by: Cricket at April 8, 2008 12:54 PM

Good advice I ever heard was never lend money to family or friends. Just assume they won't ever pay it back and things will be much better for you psychologically speaking.

Trying to keep tabs on who owes you what and what not is just too much of a hassle. Just go into banking if you want to do that for a living.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 9, 2008 12:29 PM

Some guy who sold some family property for a cool couple million refused to give any of that money to the rest of the family not in the triple controlling trust.

What he did was to invest those millions into a trust and use the interest off that trust to pay for the tuition and needs of the family members and their children. The family members stopped complaining about the tightfisted Scrooge after that.

Lesson: Don't use capital on family or friends, in fact don't use your capital at all. Use only interest and income from that capital.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 9, 2008 12:31 PM