Couples Reduce Anger By Sharing Tasks

Together but apart

Married for 10 years, Mary and Joe rarely argued, yet were slowly drifting apart from each other, each feeling emotionally distanced from the other. Underneath their emotional distance was anger, but it was “hidden” and lived as resentment, passive-aggression toward the other, and emotional detachment. In therapy, it was learned that a fairly common patterns of estrangement had developed between Mary and  Joe who at one time were deeply in love with each other.

The pattern started with Mary not doing what Joe considered to be her share of the household chores. She worked only part-time while Joe rose at 4AM every day, worked until 2PM and then came home and did all the housework, the yardwork, and then often started dinner. She spent much of her time with her family of origin and her friends. Joe slowly developed resentment toward Mary for having to “do it all.” He complained to her, but she didn’t see what the problem was. Her attitude toward household chores and standards of cleanliness were much more relaxed than his:

“So will the world stop turning if we do the laundry this weekend instead of today?” was a common Mary retort while looking at mountains of dirty clothes. Joe,  meanwhile,  was smoldering inside because of what he saw as her “laziness” and irresponsibility.

After awhile, he stopped complaining and simply stuffed his negative feelings toward Mary, while continuing to do almost all of the household chores.   But, he found himself losing sexual interest in her, which greatly wounded Mary who placed a high value on being sexually attractive to her husband. Of course, sexual deprivation led to further emotional distance and estrangement between them.

The Solution?

Agreement on Division of Labor
Agreement on Division of Labor

Often the problem is the other way around: many married woman justifiably complain that they too work yet are expected to do their “second job” once they get home at night.

Either way, a major breakthrough can be achieved by a  couple sitting down with a pencil and paper, listing all the household chores, drawing a vertical line down the center of the paper, and deciding who is going to do what and when it will be done.And then doing it!!

Sound like a simple solution? As we teach in our local anger management classes, our online anger program, and our local clinical clients (in marriage therapy with us), many times simple practical changes in how a couple does things often snowballs into other, more substantial changes in the relationship. Of course, there were more problems than just division of labor between Mary and Joe, but once Mary started doing more of the home tasks, Joe’s resentment lessened and his sexual interest in Mary picked up. This, of course, motivated Mary to try even harder to do more of her share of household chores.

Do they now have a perfect marriage? Of course not, but they are happier, have less conflict, and are feeling closer to each other.