I’m a working Mom, how can I get my partner to be more engaged in our household?
MOLLY: The reader added that she and her husband both work outside the house, but she feels like she’s the one that does a bulk of the household duties and childcare. How can she get him to help out more?
DR. RUTHERFORD: The biggest issue I hear about in my office with couples is the division of labor at home, and the kind of complaints almost universally coming from women that they not only work full-time –as their husbands do– but when they get home, it’s more work for them. It seems that often their husbands don’t participate as fully as the wives would like in the household duties.
This is a BIG problem; it’s the number one issue between couples that causes marital strife in our country, not just from what I’ve seen in my little slice of practice. There has to be a lot of discussion about how things are going to work. It’s endless, what has to be done at home on a daily basis. Whether it’s fixing dinner, cleaning up, bathing the kids, or whatever…. Both parents may be tired, but still, somebody has to take care of the household and children. When one parent doesn’t pull their weight leaving the other to pick up the slack, it can cause real problems in a marriage or partnership.
The long term consequences for a couple in this situation may be that the women loses interest in her husband sexually. When a husband acts like a child in not helping out, a wife doesn’t feel like he’s a full partner. She ends up taking care of him as she takes care of her children, and think about it: you don’t have sex with a child.
MOLLY: How would you suggest dealing with this problem?
DR. RUTHERFORD: The only way to deal with it is to actually talk about it together. If she stuffs down her resentment and instead acts out at home by withdrawing from him, it usually doesn’t get resolved and instead builds resentment in him, until each partner is angry with the other for different reasons, not realizing that it’s all connected.
This issue really must be talked about within a marriage. Usually it gets talked about when one partner is already furious at the the other, either for the lack of support or the lack of intimacy. But it’s best not to approach the subject at the end of a long day, when everyone is exhausted. It would be better to talk about these things on a weekend, when there are fewer external demands on the couple.
MOLLY: How should this wife address the issue?
DR. RUTHERFORD: You address by explaining where you’re coming from. “I’m exhausted I’m working full time, you’re working full time but I’m working full time at home too. I really need your participation if we’re going to make this work. What do you think you can contribute at home, so that I don’t have to carry the entire burden?”
MOLLY: Not only if the women is working full-time, but I think this happens also if you’re a stay-at-home mom. I don’t think it should be expected that a wife do everything for a family even when her husband is at home.
DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, there seems to be a common expectation from dads who work all day that they deserve to come home after work and be done with responsibilities, like the 1950s father did. And there is some sort of belief that their wives have been sitting around not doing much all day, which is so far from the truth.
MOLLY: So, how does an exhausted wife address this when she is working from home, but by the time the husband gets home she’s so done. She’s ready to hand the kids over to the husband then, but the husband is tired from working all day, understandably. But she still needs his help – she might still be working hard even though she’s not working outside of the house.
DR. RUTHERFORD: That is absolutely correct. It’s a real problem and it has to be talked about in the exactly same way as the couple who are both working outside the house have to address issues directly within their marriage. The truth is everybody is working at something, whether it’s out of the house or in an office environment.
No one should be expected to carry the full load of running a household, especially when kids are little, because that’s when life is the hardest for a couple.
But then when children get older there are all kinds of issues about getting them to sports practices and activities, and homework, not to mention the daily chores of dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, etc. All of this has to be divided up in the most even way possible, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out, which can cause great distress in a marriage and great distress for the entire unit itself because the children witness it. With male children, if their dad is not helping out at home in a determined and constant kind of way, his sons will be very likely to grow up to act just like he does with their own wives and children.
MOLLY: So it’s important for both moms and dads to set an example of equality within a marriage?
DR. RUTHERFORD: And, equal marriages are happier marriages. There was a recent study done showing that men who help out the most at home have the most intimacy in their marriages. So the lesson for guys should be that the more they pitch in at home, the more sex they’ll likely get from their happier, less tired wives.