Our Best Advice For Sorting Out Relationship Arguments Over Household Chores

In a perfect world, splitting up chores in a relationship would be straightforward — an even 50/50 split. But let's be honest: Between different work schedules, appointments, and the demands of day-to-day life, it doesn't always work out that way. Even in 2023, couples still struggle to find a balance between who exactly is responsible for taking out the trash, washing the dishes, and picking up groceries. Unfortunately, even though many women work full-time, they often still take on the majority load of chores, according to a recent study by Pew Research Center.

Although 29% of households are now egalitarian (compared to 11% in 1972), women are still left in positions where they take on the primary role of caregiver and head of household maintenance. That's true even for women who out-earn their husbands. According to sociology professor Daniel Carson, each relationship has its own dynamic and nuances, but splitting up chores equally between partners will actively improve the relationship. "It turns out that the more tasks couple share together, that they do jointly, the greater their feelings of equity, the more satisfied they are with their housework arrangements," he explained to TIME.

That's all well and good, but how do you actually sort out disagreements over splitting up household chores? You may be the only one in your relationship taking out the dishwasher, but not for long.

Assign tasks based on strengths

Most people are already familiar with the idea of a chore list, but the question that often comes up is how do you determine exactly who does what? Well, before creating your chore list, take a good look at the current state of chores in your home. Per NPR, the easiest way to get started is by jotting down as many weekly tasks as you can come with, including those minimalistic tasks like mailing a letter, carpooling, or paying the bills, and writing down who currently does what. This gives you a clearer picture of whether the labor may be unevenly divided. From there, you can start fresh with organizing tasks based on priority, and then deciding who is the best person to get them done.

Per NPR, when it comes to deciding who does what tasks in your home, personal preferences and strengths play a major role. If your partner is a pro at taking out the dishwasher while you're better equipped to fold laundry, split up chores that way to achieve effective results. On the other hand, if you prefer to clean bedrooms while your partner prefers common areas, you can organize your list based on that. Of course, there will be chores that neither person wants to do — such as taking out the trash or cleaning the bathroom. Those are tasks that you could potentially rotate on a weekly or monthly basis, depending on your work schedules. This ensures that it's not just the same person doing that task all the time.

Engage in collaborative chores

One of the keys to a healthy relationship is collaboration. Not only does it help complete tasks faster, it also allows for quality time in your relationship. While making your chore list, leave room for a few collaborative chores that you can do together — taking out the dishwasher, cleaning the bedroom closet, and sweeping the floors are just a few. If doing chores at the same time isn't plausible, split up chores to be done on alternate days by each partner. Collaboration is also the perfect way to foster togetherness and a feeling of fairness, especially if you've noticed one partner is carrying more weight than the other, sociologist Dan Carlson tells Mind Body Green.

Collaborative chores also don't require you to do the same task, but rather, work together in close quarters and to achieve a shared result. Some examples include vacuuming the carpet while your partner dusts the entertainment center, sweeping the kitchen floor while your partner unloads the dishwasher, or folding the laundry while your partner puts each item away. You can easily turn it into a bonding experience by adding music or simply chatting while working. 

Check in biweekly

Once a list of chores is created and action is in order, it's important to follow up with biweekly check-ins to ensure both people are on the same page. They don't have to be super formal, but they can involve asking your partner about their weekly schedule and whether there's anything you can do to help them. If it's their week to do laundry but you're out of detergent, you could offer to pick it up for them at the store. 

These bi-weekly check-ins offer couples the chance to ask for help, communicate an issue, and rearrange chores to better fit each other's schedules. It's also a great way to hold each other and yourself accountable, which NPR stresses as incredibly important for maintaining the peace. After all, it's not fair to always expect your partner to pick up the slack simply because you don't feel like doing a particular task. If you're actually sick, that's a totally different thing. But if you unexpectedly need them to step up and pick up the kids due to a busy workday, make it a point to express your thanks to them. Depending on your relationship, you could pick up the slack for them the following week on one of their tasks's. Just be careful to not keep score, as that could potentially create a resentful dynamic.

Remember that household chores are genderless

Unfortunately, for some heterosexual couples, gendered expectations about chores can cause a rift when dividing up labor. Some individuals may have expectations that women should vaccum and clean the inside of the house, while men take on yard work. However, heterosexual couples can take a note from same-sex relationships and how effective it is to leave gender roles behind. There's no denying that more systems of social support for LGBTQ+ couples are necessary, but a number of studies have concluded that gay and lesbian couples divide labor equally, per The New York Times.

Of course, it's important to note that LGBTQ+ couples have their own unique set of struggles that can impact their relationship. One HuffPost article pointed out that some gay couples struggle with dividing chores, especially if they grow up with a gendered idea of women doing housework. 

There are, however, ways for LGBTQ+ couples to equally divide work without make household chores a gendered task, according to LCSW Ken Howard. One way to do this is by creating a list of essential household chores and fairly deciding who will complete the task. Taking into consideration each partner's occupation, schedule, and extracurriculars, should help determine each person's ability to perform tasks, rather than their gender. Additionally, understanding where our gendered ideas of household work comes from can help couples move past gendered expectations. Identifying, acknowledging, and processing these feelings can also help us better understand ourselves and build an egalitarian household.