Nothing in marriage is really fair. The idea that things are divided equally 50/50 never plays out that way because of, you know, real life. Obviously neither you nor your husband should do the lion’s share of all the housework, the yard work, the work-work, the childcare, etc. You should try to be fair. But chances are that one of you will be better at certain things—say cooking, or paying the bills in an accurate and timely manner. Other chances are that during certain seasons of life, these responsibilities may shift--for example, during maternity leave, or if one of you travels. Since my husband travels some I have to at least know how to do the things that are primarily his responsibility.
The point with the chores is that No. 1 you should communicate about who will do what. This is a common point of tension during the first year of marriage when husband and wife are establishing their roles. Most men and women bring their ideas of who should do what from the example they saw in their own homes—whether healthy or unhealthy.
I saw my own mother do all the cooking, all the housework, pay all the bills, manage all the repairs (She mainly used a telephone to call someone to fix things.), and all the whatever. So when I came into my own marriage I decided the most fair thing to do would be—nothing. Yep, nothing.
Despite the fact that I got off work earlier than my husband at that point, when he came home he would find me camped out on the futon watching daytime talk shows. That didn’t work out so well for more than a week or so. But he did have to walk through an emotional mine field to figure out what in the world was wrong with me and why I didn’t want to do anything.
Probably young couples are much better prepared for marriage now. They go through pre-marital classes and counseling and whatever—mainly because the divorce rate has them scared s***less. Whatever the motivation, having these conversations about roles is a good idea. Because your roles continue to shift over the course of your marriage depending on life stages, jobs, kids, etc.
One other thing about roles—whatever you decide between the two of you about divvying up the work load and responsibilities, you have do your part selflessly. Complaining about what you’ve agreed upon is worse than not doing it. If you are the cook—even if it’s just three times a week or whatever your arrangement—those three meals better be made with love and your best effort (unless you had a crappy day at work and you just want to heat up a frozen dinner). If you are the eater—even if that’s not every day—those meals the other person makes better be eaten with love and your most positive reception (even if the toast is burnt and the fish is sour).
This brings us to the emotional selflessness that marriage requires. What you want cannot come first all the time. You should focus on fulfilling his desires and ideally he’ll be focusing on fulfilling your desires. We have been working on this for the duration of our marriage, and once in a while we get it right.
Marriage is not about demanding your way, or negotiating your way. Our friend, psychologist Val Farmer says that kind of stuff makes your partner feel unloved. By the same token, Farmer says if too many important needs are neglected over time, the unloved spouse feels used or taken advantage of. Let’s go back to the way you’re eating the meal he made—with love. Expressing gratitude for whatever the other person is doing helps. Even if they do whatever they do badly—still gratitude.
This selflessness begins to work in a circle. You give selflessly into the marriage and it builds trust that his needs will be met. So he gives selflessly into the marriage and builds trust that your needs will be met.
The opposite of this cycle is a lack of consideration and respect for the other person. At its worst, this can turn into demanding and controlling, even manipulation or abuse in order to get your way.
1 Corinthians 13:4-5 says that’s not love. “Love is patient and kind; … love is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” So that’s your goal in marriage—don’t be rude. And also, give your husband a lot of grace. He is doing the same for you.
I once wrecked both of our cars at the same time. For real. I ran into one car with the other one. My husband saw the whole thing and just stood there in shock. He never yelled at me or got angry or anything like that. I mean it was pretty obvious that I had made a miscalculation. Also, he’s really good at grace. And that’s the image I keep in my mind to inspire me to be really good at giving him grace, too.
Rebecca Barnes is the director of curriculum for Summit Kids Ministry at Flatirons. She’s been married to Ron Barnes almost 25 years and has three daughters. Her oldest daughter will be getting married this year, so she’s been thinking a lot about marriage lately.