How to Keep Housework From Hurting Your Marriage

Low section of man vacuuming floor while woman cleaning shelves in background at home

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When you or your partner is unhappy about the allocation of household chores, the stress level in your home can increase tremendously. Researchers have found that the unequal distribution of housework is one of the top stressors in many relationships. For example, one study found that wives reported that one of their top sources of stress was the fact that their husbands don't want to do their share of work around the house.

While such research often reflects how traditional gender roles influence household duties, the uneven distribution of housework is not limited to heterosexual married couples. Couples who cohabitate as romantic partners are often prone to the same problems. Same-sex couples tend to divide chores more equally, although evidence suggests that this tends to change somewhat once they have children. Research also suggests that transgender and gender non-conforming couples manage housework and other duties in a more egalitarian fashion.

What may matter more than whether unpaid labor is divided 50/50 is how each individual in the relationship feels about the division of household duties. Stress levels increase in your home when either of you is unhappy about unfinished chores. Couples fight over who does what around the house almost as much as they fight over money.

Surveys and studies consistently point out that even though many women work outside the home, they still tend to do most household chores. Evidence also indicates that this disparity was exacerbated significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reasons Why Housework May Not Be Evenly Distributed

In the past, the division of housework was generally attributed to differences in the labor force; men were more likely to work full-time outside the home while women were more likely to perform the unpaid labor of managing the household.

Despite shifts in these traditional roles and employment trends, evidence indicates that women are still primarily tasked with the physical and emotional labor of running a household and caring for a family.

What factors contribute to the uneven distribution of housework? Some that may play a part include:

Traditional Gender Roles

Gendered expectations for how men and women are expected to behave and the roles they are expected to play in a family often significantly influence how housework is divided. Chores that involve greater autonomy are often perceived as "men's" work, whereas repetitive, mundane chores (like doing laundry or dishes) are frequently viewed as "women's" work.

One study found that traditional gender roles were associated with imbalanced household contributions. This imbalance was also linked to increased work-family conflict.

Beliefs About Equality

Individual beliefs about how work should be divided can influence who performs certain household tasks. Evidence suggests that couples who believe the work should be evenly divided are happier than those who don't.

Social Policies

Social policies, such as lack of paid family leave and access to affordable healthcare, can also affect how household labor is divided. For example, the lack of paternity/maternity leave, affordable child care, and workplace protections for pregnant and nursing people can make it difficult for parents to take time off work during critical periods (such as after the birth of a child). It can also make it difficult for parents to return to the workforce.

Weaponized Incompetence

Weaponized incompetence involves pretending to be bad at tasks to avoid participating in shared responsibilities. Feigning ineptitude when it comes to housework such as folding laundry, loading the dishwasher, or tidying up rooms foists these duties onto the other partner, who often takes over to ensure that these necessary household chores are finished correctly.

This behavior is generally associated with cishet relationships where men act incompetent to force their female partners to take on most (or even all) of the household duties. However, it can also happen in other types of relationships, including same-sex relationships and friendships.

It is a passive-aggressive way of avoiding housework and parenting duties, and it causes significant harm to relationships. The partner who does all these tasks feels alone, manipulated, and overworked. It also communicates that the person shirking their duties does not respect their partner enough to share the load. This impairs intimacy and makes it difficult for a person to feel that they can trust their partner.


The uneven distribution of housework happens for a variety of reasons, including individual expectations, belief in traditional gender roles, weaponized incompetence, and social policies that affect family life.

Impact of Uneven Housework

Relationships and marriage are partnerships, which involves the practical business of running the household. Aspects of household duties that couples share include:

  • Cleaning
  • Childcare
  • Cooking
  • Home maintenance
  • Managing finances
  • Planning
  • Scheduling family activities
  • Shopping
  • Transportation

When the practical aspects run smoothly, there is more peace and harmony. However, research suggests that individual perceptions about the fairness of how tasks are divided are more important than having an actual 50/50 divide in the work.

So what happens when housework isn't distributed fairly and equitably to each person in the relationship?

  • Decreased marital satisfaction: When one partner feels that they do more than their fair share, they are less satisfied with their relationship.
  • Increased distress: Research has shown that thinking about the "double burden" of being responsible for both home and work leads to significant distress.
  • Worse mental health: Studies have found that women overburdened with excessive housework experience more symptoms of depression. 
  • Increase risk for divorce: A 2016 study found that the uneven division of unpaid and paid labor was the strongest economic risk factor for divorce.

How to Share Housework

The biggest mistake you can make in your quest to have your partner do more chores around the house is to ask for help. Asking for help implies that the responsibility for the chores belongs to just you.

In actuality, chores are shared responsibilities, and doing a good job dividing up the housework is essential to ensure a happy marriage. Here's how to do it.

Learn About Priorities

Set your priorities as a couple. What is truly important to each of you? Many couples find they look at the division of chores differently. Domestic disorder simply doesn't bother some people. But if you are comfortable with a messy home and it bothers your spouse, you both need to compromise.

Compromise works best if you select priorities, rather than trying to completely satisfy both partners.

Discuss how you both feel about home-cooked meals versus quick meals or eating out now and then. Find out your own and each other's feelings about dust, a clean toilet, an unmade bed, a perfectly manicured lawn, paying bills on time, and so forth. If one of you feels that a toilet should be cleaned every two or three days, then you need to share that information so you can understand what you each feel is important.

Anticipate Roadblocks

Sit down together and make a list of the chores that each of you absolutely hates to do. What one hates, the other may be able to tolerate. If both of you detest the same chore, then figure out a way to compromise in getting this particular unpleasant task done. Or perhaps you could tackle the horrid chore together, as a team.

Agree on a Timetable

It is important, too, to be considerate of one another's body clocks. Some folks are morning people and some folks are night owls. Forcing one another to do a project or chore when they really aren't ready to do it only creates tension. Timing is important.

Touch Base on a Plan Each Week

Let one another know what the coming week is going to be like: meetings, errands, special occasions, etc. Then decide who is going to do what, make a list, and post the list. Then let it go.

Don't nag each other about what you volunteered to do. If the task hasn't been done by the following week when you next sit down to share expectations, that's the time to bring it up.

Keep Reevaluating

If one of you doesn't follow through on promises to do your share of the work around your home, try and discover together why there is such reluctance. Sometimes one partner overcommits or underestimates the time it takes to get something done.

Blaming your partner for what hasn't been accomplished will not be effective. Reevaluate your plan and adjust as needed.

Be flexible and allow your partner to accomplish tasks in their own way. If having the towels folded a certain way is super important to you, then do it yourself.

If after discussing the situation, the two of you really can't get things done, then you need to make some choices. Look at some areas of your house and yard that you may want to cut back on to save both time and money. Or try to get your home organized so it runs more efficiently.

Ask yourself if some chores even have to be done on a regular basis. For instance:

  • If mowing the lawn is taking too much time, try replacing grass with wildflowers.
  • If you hate ironing, give away the clothes that need ironing and toss the iron.
  • Do you really care if the windows sparkle?


After a re-examination of your standard of housekeeping, your chores may become less draining emotionally and physically.

Hire Help

If you can't or don't want to lower your standards, you can hire some outside help if your budget can handle it. It requires some organization on your part to create a list of tasks.

You can hire someone to clean your bathrooms, vacuum, dust, shine windows, change bed linens, iron, mend, or take down seasonal items. This should not be viewed as help for one partner (the wife, for example) but for both partners.

A Word From Verywell

The uneven distribution of housework can take a toll on your relationship, but there are steps you can take to create a more equitable household. Talk about what needs to be done with your partner and devise a plan that each person feels is fair.

Tasks don't need to be divided perfectly down the middle, but it is important that each person feels that the tasks are shared in a way that is equitable to each person.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sheri Stritof
Sheri Stritof has written about marriage and relationships for 20+ years. She's the co-author of The Everything Great Marriage Book.