For relationships to work, you need to act like teammates, not foes

Carolyn Hax
Columnist August 20, 2012

Adapted from recent online discussions.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My wife insists that we split our housework 50-50, and she thinks it’s sexist of me to resist that. I feel like since I do way more than 50 percent of a lot of other things — I work longer hours, make more money, spend less money, spend way more time with her family than she spends with mine, etc. — it’s unfair for housework to be the one thing that gets split 50-50.

Do you think housework has to be split evenly? What about things like earning money and doing work outside the home?

50-50 Split?


Contributions to your household, as a whole, should be split as close to 50-50 as possible without bean-counting.

So, suggest you and your wife make a list of what it takes to keep your marriage and household running — everything from earning money, buying and cooking food, cleaning house, maintaining property, maintaining connections with family and friends, paying bills, planning trips, scheduling appointments, keeping a calendar, etc. Then see whether the current division of labor is fair. Also make sure you agree on the “currency” you’re using; is it time, value, money, effort? I think effort makes the most sense, but what you two think is what matters.

Also explore why you’re both acting as adversaries vs. teammates. When the center of gravity in a relationship shifts from giving to each other to protecting yourselves, the survival of the relationship then depends on shifting it back to giving. And to get there, each of you needs to trust the other to do what’s right for both of you vs. satisfying self-interest.

Dear Carolyn:

My brother and his wife had a daughter 16 months ago. My whole life I’ve been certain I didn’t want children. But I LOVE my niece. She’s amazing. She’s changed my mind entirely on the issue. I’ve been with my girlfriend for five years, and she was okay with my no-children stance, but not as certain as I was.

We are getting married this winter, and I was wondering what your advice would be on my bringing up my change of heart? It seems a bit unfair, like a bait-and-switch, even if that wasn’t my intent.

Game-Changer

Changes of heart happen. They become unfair when you withhold them, spin them, lie about them or act on them without communicating openly with a partner. Tell her, NOW, what you said here, including the part about feeling bad about the bait-and-switch, and see where it takes you.

By the way — it’s great you’re loopy for your niece, and that can reasonably be taken as a sign you want kids of your own. However, make sure you prepare yourself for the fact that your child will be relentless — you can’t just hand your baby back to your brother and leave.

Your baby also will be a completely different person. S/he could be colicky, hyperactive or with other special needs, a reluctant sleeper, a boundary-pusher like it’s his or her job, etc. Just ask parents of more than one child how different their experiences were from one child to the next. The one thing that doesn’t vary is how badly they need their parents to love them as they are. When you’re ready for that, you’re ready.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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