Sharing Chores Improves Relationships, Especially Doing The Dishes

It's become conventional wisdom that sharing household chores is a predictor of harmony and satisfaction in modern relationships. But new research set to be published later this month in the journal Socius reveals that which chores get shared matters quite a bit — and that dishwashing, in particular, is a task your partner probably wishes you'd chip in on if you currently don't.

According to a brief released by the Council on Contemporary Families, the researchers looked at data from low- to moderate-income parents and found that, more than with any other task, women who handled the majority of the dishwashing in heterosexual couples reported more discord, lower relationship satisfaction, and lower sexual satisfaction than those who shared the task with their partners.

"Doing dishes is gross," Dr. Dan Carlson, a professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah and the new study's lead author, told The Atlantic. Indeed, many of the least appealing and most thankless household chores have traditionally been handled primarily by women, and in many couples still are.

So it might do for the husband who changes a few lightbulbs and then steps back to admire his work to consider the relative unpleasantness of different chores.

The good news is that partners are sharing more and more household responsibilities — the researchers found that between the two data sets, one gathered in the early '90s and the other in 2006, the proportion of couples sharing dishwashing duties nearly doubled.

But the potential bad news is that those who aren't chipping in may find themselves in more and more trouble as society changes — the more common it is for partners to share a task, the researchers found, the more painful it is for someone to bear the burden alone.

"People are tying their sense of justice and fairness in relationships to these household tasks," Carlson told The Daily Meal via telephone. "If you're doing a chore by yourself and it seems like no one else is, you're going to feel like you got the shaft."

It's not that people just don't want to do any work. Another interesting result of the study is that in some cases, partners are happier sharing in a chore than they would be sitting on the couch while bae handles everything. Men who shared the household shopping equally with a partner were happier than both men who did the majority of the chore and men who bowed out of it.

Carlson suggested to The Atlantic that the teamwork aspect of sharing a chore like dishes might play a role — one partner can wash while the other dries, for instance. "High relationship quality stems from shared experience," Carlson told us. For young couples who, like those in this study, may not have a lot to spend on entertainment, even grocery shopping can be an opportunity to get out of the house together.

We polled The Daily Meal staff for their thoughts on sharing tasks. Unlike the study subjects, few of us are parents, but literally no one disagreed that sharing chores equally helps make for a happy home.

"I forwarded this story to my husband as soon as I saw it," one editor said. Maybe that seems a little passive-aggressive — but she explained that he does help out with dishes, and she wanted him to know that her appreciation is backed up by sociological research.

One editor offered an alternative explanation for the benefits of shopping together. "My husband complains if I don't buy him enough chips," she said. "Even though I ask him if he needs anything from the store. Both of us are happier if we both do the shopping."

The evidence, both anecdotal and sociological, seems clear: Sharing chores is one of the keys to a successful modern relationship — one of the most important reasons why you and your love should cook dinner together.