Different Kinds of Power: His, Hers, and Ours
Many couples divide up the tasks of marriage, including household chores, the kids, and the finances into two columns: his and hers. Within these two separate domains, usually there is an agreement about what decisions should be made communally and which ones the individual “in charge” of a particular area can make alone. That way, the decision making is divided according to negotiated task assignments.
Having a husband creates on average an extra seven hours a week of housework for women, according to a University of Michigan 2005 study of a nationally representative sample of U.S. families. For men, the picture is very different: A wife saves a man from having to do an hour more of housework each week.
This works until one of the partners disapproves of a decision or feels left out of the process. Then renegotiation occurs. It is during the negotiation stage that most couples have problems. For example, a couple begins with the following agreement: Every Saturday morning a grocery list is posted on the refrigerator to which they both contribute; then on Sunday afternoon, she does the food shopping. During the week, he cooks two nights, she cooks three, each is on his own one night, and they eat out together on the other. The days for each are selected and maintained on at least a monthly basis.
There are, however, easily spotted pitfalls in such agreements; for example, on the very likely occasion when she works late and dinner is not made.
Does he make it for the two of them?
Does she pick up his next cooking night?
Is this decided ahead of time or left to spontaneous decision making?
What if the shopping doesn't get done, one orders takeout, the other picks around at the dregs of the refrigerator, and both end up feeling deprived and let down?
Now you may feel this is awfully petty material for a marital dispute, and it's true. However, any marriage therapist will tell you that his office hours are filled with even more trivial arguments that, if left to fester, can and do slowly erode a marriage.
If this couple does not know how to communicate needs, complaints, or limits, then they will begin to develop negative feelings about each other. Hurt, anger, and distrust show up, and most couples do not understand how to navigate these difficult feelings and begin to emotionally distance themselves from each other. As the tension increases, the hurts multiply, and soon you find yourself in a major emotional disaster. Then love turns to anger and distrust, and soon the relationship seems irreparable.