When you first decide to move in with your significant other, the question of who’ll do the dishes and cleaning isn’t often the first thought that springs to mind. Like many similarly unprepared couples, the reality of household chores didn’t really hit my boyfriend and me until our third month of living together. Not because we weren’t cleaning up—back then all we had was a tiny studio apartment that just needed the occasional sweep and scrub—but because we were too cozy in our little love bubble to notice the grime and dirt surrounding us.
Like most middle class youths in the Philippines, I grew up never having to ever do dishes or laundry. Any mess I made was later cleaned up by the household help my parents employed. So it wasn’t a surprise that a few months into cohabiting with my boyfriend, I had the first of what would be a series of small emotional breakdowns that would pepper my first year of cohabitation. A breakdown I suspect many other women experience when they, maybe for the first time in their lives, face an issue that plagues many relationships.
Despite how far we’ve come in terms of gender equality, a cursory glance at most modern day relationships still shows the glaring imbalance that exists in the division of household work. On top of maintaining their 9-to-5s, women are often still expected to cook, clean the house, do the laundry and wash the dishes. It’s no wonder that this imbalance eventually leads to fights and a general dissatisfaction with the quality of their relationships.
Over the years, many studies have been done on this topic alone. In one study published in the UK, researchers found that three in ten couples split over chores. In a study by American researchers published in the book Sex Roles, researchers found that the uneven division of chores resulted in less marital satisfaction for women.
'Despite how far we’ve come in terms of gender equality, a cursory glance at most modern day relationships still shows the glaring imbalance that exists in the division of household work'
This comes as a surprise to exactly no one. Most are taught since birth that that cooking and cleaning was women’s work—despite the lack of any biological basis for it. Believe it or not, women are not inherently better at tidying up or roasting a chicken. We don’t come out of the womb with a predilection for domestic work; it is foisted upon us by society. Unfortunately, when you get these messages rammed into your brain repeatedly since childhood you eventually start believing it.
Aside from the obvious gender issues, tensions arise when your idea of cleanliness differs wildly from your partner. And it’s these discrepancies that can really do a number on your relationship. While one person might be able to live with a pile of filthy dishes left in the sink for a few days, the very thought of an unwashed spoon can make the other go batshit. This often leads to one person taking on the lion’s share of the chores, which leads to stewing resentment by the ‘overdoer’ that the other isn’t pulling their weight. And unchecked resentment is the quickest way to kill a relationship. When that happens, your shared love for Tarantino films and The Beatles no longer matters. It’s the kind of compatibility that can’t be coaxed out of a Netflix binge watch.
And that’s not all. In the thick of it, other issues can be exacerbated by unequal chore division. One minute you’re fighting about a dirty dish, the next you’re squabbling over that time at a party when your partner’s eyes strayed over to a certain someone a little too long.
'One minute you’re fighting about a dirty dish, the next you’re squabbling over that time at a party when your partner’s eyes strayed over to a certain someone a little too long'
For women, the pressure to ‘have it all’ is real and anxiety inducing. Going home to an unkempt apartment can feel like a personal failure. And when friends come over and witness the mess, somehow the judgment never lands on the dude.
So what’s a couple to do?
Well, you could divvy up your household chores equally, come up with a system wherein one person takes Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and the other does Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. You could make a chore wheel where different tasks are assigned to one person. You wash the dishes but she puts them away. You do the laundry but she does the folding. And you know what, that might actually work. Until inevitably it doesn’t, and the strata of your relationship issues keeps getting thicker and thicker.
When that happens, it’s time to give yourself a break and outsource that shit.
And if you thint that’s tantamount to giving up, don’t. No dirty bathroom or pile of laundry is worth your sanity. A cleaner to come in once a week/month, tidy up, and then skedaddle will save you so much bickering about whose turn it is to scrub the toilet.
When my boyfriend and I moved into our second apartment—a one bedroom in Poblacion with a relatively spacious living room and a cute little kitchen—my mind immediately went to all the potential dinner parties and get togethers we could finally throw. But what I really should’ve been paying attention to was the white-tiled floor and what a nightmare it would be to keep that sucker clean.
In the end, it was that floor that ended up becoming the straw that broke the camel’s back. After just one too many times scrubbing it down only for it to get dirty again just hours later, I finally bit the bullet and decided to hire a cleaner.
When I finally admitted to myself that I couldn’t do it all, and conceded that the best thing for both my sanity and relationship would be to get someone else to do it, the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders and I felt like I could breathe again. If you think that getting a cleaner is frivolous, especially if you’re both living in a seemingly manageable one bedroom apartment with nary a child in sight, it isn’t. Instead, think of it as an investment. A weekly expense that keeps you from going at each other’s throats and helps your relationship (and mental health) stay wonderfully intact.
In the end, it’s a small price to pay if you want things with your S.O. to work. And it’s still cheaper than couples therapy.