As a couples and marriage therapist in Montgomery County I see the chore wars every day in my office.
When it comes to our relationships the gender differences within our brains seem to play a role. Sure, I know these are gender stereotypes but they are often valid observations. One member of a couple, often a female, gets irritated that her spouse or partner leaves dishes in the sink, socks on the rug, toys laying around, you name it. Frequently, the interpretation is that “he” just doesn’t care. Based on over two decades conducting marriage and couples counseling and my own long term marriage, I’d like to challenge that assumption.
One member of a couple has their radar up so they notice chores left undone. Their brain interprets this behavior as if the other is saying “I don’t care” or more specifically “I don’t care about YOU”. Yet the evidence suggests it is not that simple. What if “he” didn’t see the mess or it did not register? How can that be?
One half of a couple, often the female, feel stressed seeing these tasks left undone and can’t feel relaxed until everything is in some type of order. Meanwhile, “he” doesn’t see it that way. For him unwinding is associated with a completely unrelated activity which seems far more appealing than dirty dishes that can be dealt with “tomorrow”. What he sees as “out of order” is the “nagging” and that gets interpreted as “you are incompetent”. For most people being a target of our loved one’s fury does not translate into a desire or urgency to do more but into a sense of futility resulting in withdrawal.
This leads to at best a “disconnect” and at worst a level of petulance that erupts into full blown tension. Understand that the “fight” is usually not over the “mess” but over the interpretation of its meaning on a deeper level related to the core sense of trust and commitment in the relationship.
Next time, try acknowledging the differences in how you each view the “duties” of maintaining a household and engage in a dialogue about solutions. Try doing so with compassion and a little humor.
Deb Owens is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Spring House and Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, PA.