The Tasks We Give Our Mates


Make a list of the chores you’re waiting for your spouse to take care of. Now go down the list and ask yourself how you would take care of them while he or she is off in intensive care at the hospital.
Feel that shudder? Sense yourself pulling away, wondering how long you could let it go until your beloved is back on the job? Are you telling yourself you’re not strong enough or skilled enough to tackle them yourself?
Most of us hand our mates the very jobs we don’t know how to do or really don’t like to do. And then we make ourselves miserable by concocting some story about fairness when it turns out they avoid the very same tasks we do. Or we get them to promise they will take care of them and blame them for breaking a promise when they find out what the tasks entail.
It turns out the fastest route to a happy marriage is to do those unpleasant chores, pay someone else to do them, or decide they don’t need doing. If, instead, you choose to keep up your story that these are your life partner’s chores, not yours, eventually the chores will revert to you anyway, but the love in your life–both the trickle that gets through while you’re blaming your spouse and the flood when you’re not–will be gone.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • Ah, the chores, a fact of life for those who cannot afford to pay someone else to take them over. Although, as you say it is an option. I remember being very bitter about chores when Tammy had a bigger, harder job than I. But I learned to gleefully develop systems for chores, systems for all the chores. I am a systems guy, so it was fun. Tammy is thankful and amused by my wacky systems from junk drawers to the grocery list.

  • Almost all of them are optional. So is whatever else you’re doing with the time and money that could be applied to the chores if you admit you want them done and neither of you is going to do them in your current circumstances.

  • I’ve been following this blog for a couple of months now, and I REALLY like it. I found it in a time when my world was turning right-side-up, and I was beginning to be able to *accept* love from my spouse. It’s been a great encouragement in that. I am also so grateful for the concrete examples of how to find that 3rd way.
    I’ve got to say though, so lightly saying “pay someone to do it” & referring to “whatever else you do with the money” is hard to hear when the “what else you do with the money” is pay rent & electric & buy groceries, and once in a while shoes for the children. And the time that you don’t spend keeping up on the chores is spent at work or sleeping.
    I agree, in these cases, drop harping on the chores & enjoy what time you can with each other. It’s just frustrating when people toss off a “pay for it”, and makes it tempting to not want to listen to the rich blokes who can throw money at their problems.

  • I can so appreciate your distress at my casually saying, “Pay someone.” I am not one of those rich blokes, and I don’t mean spend your Starbucks money (unless you’re fortunate enough to have some). I mean rethink everything and free up some money (or free up some time to make some money) to create the marriage and family life you really want.
    When I was widowed, I was finally forced to make some of these changes. I am SO sorry they never occurred to me while I was still married. Being a widow with a kid to raise made me a lot braver. The first thing I did was to free up 2 hours a day of commuting time. I never had thought I could risk my career to do this, but as a single mom, I felt I had no choice. Had I done it sooner, I could have walked to lunch with my husband from my new office.
    When I was widowed, I desperately wanted to keep our son in the low-priced private school we got him into when things got awful at the public school. Those folks (42 kids and their teachers, in the owner’s house) were family, and my son needed all the family he could get after his father died. I used part of that two hours a day and everything I had ever learned about time management and sales to double my income in a little more than a year by selling and managing a lot more projects.
    Had you asked me before my husband died, I would have sworn I was earning all I could possibly earn, and it was taking me 50-60 hours a week plus commuting time. Social Security was not nearly enough to replace my husband’s income, so I set out to see just how much I could make if I stopped doing anything non-essential at work. It worked, and most of it went to the school.
    However, I used part of that money to free up the time I spent doing laundry and cleaning the house by paying someone else to do these things. (Not much. Most of her pay was in room and board, using my guest room. My guests slept in the family room.) I used that freed-up time to volunteer with the Cub Scouts so our son could be a member.
    Often we think it will cost a bundle to have someone else take care of a chore. Every neighborhood has people in it looking for a few extra dollars a week, and each of those people has talents you don’t have and finds pleasure in things that feel like work to you. In many neighborhoods, someone has taken the initiative to set up a point system instead of cash payments for neighborly help.
    I know people who now pay a lot less rent and live in a lot less space so that they don’t need to do chores or work the hours that keep them from spending good times with loved ones. I am one of them. I know people who have taken jobs overseas in countries that pay a premium for American workers, so that they can travel with their families or stop doing all the housework themselves or afford to be actor in the US the other half of the year.
    People who love to cook make extra for neighbors who live alone or hate cooking, bringing in the money to pay someone to do house repairs so they can stop fighting over them with their spouse. I don’t have many neighbors where I live now, but I love to put up wallpaper and would gladly do it for a few extra bucks to go out to a restaurant with my husband, even if it meant I had to do without dusting and vacuuming my house for a week.
    No matter how little money or time you have, it’s almost always possible to create more for the right reason. I would just like to plant the seed that ending the chore battles with the love of your life could well be the right reason.

By Patty Newbold

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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