I never knew the ever-popular “trash day” could cause such turmoil in a relationship. Regardless of what days of the week your trash day is, the fact is, whoever is taking it to the curb is groaning on the way to there. And whoever is toting it out the door is probably grumbling to themselves that they don’t produce all this trash, so why is it they have to be the ones to take it out?
Dishes. If you have kids that are old enough to have “dish night,” then you are keenly aware of the drama that can manifest in what could be an otherwise quiet evening with a nice dinner.
Mowing the grass in Houston can easily become a twice a week ordeal, especially when we aren’t having a drought and/or someone is remembering to water the yard. In the summer time, it doesn’t really matter what time of day you do it, you are guaranteed to be at risk for dehydration, exhaustion, and a farmer’s tan, and the mower of the grass receives an automatic pass on all other household chores for the day (at least, it is typically petitioned).
Men and women have traditionally had different roles in the home, and those roles have also been traditionally established in the family, on the job, and even during times of war. Even sociologist and psychologists have conflicting theories on why this has always been, and most of those theories reflect either nature or nurture, while some do their best to incorporate biology into the mix as well.
Regardless of theories, evolution, politics, or the advancement of women, the fact is the battle of the sexes rages on and is often waged under our roofs as some families struggle to find some middle ground. As if there weren’t enough to divide our gender assigned roles in society, trash day, dishes, and daily chores add fuel to already healthy burning fire.
We can all speculate as to where this historical debate began, but it’s similar to the “chicken or the egg” concept; we might never know where the roots began. All we can do is move forward and try to solve these pointless arguments. The fact is, if we never built families, never mated, never bonded, then we would all live alone and be responsible for our own trash, yards, dishes, etc. For reasons we recognize (though may not always understand), we do bond and establish co-habitation with one another. Perhaps, because in the beginning, we spend more time in the bedroom than producing trash and dirtying dishes. But at some point, should the relationship progress to the “next level,” we will eventually come to see that for some reason, this wonderful guy, for reasons we can’t understand, doesn’t enjoy taking out the trash, doing dishes, OR mowing the grass! Why not? He is a GUY, right?
And what about that fine female specimen you are now attached to? Oh yes, she was quite the catch with the butt so tight you can bounce a quarter off of it and those big pouty lips…but you were lucky guy to hook up with her. But, when the sparkle fades, you can’t believe she doesn’t want to cook every night, doesn’t want to do your laundry, and is sick of cleaning out your facial stubble from the sink every morning. Why not? Isn’t that what “women do?”
I think times are changing, and defining gender-specific “jobs” is an idea that is becoming more and more out of date. As more and more women enter the work force, there is a huge increase in single-parent homes (mostly women), there are more successful divorces than marriages, baby-daddies become more abundant, and women make more strides to becoming “equal” to men in various vocations, our lives on both sides of the fence are changing as well. The demands that were put on a man twenty and thirty years ago are now falling onto women as well. And pressures that only women used to endure have now fallen upon men. The challenges related to childcare, higher education, family planning, car maintenance, insurance, and paying bills all fall relatively equal on all of us. Dishes, trash, upkeep of the yard, vacuuming, and dusting are now chores we all do when we live alone (or at least I hope most do these chores). Whether you pay someone to do, you do it yourself, or you let your environment crumble around you – YOU are responsible when you are alone. Why does this change when we take on a co-habitant?
Maybe we grew up in a home where there was a clear division of duties by Mom and Dad. Maybe Mom WAS Mom and Dad and had to do it all. Maybe there was only Dad, and Dad did it all. Maybe it really is genetic, in that men are the “hunter/gatherers” and women are the “nurturer/preparers” (is that a word?) It doesn’t really matter anymore. The lines are blurred and skewed all over the place.
So, instead of letting an argument lay in wait, here are some thoughts that might help avoid a dispute all together.
Yes, it’s a novel concept, but talking about your thoughts and ideas about chore division can actually help. Now, you might be tempted to sit down with a calendar and high light trash days and put his name in the box, but it will never work if he’s not on board. There has to be some sort of agreement to this concept. Be warned, women, you will be perceived as “nagging” and “accusing” your man of not pulling his share. So be sure to avoid the deadly words, “never,” “always” and “why.” These 3 words will start a conversation that will lead to the dark side. No one ever “never” or “always,” and when you begin a sentence with “why,” you are making an accusation that will not be well received. If you HAVE to discuss your feelings, try “I feel.” And, men do a lot better with direct speak instead of hinting. Try this exercise.
You realize the trash (that your man already previously agreed to take out in your attempts to work out the chore arrangement) is piling up in the garage and trash day is tomorrow. You want him to take it out because you have done your end of the deal by doing the dishes (or whatever your agreement was). How will you mention it to him?
- “The trash is piling up in the garage, and the smell makes me sick. It hasn’t been taken out for a week now!”
- “You said you would take the trash out, and it’s sitting in the garage attracting bugs and stinking up the place! You never take it out! I always have to do it.”
- “Would you take the trash out before you leave for work tomorrow?”
- “Didn’t we talk about this and come to an agreement? Last Wednesday at 2:01pm you clearly stated you would take the trash to the curb on trash days. Remember? It was after we had dinner at Moe’s where you had 4 beers and was staring at that red-headed waitress.”
Men (believe it or not) are quite capable and typically relatively responsive to direct, plain language. It really uncomplicates your message and will yield far better returns. Everyone wins.
And men, if you don’t want your woman reminding you of your agreement, then only agree to what you are willing to do, and then do it. You get into far more trouble blankly agreeing to whatever she proposes in an effort to stop the badgering and then not living up to it than to just clearly state your true intentions. Try this exercise:
Your woman has been talking about something for the last 30 minutes right in the middle of your football game. You’re not quite sure what she’s been saying, but you are relatively sure she wants you to do something on her terms. The game is coming back on, and this relentless inquisition has to stop so you say:
- “Okay honey, I will take care of it.” Then you nod in agreement with her while not really hearing her.
- “Baby, can this wait until after the game when I can give you 100% of my attention?”
- “You always try to bring this stuff up right in the middle of a game! I never get to just sit in peace!”
- “Yes, I will take the trash out before I go to bed.”
You may have struggled between B. and D. Your brain WANTED to think that B sounded reasonable, but you probably knew D. would keep you out of trouble and went with it. Can’t figure out why B. wouldn’t work (not even as a “fall back” answer)? Because B. dismisses her feelings. Women usually just want to feel validated in their feelings, and if you dismiss that for a game (especially if you have the ability to pause live TV); you lost a lot of ground.
Side note: If you have no intentions of taking out the trash, then trying “Honey, I am not going to lie to you. I am not going to take the trash out because I feel….” She will not like it, but when you say “I feel,” she won’t have much of a comeback. Arguing with feelings is a pretty elusive concept.
BUT, before you ever sign a lease, share a closet, or even leave an overnight wardrobe in their house, a discussion about gender roles should be covered and everyone should be on the same page with beliefs, cultural issues, religious beliefs, etc. Truth be told, we can work out things like toilet paper hanging and leaving toothpaste in the sink – but things related to core beliefs will not change (or at least they will rarely change) in a person. Look BEFORE you leap.
There has to be some sort of agreement for things to work (get your mind out of the gutter). If you mow the grass, I will clean the house and then we can do laundry together. If you take out the trash, I will do the dishes. It CAN work; it just has to be communicated with respect.
I can tell you that my kids are all old enough to do dishes, take out the trash, and help with laundry; and they do. Yes, it can lead to arguments when the oldest has to work late, when someone forgot to start the dishwasher, or when we had company that night. But that aside, teach your children how to do chores. Children are capable of learning and doing, and it teaches them to be self-reliant grown-ups. Don’t forget that we aren’t raising children, we are raising adults. Rewards charts, verbalizing a thank-you, complimenting a job well done, or a random dessert goes a long way. In teaching your sons AND daughters to do ALL the chores, you teach them that there is respect and responsibility in ALL the chores, not just “woman’s work” and “man’s work.” I have a feeling in the future, there will be even less division of gender specific work than there is today.
Ever have a crappy boss who never tells you that you did a good job? Remember a time where you mom or dad didn’t notice that outstanding contribution you made? Doing something important and not hearing any recognition is probably the fastest way to ensure that person never does it again. The longer we are together, the less we seem to see those things our spouse/S.O. does. I am equally guilty of it. But, a “thank you,” goes a long way. Sometimes, it’s really great just to hear that someone recognizes what you did and that it was appreciated. And, sometimes, it’d be nice to see that appreciation in the form a dinner out, a movie, a card, a small token in the form of gold and diamonds or season tickets. Okay, that might be a stretch, but you get the idea. There are actually a ton of psychological studies proving that rewarding positive behavior leads to more permanent and faster changes in behavior than punishment.
#5 Irreconcilable differences
Can EVERY argument be worked out? Of course not. And in our society of disposable marriages, the concept of even negotiating is becoming more of an art than necessity anymore. But, a woman who demands equal rights, doesn’t want the door held open for her, and burns bras at various conventions is probably not going to be compatible with a guy who wants his wife at home raising the children and doing the laundry while he works 10 hours a day and does all the trash, car, and yard detail. Recognizing it from the start and avoiding serious commitment would be ideal. But let’s face it, life changes, people change; times change, and sometimes, change is inevitable. Instead of forcing a round peg into a square hole, you have to know when to throw in the towel and call it quits.
Now for the part where I go out on a limb and discuss my personal point of view on gender specific roles: I think they have merit. I believe my husband and I have a good balance. I do a lot of my own mechanic work on our cars not because I have to or because he won’t, but because I like it. I inherited a grease monkey gene from my father, and I like working on cars. I like to use the grill and do a good job. We both hate yard work, so we hired a guy who comes each week. I have children, so trash days are typically covered by the boys of the house and all the kids help with dishes and laundry. However, in our life prior to kids, we both did laundry, dishes, and trash. USUALLY, he did the trash…it wasn’t something we discussed; it just kind of worked out like that. I think we ate out more than we ever ate at home, but I think I did more dish duty in the beginning. I did the laundry, kept the house, etc. But he worked all day and some of the night. I took care of the kids, but when he came home, I got relief and a little time to myself without argument.
Today, he makes the money, I pay the bills. I usually do the family calendar stuff (kids’ doctor visits, dental appointments, etc.) He does the trash (when the kids forget), home repairs/maintenance, and takes care of the kids when I can’t be home due to clinicals, class, study groups, etc. We rarely argue about who has to take care of the kids – I mean, we are BOTH their parents, and it comes with the territory. I typically do the cars; he does the watering of the grass. A hired guy does the yard. We both do laundry. I usually shuffle kids. We have our arguments from time to time, but rarely is it over a chore. I think I married a great guy who takes on a good deal more of chores than a lot of guys I dated before, but I think I do a lot of things that many women can’t or won’t – and he gets benefit from that as well.
I read an article today about why women do not have to sign up to be drafted, whereas men do. The article said something to the effect that, “If women want to be a part of the draft, they need to write their congressmen.” I consider myself pretty open to women’s rights and stuff, but I thought this was absurd. What woman WANTS to be registered for the draft? What happened to men protecting the nation’s “women and children?” That’s when I knew I am living in changing times. Though I share chores and parenting responsibility with my husband, we still have core beliefs. He is the man, and he leads in a lot of ways: He protects, secures, and leads the home in our religious practices. I am the woman: I nurture, support, and encourage. The thought of NOT being in that role by default is kind of mind-blowing because I love it and value it, as does my family. I couldn’t be further from that role than being drafted by nation to fight in a war.
The times, they are a-changing.