When I was in college, I sat through a lecture by a visiting professor who was explaining the most common reasons why people get divorced. She talked about money issues and infidelity, of course. But she also talked about daily stresses that don’t seem like much, but add up over time — like daily chores. At the end of the lecture, I can still remember her quipping that “the secret to a long-lasting marriage is to never fight over the dishes.”
While that little one-liner may have seemed like a harmless joke, it turns out there’s actually some hard research to back it up.
Researchers at the Harvard Business School and the University of British Colombia looked at a study that followed 3,000 people in relationships. What they found was that couples who were willing to purchase time-saving services were more likely to be happier in their relationships.
“Conflicts over chores are one of the primary reasons that couples divorce,” the study authors shared. And the reason why is simple: “both men and women become frustrated working a ‘second shift’ at home.”
But investing in “time-saving purchases” — like ones that eliminate the stress of daily chores — were found to greatly improve personal happiness.
Yep. So in other words: hiring a cleaning service could save your marriage.
On the one hand, it makes total sense that by removing the constant friction created by arguments over whose turn it is to scrub the toilet or how much time you spent folding the laundry can free up a couple to spend more quality time together. I mean, who wants to work a full day then go home and do even more work? (Every mom in America just raised her hand.)
Believe me, I get it. As a work-from-home mom, I spend basically all of my time chasing small kids around, while cooking and cleaning. There are times when I become so frustrated by something as silly as a pair of shoes left in front of a door that I’m this close to losing it. And I’m not above admitting that I’ve actively fantasized about throwing my sink full of dishes into the trash, just so I wouldn’t have to wash them.
But here’s the thing: hiring a cleaning service costs money. Money that adds up quickly. For a family like mine, which gets by on a limited income and a tight budget paying other people to clean my house sure sounds a whole lot like a luxury rather than a necessity. I don’t know many people who can afford to hire a housecleaner or a landscaper or a nanny, for that matter. My husband and I spend most of our time just worrying about keeping our head above water financially.
So if you read this headline and immediately thought, #FirstWorldProblems, I feel you. And considering a third of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck right now just like me, I’m willing to bet there are plenty of other couples out there who would agree.
Maybe the key to a happy marriage for couples who can’t afford a personal staff is to remember that being kind and communicating honestly and respectfully (in other words, don’t just expect one person to always do the dishes) is the ticket to solving what are seemingly simple problems.
My husband and I have split our tasks at home equally, which seems to save us some stress. He’s responsible for certain chores like removing snow or mowing the lawn — two things that I honestly loathe doing. On the flip-side, I’m in charge of the laundry and the dishes. (And if I am being honest, I find them to be great stress relievers. I mean, have you ever rage cleaned before?)
The bottom line is, the arguments will still happen. Stress will still sometimes build. But at the end of the day, sharing the load — whatever that may look like for you — makes everyone a little more happy. And I guess we didn’t really need science to tell us that one.