Can Resentments About Housework Cause Divorce?
One of our in house divorce consultants and therapists, Jo Harrison, was interviewed for the iPaper last week on the subject of “chore wars”, with Jo offering her views on how to address resentments about housework. In the article (found here) Jo referred to marriages that have ended where one person, usually a woman, feels they have been labouring for a long time unrecognized. We wanted to ask her more about this.
Do you really think resentments about housework can cause divorce?
My experience of working with couples has shown me that where there are feelings that one person’s contribution to the workload of a family isn’t recognized or felt to be valued, then yes, actually this can be an issue that really corrodes at a relationship. I have worked with many couples and individuals over the years who have felt at a particular point that their role has gone unrecognized – often it’s in midlife or later life – and then there is a struggle in the couple relationship to tend to those feelings. If there cannot be space to acknowledge this pain and to find a way to talk about it and tend to the feelings then this can lead to a breakdown of the relationship.
We know from evidence that where there is an imbalance of housework (and it’s statistically usually women who are doing more) that this can negatively affect a couple’s sex life so this is one area that it can cause problems. But it’s not just sex – it can also contribute to a general atmosphere being negative.
How do resentments about housework show themselves?
Well, it’s something couples argue about and the thing about housework is that it’s something that needs constantly doing so there needs to be constant negotiation about it. If there are bad feelings that don’t get resolved then they’re going to get an airing every day. Often what you find is that something seemingly small can stir up a lot of feeling – like one set of dishes left out might make one person angry about something much bigger than that and then you have the other person thinking that they are massively over-reacting.
It also is the case that deeper resentments and deeper feelings about not being cared about or respected find domestic life a stage in which they can be played out. So sometimes it may not be about the dishes, it may be more about deeper feelings.
And then there’s the problem of nagging.
What do you mean?
Well, no-one likes to be nagged, and people can feel that their partner really is a nag when it comes to issues of housework. This might touch on their own sensitivities – perhaps they had critical parents, or feel very defensive if someone tells them something about themselves that they don’t like to hear. You can get a bit of a stalemate – one person doesn’t like being asked to change, and the other person gives up asking but feels resentful, which then creates a bad atmosphere, which then means neither feel like trying anything different.
What advice would you have for couples struggling with this issue?
Well, I would say to find time to talk about it when feelings aren’t running high. To sit down and dedicate some time to thinking about – what is the work that needs doing and how you are going to share it. Of course, couples have different ideas of what work needs doing. This is really important to give some space to in the conversation. Asking each other questions like “What’s important to you about the house? What does that mean to you?” actually turns this into potentially a very productive kind of conversation where you might even get to know something about each other. Couples can also try and get better acquainted with how to ask each other for help – “How could we have this conversation better? Is there something about the way I ask you for help here that makes you defensive? What is it like for you when I can’t do something around the house?”
And if it’s too difficult to have these conversations on your own then it’s a sign that you might benefit from some help from a professional.
Jo is very experienced in working as a therapist with individuals and couples who are separating. A former family lawyer, Jo has a depth of experience in being able to understand the legal process. She can work with clients, either individually or as a couple, to support them through the process. Clients can meet with Jo for an initial consultation at our offices in Central London to think about what help is required. This can be at any stage before, during, or after a divorce or separation.
If you would like to arrange a consultation with one of our therapists or lawyers please contact us below.