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(Another) Secret To A Happy Marriage: Have A Division Of Labor

I’ve posted before about what makes for a happy marriage. (Answer: Have common interests.) I’ve also posted on five tips for staying...

I’ve posted before about what makes for a happy marriage. (Answer: Have common interests.)

I’ve also posted on five tips for staying monogamous.

But this morning I had another epiphany about what makes for a successful long-term partnership: set up an appropriate division of labor.

I realized this about an hour ago when two things happened simultaneously:

a. my cell phone failed to charge properly (again) and

b. I couldn’t locate a tool bar for a new social networking program I’d just set up on my computer.

It’s not that I couldn’t have tried to fix either of these problems on my own. I’m not a technophobe. As an avid blogger, Facebook friend and now Twitter-er, I’m all about technology these days.

It’s just that when something technical goes wrong with a household object – be it the remote control for the VCR or a lightbulb – my first instinct, in the words of my late Irish grandmother, is “to call the man.”

But that’s not always the best strategy. Because “the man” is not only usually quite expensive, he’s also often unnecessary. Rather, these problems are often easily solved if one is just willing to sit down for a few minutes and think things through. Or read the instruction manual (which, in my case, usually gets tossed in a “to be read” pile, never “to be read.”)

Which is where my husband comes in. One of the (many!) reasons I’m glad that I married him is that he is (a.) technologically astute (b.) very helpful and, crucially (c.) incredibly patient. So when my joint technological dilemmas presented themselves this morning, he immediately came upstairs and had them both under control in a matter of minutes.

All of which is to say that in our marital division of labor, my husband is the technological advisor.

He’s also the aesthetic consultant. The son of an architect, he has a really good eye. He always knows what colors match, which piece of furniture ought to go where, and how high a particular painting ought to hang. Me? I’m just not all that visual. (Don’t believe me? Read this post under “comfort zone.” Nuff said.)

But lest you think that this is an entirely one-sided arrangement, let me assure you that I also pull my weight in this relationship. I’m in charge of anything time-sensitive.

So, for example, I recently got an email from an old friend who’d (apparently) been trying to get in touch with us for several weeks. She’d initially emailed my husband to ask if we were free for dinner one night in November when she’d be passing through London. When he didn’t respond, she emailed him again to be sure he’d gotten the first query.

My first reaction was:  why didn’t she email me first? Doesn’t she *know* that I’m the Chief Scheduler? Apparently not. But my husband does. Which is why – once he actually got to the second email – he immediately forwarded it to me.


So now I’m curious…what’s your division of labor?


In case you’re interested, here’s yesterday’s post on about Five Things We Learned At The European Summit.

Image: Blue Lightbulb by Curious_Zed via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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  1. eleanor November 3, 2009 at 9:00 pm #

    this is great.

    i realized while reading this that i have a strong tendency to conflate “division of labor” with “gender roles”, and, as a result, get too upset about it. i have accepted our separate tasks to a degree, but mostly grudgingly so.

    in our place, it’s my job to deal with the purchase/choosing/cleaning/etc of clothes for our daughter, as well as the general selection, acquisition & organization of her supplies. (side bar: having a baby totally requires an advanced degree in inventory management & logistics!) my husband walks the dog and does the grocery shopping. i start projects, he often finishes them. i’m handier, but also lazier. i definitely organize our social calendar. he organizes our private outings.

    this post inspires me to attempt re-categorize some of activities, and not get too caught up in the whole “gender” aspects. (though i will probably never make peace with the fact that i am the only [unpaid] person who will ever clean our bathroom.)

    [p.s. i really enjoy your blog! :) ]

    • delialloyd November 3, 2009 at 9:16 pm #

      Thanks, Eleanor. Lovely to hear from you! I know exactly what you mean. I often feel that i get stuck cooking and doing laundry (though to be fair, my husband does do all the “design” stuff which is probably more stereotypically female.) And having a baby just means more work for everyone! (ps-cleaning bathrooms is a totally thankless task best left to fairies…)

  2. Maria del Mar Paredes Maña November 3, 2009 at 11:26 pm #

    Well, in my case, it’s the same as your case but upside down. I mean, I’m like your husband, my husband is like you: he doesn’t ever, ever, read any instruction manual of any device we buy. He also says he’s bad with those apparatus but I really think he’s just pretending and choosing the clevest way: “acting like a fool, being smart” so that he saves time enough in doing that kind of stuff.

    So I am the stupid as I “have” to read those manuals, fix any tiny problem in the computer that he isn’t able to (or better, he is not willing to do), but there’s one thing that we share: cooking. We cook alternately each week, and the result is good as our way of cooking is quite diferent and as our diets are. He’s a specialist in preparing legumes, fish and I like to experiment on any kind of new pasta on my own, “mexican” food, “invented” salads, meat, in one word: exotic food with a mixture of spice I like to innovate with. He’s more traditional in his dishes.

    The worse part of that is he needs any kind of pan, plate, bowl, pot, etc. for cooking and I can manage with two or three kitchen or cooking utensils. That is an axiom I have could confirmed with other women: men usually dirty more when the’re cooking than women, but why?.

    Another division of Labor we have has to do with helping with our children’s homework. When it’s Math, Chemistry, Physics, Biology or Geology, I do it. When those homeworks are relating to “Letters”: History, Gramatic, Literature, Geography, etc., he does the task, then. Not too bad for the kids, is it?

  3. delialloyd November 4, 2009 at 10:12 am #

    Mara=I like it-total gender bending! I think it’s great that you alternate cooking-I wish we did that (and yes, I totally agree about plates etc._ My husband also seems to have a much higher tolerance for dirty dishes than I do….I also like the way you divide up homework. We also do that but reversed (more traditional in that sense, I do English, he does maths, etc.) Thanks for weighing in!

  4. daryl boylan November 4, 2009 at 1:23 pm #

    Division of labor is, of course, essential in any marriage or relationship. Trouble is, you become quite dependent on the arrangement and then one bad day you’re on your own and willy-nilly, nilly is the only way to go

  5. delialloyd November 4, 2009 at 9:09 pm #

    yes, too true! hadn’t thought of that angle.

  6. Eva February 3, 2010 at 10:56 pm #

    I agree, Delia. Division of labor is a key to any happy, productive relationship (spouses, roommates, coworkers). My husband handles cooking and technology. I do cleaning, bills, and most of the yardwork.
    Our big question is how do you find a division of labor that feels fair and equitable to both parties? I think we tend to over-estimate how much we contribute to the household, while under-estimating our partner’s efforts.

  7. The Mad Penguin July 13, 2010 at 2:24 am #

    I think another angle is that 1)it makes men feel needed, which is an integral part of their ego and 2) it lessen the female’s burden so we nag less. :P In this household, the man takes the trash out, general upkeep of our 2 cars, the yardwork, the fireplace duty and the bbq-or-steak frying duty. I do the cleaning, cooking, laundry, ironing, corresponding and keeping in touch with both sides of the family. It’s not as if I can’t take the trash out or mow the lawn, and it’s not as if he doesn’t know how to clean (in fact, he’s better as he’s more thorough) but it’s teamwork that makes it good.

    I LOVE your blog!

  8. Maureen Thomson August 19, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    My husband and I not only live together, but work together as well. I agree that a division of labor based on individual skills and interests, is key to a happy relationship.

    In our house, Jeremy is the hands-on one, meaning he fixes, runs, installs, assembles anything remotely resembling carpentry, electrical, mechanical or maintenance. Like the author’s other half, he’s also good as aesthetics.

    I am the money person, the social-calendar keeper, and the overseer of the housework schedule (although we both implement it).

  9. delialloyd August 19, 2010 at 4:13 pm #

    sounds like we are one and the same Maureen! (ps I used to work w/my husband too!)


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