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The Dirty Secret About Marriage That No One Talks About

I'm talking about dishes, of course

Author Elisa Murray

Published on: May 07, 2019


My husband and I have been married 10 years and I'm willing to bet that 30 percent of our arguments have had to do with the dishes. Who does them, how often we do them, how they should be done. (Important bit of context: We have an old dishwasher that doesn't rinse dishes super well so you have to kind of wash the dishes before you, um, wash the dishes.)

A quick overview of our differences: I like doing dishes after every meal, imperfectly. He likes washing the dishes not as often (e.g., not after every meal), perfectly. As a dish-doer committed to perfection, he would like to wash every dish in our house (and is against having our 8-year-old do them). But since my husband doesn't do them as often, I often end up washing them because I don't want to wait around for a clean kitchen.   

Could this be any more boring, ridiculous or first-world? And yet, the dish issue has caused an undue amount of relationship stress in our house. That's why I felt vindicated, when I happened upon this "Atlantic" article about new research by the Council of Contemporary Families (CCF) on household chores, which highlighted dishwashing's disproportional role in family dynamics. A few choice highlights:

  • "Equitable dish-doing can have a significant impact on the health and longevity of a relationship."
  • "For women in heterosexual relationships, it’s more important to share the responsibility of doing the dishes than any other chore."
  • "Women who wash the vast majority of the dishes themselves report more relationship conflict, less relationship satisfaction, and even worse sex, than women with partners who help."
  • "Women are happier about sharing dishwashing duties than they are about sharing any other household task."

Women are happier about sharing dishwashing duties than they are about sharing any other household task.

I get this on so many levels. It explains why, on a day on which my husband has spent four hours on yard work or house cleaning, I still feel resentful when I end up doing the dishes. Dishes are grimy, never-ending and not possible to outsource (unless you're in a different economic bracket than us). 

Or, as University of Utah professor Dan Carlson noted in "The Atlantic" article, the chore of dishes carries a legacy of female drudgery — the responsibility of cleaning up after other people, as opposed to traditionally male tasks such as yard work and washing the car — that women can't help but feel on an emotional level.

Women who have to shoulder those traditionally female chores alone “see themselves as relegated to the tasks that people don’t find desirable,” Carlson said.

There is good news, but I almost laughed when I read it. Men perform an average of four hours of housework every week, compared to two in 1965. And between 1999 and 2006, the percentage of couples who share dishwashing rose from 16 to 29 percent.

Okay, progress is being made, but really — we're supposed to celebrate this? 

Let's go for 50 percent. And the only way we can make that happen is to communicate that there is, in fact, a problem. Key word here is "communication."

A colleague of mine reports that her husband read a similar article and upped his dishwashing minutes immediately (idea: dishwashing Fitbit?).

I've shared the "Atlantic" piece with my hub (subject line: "This explains my dish issue") and recommitted to working on a chore chart we can stick to.

And I'm also committing to training the next generation of dish-doers, a.k.a my son — even if he doesn't do them perfectly. 

How about you? Who does dishes in your house? What household tasks cause the most division in your family and how have you found solutions? 

This story originally published in April 2018 and was updated in May 2019.

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