Wednesday, November 14, 2012

This Relationship Corner: Chores

Ever have one of those "there ought to be a law!" kind of moments, when you get an idea so good you think it should be mandatory for everyone. I had one a while back and I had to share. A couple shouldn't be able to get married until they've spent an afternoon running errands together. I told you it was a good idea, and even if it won't be a law, I think it should be a vital part of pre-marital counseling.

If you've never heard of pre-marital counseling, it's when a couple attends counseling sessions to make sure that they know what they are getting into with marriage. It's the plot of the movie License to Wed. (And if you've never heard of that movie, then this is one of those times when ignorance truly is bliss.) The goal is preventative maintenance, addressing potential problems before you get married so they don't crop up after. It's a great idea, really, and I recommend it to everyone thinking about marriage.

My wife and I did a few sessions of pre-marital counseling before we got married. The man who performed the ceremony, my old youth minister and still someone whose opinion I value, never married a couple without checking to make sure they had their act together. The sessions were productive and helped my wife and me prepare for life as a married couple. If there was one flaw in those sessions, though, it was that it was all theory and not practical.

This is where my idea comes in. It's one thing to talk about your expectations and expose any issues you might have. (All good things, mind you, and very necessary.) It's another thing to spend an afternoon together running errands that take twice as long as you thought they would and costing three times as much as expected even with the coupons you clipped. For many couples, that's the make-or-break point.

If I was counseling a couple, I would send them on a grown-up scavenger hunt together. They'd have to hit the hardware store, dry cleaners, and grocery store and run the kinds of errands that they will be running for the rest of their lives. You both might have the same ideas on raising children, but how do you feel about cutting coupons and shopping the deals? How do you decide the order you hit the aisles in the grocery store? And that doesn't even begin to cover how you choose your line at the register.

After the couple endures my trials, I would sit them down and ask one question: "Did you have fun with each other today?" If the couple reports that they had an enjoyable time together even though they were running errands, then that is a positive sign. If you can't enjoy each other when you're experiencing the mundane details of life, you're in for a rude awakening because that's where you spend most of your time as a married couple. If running errands together is a miserable expereince for you both, that's not a good sign for the relationship.

Couples do a lot of work, and a lot of it is thankless grunt work. Shopping and running errands is just one thing. There's also the daily chores that are essential to keep your household running. Things need to be cooked, cleaned, folded, and if they have more than four legs, killed. You're going to spend a lot of time together keeping the household in working order, and you need to make sure that you don't want to kill each other.

Being able to enjoy each other's company while running errands is only part of it.You also have to be satisfied that everyone's doing a fair amount of work. If one of you is doing more chores than the other, that can lead to a lot of unhappiness in the relationship. A recent study found that couples are happier when they split their chores, and less happy when one person does more than the other.

This is why the two of you need to figure out how to do errands and chores. Sometimes you'll do them together, other times you'll each tackle something that needs doing and get twice as much done. When you get chores done as a couple, it can bring you two closer together and increase your relational, if not marital satisfaction. You have a feeling of accomplishment, and you reaffirm that you are there to support each other.

Some of you might be reading this and have it in your head that chores aren't your thing, that's why you're in a relationship. To that I say: grow up. You aren't a child any more, you're an adult, and that's the big secret of the adult world; you're now the responsible adult who cleans up after yourself. Adults do what needs to be done, and if you aren't contributing to the errands and chores, then you're still a child. Your partner doesn't need a child, they need an equal.

You need to be that equal because sometimes you have to be the one to pick up the slack. What happens when your spouse/partner is sick? Or out of town for work? Or spending all their evenings rehearsing for a community theater production of The Music Man. If you don't pick up the slack, you'll have trouble. (Which starts with T and rhymes with C that stands for chores.)

Finally, even though chores are something necessary, you need to appreciate each other's effort. Even if you've done the chore a hundred times before, it's still nice to be thanked and appreciated for doing it. When your partner does a chore, thank them for it as well. If you run errands together, be sure you not only enjoy the time together, but express your appreciation to each other for making it a more pleasant experience.

And you better make sure it's a pleasant experience. Don't be that spouse who is worse than a pouting three-year old on the verge of a tantrum. Even if you don't want to go out, suck it up and realize that these chores make the relationship go round, and a little unpleasantness now will result in a much better time in the future because the chore was done.

This is why I'd want to make prospective married couples run some errands together. They need to be able to handle it when it's for real, and there's nothing wrong with a little shakedown cruise to get the bugs worked out of the system.

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