Wednesday, November 21, 2012

It's Not the Infidelity, Stupid

Several weeks ago I commented on a new study about divorce.  Norwegian researchers discovered that when couples share the household chores they are 50% more likely to get divorced. Call it the price of gender equity at home.

Naturally, we do not want to plight our troth to a single study. Rational creatures that we are, we seek more confirming evidence

Today, the London Telegraph reports that a British law firm has discovered that marriages most often fail over issues like dividing household chores.

The failure to reach a satisfactory household division of labor causes more divorces than, say, infidelity.

The Telegraph explains:

According to analysis of divorce cases by Gateley, a UK law firm, seven in ten marriages fall apart because couples fail to reach an agreement on decisions relating to the home, such as how monthly finances are arranged, where couples live or how household responsibilities are carved up.

Only one in five marriages ends because of infidelity, the law firm said.

Married couples can solve the problem, the British lawyers say, by thinking of marriage as a “business merger,” or, as I would call it, an alliance.

Conducting a marriage is best considered to be a complex negotiation. Assuming that everything will work out because two people love each other is a formula for divorce.

Today, people marry later than they ever have. No longer are young marrieds teenagers in their salad days.

In principle, life experience teaches negotiation skills. The older you are the better you should be at working out differences without resorting to drama.

Therefore, we should expect that mature adults would best be able to negotiate the terms of their merger to everyone’s satisfaction.

Yet, this is apparently not the case.

Attorney Elizabeth Hassall explained:

Yes it’s romantic to be walking down the aisle, but the realities of a ‘merger’ are a little more cut and dry, It is often the case that people simply don’t think about it, or feel comfortable discussing life choices, but what is apparent is that going into a marriage blind could be a recipe for disaster.

Most people today believe that marriage is an expression of love between equal partners. Of course, it isn’t. It never has been.

Blind romantics sometimes believe that any discussion about how to divide up household responsibilities will sully their love.  As Hassall suggests, they are “going into a marriage blind.”

Strangely, enough, in the old days when people married younger they did not have these problems. Today’s older married couples do. How can that happen?

The mystery is more apparent than real. In the past roles were clearly defined. Husbands and wives knew what they had to do, knew what was expected of them, knew what their responsibilities were and were happy to fulfill their roles.  

Different cultures defined rules differently, but most were defined by gender and most created separate spheres of authority and responsibility.

In most cases the home was a woman’s domain. She held the power and the authority.

This did not mean that she did everything. It did mean that everyone knew who was in charge. 

When both parties to the marriage know and understand this division of household labor there is less chance for confusion and encroachment.

Today’s young women consider household chores to be a form of  domestic servitude. Too many of them have accepted the mindless feminist dictum that being a suburban housewife is akin to being in a concentration camp.

These women see men as adversaries and potential oppressors. They do not discuss the division of household chores because they are afraid that the ensuing fight will diminish their marriage prospects.

When they get married they discover that their husbands were brought up by mothers who taught them not to do household chores. And they also discover that, often enough, having two people in the kitchen is a formula for chaos.

Ultimately, the problem seems to come down to finance. One might note that Japanese couples do not have as many problems over household finances because wives have complete control over them. They do not argue about where to live because a wife’s decision is final.

In a culture where wives are homemakers, many of the problems that bedevil contemporary marriages diminish.

The Telegraph reports:

Of the seven in ten marriages that fail because people can not agree on simple domestic issues, by far the most common cause is lack of agreement over finances. One in eight of these marriages disintegrate because couples are unable to agree on where to settle down.

Having broken down the traditional division of household labor, modern couples often face the task of reinventing the wheel.

They refuse to respect tradition and insist that they can do it better than anyone else. Too often they pay for their arrogance with their marriages. 


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the reason for divorce is the men in this study have OCD and that is the issue, really what man really wants to do any dishes.

Anonymous said...

Or because the couple come to the point of actually dividing up household chores!
That is not harmony. That is something broken at the start, and the remedy for one symptom (one not chipping in at all on chores) was to actually list the chores out.
I know in my household I would never dream of listing them out. We just DO. We fight about other things. But chores? What needs to be done today? Who has time to do what? Who volunteers today? No chore wheel or calendar. Ouch...

David Foster said...

Someone in an aviation magazine pointed out that "If you do anything with your airplane that is not consistent with the Pilot's Operating Handbook, then you are a test pilot."

In a traditional society, the POH takes the form of the society's customs and implicit expectations. When the POH is thrown away, everyone becomes a test pilot. The % of people that make good test pilots, either in aviation or in the social analogy, is not very high.

There's no question that society's POH needed updating, as a result of many changes...contraception, changes in the nature of work, etc....but instead of updating it, too many academics, writers, etc, basically simply asserted that it was all obsolete and that THEIR new version should replace it.

Ari said...

What man wants to do dishes?

You know, sometimes I think to myself "why is it that I'm here having fun and my wife's struggling to give the babies a bath? It's really not fair." Then I'm interrupted from my reverie to discover that I'm actually busy washing the dishes.

Part of this is because during my chores I get to listen to history lectures on podcast or from the Teaching Company. Part of it is because compared to bathing the babies, washing dishes is not nearly as much of a drag.

JP said...

I wish that life came with a POH.

And yes, I assumed that there shouldn't be any such things as social customs and implicit expectations.

This was not a good approach to life.

Dennis said...

Years ago I decided that maybe the feminists had a couple of things right. So, I decided to help my wife out. That was the WORSE two weeks of my life. There was nothing I could do right. It did not take me long to figure out she did not want me in the way. She wanted me to respect her contribution to the family, not interfere.
Mostly, if she wanted my help she asked or I asked if there was anything I could do to help. It is the fact that one is available to help when necessary that counts. We all develop routines that make our lives simpler and we resent it when others interfere with that routine no matter how much they care.
When you have two people come together they both have their expectations so much of learning to live with each other is figuring out what those expectations are and how to address them. The first clue is to observe her/his parents and their interaction if possible because much of what one learns in dealing with people you live with comes from them. If you really care for each other you will figure it out and get past the mistakes that are going to happen.
n.n is correct when he comments on the desire for instant gratification which by its definition is fleeting. It is the ability to build long ten satisfaction that really makes one's life a joy.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you Dennis, those are important and excellent points.

If a couple shares housekeeping then the risk of disrupting routines and organization increases greatly. I have heard more than a few women bemoan the efforts their husbands make to be helpful. The work gets done more efficiently and more effectively when they alone are in charge.