Marital Political Science: Peace in the Valley

The longer a marriage lasts, the more its participants wonder what the central thread really is that keeps them together through the decades and the seasons of life (of which there are a great deal more than four per year). You will get all kinds of answers on this — the friendship, the mutual reliance, habit, laughter, touch, and on and on. You may even get different answers from members of the same marriage. (If this happens, take my advice: turn off the tape recorder and quietly leave the room.)

Whatever consternation may arise between my wife and me, I can tell you one thing it won’t be about: the division of marital labor. For some reason, we have never fought or even disagreed significantly about who should do what, when. I don’t think we’re any different than most couples in the marital skill department, but we definitely have this part down. (Also, I have a well-honed survival instinct.)

Us. That's not our house; if it were, she would be vacuuming it. But see how nice my shirt is?

Us. That’s not our house; if it were, she would be vacuuming it. But see how nice my shirt is?

Here’s how most things fall (or fell) out:

  • Laundry. She handles hers and Joseph’s. I do my own. Back in the Worsted Wool Age, I was particular about my shirts. So I did my own. It just never stopped. No biggie.
  • Cooking. I end up doing most of it because I like to. But if I say, “I’m crushed today; can you manage dinner?,” I never get an argument. Or we order Chinese. Either way, it works out.
  • Dusting. I may make an occasional feint at it, but she’s the maven here. I suspect there are particles from Biblical times reposed on some of the furniture in my office; who am I to disturb them?
  • Vacuuming. As some men are with their Lamborghinis, my wife is with her vacuum. It is hers. You can’t do it right. Get out of the way. I hate the noise anyway.
  • Kid to School. Me as often as possible. This is a holdover from the time when I was seldom home and wanted to maximize every minute with him. Now I get up early out of habit, and I like making breakfast for him. Besides, she likes to sleep.
  • Angus. She takes our dog to the park in the mornings, since I take the kid to school. I will occasionally fill in, but the dog says I don’t throw the ball like Mom.
  • Dishes. No clear rule, but often me while she walks Angus in the evenings.
  • Dealing with evil health insurance companies. Sorry; I was redundant. She does this. Thank the sweet Lord in heaven, she does this.
  • Decorating. I like her tastes. See note about survival instinct, above.
  • Travel planning. Her quote: “Tell me what the weather is going to be like there and where to be when it’s time to leave.” I got this.
  • Short game: She comes to me for putting advice. I try to hide my golf game under a rock, but she always finds it.
  • Lawn mowing. Me, of course. She’s no fool.

There’s more, but I can see you’re already calling your spouse on your maybe-I’m-not-so-smartphone. Kidding aside, we have seen some marriages nearly reach the cracking point on these issues. We feel fortunate that we never got onto those rocks.

In his excellent book Family Man, Calvin Trillin says that married couples doesn’t really have to share the same tastes, just the same values. Pitching in as a team is clearly one of those values. One of my single friends once heard me on the phone, wrapping up a conversation about scheduling kid pickup, groceries, and dinner. When I hung up, he deadpanned, “Hm. Running a household. Sounds so uplifting.”

Mister, you have no idea.♦

© Adam Barr

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