Chores imbalance breeds resentment

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: My husband easily makes four times my salary (I'm in health care, and he's in banking) and works 60-80 hours per week. I do shift work, so I often have consecutive days off after pulling several long shifts. Obviously, this gives me a lot more time to deal with household tasks than he has, but I'm starting to get fed up with doing all the housework.

Since he makes so much more than I do, is it fair that he doesn't do a lot of housework? We can't afford to hire outside help yet, as we still have a ton of student loans to pay off. My husband is also financing his younger sister's education.

He works in a fairly intense and high-stress environment, so, as a spouse, I feel inclined to do whatever it takes to make his life a little easier. However, I get annoyed every time I think about how he'll probably also be OK leaving me with the bulk of child care/household duties in future. What do you think?

Answer: I think money earned has nothing to do with these calculations.

I think time, though, does. He works 60-80 hours per week for your family's benefit, so, arguably, you can do your 40 hours plus an hour a day of housework.

I don't mean to imply that every bean needs to be counted like this. To the contrary. But when there's a sense of injustice brewing between you, some counting is inevitable, so my advice is to count using as broad a scope as possible. It's not just hours worked or chores done, either, and it's not even just about the household - it's a system of Whole Marriage Thinking. It's about hours worked, chores done, goals supported, emotional needs met, everything.

Paying loans is part of that, supporting the sister is part of that, delegating housework is part of that, your career choices are part of that. What it all takes out of you, what it all gives back. It all factors in.

So look at your marriage and ask yourself:

(1) Are you really putting in more than you're getting out, and/or is he putting in less than he takes?

(2) If yes, is this a temporary condition in service of a mutual goal, like paying off debt? Or is there a power imbalance between you? Or are you taking more upon yourself than you need to?

(3) Are there things you agreed to initially that you're questioning now? Say, does it bug you that the sister goes to Mexico on spring break while you're too broke to hire a housekeeper? Or is it all still OK for now, and you're more fearful of something that hasn't happened yet? Or are you OK with it but need to be reassured it's only temporary?

Once you've identified your ducks, rounded them up, and gotten them in a formation you can live with, have the conversation with your husband accordingly.

Or not, of course, if you realize it's all OK with you, and you just needed to look at it all again with fresh eyes - and maybe an open mind, too.

tellme@washpost.com.

Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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