The Division of Labour: What will he expect of me?

I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot, off and on. I have a big question. But first, the background. David and I have been married for nearly 8 years. When you’re experiencing marriage for the second – or third – time, you bring some wisdom with you. One of the things we both knew was that we would need to negotiate the division of labour (and capital) around the house. A lawyer and a bureaucrat.  Imagine the negotiation! We came to several basic decisions:

  1. We would have a joint bank account for shared expenses, and we’d each have our own accounts as well.
    • We would each deposit a set amount to the joint account each month.
    • The term “shared expense” was not narrowly defined; it’s something we agreed we’d each decide for ourselves when paying for something whether or not it should be on the shared or individual accounts because we both knew we’d both err in the favour of their own account more often than not.
  2. Our contributions to the joint account would be determined as a percentage based on the relative income to reflect our relative ability to contribute. In other words, I’d contribute x% of the total and he’d contribute y% of the total.
    • Each year we’d review whether or not there needed to be a change in the contribution formula.
  3. Contributions in kind: There would be an equal division of household chores and responsibilities.
    • We would decide, as life unfolded, who would do what. For example, I loved to cook so I volunteered to do most of the cooking. David likes to eat gourmet meals, so he volunteered to do most of the clean-up. This way he can relax or do whatever he wants while I’m cooking and I can do the same while he’s cleaning up. We’d shop for food together. Works for us.
    • As the non-repeating chores came up, one of us would just jump in and offer to do something or ask the other if s/he’d mind doing something. Always keeping principles of equity in mind. Works for us.

And now I get to what’s been troubling me. We came to this agreement based on the realities of both of us having jobs that were often stressful and pressured. We left home at the same together – actually together – most days, and most days he picked me up from work and we ran errands together on our way home. He’d rest from a tiring day by watching the news and doing some work on his laptop (yes, he’s a lawyer) and I’d rest by immersing myself in the bliss of preparing a great meal. We’d eat together. Then he’d let the lulling repetition of cleaning up relax him and I’d be listening to music and working on my laptop. It has worked well, and there have only been rare occasions when either one of us didn’t feel that they other did more than their share.

When I retire, the realities change. He will still have a work life that involves a lot of stress and long hours. I will not necessarily have a work life at all; and I’m guessing that in the end I’ll have a little work life doing the things I enjoy most and mostly a leisure or free to do/give what I want life. Is it not fair, then, for me to take on more of the household chores to lighten his load and achieve better balance in stress levels? Would that not be the equitable thing to do?

If you’re saying “yes, of course” just stop right there for a minute. When I first started asking myself this question I said “yes, of course it is” too. But something about that answer gnawed away at me and I began to – yes, I admit – search for a rational argument that would not lead to this same conclusion but still had merit. And I found it.  The doing of chores is mostly about time contributed. We agreed to a particular division of labour based on the fact that a certain number of hours each day were required to “earn a living” and those hours were available for chores only if either one of us could easily, and happily, fit it into the day without it being problematic. That work time – because it is paid time and accrues money – is considered valued and protected time. It’s the perceptual translation of “time is money”. There is no intention to change our level of contribution to the joint budget; I agree that I will still make the same deposits as I’d do if I was still working. The pension is money accumulated , I believe, mostly from money that I have contributed over the years. So, if I am maintaining the same level of financial contribution, should I be considered my own “boss” for the same number of hours a day, and shouldn’t the full plan – as currently implemented – continue.

I am open to other arguments. Otherwise, this is my story and I’m going to stick to it (and see what happens).


4 responses to “The Division of Labour: What will he expect of me?

  1. I think the hardest thing about retirement is adjusting to the new structure’s impact on your marriage. We are still making those adjustments. Since we’re both retired now, it’s also the greatest part, but it certainly takes some push and pull to figure out what’s right for everyone.

    My husband retired first (like you are) and he took on almost 100% of the household tasks. We paid someone to clean the house and I still did most of the gardening–but he did all the cooking, cleaning up, shopping, errands, home-maintenance, (we each continued to do our own laundry–a carry over from the early days of marriage).

    I felt HUGE guilt that he was doing everything. But he always maintained that he felt like he had a life full of fun–biking, socializing with friends, surfing the internet, golfing, etc. He kept telling me the deal was fine–I eventually relaxed into it and LOVED it. Most of our time together, as a consequence, was spent having fun together–since he had handled most of the errands.

    Now that I’ve retired, I’ve taken on the housecleaning (fired the cleaners to help the budget work) and I help a little on the stuff he always did. I think he still does more around here than I do–but I do the stuff we used to pay people for (gardening, cleaning, and right now-painting.)

    I wish you the best in sorting this out–it can be tricky!

  2. Sorry, more to the point of your post–we always pooled everything in terms of money–so I do think you’ve got a fair argument, by the way. You are, in a sense, still working–using your working money. Maybe in your case you can just cross the line to pick up a little of his slack–nothing like the 100% deal I got–that doesn’t quite seem fair to me!

  3. Sylvia Bereskin

    Nice to have that argument recognized as fair; not sure it really is though. I wonder how others have managed this shift in chore-sharing when only one partner’s retired?

  4. Ed and I have never had this problem. I’ve worked, either full or part time right up until about 10 years ago and everything always went into one pot with no questions about who made what or who contributed how much. We felt we were working together to have the kind of life we wanted and each did as much as we could. I’ve been lucky in this respect and I’ve never had a husband who sat around while I worked, even now when, in my new incarnation as an artist, I’m home a good part of the day. So, it’s a bit foreign to us, all this rational discussion and planning around who does what, and when.

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