Married ladies! Are you still labouring under the illusion that cleaning the toilet is a joint responsibility? When your husband picks up a dishcloth, do you leave him to it rather than rush forth, Cath Kidston pinny all a-billow, gasping “wait! I’ll do it!”? Does your man put his own underpants in the laundry basket rather than toss them, Christian Grey-like, to the floor? If so, are you aware that you’re risking divorce?
A Norwegian study has revealed that “couples who share the housework are more likely to divorce”. Ha! And there was you, naively assuming it was safe to let your man loose with the Fairy Liquid. Alas, you’ll be heading to splitsville quicker than you can say “decree nisi”. Of course, the press have latched upon this finding with liberal horror, and not the slightest trace of sexist glee. “So much for equality!” squeals the Daily Mail, while the UK blog Divorce Online offers a not-particularly-tongue-in-cheek “ladies, know your place and save your marriage”. Well, that’s you told.
Naturally, there are issues with a study such as this. As many have pointed out, these are self-selecting couples with particular wants and needs. Would the type of woman who wants household drudgery to be shared really enjoy a longer marriage if her partner were to say “nah, it’s okay, love, wouldn’t want to tread on your toes”? Isn’t shared housework more likely to indicate a joint income – and hence more freedom to divorce if things get bad? What happens when the husband takes on all the domestic duties? And what about the finding that men who share household tasks are – for some utterly crazy reason I can’t fathom – happier than those who don’t? Do they all secretly love a bit of Cillit Bang? If so, wouldn’t men doing all the housework be the answer? None of this is particularly clear. Instead, women appear to be getting a merry “told you so” as the dryer balls are launched firmly back into their court.
The interpretation I find most amusing comes from the sociologist Frank Furedi. He would appear to be arguing that hyper-organisation is one of the things that does for all these “equal” couples:
“These people are extremely sensitive to making sure everything is formal, laid out and contractual. That does make for a fairly fraught relationship,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
“The more you organise your relationship, the more you work out diaries and schedules, the more it becomes a business relationship than an intimate, loving spontaneous one.
“That tends to encourage a conflict of interest rather than finding harmonious resolutions.”
How I laughed at this. Laughed and laughed. Because sure, he’s a sociologist and he’ll have done research into this (one assumes), so he may well be right. But if so, I have a solution. There’s no need to introduce inequality back into married relationships. You should still split housework equally, only the answer is for both of you to do bugger all.
This, of course, is what me and my partner* of 12 years do. I mean, we do the basics – washing up and laundry (you can’t really get out of those). And yes, when (as happened last night) one of our children literally does a shit in the middle of the floor, we tend to clean that up. But as for the rest, well, it takes an imminent visit from the grandparents to get the obscure stickiness from every item of furniture and the mystery remnants from the “easy to clean” gas hob (and when such visits are imminent, you both have to pull an all-nighter and yes, it’s tough, but there’s a kind of Blitz spirit that brings you closer). And I’m not saying this is ideal. I don’t actively like living in squalour, but both of us work full-time and are “blessed” with kiddies who have the same sleep requirements as Margaret Thatcher reputedly had.** Hence at the end of the day, we would like some time in which to cuddle / chat / stare gormlessly at Newsnight rather than have one of us scurry upstairs to “just do the bathroom tiles”.
This, then, is my proposed solution. Do fuck all, but make sure you’re doing fuck all equally (if you would like to pay me for this advice, don’t bother, it’s free – although I wouldn’t mind if you’d come and clean my house instead…)
* And yes, if you are wondering, we are married. But he is my partner first and foremost.
** They are also “not for turning” and don’t seem particularly enamoured of “society”. And they have red hair. Bloody hell, I’m raising mini Thatchers!