When it comes to making your relationship work, one good way to go about it is to divvy up household chores fairly, according to a Swedish study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS One.
If household chores aren’t divided evenly, it’s women who suffer the emotional strain, noted the researchers – and the equality problem goes beyond who tackles the chore list, with women feeling they aren’t on equal footing with their opposite sex partner.
To reach their findings, scientists from Sweden’s Umea University studied questionnaires about education, home life, health, and work, filled out by 723 residents of a Swedish industrial town from 1981 to 2007.
At age 21, both men and women reported roughly the same level of psychological distress, such as anxiety, restlessness, and concentration problems. Yet by age 42, that shifted, with women’s level of distress rising while the men’s stayed the same, according to the findings.
The key contributor for women’s distress was the unequal distribution of domestic chores. But the most distressed women not only performed more household work but felt a greater sense of gender inequality in the relationship. Researchers also noted that if a woman felt on equal ground with her partner, the distress dissipated, even if they pulled more weight around the house.
“The results of this study indicate that it is not only a matter of whether the responsibility for domestic work is equal or not, but also the relational context in which the responsibilities are divided within the couple relationship,” the authors wrote in the study.
“It is not the work per se,” said American psychologist Jill Weber in an interview with WebMD. “It’s the feeling that the woman is not getting support from her partner. Inequality often translates as a lack of emotional support.”
Family psychiatrist Alan Manevitz, MD, also told WebMD that the distress results not so much from an unequal division of household chores but from feeling a lack of respect or appreciation in the relationship.
“One partner’s unhappiness will lead to stress in the whole family,” he added. “What matters most is that couples agree and have the same vision about how to divide things up, and that that vision evolves and has flexibility.
Plus a man doing his fair share around the house may even boost his female partner’s sex drive. According to Ian Kerner, PhD, sex therapist and New York Times best-selling author of She Comes First, the best foreplay for women is “choreplay,” or when a man does household chores without being asked.