Appreciation may offset unequal chores for couples

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People feel less satisfied with their relationships in the moment and become less satisfied over time when they report doing more than their fair share of household chores, research finds.

Those negative feelings, however, disappear when their partners express their appreciation.

The compliments also result in another benefit: “Feeling appreciated also appeared to buffer against the negative effects of doing less, suggesting that feeling appreciated may offset the relational costs of unequal division of labor, regardless of who contributes more,” says Amie Gordon, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and the study’s lead author.

While an equal distribution of household labor between partners is ideal, inequality is common. And when that happens, relationships can suffer.

In a study to be published in Psychological Science, Gordon and her collaborators use data from three samples comprising nearly 2,200 people from the United States and Canada during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They tracked two of the samples over six and nine months to assess relationship changes. During this period, couples spent more time at home with less outside help, often caring for children, and experienced significant changes in employment, making it an especially relevant time to examine division of labor.

Respondents answered questions about the distribution of labor as well as how appreciated they felt by their partners. They also answered questions about their relationship satisfaction as well as a number of other relevant variables, such as their employment status, income levels, physical health, such as sleep quality, and mental well-being.

While many people believed that both partners contribute equally to household chores, over half said one person contributes more effort than their partner (with most of those people reporting that they do more chores than their partner). When the latter occurs, people feel less satisfied, both with the distribution of labor and with their relationship. This is especially true if they feel they are doing more than their fair share.

However, these effects were not observed among those who feel more appreciated.

Women, not surprisingly, did more chores, but researchers did not find evidence that gender differences meaningfully explained or changed the buffering effects of appreciation in the sample’s primarily mixed-gender couples, Gordon says. In addition, while people who did not have outside employment did more household labor, effects did not differ based on whether or not participants worked outside the home.

The findings also indicate that the associations between perceived child care and financial distribution of labor and relationship satisfaction are weak or nonexistent, and feeling appreciated does not moderate the effects, suggesting that household labor might play a unique role in relationships.

Coauthors are from York University (Toronto),the University of Michigan, Texas State University, and City University of New York.

Source: University of Michigan