Op-Ed: As couples discover a ‘new normal’ in COVID era, aim for a less sexist division of labor


Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the gender disparity in romantic relationships has increased further, due to changing household needs resulting from school cancellations, disruption of child care services. , bottlenecks and the transition to working from home. Trends in family dynamics can be hard to follow, but this tectonic shift was evident: American women left the workforce at an alarming rate, with approximately 493,000 more women than men leave their jobs.

Now many households are seeing their routines change again, as some people return to the office and schools stabilize in a “new normal”. If there has been a time to reverse historical precedents regarding relationship roles, it is now.

Americans Can Catch Up With Their Own Values: Pew Research Center found in a survey last year that 91% of Americans say gender equality is important. And yet the average American mom spend six more hours child care each week and eight hours more housework than the average father. And when it comes to wearing the “Mental load” living together, a partner in a heterosexual couple, usually the woman, often does much more.

Outdated gender norms and subtle biases dictated for too long who will fix the leaky faucet and coordinate play dates, track oil changes and schedule dentist appointments.

With the closures in spring 2020, we have seen that the whole structure of our daily life can change. Now, as we adapt to the COVID era, couples should take this opportunity to deliberately create a division of labor, to structure roles around what they love, are good at, and care about more.

Science can’t tell us who should take out the trash, but a key conclusion of decades of research do successful couples to do make decisions about who does what, rather than just tripping over.

When asking over a hundred people about their relationships – a diverse sample of men and women in heterosexual and same-sex relationships – we asked, “How did you decide who does what in your relationship?” “

To our surprise, most people, especially those in heterosexual marriages, didn’t really have an answer. Many would end up stammering something like, “I guess we kind of fell into these roles by accident. “

We started to call it the “wing” approach. Even when the outcome varied from 1950s gender roles, it seemed like fluke. As one man we interviewed said, “I’m the toothbrush guy with our daughter. I have no idea why this happened. But 90% of the time I’m the guy.

The appeal of the wing is obvious: it’s easy. You get to skip a lot of soul searching and difficult conversations. But this leaves modern couples in a state of role confusion, where it is often difficult to know who is supposed to do the dishes or plan the social calendar or ensure that each child has two clean masks in their backpack for the day. ‘school.

This confusion reinforces the gender gap. This tends to create a national liability vacuum, in which someone has to step in to ensure that the insurance bill is paid or the car registration is renewed to keep the car legal. The more uncertain the roles, the more the disparity increases. That’s why, when schools and daycares closed due to COVID, it was largely women who quit their jobs to deal with the chaos.

The confusion of roles also creates drama and conflict, fueling a perpetual battle for fairness. When you’re not sure who is doing what, you might find yourself keeping a mental account of all your energy-draining contributions. Social scientists have discovered that you are also tend to underestimate a big part of what your partner does. The result is resentment, conflict and the constant feeling that things are not right. This is what happens when we send it.

Going the other way – intentionally dividing responsibilities – will take work. Having conversations might not be sexy. But it might bring you more clarity, equality, and connection, which sounds a lot more romantic than constantly fighting or keeping a reluctant mental count.

Nate Klemp and Kaley Klemp are the authors of “The 80/80 marriage: a new model for a happier and stronger relationship. “

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