Who’s going to do the dishes? It’s a question faced by many households several times a week.
According to The Atlantic, a report from the Council of Contemporary Families (CCF), a nonprofit that studies family dynamics, suggests that the answer to that question can have a significant impact on the health and longevity of a relationship. The study examined a variety of different household tasks—including shopping, laundry, and housecleaning, and found that, for women in heterosexual relationships, it’s more important to share the responsibility of doing the dishes than any other chore. Women who wash the vast majority of the dishes themselves report more relationship conflict, less relationship satisfaction, and even worse sex, than women with partners who help.
Traditionally, women have shouldered more of the dishwashing burden, although dishwashing is actually one of the tasks partners are most likely to take turns doing. Between 1999 and 2006, the share of couples who divvy up dishwashing responsibilities rose from 16 to 29 percent, according to the CCF report. This may make it all the more annoying for women who still find the task falling to them. If a woman goes over to a friend’s house and sees a male partner handling or helping with the dishes, she’s likely to feel worse about her own arrangement.
Couples who do share dishwashing responsibilities seem to have better relationships. The nature of dishwashing encourages couples to stand in the kitchen together and work simultaneously until the job is done. That kind of teamwork, especially when practiced regularly, often makes partners feel more connected.
I’ve never minded doing the dishes (can’t say the same for cooking and laundry, which I do about as often as Halley’s comet), but then I don’t have the sort of problems that apparently the lead author of the report faces when doing the dishes.
Dan Carlson, an assistant professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah, claims that “Doing dishes is gross. There is old, moldy food sitting in the sink. If you have kids, there is curdled milk in sippy cups that smells disgusting.”
Maybe the problem is not just who is going to do the dishes, but when is someone going to do the dishes. Obviously the sooner the better – that way you can avoid the moldy food and curdled milk problem.
And if you can avoid those sorts of problems, who knows, you might find out that doing the dishes isn’t so bad after all – and has potentially multiple tangential benefits.