Kitchens were once the private domain of “women’s work.” According to Pepper, Schwartz, & Witte (2012), women still do half of all meal preparation. So when we add husbands who are either professional chefs or foodies, 27% of husbands do most of the cooking, and a third of all couples share kitchen duty equally.
The “democratization of drudgery” is often what therapists make of the fact that almost half (48%) of extremely happy couples share housework, compared to only a third of the unhappy couples in the study cohort.
But I think that sort of emphasis misses an important point. Just because more couples are handling the chore of cooking in a different way, does not mean that the issue is settled. Any couples therapist will tell you that the battle over “Who Does What” is very much alive and well. Eating together is sacred. It’s not about democracy. It’s about intimacy.
Gottman has a marvelous intervention for de-constructing cooking and other housework. This intervention makes every chore someone’s stated responsibility, and no tasks are vaguely unassigned. Technically, it’s Gottman Intervention #14 Turning Towards /Negotiating Power/ Who Does What. It could stand to be updated, but it does a reasonable job of labeling household tasks by 3 scenarios; which partner is doing the task now, and who would be doing it in an “ideal” situation. Let’s call it WDW (Who Does What).
“Instead” is a powerful word in Science-Based Couples Therapy.
The happiest couples not only divvy up the housework in the WDW intervention that they ‘re willing to do…they are also prepared to exchange money for time and happiness. Research tells us that the happiest couples are willing to hire house cleaners and other domestic factotums as needed. I would also imagine that they would also be more willing to invest in Date Nights as well. Prosperity affords more opportunity to cherish the marriage, and the happiest couples have learned this lesson well.
I’d like to modestly suggest that the WDW Intervention could also be recruited as a job description for a potential helper. I’ve seen couples who managed to leap social classes in a single generation who bristled at the notion of having a maid or an Au Pair, or even a cleaning service. But there’s a human centrality to food prep. I usually suggest cooking and eating together or Date Night.
Here’s the issue for Power Couples. They understand that family mealtime should not be a vague aspiration. But they are usually so ambitious that they can sometimes lose control of their jobs and the hours they work. A recent study suggests that successful couples are having all the extra time systematically squeezed out of their lives by technology.
Flexibility and excellent communication on the home front can help you make the simple but necessary corrections to WDW that can massively improve the quality of your marriage.
Understand the energy level required for cooking. if you have stayed in touch with your partner, and know they had a bad day, give them a call and offer to pick up healthy take out on the way home.
I’ve noticed a number of competitors in a new retail product space. Have you seen these “cook gourmet meals at home” food delivery services? I used one for a few months. It made cooking together more adventurous and fun.
The question of “Who’s Cooking and Why”, invites us to harness the emotional power of sharing a meal together.
At your weekly Generative Conversation, talk about your own personal Who Does What (WDW) Plan. Are you happy with how cooking and kitchen clean up is being handled? Brainstorm around strategies like “big pot” cooking that can provide several dinners in a week, regular Date Nights, and cooking together.
How powerful is the bond made by eating together? Let me tell you a story of one of the greatest sales trainers of modern times.
David Sandler discovered that when he was doing in-home sales he always commented on how wonderful the dinner on the stove smelled. He managed to eat with his prospects whenever he was invited to do so, which was usually. He reported that when he broke bread with his prospects his closing ratio was 100%. Eating together is a daily experience with a surprisingly rich emotional underbelly of what it means to be human.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.