Relationship Roles and Responsibilities: The Ticking Time Bomb

Roles and Relationships

Is there a ticking time bomb in your relationship? 

Domestic roles and responsibilities are a time bomb waiting to go off in many relationships. We start off so well. Newlyweds usually begin with a willingness of both spouses to share domestic duties; washing dishes together, making the bed and dividing many household tasks. Grooms often welcome the help because he was doing it all alone as a bachelor.

But something changes? There’s an explosion and suddenly, neither spouse is certain if the relationship will survive spring cleaning. Both are left shell shocked and wondering what in the world went wrong.

Mention the allocation and completion of chores to any couple you know and the struggle becomes obvious.

Wife: I don’t have a life. My family’s needs come first. I don’t have the time or luxury of a life like my husband has (and she will name all the free time he takes and enjoys immensely) because I am managing the household. I never get a break and I’m exhausted!

Husband: My wife is always nagging me about things. I need to go to work just get a break. Nothing I do is ever enough. I work hard. Why should I help out at home? It’s not fair to expect me to work all day and come home to the constant nagging about how tired she is or how much help she needs.


Frustration becomes evident in the content of utterances and demeanour. The tone of voice is tense and defiant as exasperation is expressed. Housework becomes far more than the completion of tasks needed to keep the family running smoothly. The division of household responsibilities and the decision of whose role it is to complete them can colour the individual’s daily experiences and affect how the couple characterises their partnership. If left unattended, it can interfere with individual well-being and expressions of intimacy. When they reflect on the division of labour in their families they can sometimes couch their arrangement in terms of trust, authority and subordination.

Add children to the mix or the wife working full time outside of the home and the complexity of the situation multiplies.

Often, we do not regard domestic responsibilities as an important relationship issue. Many times these responsibilities are left to whoever will volunteer. If household responsibilities are given to whoever is in the mood to do them, nothing much gets done. If one person in the relationship becomes the accomplisher and demands help from the other, the outcome can lead to what is known as demand-withdraw patterns of interaction. 

In a demand-withdraw pattern one spouse criticises, nags and makes a demand on the other while the partner avoids confrontation, withdraws and becomes defensive. The perspectacles of each are that the only way chores get done is to push or that nothing they do is ever enough to satisfy.

Is there a solution?

We need a plan!

Proverbs tells us that without a plan people perish. I looked up the word “perish”. It means to die, rot or decay.

Wisdom tells us then that without a clear a plan ( or vision, if you will) the relationship could die, rot or decay. That stinky smell might not just be the dirty socks left lying in the floor! Tell me, is your relationship or happiness decaying over something thought to be an unimportant relationship issue?

A clear, respectful and mutually shared understanding of roles and responsibilities can minimise conflict and lessen time being spent negotiating responsibilities. In addition, our daily lives will seem to flow more smoothly as we become a team focused on managing the household as a joint project.

Sound worth exploring?

The solution will require that you get organised, think through this problem carefully, and consider each other’s feelings as you make your plan.

Here are some things to consider:

1. Communicate instead of complaining. Be specific.

2. Negotiate. Redefine your relationship and find a division of labour you both can live with.

3. Work on the plan in peace-time not in the midst of an argument.

4. Love every idea for 15 min (according to Dr Phil). Don’t shoot down the options until you’ve thought it through. 

5. Put on your perspectacles…see things through the other person’s point of view. Try to understand what your partner is saying and how they are feeling.

6. Remember that you are a team. No 50/50. You are both adults and you are not an additional child in the family to be taken care of. Act like adults!

7. Ask yourself: Would you rather be right or happily married? Compromise. Respectfully. Love is not self-centred or arrogant.

8. Ask yourself: How much fun are you to live with? Resentment is a relationship killer. 

Then make a plan. The plan needs to be clearly defined, mutually agreed upon, contain strong boundaries that will not be crossed and then be flexible (if your not normally the cook, pitching in every now and then will be met with appreciation). A well executed plan should not need constant micro-managing or a lot of communication. You should be able to get on with the tasks.

There are several ways to make a clear, mutually agreed plan:

You could divide chores as inside and outside. Household responsibilities inside the home could include cooking, laundry, cleaning and home childcare. While outside responsibilities could include yard work, car maintenance (cleaning, filling gas tanks, etc), grocery shopping and shepherding children to practices, games, etc. 


Make a list of all your household duties. Assume responsibility for chores you would enjoy doing or prefer doing yourself. Assign the remaining chores to the person who feels most passionate about the task being done (be honest, don’t suddenly become apathetic about everything on the list😝). Discuss how you can make burdensome tasks less burdensome by working together or alternating the responsibility. 

Make sure your plan also includes leisure time as couples and individuals! 

Once you have a clear direction, take this exercise one step further. Learn to help each other. Be a team! After all, you are building a family. Families care about each other. People who care about each other want to make each other happy. They care about each other’s feelings. If you see your spouse or partner struggling…pitch in. 

Couples are composed of individuals who co-ordinate their behaviours in relation to one another. The emotional tone of family life pivots to a significant degree on the extent to which family members negotiate and enact effective strategies for contending with the numerous tasks encountered in their daily lives. 

If expectations and roles are not yet clear and satisfying routines have not yet been established, you can begin today. 

Make a clear, respectful plan. 

Work the plan. 

And watch your relationship flourish and become even more satisfying.

(Oh and FYI, guys: Motherhood is a job. The schedule/shift is 24/7. The pay? Let’s just say if your employer asked you to work the hours that mothers work on the pay scale your spouse gets…you’d be quitting your job! So, treat her career with respect. She needs time off, holidays and at 5pm when your shift ends hers should too! That means that at 5pm you become a family and share the roles, responsibilities and leisure time. Just sayin!)

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