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Chore Wars

Alan Smith

Who does the housework in your house? Seems this is a much bigger issue than you might think. Or maybe it is already a huge issue for you. I suspect it depends on who does it and whether you care. It certainly seems to cause significant conflict if the radio is to be believed.

I have a confession to make. As someone who works a lot from home I find myself in an office in my garden with very little company apart from the radio. A guilty highlight (sometimes) is Women’s Hour on BBC Radio 4.

Remarkably there has been a controversial theme over the last few weeks focused exclusively on housework, and who does it. Women’s Hour say it has been one of the most talked about subjects they have highlighted in years and they have extended the subject beyond the norm. Unheard of they claim. 

Essentially both men but principally women say that one of the biggest sources of conflict in their home is based on the fact that one of them feels that they are being treated unfairly. That one party does more than their share of the cleaning, cooking, shopping and childcare. It may seem like a small thing, but believe me it clearly is not. In many cases this conflict boils over into legal issues (divorce) and even violence. A number of cases were cited when the police had been called to deal with domestic disputes.

Often when we speak to people about negotiation skills, they see negotiation as a business tool. But it is so much more than that. The ability to negotiate effectively is a life skill and can be used in many situations way beyond the office or workplace.

Critically when faced with a conflict people try to persuade the other side to change their view or behaviour. I have said it before, and I am sure I will say it again, but no matter how persuasive you are it is unlikely that someone will change their view. I am sure some people love Downton Abbey, my wife certainly does, no matter how hard I push her to accept it is rubbish, she will not change her view. Delighted that another series is finished.

If you have a problem with the washing up being left overnight, well do you know something, I don’t. So you can have that problem all to yourself. Problems that I don’t have, I have no intention of trying to fix.

And so it goes on. The longer it goes on the more the precedent is set and often the more one party feels put upon or aggrieved. You may continue to do more than your share with the best intentions of protecting the long term relationship and discover the exact opposite is happening. You are feeling more and more that the relationship is doomed.

One rarely used technique from the business world of negotiating is to look for differential values. Things which your partner hates with a passion may not bother you too much, and vice versa. A male friend of mine actually finds ironing shirts is therapeutic, whilst his wife hates ironing with a passion.

So write down all the chores which cause friction, and then each select the 5 which bother you least.  You might be surprised to find that the lists are different. Now repeat for the 5 most hated chores. You now have a list of possible swaps – you agree to do the things less painful for you if your partner agrees to do the same.

For those which you both hate equally, explore the possibility of getting something back for what you do, figure out what that might be by having what we in Scotwork would call having a list of favours or a wish list. How you develop this and how you might introduce these items into the negotiation requires planning and skill.

But rather like the best diet being not to put weight on in the first place, set the rules for the way you are going to live together early and stick to the plan. Change it only by getting something back in return.

No such thing as happy ever after, the trials and tribulations of real life requires real skills to manage.

Alan Smith

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