Who does more work - you or your spouse?

A huge source of tension is the division of labor between married partners.  It's probably the most-cited source of marital conflict I encounter when I deliver marriage counseling in my private practice. 

What's also interesting is that many women who book a counseling visit with me to talk about marriage problems actually find that the main source of their stress is anxiety about housework and domestic chores.

In essence, we often find that it's not the spouse's lack of help that is the problem... it's unmanaged stress reactions. 

who does more work you or your spouse

Picture this: you come home from work and kick off your shoes, walking straight to preheat the oven for dinner. Your kids' backpacks are everywhere and the sink is full of dishes, but your husband sits on the sofa scrolling through social media. TRIGGER! You feel yourself becoming more and more irate, feeling as though no one is pulling their weight at home. You're suddenly keeping a mental tally of all the work you've done around the house, and you're jotting a big fat zero in the column for your husband's support. You make a few passive aggressive comments to your kids loudly enough for your man to overhear: "Sorry, sweetie. Mommy can't help you with that puzzle because Mommy always has to come home and fix dinner before I can rest." Your husband hears this, of course, and responds with resentment... resentment that causes him to want to help LESS... thus fulfilling the prophecy you'd spoken about him in your mind moments earlier.

Perhaps if the mom mentioned above had managed her stress reactions a bit more carefully, she would have felt less resentment.  She may have, in turn, behaved differently and elicited a different response from her husband.

marriage counseling anxiety

Picture the same scenario played out with a different reaction:  

You come home from work and notice immediately that the kids' backpacks are strewn everywhere, and everyone is watching TV in the den.  You know that dinner has to be started soon, but you're exhausted.  You kick off your shoes and notice, to your irritation, that your husband is glued to his phone.  Knowing that hunger cues even more irritation in your family, you decide to reach in the fridge for a little snack to tide you and your family over, then graciously hand the goodies out to everyone in the den.  You kick off your own shoes and plop down beside your man, who thanks you for the snack and asks about your day.  After fifteen minutes of peaceful conversation and more stabilized blood sugar, you feel refreshed enough to start dinner and ask your husband, "Would tackle those dishes while I get the chicken going?"  He agrees, now that he's had a few moments to relax after work and reconnect with you.

See how those scenarios play out differently with different reactions?  


Let me say that I realize you're probably whining a little bit in your head right now:

"But Celeeeeeste... it's sooo unfair that I have to manage myyyy reactions.  Can't everybody just do what I want them to do without me having to ask?"


Darling, what you just described is a robot.  Until we find out a way to clone that metal maid from The Jetsons, the answer is an unfortunate no. (Side note:  why have we made such technological advancements and still don't have robotic maids?)

Here's my challenge to that: scientific studies show that people almost always overestimate the amount of work they personally do, and almost always underestimate the amount of work anyone else does. It's true at work, in marriages, and in friendships. 


I designed my Division of Labor chart for families to sit down honestly take stock of who does what around the house.


You may find that your partner is doing lots of little things you don't really remember in the heat of the moment. Or you may realize that your spouse does a lot to help... but he does it in his own time (which maybe drives you crazy). OR, you may realize that your spouse really doesn't help at all and it's time to have an open conversation about the support you need (either from him or in the form of a housekeeper, meal service, etc.). 


Here's the Dropbox link to my Division of Labor Worksheet:…/Division%20of%20Labor%20Chart.pdf…


I hope it helps!

If you found this article and the Division of Labor Worksheet helpful, you'd really love my 90 Day Comeback.  It includes all sorts of practical resources like just like this one.

Give me 90 days and I'll help you transform your schedule, renew your thinking and refresh your life.  

4 Ways Anxiety is Sabotaging Your Relationships

"It's all just too much.  I'm certain he's going to leave me... who could live with me like this?"

Andrea sat sobbing in the armchair across from me, clutching a throw pillow.  She'd shredded tissues into bits in my therapy office as she relayed the events that had transpired in her marriage over the last two weeks...

Her husband had stayed late at a work function... Andrea worried he was having an affair.

He missed a workout several times last month... Andrea worried he was going to have a heart attack and die.

They had a conversation about how Andrea's worries really sucked the enjoyment out of their marriage... Andrea worried that her husband would leave her for a woman who was "more fun."  

I might have put more stock in Andrea's concerns had I not met her husband early on in the course of her therapy for generalized anxiety.  During this visit, her husband had expressed sincere affection and genuine support for Andrea.  He repeatedly professed his love and commitment to her, yet she struggled to accept it.


Andrea's anxiety as sabotaging her relationship. 

anxiety in relationships

Though Andrea is a fictional character, the behaviors above are extremely common among my therapy clients with anxiety.  In fact, anxiety in relationships (romantic and otherwise) comes up perhaps more than any other topic when I counsel women.  Unfortunately, anxiety biases our thinking and can cause problems that we aren't even aware of.


4 Ways Anxiety is Sabotaging Your Relationships


 1.  Anxiety changes how you feel and respond in your love life.  A few months ago I was interviewed on a podcast about anxiety, and afterwards a listener wrote on the comments wall asking for my advice.  She had recently endangered her boyfriend's job after her anxiety caused her to make a big scene at his workplace holiday party.  She admitted to me that her anxiety sometimes causes her to fret that her boyfriend values his job more than her, so her worries really ramped up when he began mingling with coworkers at the party.  Upset and fearful, she had pulled him aside and started a heated argument about her feelings... which was witnessed by her boyfriend's colleagues, to his embarrassment.

Anxiety can cause us to believe irrational things, which often leads to hasty decisions.  This is evident in the example above, but other examples might include abruptly breaking up with a partner, making rash decisions to become physically intimate, or trying to move the relationship along faster than is comfortable.

 2.  Anxiety causes you to overthink situations and events.  When you lie in bed at 2am, staring at the ceiling and mulling over a relatively insignificant issue, anxiety may be to blame.  This is one of the most common physical complaints I hear my clients describe, but simply dwelling on a situation more than is helpful or necessary can cause problems, too.

One woman disclosed to me that, after her husband's 10-year high school reunion photos were posted on social media, she had viewed them over and over and over, looking for signs that he was having more fun without her.  She had stayed home from the event (out of insecurity about her outfit) despite her husband begging her to come with him and even offering to stay home instead.  Once she had convinced him to attend alone, she felt somewhat sad that she'd missed out.  Viewing the social media photos, however, had caused her anxiety to go into overdrive.  "Do his friends hate me?  Are they glad I stayed home?  Does he always have more fun when he's away from me?  What if I just drag him down by being around?"  Ruminating on these negative thoughts is a hallmark sign of anxiety.

3. Anxiety changes the way others perceive you.  Remember Monica from the TV show Friends?  Her high-pitched, hysterically obsessive rants were hilarious to watch... but in real life this kind of behavior would drive others away.  I meet clients with anxiety who are naturally high-strung, which may cause them to talk too fast, interrupt often, fidget, or become breathless in conversation.  All of these behaviors put off an energy that can be unattractive to potential romantic interests.  

We all know that some people simply put off "bad vibes."  Anxious distress can cause a hypervigilence that is off-putting because it may seem desperate, needy or high-pressure.  Sometimes this can be helped by simply taking a few deep breaths to lower the heart rate and blood pressure.  Others can sense when we are at ease.

4.  Anxiety can cause unhealthy relationship patterns to develop.  We know that men tend to be "fixers," right?  Imagine how a relationship pattern could develop if a man tries to fix his partner's anxiety...

She verbalizes her worry that she'll be fired for arriving 5 minutes late to work.  He gives her a litany of reasons why she is being irrational.  She becomes more anxious that he isn't listening or that perhaps he thinks she's overreacting.  Do you see the pattern?  

Anxiety  --->  Partner's downplaying of the feelings  --->  More anxiety

anxiety in marriage

Relationships are difficult enough as it is.  

Anxiety can be a villain to healthy thinking patterns, causing trouble in our love lives and even friendships, coworker relationships, or family dynamics.  The next time an issue bubbles up in your relationship, take some time to evaluate whether any of the 4 habits mentioned above might be sabotaging your success in this area.


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