SATURDAY, AUGUST 20, 2022
The secrets to better, more equal relationships
Why is it so hard to split chores fairly — even when partners make a conscious effort? A gender expert explains, and offers advice.
In This Interview
The following interview is part of a new series from Apple News In Conversation called Think Again — a guide to reimagining work, home, relationships, and more.
In this episode, In Conversation host Shumita Basu talks with Kate Mangino, a gender expert and the author of the book Equal Partners: Improving Gender Equality at Home. Mangino points to research that shows women still take on the majority of household responsibilities in different-sex relationships — and she argues there’s a better way for partners to balance the mental and physical labor of running a home. Mangino offers strategies to bring more equity and fairness into our partnerships. Below are excerpts from the interview.
WHAT EQUAL PARTNERSHIP LOOKS LIKE
KATE MANGINO: It’s not following each other around with a clipboard ticking off who’s doing what and making sure that you do the same amount every day.
SHUMITA BASU: Which sounds insufferable.
MANGINO: I think all of us in a relationship would know that that is completely unrealistic. Equal partnership in my mind means that two people … come together, and they share in the physical and cognitive labor of the home.
Female-coded tasks tend to be indoor and routine, and male-coded tasks tend to be outdoor and intermittent. And those routine tasks are a lot, right? If you skip a day of feeding, pets, or kids, it’s very noticeable. If you skip a weekend of mowing the lawn, your neighbor might roll their eyes, but it’s OK.
Equality is when both partners take on half of the physical tasks — the washing the dishes, the mowing the lawn — and half of the cognitive tasks, which is anticipating the needs that are happening in the house and, basically, the project-management work that comes with a household.
HIGHER STANDARDS, LOWER STANDARDS
BASU: This is the part where I struggle, Kate. For all the great things that my partner does and is, our friction around parity often is based on cognitive-load stuff. So exactly the example you just gave, I’m already thinking about what’s for dinner tomorrow. He is not. I’m bothered that he’s not.
Now for him, the solution is, You should just stop worrying about what’s for dinner tomorrow. Just stop worrying. It’s fine. And my point is, If I don’t think about it now, it won’t get done. The thinking won’t get done for it. So what do you say to people who find themselves falling into this exact same pattern?
MANGINO: I think what you just described is where a lot of people find themselves … This is an argument that I’ve had in my own relationship as well.
What I find when my husband and I disagree now about this sort of thing [is that] a lot of it comes down to values. And not big values, but the little gendered values where I think it’s a quality issue. What I think has to be done in the home is different than what he [thinks has to be] done in the home.
Kate Mangino. Crissorama
[In my book,] my advice to [one] couple was that one of them needs to raise her standards and one needs to lower her standards. They both might come to the relationship with different values. But once you’re together, you need to agree on a value as a couple.
The way that you behave when your partner’s out of town and you’re on your own might be a little bit different. But when you’re both in town and you’re both with each other and sharing a space, what kind of value do you have around dinner? Are you going to eat together seven nights a week? Are you going to have a home-cooked meal seven nights a week or five nights a week?
I think that these are conversations worth having so that you can agree on the level where [you] need to be.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
For her book, Mangino found 40 men who qualified as equal partners in their relationships, meaning that they take on half of the physical and mental work in their households. She interviewed each of them — and their partners — to understand what made them so successful.
MANGINO: The number-one takeaway was communication. And that seems like a bit of a throwaway because it’s what everyone talks about.
But the communication that they explained to me isn’t just the day-to-day logistics communication. It’s a deeper level of communication. It’s about having those conversations about values, having conversations about gender.
“If a trigger is a sink full of dishes, and you know that your partner is coming back from a three-day work trip, clean out the sink.”
It isn’t just a conversation about how the person doing the female role is feeling overburdened. It also needs to be a conversation about how the person doing the male role might feel pressured into certain behaviors because they have to bring home a certain amount of money or because they have to model security and stability.
So I think one of the big lessons is communication, but on a deep level. You have to be in tune with each other’s emotions and moods so that you know each other’s triggers. If a trigger is a sink full of dishes, and you know that your partner is coming back from a three-day work trip, clean out the sink.
It’s little things. It’s thoughtful, small actions that show each other that, I get you, and I love you enough to do this for you.