Men: Here’s How a Better System for Dividing Chores Helps You, Too

Post Note: This piece is written using the pronouns “he” and “she” based upon the research that demonstrates the increased incidence of these issues in cisgender, heterosexual couples. However, these challenges occur in couples of all types and the Fair Play Method can benefit all couples, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, particularly couples who are also parents together.

So your partner has started talking to you about implementing a new system for household chores called “Fair Play.”  Maybe she sent you this article along with a registration link for our upcoming workshop in April.  You feel a little skeptical and uneasy – it all sounds like a lot of work.  More specifically, it sounds like more work for you.

Or maybe you’re the one who talked to your partner about implementing Fair Play, and you’ve gotten a less than enthusiastic response.  You know it will ultimately be helpful for both of you, but you’re struggling to sell it to the key person who needs to be on board.

Eve Rodsky’s book and household system for couples, Fair Play, was written with an audience of women in mind.  Men can (and should) still read and benefit from the book, but Rodsky was primarily speaking to the people who she knew would be most motivated to implement a better system.  However, men can benefit from the system just as much as women, and here’s why.

A Better Organizational Framework

When you show up to work in the morning, do you go to your boss and ask them how you can help out?  Do you head to your office and wait for someone else to give you work to do?  Do you start a project without knowing if someone else is already working on it?

Of course not!  In a healthy work environment, everyone has a role, and everyone is clear on what their responsibilities are.  And yet, we head home and run our lives and homes in completely opposite, chaotic ways.

It’s simply more efficient when you and partner have a transparent, explicit system about who is responsible for what, and most men I work with appreciate that.  As Rodsky puts it, “Chaos isn’t fun.  A clear system leaves you with more time for fun and fulfillment.”

More Context, Less Nagging

“Before you head out, can you throw all the towels in the wash?”

“I need you to pick up the cake on your way home.” 

“Can you just tidy up the family room before the babysitter gets here?” 

These are all examples of what Fair Play calls “RATS” – Random Assignments of Tasks.

Whereas women more often complain about the mental load and emotional labor, men complain most about being nagged and randomly told what to do.  When you use Fair Play, there is no longer a need for your spouse to randomly assign you a task on her way out the door.  You will have already pre-negotiated who is directly responsible for each household task.

Beyond feeling nagged, it is frustrating to be on the receiving end of a RAT without any other context.  Your wife may have a system in her head for what laundry gets done when, but if it’s not transparent, you may be inclined to roll your eyes at an inconvenient RAT.  Why do those towels need to go in the washer, right now?  Without context, it can feel like control.  In Fair Play, you and your partner will talk together about how you want to run your household and why.

No Feedback in The Moment

I’ve worked with many men who have begun to take more initiative at home, only to feel quickly discouraged.  “Nothing I do is up to her standards,” these men tell me.  “When I try to help, she just tells me what I’m doing wrong.”

Fair Play addresses this on two levels.  First, feedback in the moment is highly discouraged.  Instead, you will pre-negotiate a time to calmly discuss what worked and what didn’t work that week.  It’s like a weekly team meeting at work.  Rather than walking into your colleague’s office without warning and telling them what they’re doing wrong, you sit down at a later date, with a common goal, and talk about what improvements are needed.

The second level is pre-negotiating (noticing a theme here?) a minimum standard for all household/family tasks.  You each get a voice in deciding how and why you do the things that you do.  If we’ve already agreed together that loading the dishwasher in a certain way is more efficient for our family, then no criticism necessary.

Less Resentment, More Fulfillment in The Long Run

Yes, as you may have guessed, it can take some work upfront to pre-negotiate what each household task entails and who is going to take ownership of each task.  But without this system, even the most loving, modern relationships are vulnerable to the insidious growth of resentment.

She feels over-burdened and overwhelmed with being the “default parent” and dealing with “invisible work” – remembering to buy that cousin’s birthday present, being on the hook for restructuring her day when a kid is sick, etc.

He feels discouraged and impatient by her criticism of his contributions even though he is offering to do more or help out.  If he can’t see all of that “invisible work,” how is it fair that he’s supposed to know what she needs from him?

You can choose to spend time now to negotiate what it means to take ownership of “family gifts,” or you can later find yourself arguing over who was responsible for the birthday present or your kid’s favorite dessert. Invest the time now and gift yourself a resentment-free relationship down the road.

Finally, it’s not all about your relationship with your spouse – Fair Play can also help give men the permission they need to fully step into their roles as dad.  The dad who chooses to take ownership of running carpool gets to also build and enjoy his relationship with his kids.  In a culture that devalues men’s caregiving skills or expects them to put all of their energy into their professional lives, this can be a great opportunity.

Bottom Line

Is it work?  Yes.

Is it worth it?  Yes!

Join your partner for our introductory workshop to The Fair Play Method on April 20th! Register here!

Rebecca Freking, IMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. She received her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from The Family Institute at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.

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