Finding Balance

U study links communication, division of housework, and relationships


For many couples, COVID-19 has shattered the normal routine and led some to renegotiate who does what around the house. Research has shown that both communication and the way couples divide up household chores are related to satisfaction in relationships.

A new U study found that communication is the most important factor linking the division of housework to relationship satisfaction—but communication quality matters differently to men and women.

During the pandemic, families have lost important supports that enable them to work. “We lost childcare and schools, and some people have lost jobs, so more responsibilities have been thrust onto parents,” notes the paper’s lead author, Daniel Carlson with Family and Consumer Studies. That new reality has made this an important time to evaluate communication and domestic labor and think about future arrangements, he says.

The way women communicate shapes how couples split up housework, and when women communicate negatively, men do more. But that negative communication causes men’s relationship satisfaction to decline. However, when men contribute equally to household duties, they communicate better; when women do the majority of the chores, men communicate worse. For women, an equal division of labor is important to their relationship satisfaction. For men, it depends on how his partner communicates with him.

The study used data on 487 heterosexual couples, and Carlson is now looking into how the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders shifted the parents’ divisions of childcare and housework.

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