For years the most significant and unresolved conflict that lived between my husband and I had to do with the division of labor in our home. In fact, this is one of the top mechanisms of dissatisfaction and ultimate destruction of many long-term partnerships. For most couples, establishing a balance to working through life’s responsibilities and details is the single largest predictor of relationship success and the clearest reflection of the overall dynamics of the relationship. When daily workload does not feel equitable or fair, the trust and intimacy in the entire relationship is affected.
Studies have shown that couples who enjoy the best sex lives have cracked the code when it comes to sharing the work of home and family. In general, the happier that women are with their partner’s participation in home and childcare, the happier that the men were with their sex lives. Help with housework and childcare is perceived as a form of care and attention that expresses the intimate showing up that women crave. Men who nurture this household connection see the dividends in the bedroom.
And yet finding the balance is not always that easy. Not uncommonly, many women actually choose to take on more of the housework and child care because they don’t trust their partners to care for the kids and the house the way they want it to be done. Many men who try to share the load often end up feeling like what they offer is not good enough and their communication efforts are met with controlling dictates on how to do it right. Not sexy for either partner.
I remember how many of the early years in my marriage were characterized by this ongoing conflict. It took years for me to allow my husband the freedom to care for our kids his way. In hindsight I can see that my need for control made the task of taking care of the kids both more complicated and less appealing. It was so easy for him to get it wrong, that I made it easy for him to not even want to try. Inevitably this breach of trust almost always turned into the primary conflict of who worked harder and who contributed more. This is the classic no-win argument that effectively closes the door to intimacy of all kinds.
The truth that saved us from this debilitating cycle of blame and retreat was that we each were working as hard as we could at our own pieces of the puzzle that made our life work together. As I relinquished my need for control, he had the room to show up for the kids and I. Our longstanding arguments of who did more were replaced with the ability to witness and appreciate what we each were able and willing to contribute.
Shifting the focus towards what we could both bring to our family and life together instead of what we each held back created a fundamentally different world view of our relationship. A sense of equality and fairness are the building blocks for open communication that is not defended. Our sense of safety increased as we were able to witness the many ways we did show up for each other. All of which lead to a vital and passionate connection in the bedroom.
Surprisingly this connection is never made in many marriages. The distancing that engulfs the relationship hides the fact that in many cases it would have taken so little time and effort to right the scale. Sometimes it can be as small as paying attention and expressing gratitude for the efforts. Sometimes it can be as easy as helping with the laundry or the dishes.
Oddly, it is rare that divorcing couples cite conflicts in home and child care as reasons for separation compared with disinterest in the bedroom. For most of us, sexual satisfaction is a product of how we live together outside the bedroom. Want more foreplay? Start in the kitchen with the dishes. Longing for more curiosity and experimentation in your intimate life, shock your partner by doing some chores you have never considered before- suddenly cleaning the refrigerator out has a sex appeal.