We associate romance and passion with mystery and spontaneity: Surprising your lover with flowers; a candlelit dinner; or a helicopter ride (if you’re Christian Grey).
Unfortunately, after the initial honeymoon period of a serious relationship, which, let’s face it, usually only lasts a few months, living on the fly can be a recipe for disaster.
Money and household duties are among the most common sources of conflict among couples I counsel. The reason usually is a failure to collaboratively plan ahead.
As unromantic as it seems, most of a long-term, committed relationship involves managing mundane day-to-day tasks like cooking, cleaning, and paying bills.
These things require organization in order for a household to run smoothly. And the organization takes planning.
Common scenarios for arguments
One common scenario I hear about is folks getting home late from work with no dinner plan, feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, and then ordering takeout or delivery. This becomes habitual and eventually, the excess money they are spending on meals leads to a shortfall of available funds for other things.
Another is that one partner spends more money than the other feels is reasonable on meals/clothes/furniture/leisure activities, etc., and the other simply stews, rather than sitting down and discussing how much they need to budget for various things.
Yet another story I hear about often is bickering over household duties such as laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, etc. Once again, there has never even been a formal discussion of who is going to do what, and when. Each person just ‘hopes’ the other will step up.
Tips to avoid conflict over money and domestic duties
Be open about your finances, including assets, debts, spending, income, etc.
Establish who is going to be responsible for what bills/expenses and for making sure they get paid on time.
Develop a weekly schedule regarding domestic tasks and who is responsible for them. This should be done collaboratively. Put it in Google Calendar or a kitchen chalkboard, or somewhere that is visible/accessible to both partners.
Accept that each person may have their own unique way of doing something (i.e. loading the dishwasher) and that your way is not necessarily the only way or even the best way.
Plan meals on a weekly basis. Shop once a week, based on your meal plans, to minimize food wastage, and save time. Prepare meals ahead of time, when possible, on weekends.
Don’t expect your partner to be able to read your mind. You want them to do something? Have a conversation, don’t just get angry that they didn’t do it. Often you do have to ask.
Remember that marriage/partnerships involve compromise, but don’t ‘keep score’, they are not business arrangements.
Of course, planning and organization do not guarantee marital bliss. Not only does the planning have to occur, but both parties must follow through on their promises.
If one person is consistently breaking the established understanding, the conflict will continue.
Also watch: What Is a Relationship Conflict?
Check your priorities vs efforts
I frequently see couples where one person places far more importance on cleanliness and tidiness than the other. The person who doesn’t prioritize these things the same way assumes the other person is just too obsessive over minutia.
But it’s usually much more than that.
The other person needs a tidy environment in order to feel calm. When they have repeatedly voiced distress to their partner, what they are really saying is,
“These actions (meeting my requests) are what I need from you in order to feel safe and loved.”
I urge the other person to acknowledge that it is not about cleaning dishes, etc., it is about expressing love and commitment in a way that their partner wants and needs it expressed.
It’s about putting effort into the marriage or relationship, and they do require effort!
While you certainly don’t have to stop surprising your partner with romantic gestures and gifts, just make sure that before you do, the bills have been paid, the sheets are clean, the shopping is done, and you know what’s for dinner.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Erica Berman is a Toronto psychotherapist who specializes in helping clients cope with infertility and pregnancy loss, as well as trauma, relationship issues, anxiety, depression, weight-loss, and low self-esteem.
Erica takes an action-oriented approach to counselling to help clients find solutions to their challenges and ensure they succeed in reaching their goals in a timely manner. She is passionate about helping clients but uses a collaborative approach to therapy so clients feel empowered and develop the skills to overcome problems in the future independently. She incorporates strategies from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, as well as Narrative and emotion-focused therapies.