You know what they say: "Couples who do the dishes together stay together." Or something like that.
On the long list of reasons I love my husband, the fact that he washes the dishes doesn't break the top five, or even the top 10. No, I take that one for granted. I cook and he cleans up (unless it's the rare occasion that he's making pasta and broccoli rabe, which he does quite well, I might add). It's a good deal for me, who views cooking not as a chore but as the one time of day I can use my hands for something other than furiously banging on my keyboard (sorry desk neighbors). But an article published in The Atlantic yesterday, aptly titled "Doing Dishes Is the Worst," reminded me to count my blessings.
"Dishwashing causes more relationship distress than any other household task," the article states, citing a soon-to-debut study by Council of Contemporary Families (CCF).
Out of all the household chores —laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning — doing dishes proves to be the most contentious, the study says. "For women in heterosexual relationships, it’s more important to share the responsibility of doing the dishes than any other chore." Women frustrated that their partners don't share this task say they fight more and are less satisfaction in the relationship as a whole and also in the bedroom.
On the flip side, "women are happier about sharing dishwashing duties than they are about sharing any other household task."
There's more to dirty dishes than the fact that, food-coated, they pile up in the sink, inviting critters and making it impossible to do anything else in the kitchen until they've been taken care of. (Okay, so I feel strongly.) Dishwashing incites what seems like disproportionate conflict because it is historically seen as a woman's job. Traditionally, outdoor chores—mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage—were seen as a man's job, while indoor chores like dishwashing were seen as a woman's duties.
Whether or not these stereotypes play out in your household today, the embedded associations make this a particularly charged issue, Dan Carlson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Utah, says.
"This a source of constant conflict in my house," says Food & Wine staff writer Elisabeth Sherman. "No matter what the argument is, inevitably it gets brought up that I don't do the dishes enough. Every. Time. My performance in this regard has not improved, despite the arguments it causes."
The trouble extends beyond couples too, of course.
One editor on staff who chose not to be named because he still lives with his roommate says simply, "My roommate's dish problem is currently ruining our friendship. She doesn't respect the wash within 24 hours rule, which I thought was universal. Obviously, you don't always have to wash your dishes the second you're done with them, but if you consistently wait more than 24 hours, you are disrespecting others — especially when you know they'll just wash them for you out of frustration and to make space."
Count yourself lucky if this scene doesn't sound familiar.
All this is to say that if you're feeling like you're having an excessive reaction to those dirty dishes in the sink, rest easy, knowing that you're not alone, and there's a good reason for your frustration.
If you, like me, ever discovered what Love Languages you value and were surprised to see "acts of service" up there, this might be particularly salient — and all the more reason to make sure you're balancing this daily chore, no matter who you're sharing it with. Or maybe invest in a dishwasher.