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Good and healthy relationships need balance. Where one of the partners feels overburdened and solely responsible for all the duties, there are regrets and conflicts. Cliché? “There’s a lot of truth about life in these clichés. It is very hard to really consistently seek and use these simple recipes for happiness”, said one of the participants of our study “Domestic Relationships and the Division of Duties. About Cherishing Love Every Day”.

The study was conducted at Agora in spring and summer as part of the “Tenderness and Freedom” social campaign carried out by the Kulczyk Foundation in cooperation with “Wysokie Obcasy” and the Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation. We wanted to see how couples split their household duties, how many succeed at it and what methods they use. We invited the readers of “Gazeta Wyborcza” and “Wysokie Obcasy” to participate in the study. Over four thousand people completed our questionnaire and selected participants were contacted for an in-depth interview carried out by Magdalena Grudniewska, the study author. A vast majority of people who were interested in completing the voluntary questionnaire were women, which may indicate that they care more about issues related to the division of duties than their partners. 

The satisfied predominate

Those dissatisfied with the division of roles within their relationship constitute 36 percent of responders. The majority (64 percent) are satisfied with the way their relationships work. Grudniewska says: “It’s quite optimistic, but I know that the readers of “Gazeta Wyborcza” and “Wysokie Obcasy” are people with an above-average awareness of the importance of balanced roles. I have the impression that if the study was conducted among all Poles, the level of dissatisfaction would be much higher.”

Among women who declare that the division of duties is uneven, more than half admit that they have a grudge against other household members for not doing enough, and almost 40 percent emphasise that it’s a common cause of household arguments. As much as 53 percent of women believe that they are responsible for the entire domestic life. Significantly less men (20 percent) feel likewise.

“On the one hand, we should be happy that the situation is changing and that the responders’ relationships are much more often based on partnership than those of their parents, in which the burden of running a household rested with women and men focused on work. However, we can still see that there’s a division into chores considered typically feminine and typically masculine.” 

Do men help or just think they help?

In most households, the washing, ironing, cooking or taking care of children, i.e. most housework, is done mainly by women. Men usually limit their input to small repairs, doing bigger shopping and paying bills.  What's interesting is the difference between how men and women perceive joint work. Men much more often declare that they do some activities together with their partner. 67 percent of women say that their partner takes care of the children alongside them in their free time, while as much as 83 percent of men say that they do it together with their partner. Only 44 percent of women declare that their partner gets involved in helping children with schoolwork, but as much as 66 percent of men believe that they do.

There’s no doubt, however, that it’s the woman who more often buys clothes for children, takes care of what children eat, takes them to school, puts them to bed and reads to them at bedtime. “It seems that either men think that they do more than they actually do, or women fail to notice their efforts”, comments the study author.

It is worth emphasising that despite the fact that the division of duties into feminine and masculine causes no protest, men and women are willing to approach such division flexibly. “As much as 93 percent of women believe that if they switched their duties with their partners, it would not affect their femininity. Men are less favourably inclined towards such a switch (83 percent).”

Children more appreciated during the pandemic

Situations where a woman is exclusively responsible for taking care of the household and the man exclusively responsible for earning money are rare (3 percent of responders describe their relations this way). In most households, there’s a relative balance between household and professional duties of a woman and a man (64 percent of responders). More than 40 percent of women and well over 60 percent of men are so happy with the division of duties that they would like their children to emulate their model. However, as much as 35 percent of women and only 13 percent of men don’t want their children to copy their household duty arrangements.

The study was conducted during the pandemic and obviously the issue of isolation would come up every now and then, because – as emphasised by both women and men – the coronavirus had an impact on their relationships. However, it was not a negative impact at all. “Psychologists expect that one of the effects of isolation will be increased divorce rates. Many couples will fail to handle this difficult situation or as a result of being isolated together 24/7 will realise that they no longer have much in common. However, the couples that I talked to not only managed switching to crisis-mode living well, but also have fond memories of isolation as a time when they could tighten family bonds,” says Grudniewska. “It is emphasised especially by men: ‘I have very fond memories of that time spent at home. I established a deeper emotional bond with my child,’” she adds.

In some households, the pandemic reorganised all duties. In one relationship, the man took over cooking as he works from home. “The pandemic made us a little bit more sensitive. Some extra duties fell to us as we had four seniors living in four different flats,” someone said in an interview.

Highlights Grudniewska: “The pandemic has shown how crucial it is to be attentive to the needs of other household members. One of the ladies explained how she and her husband have divided zones at home between themselves and how now he works in the living room and she in the kitchen. As a result, she always makes coffee in the morning for herself and her husband, because it’s further away for him and it’s easier for her. He, in turn, took over washing up duties because he knows how much she hates it.”

If there’s no will, it’s bad

There’s a lot of talk about communication between partners in our study. The responders themselves stress that even where household life works just fine, strong emotions, unfulfilled expectations and arguments still occur. “Conclusions are clear: communicating expectations and negotiating points of contest is essential. In the dissatisfied group, there’s a lot of unvoiced expectations, overburden with work, performing duties of other household members for them and plenty of deeply instilled personal responsibility for what a household is like. Living together seems more like a burden and trouble than a voluntary decision. In the group of responders satisfied with their household life, on the other hand, the recipe is asking for help, discussing needs openly and the ability to let duties that are too exhausting go, says the author. Responders also emphasised how important household rituals are and how important it is to do certain things together with family and treat home as a community rather than a burden. All responders agreed that conversation was the key to success.

One woman said, “When several people live together on several dozen square meters, it’s obvious that disputes and arguments can’t be avoided completely”. Another one explains to her husband the need to communicate in the following way, “If a moment comes when I no longer want to talk to you, it’s bad”.

Sometimes you just have to let go

“Sometimes my wife says that she is too tired to vacuum and tells me to do it. And I do it without making a scene”, says one man. Another responder says, “If somebody leaves something in the wrong place, I let it go. I take the glass and put it in the right place. It won’t hurt me and it’ll be easier for everybody”. The study shows clearly that such behaviour comes easier to men.

“Imagine that your partner failed to do their duty and, let’s say, didn’t take out the rubbish”, we asked our responders. As much as 47 percent of women responded, “I will keep reminding him until he does it”. And as much as 57 percent of men said, “I’ll just do it for her”.

“The people I interviewed, when talking about household duties, talked in fact about their relationships. All conversations had huge undertones of tenderness, irrespective of the particular situations, life experiences and dispositions of the interviewees. Mass culture feeds us fairytale relationships which have very little in common with our daily lives. And, in truth, the everyday mundane life is a true litmus test for love,” says Grudniewska. One of the participants put it this way, “I told her, ‘I won’t get you flowers. If you have a vision of a romantic prince, you'll be disappointed. Every day I will do many things for us, and these will be my flowers for you’.”

Sons will be different

Julita Czernecka, a sociologist at the University of Lodz and a researcher of the situation of single people and of relations within relationships, stresses that the study results correspond to the social situation and the specificity of the test group. “Responses were provided mainly by educated women from large cities, with a developed approach to equality, who most often choose partners with similar views”, she says. “In small towns and in the countryside, approach to patriarchy and the “you stay at home and I go to work” division of roles are more diverse”, she adds.

Czernecka appreciates the involvement of men in housework: “According to my research, men do it as a token of love. Out of love, they wash the car, scrub the toilet and take out rubbish without complaints. For a woman, housework is no proof of feelings, but a simple duty.”

What's more, the sociologists noticed that men appreciate the time they have spent with their children during the pandemic. “That’s because for them it’s quite unusual, while for women it’s something obvious. On a daily basis, women commit more time to housework than men (up to 19 hours more each week). This includes the time spent with children. And men statistically still earn more and commit themselves to work. That’s why they appreciate the time they got to spend with their family so much.

We live in a time when the traditional model collides with the partnership model. Women want men to get involved more. Taking care of children seems quite obviously the domain of women, if only because little children tend to have a stronger bond with the mother. But females oppose to their disproportionate involvement in doing the laundry or ironing. Can’t a man handle an iron? But if we want men to get more involved in work considered feminine, we must show some understanding if they don't do it as well as we do. And we ourselves should get involved in traditionally masculine work, too” says Czernecka.

“Tenderness and freedom. Let's build balanced relationships” is a campaign run by Kulczyk Foundation along with “Wysokie Obcasy” and “Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation”.

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