They speak up if the balance is off. Almost all of the couples I spoke to said that talking when they were starting to feel resentful about the division of labor was essential to their happiness. “There’s nothing left unsaid from my side,” said Inbal Austern, 42, a toy designer and mom of two kids in Buffalo.
Part of that speaking up is also being observant about your spouse’s level of work. Austern’s wife, Ariel Aberg-Riger, 39, who works as a visual storyteller, said, “When things get out of balance, I become increasingly stressed, and I become angry and passive-aggressive.” But Austern knows her well enough to know when Aberg-Riger is becoming overwhelmed. “You see her huffing and puffing,” Austern said — and so she knows it’s time to have a discussion about their division of household labor.
When Schulte’s balance was off in her own home, and she was full of resentment about how little domestic work her husband was doing, they started going on long walks together. “I literally interviewed him: how did we get here? Why didn’t you ever take a paternity leave, did you know I have been mad at you for 15 years about that?” Letting it fester for more than a decade was not healthy for her, but those walks set the stage for them to completely reorient their domestic world. They started with little tweaks, like it was always her husband’s job to unload the dishwasher.
They take time for themselves. Jaclyn and Josh Greenberg are in their 40s, live in New Jersey, and have three children who are 11, 9 and 7. Their middle child is not able to walk or talk and is dependent on his parents, Jaclyn said, and has numerous appointments with doctors and therapists. They are both fully in the loop about care for all three children, so that when one of them is feeling burned out, the other can step in seamlessly. “If I need to punt to him, he’s already pretty clued in,” Jaclyn, who is a freelance writer, said. “I tend to be better about taking time for self-care, I encourage him to do the same. It’s about knowing you have reached your limit,” she said. She goes for a walk or talks to a friend. “There are times when one of us needs to hit the reset button,” said Josh, who is an analytics professional, and the other takes over the domestic load.
They push back against gendered expectations. Even if you are intentional and meticulous about not having a gendered division of labor inside your four walls, there is work to be done in training other people. Devan and Debora Sandiford, who are both 36, have two boys and live in Brooklyn, said that from their first pediatrician’s appointments there was an assumption that Debora was the keeper of baby information. “The doctor would turn to me and ask me a question when we’re all together, and Devan only has the answer,” Debora, who works in global health and teaches Pilates, said.