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Sex with Dr. Jess


April 3, 2018

Could Hiring a Housecleaner Save Your Relationship?

Just before our wedding thirteen years ago, my family got together to assemble a book of (unsolicited) advice to help our love and relationship last a lifetime. I don’t remember many of the recommendations they had to offer, but I do recall that my mom, whom I admire greatly, offered one pearl of wisdom: Hire a house cleaner if you can afford to do so.

We followed her advice from the onset (both my husband and I grew up with parents who fought about division of household chores) and the cost of a cleaner (Selena) has been worth every penny. Selena’s weekly contribution reduces our stress levels, curbs tension related to any perceived imbalances and affords us more time to spend together (or apart at our leisure).

Now a working paper from researchers at Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia suggests that spending a little a money to save time and reduce stress could lead to more satisfying relationships. Jess joined Jeff on The Morning Show to discuss this new research and share tips to help couples regardless of their budget.

What did these researchers find?

  • Seven studies which included 3206 working couples found that those who paid for services to save time reported higher relationship satisfaction. This ‘buying of time’ has a protective effect which reduces stress and allows them to spend more time together.
  • While paying for services is a first-world luxury, the correlation between happier relationships and paying to save time exists for both lower and higher income couples.

How much do you need to spend and is money really the answer?

  • Spending $40 on a time-saving purchase (e.g housecleaning or food delivery) results in greater positive mood and lower negative mood than after spending $40 on a material item.
  • Materialism is associated with increased anxiety, depression, and negative health symptoms for those in relationships (Nickerson, Schwarz, Diener & Kahneman, 2003; Park, Ward & Gainey, 2017); spending money on time-saving services may be a positive alternative.
  • Purchases that save time may be a form of problem-focused coping; they address stress by altering the stressful situation itself as opposed to attempting to regulate the negative emotions associated with stressful situations (Folkman & Lazarus, 1980; 1985). In some cases stressful situations cannot be avoided (due to a lack of control), but in the case of time-related stress associated with household labour, they can be reduced/avoided.

How important is housework in marriage/relationships?

  • Managing household chores is one of the top three contentious issues in North American relationships; fights about chores often result in ongoing tension, resentment and withdrawal from intimate connection.
  • Achieving harmony over household labour is essential to relationship outcome as evidenced by the fact that 25% of couples who divorce cited ‘disagreements about housework’ as the primary reason for their divorce.
  • Perceived imbalances in division of household labour interfere with personal well-being and expressions of intimacy; couples who divide housework more equally (or perceive it as equally divided) have more frequent and satisfying sex.

What time-saving services could people consider?

  • Housecleaning
  • Handyperson work
  • Furniture assembly
  • Meal (partial) prep
  • Grocery delivery
  • Grocery prep (some grocery stores will chop vegetables, fillet fish, carve meat, etc.)
  • In-home services & lessons
  • Laundry services
  • Gardening/landscaping

Regardless of whether or not you (can afford to) hire a housecleaner, how can you reduce fights and tension related to perceived imbalance in division of labour?

  • Use an app or an old fashioned pen and paper to make a list of everything that needs to be done to keep you household in tact; include everything from cooking and cleaning to arranging playdates and entertaining extended family. Estimate how long each task might take and then look at dividing it fairly equally (accounting for how much work you each do outside of the home).
  • Some people feel that making lists could lead to keeping score, but it’s better to clearly identify the tasks, as it will provide a more accurate picture of the time each task consumes and reduce the resentment associated with inaccurate estimations.
  • If a transition is on the horizon (e.g. a new baby, a big move, a new job), revisit the list to add transitional tasks, as these can be exceptionally stressful.
  • Thank your partner for the little things and pay extra attention to the tasks they perform regularly (lest you take them for granted).
  • Another option: make a list of all weekly tasks (one per piece of scrap paper) and throw them in a hat. Take turns selecting one item until they’re all assigned. You can even barter and trade tasks as you see fit. (I know one couple who sets them up like a sports draft at the beginning of each month. They have fun with it and the silliness of the process helps to ease tension.)