The enjoyable chore of marriage

Neither of us remembers decreeing it. But my husband and I have known for years that it's my job to stuff all tax documents in a drawer during the year, his to feign despair as he shuffles through them each spring.

Similarly, buying groceries and cooking meals have long been my responsibilities, whereas Ken keeps bird feeders filled, doorbells dinging, and rain gutters draining. From the get-go, I've been our computer guru, although most other electronic devices fall under his purview.

In fact, over time our domestic job descriptions have so refined themselves that we hardly need to think, much less talk, about who does what around here. Every task, whether irregular or routine, seems to auto-select its most logical executor.

It wasn't always so. When we first married, 15 years ago, we found that we possessed markedly mismatched assumptions about whose wifely or husbandly role it was to buy stamps, rake leaves, and dispatch RSVPs. Although willing to work and eager to please, we hadn't yet sorted out which pieces constituted each person's portion of the puzzle.

Thus we'd render each other redundant - double-feeding the cats, not that they minded - while letting errands like fueling the family car fall between the cracks, much to our mutual exasperation.

Gradually, however, we grew to read each other's minds, if not each other's illegible to-do lists. Month by month, item by item, our respective shares of the household workload became functions of habit, and our mismatched assumptions slowly gave way to a well-coordinated joint effort.

You're perfect for the job

Most chores weren't assigned per se. Nor were they assumed arbitrarily, but rather as natural outgrowths of our individual talents and fallibilities.

For example, I can't paint walls nicely at all; I slop droplets onto woodwork and miss foot-wide swaths. Thus, Ken does the painting. And because he can swab down an entire bathroom without noticing that the looking glass is smeared, I clean all mirrors.

Balancing the checkbook has fallen to me, while bill-paying has become Ken's bailiwick. When we invite dinner guests, I undertake the preparatory fuss and bustle, but he deals with dirty dishes afterward. I do the laundry (oh, but I insist); meanwhile, he keeps cars and other major appliances running, and he cheerfully repairs everything I break.

Typically, we conquer by dividing, rather than combining forces. When I see that he's taken out the trash, I put a fresh liner in the can. If I happen along after he's unloaded the dishwasher, I close cupboard doors behind him. I procure Christmas gifts; he wraps and mails them. And come cleaning day, we two white tornadoes carve parallel paths upstairs and downstairs.

Such crisp delineation might suggest a lack of connubial camaraderie, but we find that by functioning independently, the work gets done faster, leaving us more leisure to spend as a twosome. Besides, there will always be jobs, like rearranging furniture, that necessarily remain in the dual domain (notwithstanding the recent experience of a friend who moved a large dresser downstairs without her husband's help).

One-time tasks, like setting up a new shelf unit we ordered last summer, also lend themselves to a teamwork approach by virtue of their appealing novelty.

"I'll do it, hon," Ken hastened to offer.

"Really, I don't mind," I countered magnanimously. Finally, we put it together more or less ... together.

Our delicate interdependency is discomfiting only when one of us must be away for a few days. If he's leaving, he'll tutor me beforehand in such esoteric processes as proper disengagement of the automatic garage door opener "in case of emergency." (What conceivable emergency? I'll ask. Never mind that, Ken says; it's just a good thing to know).

If I'm going away, I leave him a veritable laundry list of survival tips: Turn off oven after heating pizza. Deposit incoming checks before issuing outgoing ones. Under no circumstances do laundry.

Our respective chore lists aren't as gender-bound as they sound. I shovel snow while he tends our house plants, refusing to let me near Renee, his favorite African violet, lest I swamp her in my slapdash way.

Live and let dust

Like most co-workers, we're occasionally dissatisfied with each other's timeliness or method of execution. But he's a paragon of not keeping score, allowing me to loaf indefinitely, yet never suggesting that I'm bearing less than my share.

And rather than criticize, I've learned that tolerating an imperfectly dusted sill, or quietly re-doing it myself, is a fine character-building exercise.

Indeed, a spirit of cooperation, tempered by accommodation, has become the very soul of our domestic machine. When we consider how newlyweds must negotiate every household task from scratch, we marvel at all the love and intuition invested in our finely honed, seemingly seamless system.

Such marital achievements deserve to be celebrated.

And so we shall, on our next wedding anniversary, at a romantic restaurant. I'll remind him of the date and iron his best shirt. He'll vacuum the car and make a reservation.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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