Household harmony: Carving up the chores without conflict

How often have you stopped and thought: “Gee, I wish I was doing more housework”? Whether it’s washing the dishes, vacuuming the carpet, or cleaning the cat box, few of us want more housework. As a result, those of us who live with others are likely to eventually experience chore-based conflict.

Dividing up the chores can be contentious! But it’s negotiable.

To negotiate this particular morass, it helps to understand negative bargaining zones and how to deal with them. This post will introduce that topic and propose one strategic response; future posts will offer many more.

So imagine a simple example: you’re fighting with a dissatisfied spouse about washing the dishes. You wash the dishes on Saturday and Sunday, which seems appropriate since your high-stress (and high-paying) job occupies your time Monday through Friday. Your spouse does the dishes the rest of the week, which might seem unfair except that he (to alternate genders in my posts) works a low-stress, part-time job that leaves lots of time for scrubbing.

“Thomasina,” he says, “you’re not pulling your weight around the sink.” “Thomas,” you say, “you’re making 1/100th of my salary.” And thus it’s come to a head.

In a pinch, you’re also willing to wash dishes on Friday (for a total of three days per week). But you’d really rather sip a margarita that night, and you think the idea of Thursday dishes is outrageous. Unfortunately, Thomas doesn’t see it that way: “Every time you come home late, you eat nachos and sip margaritas! Do you know how many dishes that creates, and how hard I have to scrub that nacho cheese? It’s only right for you to do dishes at least Thursday through Sunday!”

This is a negative bargaining zone: the least that one party would accept (four days of dishes) is more than the most that the other party is willing to offer (your three days). And, if you and Thomas just try to persuade each other on the dishes, this is the start of a conflict.

But do you really have to do that? Aren’t there other chores in need of doing? In particular, isn’t Thomas always vacuuming up the cat hair on Saturday, complaining all the while about missing college football? And wait, doesn’t your schedule free up considerably on the weekend? What if you offered to take over the Saturday vacuuming while maintaining your current level of dishwashing?

Well, it’s no telling what Thomas will say (especially if he’s still brooding over the salary comment). But chances are, he’ll at least stop insisting on Thursday dishes. And he may even get so excited about college football that he forgets about Friday dishes.

What’s happened here? You initially faced a negative bargaining zone: four days of dishes demanded versus three days offered. But by introducing another issue (vacuuming), you’re now making an offer that exceeds his minimum demands (defined more broadly). You’ve turned the bargaining zone positive and, in the process, made housework negotiable.

So here’s the bottom line: Many of our conflicts only become conflicts because we fixate on one issue. By introducing another issue, we give ourselves at least a fighting chance of not fighting.

Have you ever split up the housework several chores at a time?



9 thoughts on “Household harmony: Carving up the chores without conflict

  1. Pingback: The musings of 2015 | Brian Gunia

  2. Pingback: Mythical images of the negotiator | Brian Gunia

  3. Professor Gunia – I found true value in this one and my wife loved it as well. I admit, I tipped my hand several times, signaling to my wife, I would prefer to not do the dishes (I believe I may have used the word “viscerally hate”). I do however, prefer vacuuming. We agreed this weekend, my wife will do “all” the dishes, if I do all the vacuuming. My hatred for the dirty china clouded my view to an integrative/MIO solution. Simple issue, excellent lesson. Thank you – John.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Preparing to negotiate? Use your “BRAIN”! | Brian Gunia

  5. Pingback: The unreliability of our gut: Intuitions in negotiation | Brian Gunia

  6. Pingback: Brian Gunia

  7. Luckily my partner and I are pretty good at splitting up the chores but I will admit there are times, especially if I am traveling for work a lot, where there is an implied unfairness in who does what and it is very easy to “hit below the belt” with comments like “Well, you do like health insurance right, that’s why I travel so much…” Generally though, he and I try and split across the board whether its inside or outside. But I might use your technique above by picking up a little more than half on weeks I do not travel so he doesn’t feel like he’s the housewife 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s