This past weekend my husband and I kicked off our 2017 by pulling out an old Ali G dvd. It sounds random, but we were looking to begin the year together laughing and Ali G is hysterical. One of the episodes is where Ali G interviews Naomi Wolf, author of the Beauty Myth, and well known feminist. The episode is full of good laughs for those who haven’t seen it, but one statistic Naomi rattles off is: “The most erotic thing a man can do for a woman is housework.” This got me thinking about how division of labor can directly impact intimacy. This is a theme that comes up often in my work and is a complex issue for a couple to address.
Division of labor inequalities is something that affects all couples, but this tension tends to become more exacerbated once children are born. Clinical psychologists and co-authors of Balancing the Big Stuff, Miriam Liss and Holly H. Schiffrin, argue even though women are increasingly working outside of the home, they continue to do the majority of work inside the home. They coin the typical day of a woman who spends an entire day working and then comes home to a second job of housework as the The Second Shift. Whenever I point out to clients they are working a second shift they love that term: it encapsulates really what moms perceive as a second job. Also this second job doesn’t have a particular end time. It spills over into late nights and weekends.
Unfortunately washing dishes, doing laundry, picking up the house, etc are less than glamorous tasks for anyone. Many times women perceive their second shift as low role quality. These are tasks that need to get done, aren’t fun, and incredibly time consuming. In their research Liss and Schiffrin found women spend three times more on these tasks than men. As a result this breeds resentment and leads women to feel the division of household labor is unfair.
This is no good for marriage and definitely not good for a couple’s sex life. Not only is mom on her way to burnout by working this second shift, but chances are she’s not feeling too fondly towards her husband. Reasons for this could be resentment, under appreciation, exhaustion, and apathy.
In my work I have heard burnt out wives say the following regarding sex: “I am too tired, all I can think about is going to bed.” Another common phrase is “I have spent the whole day working and then doing all the housework, how much more can I give?” While these thoughts are perfectly normal and every woman has a right to her feelings, continual negative feelings towards sex and intimacy is not good for anyone.
Marital distress with intimacy can happen quickly and also sneakily. The formula is the following: inequality in the second shift leads to a woman becoming burnt out and/or resentful. Therefore, she doesn’t want to have sex. This happens time and time again and becomes chronic. Once this shift happens, positive associations of sex and intimacy are replaced with negative feelings. In sum, a couple’s sex life is in trouble.
Thankfully there are ways to prevent this from happening. In my professional opinion, it all comes down to having honest conversations. How can both partners share the second shift in an equitable way? Also it’s important to re-evaluate division of labor on a fairly consistent basis. We all have busier times in our career. This could lead to one partner picking up the household slack for a period of time. However once that time expires, how does the couple re-adjust? What makes sense now may not make sense in a few months. The plan is worth revisiting and revising frequently.
Originally published at medium.com