I attended a conflict resolution workshop this weekend, and as is usually the case for me, I reflected a great deal on myself and what this new information could tell me about myself and how I tend to operate.
It was also a very useful workshop, very well done, and I've ordered both of the books they quoted the most so I can read more: Difficult Conversations, and Nonviolent Communication.
But back to me, sitting there, and having a sudden insight into a long-term problem ...
My husband and I tend to fight about chores a lot. He just doesn't do any chores other than to maintain his motorcycle, and he never really has. There are many reasons for his non-participation, and we've tried many techniques to change it: chore charts, group chore time, couples counseling, personal counseling, etc. But it's been ten years, so I'm not holding my breath at this point.
The funny thing for me is that I don't resent all the chores when he's not home. During the week we see very little of him because he works so much and the commute is so long, and I feel perfectly fine dealing with the house and laundry and yard and car and kids and work and errands. In fact, I feel a sense of accomplishment, of mastery, and of personal self-worth when I tackle such a big challenge and feel like I'm getting it done.
But then we head into the weekend, and he and I usually have some fights about it. And our fights are usually not about doing a specific chore right now, but are instead about how I hate that we are falling into this male/female dynamic that overall throughout society leads to the oppression of women, and I go into a little feminist rant, and he usually responds with "I've heard this all before, you're wasting our time talking about it again, and fine, I can go do a F'ing chore." At which point I fly off the handle, forbid him to do any chores, and rush off crying.
Yes - it sounds healthy, doesn't it?
So here is the breakthrough ... or actually two breakthroughs.
1. He thinks conflict resolution means getting out of the current conflict as fast as possible and doing something to solve it. In other words, he doesn't want to hear why I'm upset, he just wants to do something right this minute to make this stop. But that will never solve the conflict, because it isn't actually about a specific chore at that moment.
2. The conflict is actually about my unmet need for Integrity. In this lovely Categories of Need chart that was handed out on Saturday, under Integrity are listed: authenticity, honesty, respect, purpose, responsibility, and accountability. In fact, it is when you are living a life in harmony with your principles.
So the big difference between doing all the household work when he is not here and doing it when he is here is that his presence and the reminder of the inequity makes me question my choices, my integrity as a modern-post-feminist woman, my self-image as being in control of my life and my environment, and my sense of personal empowerment. In essence, it throws me into an internal debate about feminism and equity and whether I am living with integrity.
And I want him to care about all of that, at least to the extent that he should care about me and my internal struggles and landscape. Dismissing it all as crap about society and feminism that has no bearing on the immediate conflict is actually the problem. I don't need him to do chores - I need him to care about the post-feminist dillemma of the working mother and the still present inequities in society.
He doesn't really care about those things (which I believe is in and of itself an example of his male-privilege in society), and that is what we need to work on, not on chore charts that will never work until he actually wants them to work.
This is a man who lived in squalor when I met him, and was perfectly fine with that state of affairs. He used his kitchen only once during the months we dated, and then those dishes were still sitting there dirty when I helped him pack to move out of that apartment. His bathroom was so disgusting I tried not to use it when I visited him. You would have to climb over a mound of clothing - some dirty and some "clean" - in the middle of the apartment. He lived on coffee, cigarettes, and alcohol.
I didn't expect him to change when I first moved in with him, but over time I've expected some changes. There have been some small changes, and he does honestly want to keep me happy and knows a clean house is part of that, but really you don't marry a man like that and then turn over 50% of the household chores to him.
I don't need him to do chores. I really don't. But I Do need to find some peace with this state of affairs, and to find an inner sense of integrity that is not embarrassed about my partnership arrangement with him, that doesn't doubt my own worth and empowerment because I'm in an "unequal" relationship, and that feels genuinely heard and respected.
So here I am, telling the world that I do all the housework, but I'm not ashamed of it! The personal is political, but it is also personal and it is complex. I am doing the best I can to be the woman I want to be, and that woman deserves respect, even if she does scrub the toilets herself.