In Relationships, Should the Person Working Fewer Hours Support the Person Working More?

We’re about to start our Money and Relationships series here at The Billfold, and The Cut’s newest Money Mom column fits right in to this discussion:

Dana, 30, is a product developer for a large tech firm and lives with her boyfriend of three years. She’s always been the higher earner, which was never an issue; he loves how ambitious she is. However, she recently got a promotion and a raise, and is now working longer hours. She’s often late to meet her boyfriend (as well as other people), and he’s accused her of deprioritizing him and being disrespectful of his time. They’ve also started fighting about household chores; it sounds cliché, but she doesn’t want to come home from the office at 10 p.m. to find him watching TV with dirty dishes in the sink and the trash not taken out. She knows that she can’t treat his time as being less important than hers, but objectively, her time ismore valuable, in a monetary sense. Is she an awful person to want him to be more accommodating to her? Is there a middle ground?

This question fits right into the “Millennial women are both working and earning more than their male partners” trend, which we’ve written about before. Does that mean that Millennial men should take on more of the domestic work? Is there a so-called “middle ground?”

Money Mom provides a thoughtful answer that asks the letter writer to take responsibility for asking for what she wants—more chores done by the boyfriend—as well as for her chronic lateness.

Then Money Mom suggests the girlfriend frame her lateness as “I’m so sorry to keep you waiting — I got completely absorbed. I mean no disrespect,” which suggests that the girlfriend is only late because of her own time management issues. As anyone who’s repeatedly worked late knows, it’s often more of a team management than a time management thing.

But, on the subject of time management: there’s this theory that couples should look at their shared workloads and, instead of asking who’s doing more labor (paid or otherwise), ask whether both of them have the same amount of leisure time. With this theory, the person who is working fewer hours might also be responsible for more of the household labor; conversely, the person who is doing full-time caretaking might be entitled to more household help and more leisure time.

Which means, in this scenario, that the boyfriend might need to do the dishes so that both partners can relax when the girlfriend gets home.

There are a number of ways in which the “same leisure time” theory falls short; for starters, some people specifically choose careers to maximize their leisure hours (especially if they have a hobby or side hustle they want to pursue) and might resent taking on a larger chunk of household labor because of that. Also, dividing labor based on equal leisure hours might lead one person to deliberately drag their heels; why get something done quickly if it’s not going to get you any extra free time?

(When my sister and I were little, my parents would give us each a chore and say “first one done has to help the other!” which was the biggest disincentive ever. Why do something you don’t want to do if you know that by putting in minimum effort, someone else will come by to help you?)

So those are my thoughts on this Money Mom question, which is to say that I don’t have a good answer. Advising the girlfriend to ask for what she wants feels correct, but asking might not be enough to get the boyfriend to clean or convince her manager to let her leave the office earlier than everyone else.

What advice would you give?

This story is part of The Billfold’s Money and Relationships series.

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