The Egalitarian Marriage and the Bedroom

The Egalitarian Marriage and the Bedroom

The perfect marriage. She makes the kugel, he mops the floor. He does the morning carpool, she picks up in the afternoon. She pays the electricity bill and he takes out the trash.

Until about 15 years ago I believed that a 50/50 marriage was the absolute ideal.

But over the past decade and half or so of observing marriages, I have noticed something over and over that once surprised me, but doesn’t anymore. I have seen how the expectation of an egalitarian breakdown of household duties is not only NOT the recipe for a perfect marriage. It is, in fact, the recipe for destroying one.

I think this New Yorker cartoon says it all:


In this cartoon, the couples marriage is on the rocks. Why? The wife doesn’t think the husband is pulling his weight around the house. And now, in order to please the marriage counselor, he is folding laundry. But the choice of folding laundry means the wife isn’t only interested in basic help around the house– dropping the kids off at school, sweeping up, putting on a pot of spaghetti. This wife is dissatisfied because she folded the laundry last week, and this week it’s his turn. 50/50 or else!

Here’s another video with a similar message:

The wife dreams of the day that her neanderthal of a husband will become a perfect husband: cooking and cleaning and making dinner and entertaining the baby.

But I think the video’s implication to the 10 million women who have viewed it is clear: if your husband isn’t cooking and cleaning and making dinner and watching the baby then he is no better than this gaseous neanderthal.

And what have I seen? That when a wife is constantly calculating whether her husband did exactly as much as her in the house, then it is almost inevitably a source of marital and personal bitterness and tension.

Until last week, my impressions about the harmful effects of the 50/50 marriage were nothing more than a strong feeling– but then I received a link to a New York Times article “Does an Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex” (this is an important article and also an extremely graphic one. That’s why I’m not linking to it, Google it at your own risk).

Author Lori Gottlieb writes:

“Today, according to census data, in 64 percent of U.S. marriages with children under 18, both husband and wife work. There’s more gender-fluidity when it comes to who brings in the money, who does the laundry and dishes, who drives the car pool and braids the kids’ hair, even who owns the home. A vast majority of adults under 30 in this country say that this is a good thing, according to a Pew Research Center survey: They aspire to what’s known in the social sciences as an egalitarian marriage, meaning that both spouses work and take care of the house and that the relationship is built on equal power, shared interests and friendship. But the very qualities that lead to greater emotional satisfaction in peer marriages, as one sociologist calls them, may be having an unexpectedly negative impact on these couples’ sex lives.”

“A study called ‘Egalitarianism, Housework and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,’ which appeared in The American Sociological Review last year, surprised many, precisely because it went against the logical assumption that as marriages improve by becoming more equal, the sex in these marriages will improve, too. Instead, it found that when men did certain kinds of chores around the house, couples had less sex. Specifically, if men did all of what the researchers characterized as feminine chores like folding laundry, cooking or vacuuming — the kinds of things many women say they want their husbands to do — then couples had sex 1.5 fewer times per month than those with husbands who did what were considered masculine chores, like taking out the trash or fixing the car. It wasn’t just the frequency that was affected, either — at least for the wives. The more traditional the division of labor, meaning the greater the husband’s share of masculine chores compared with feminine ones, the greater his wife’s reported sexual satisfaction.”

The article goes on to explain that no matter how much a woman says she loves being married to a man who cooks and cleans and changes 50% of the diapers, when push comes to shove egalitarianism is a major turn-off.

I heard recently about somebody who bought a home and then chopped down the wrong wall and the whole thing collapsed into a pile of rubble. And when I read this article that’s what I thought of—that is exactly what this 50/50 expectation is doing to our marriages.

In conclusion:

Husbands should treat their wives with respect.
Husbands should be active parents to their children.
Husbands should help out in the house.

But I think we need to rethink our expectations. The 50/50 breakdown is not the ideal, and it can actually wreak havoc on one’s marriage and one’s joy in life.

As a Jewish woman you are the Akeret Habayit, the essence of your home. I know it’s tough. Often very tough. But we’ve got to learn to love that role. To own that role. To reach our ultimate potential through that role.

And what if you’re collapsing under the pressure of the house and the kids? Look into getting help a few hours a week from a teenage girl who would love some extra pocket money. Recruit/bribe older children to help more. Lower expectations. Do Flylady. Eat take-out.

Do whatever you need to do to rely less on your husband’s help in the home. And at the same time learn how embrace and love your role in the home.

If you give up on the 50/50 dream your husband will be happier, your marriage will be happier, and ultimately, I promise you, YOU will be happier as well.



  1. First of all, if you are keeping track and making sure everything is 50/50 then you are a control freak with problems. It’s not about 50/50. And by keeping track you are setting the marriage up for failure.

    Second of all, a wife can’t be everything. If you work, then yes, he will have to help take care of the house. Because you can’t work most of the day AND take care of the kids AND take care of the house.

    Third of all, your part about bedroom satisfaction is purely correlation, and not at all causation. There are a lot of other factors that you missed, that can affect happiness/satisfaction/frequency. But, of course, you didn’t mention them.

    And lastly, yes, the video is wrong. But so are you. Each couple decides what their roles are in the marriage. There is no wrong or right. One couple can decide that they are happy with the traditional roles. Another couple can decide to switch roles entirely – stay at home dad and working mom, and be happy. And still other couples decide to split it – they both work outside the home and they both do housework. She does cooking, he does cleaning. He gives baths and she does homework. That doesn’t mean they’re going to have issues and saying that they’re more likely to have issues because they split everything evenly is just incorrect (sorry).

    People have marital issues because they don’t know how to communicate properly. Because he wanted a traditional marriage and she didn’t. Or because of a gazillion other things. But it usually boils down to communication problems. Unrelated to gender roles. Sorry.

  2. There are a number of topics that you have brought up.

    Firstly, the ‘idea’. Nothing you have said proves or disproves that a 50/50 house is not the ideal. The statistics in the article (though I did not read all of it) are just statistics. Perhaps in those families where the husband is more involved in chores he is obliged to because she is working long hours, chronically sick, or a number of other reasons which could also clearly contribute to less time or energy for ‘intimate’ pursuits. Another clear theme in the article, was that equality is something which couples found to be a ‘turn-off’. i.e. that the woman being empowered and less submissive reducing sexual desire. Which doesn’t seem to me to be a religious ideal.

    So onto a different topic, that of expectations. Clearly, if a relationship becomes expectation focused – if each partner is focused on what the other ‘should’ be doing, that is detrimental to the marriage. But you neglect to mention that really, such expectations can be in any area of marriage. Presumably, a wife that ‘expects’ to get flowers every shabbat, or a husband who ‘expects’ a clean house every time he comes home would have just as many problems as a couple where the wife ‘expects’ the husband to share chores. Indeed, a relationship where the wife ‘expects’ that her husband do LESS than 50/50 could be equally problematic.

    And onto the part I disagree with the most. Even if, as a woman you are ‘Akeret Habayit’ that does not mean that chores are your responsibility alone. It does not mean that your husband can’t do half of the house work. It doesn’t even mean that he can’t do all of the house work. It also doesn’t mean that if you struggle that you need to find paid help. By all means be motivated as a couple to live in a house which is a positive place for all living there and as a couple decide together how this will be done. Some couples will decide that she or he does more or less house work, or earning outside the house. Crucially, only those couples who work together, trying to understand each other will be happy. If she wants him to take out the trash and he doesn’t want to, then they will be unhappy until they come to a conclusion. If he wants the house to be clean when he gets home and she can’t cope, then they need to come to a conclusion. May be he will lower his expectations. May be he will hire help. May be she will clean harder. May be she will hire help. These, seem to me all valid solutions. Putting the entire responsibility for solving these issues on the woman just seems, to me, to belittle the man. Why shouldn’t he have a voice, or a say? You also say that ‘husbands should help out in the house’. What about the entire generations before us, where many men did little or no housework. Is that so very wrong?

    And now for the reason I feel strongly about this. There are many generalizations that can be made about women, men and roles in marriage. But I think that articles like these are restrictive and can be very difficult for some people.

    How many submissive men are married to assertive women? How many men learn while their wives work? Are all of them unhappy? What about those men who do a lot of housework. Are all of their marriages doomed to infrequent intimacy?

    What about those women who see more to their lives than keeping house, and their husbands who support them in this?

    Let me tell you a story. I am a highly educated woman. My husband and I fell in love intellectually, physically, religiously. When we got married, believing the religious stories that you and others tell, I dropped my studies, started a family and became a model housewife, for a number of years. And WE were so miserable that my husband kicks me back to work. Full time work, after every baby, cooks, cleans, mops floors,in OUR HOME as much as I do, ok he doesn’t do laundry. And we are so much happier. And I have tried both ways, and I truly believe that this the the right, G-dly thing for us to be doing. And I really really disagree when religiously it is prescribed that there is only one way to be happy, and that is when a women takes responsibility for the home.

  3. Ruth Bernstein

    It is not religiously prescribed, it is culturally prescribed, and not even everywhere! What the above poster said about making the house a positive place for everyone really resonated with me. I stayed at home for a decade when our kids were little and have recently gone back to work, and for a long time everything about the house & children was my responsibility. It is both a pleasure and a source of some discomfort that i have had to let go of the control over these things in recent years, but I think we have negotiated ways for us all to be happy and as satisfied as possible, and that to me is most important.

    I also agree that keeping track is an inevitable road to disappointment and resentment and prefer to think that we are all doing 100 percent of what we can do to make the household run, perfectly imperfect as it is. Our responsibilities have changed as the kids get older, or as one of us is infirm, or as one of us leaves home to work for 40 hours a week, but we have never kept track and I hope we never start.

  4. Ruth Bernstein

    Also, I think the correlation between a couple’s sex life and shared chores is a reach on the part of the writer (I skimmed this article but did not read it carefully)–if you are unhappy with the state of your home, then maybe work on it; if you are unhappy with the state of your sex life, work on *that.* I think women doing more chores in hopes of having a happier sex life is probably inefficient, and I say this as someone who finds clean sheets and polished floors an aphrodisiac of the highest order!

  5. I think that the correlation is not in the woman doing more household chores but in the man doing more masculine chores. ie he mows the lawn, does carpentry, fix-it jobs, cares for the cars. The article was saying that having a Mr Mom husband is not attractive. I think that is what this author gathered from the mentioned but not linked article.

  6. Chana Jenny, KOL HAKAVOD! I have been saying exactly what you wrote here for years. Only you said it better.

    Trying to get a 50-50 split in housework/childcare just isn’t going to work. Find another way to manage and still be happy. Ways can be found, most of the time.

    I’m forwarding this link all around. I agree with you 100 percent. G-d bless you, my friend.

  7. The unlinked article is very interesting and answers some of the concerns raised here in the comments.

    The author of the article is an unmarried psychotherapist who counsels married couples. I have a long standing rule that I don’t take child-rearing advice from anyone who has not raised children to successful (nothing to do with money) adulthood. I now have a new rule – one that I never imagined needing – I don’t take marital advice from unmarried people.

    Chana Jenny, you did say it well and I’ve seen the same thing over my 24 years of marriage. I’ve watched as the couples we grew up with (many of us marrying young) grew apart and divorced or grew closer together. In my own relationship my husband finds it very attractive to come home to a clean house and supper on the table. He also finds it attractive that I am a full-time university student with a 3.8 GPA. I think we are on new ground here. Men consider women their equals and women expect to be treated as equal. But what is equal? Is it being the same?

    My mother is 74 years old and she has always said, “Why would I want to be equal to my husband? I’d have to step down off my pedestal!” She is the queen of her home and was treated as such when my father was still living. He considered her every bit his equal in intelligence and religious learning, but never considered her to be the same or to have the same duties in the marriage.

    Many blessings to you, Chana Jenny, for tackling the difficult subjects!

    • This is a great comment. Reminds me of the saying: “if you want to be the king of the house, make your wife the queen” My husband tells me it won’t work the other way….

      Great, thought provoking post. I don’t agree with it all but the main thing is whatever role we carve out for ourselves, at whatever cycle in life: we should try to be satisfied with it and give it our best. I’ve worked, I’ve been pregnant with babies at home, I’ve been the primary breadwinner and now I’m a full time housewife with time to make elaborate Purim costumes. We adapt. It’s work, and we have both grown from it.

  8. I married a husband who takes over the house a lot. I was shocked to see this as I come from a home where my mother ruled the house and my father learned most of the day and didn’t even know how to boil an egg.

    I must say, I love my husband doing so much around the house. HOWEVER, I am a bit embarrassed by it. None of my friends have husbands like this. My friends will ask me how much I pay for meat or chicken, and I have no clue – my husband did the shopping. Or they’ll come over and say, MY what a clean house — and I can’t take credit, as once again – he did it.

    It bothers me a lot. I remember trying to make Pesach for the first time and wanting to organize the house and get it ready and suddenly he had a whole plan mapped out and while I was getting the kids to bed or playing with them or watching them outside, he was getting the entire house cleaned for Pesach. Yes, it sounds like a dream, but it’s embarrassing. Friends will ask, So was it hard making Pesach? Um, no not at all.

    But I look at them all tired, running their household, feeling the accomplishment of a clean house and I am so jealous! Sometimes I wish my husband would be like those guys who doesn’t know how to do any of that.

    But in the end, I know Hashem knows what kind of guy I need. When he goes out of town, I do it all – I feel good but wow am I grateful for all the help he gives me.

    (And I do not sit around twiddling my thumbs either! I am a full time SAHM, and I definitely carry my own weight around here…)

    • anonymous

      I don’t think you need to be embarrassed by your husband being so helpful. I think you need to thank your lucky stars and be proud. It takes a lot of guts to be happy in your own skin with your own personal strengths and weaknesses. As long as your husband isn’t resentful of all the stuff he does around the house, he feels good doing it and you should feel good letting him!! It just takes communication. As you write, when he is out of town you do it all, so you are not at all incompetent, just majorly lucky! So when your friends ask how much you paid for the chicken, you should proudly say you have no clue. They are probably burning in jealousy.

  9. I have to disagree with this post. Both husband and wife need to be invested in running the household and doing the nitty gritty of child rearing. I recommend Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In’, especially the chapter Make your partner a real partner, where she gives concrete ideas for splitting the housework. I think it’s also important for children to see Dad participate in meaningful ways to the running of the house.

  10. YES to participation but NO to calculation !
    Yes to help when i need it but no demands!
    yes for Gratitude and No to Entitlment
    Yes to giving on both parts
    Yes to Love
    Yes to soul mates with a common goal
    And yes to and its wonderful author!!!

  11. Thinking about your article at first I thought, probably right. Thinking about it for the second time I don’t think it can be said as a 100% solution for a good married life.

    I do think the key of that is respect of the spouse.

    And now of course opinions differ in what we respect our husbands/wives for.

    There is a natural role of the woman, turn it around and it will probably not lead anywhere. Or actually it didnt lead me anywhere.
    Without intention I found myself to be the successful breadwinner in my first marriage. Naturally my long term unemployed ex-husband took care of house and cooking. When problems in our marriage arose I didnt find much support, neither from his family nor my friends. Not only once I was asked what it matters who Hashem gave the parnassah to. Not only once I replied I wish I would make half and he would be able to make the other half.I also do not want to go into detail what happens to men when they feel incompetent and bored….bottom line it led to divorce.

    BH I am now married for the second time, blessed with wonderful children and a succesful husband. I am still working and doing well – although with reduced working hours, but it’s me preparing the food and shabbos and running the house.
    I have decided to take a lot of help. While I work – she cleans and irons and washes and cuts the vegetables, but I do cook and serve dinner and make sure that my husband finds the house in good condition – seeing me and not her.

    Yes, sometimes there are discussions about it. My husbands tends to have a chauvinistic approach and at times he feels that I might enter his space too much. But then again, when we talk, the respect that we have for each other, makes us understand each other’s position.
    And yes, I do expect a 50 percent involvement in the upbringing of the children. Not in the housework, but children do need a father and a mother. The 50 percent might look different and it doesnt mean that the hours of the day have to be split by 50%. But the presence of father and mother have to equal as that makes parents…

    But then again: don’t judge – do what is good for yourself.

    In the world of career I have met many strong women, whose husbands are ‘nachshleppers’. Maybe it works for them, maybe not – I am not a guest in their bedroom and do not even want to imagine.

    I have also met many successful men. Their wives are always beautiful, always expensive, not always the most intelligent but in the best case they have nice middos. In any case they have at least as much help in the house as I do have…

    On the other hand having had the chance to take care of my children and house all by myself, for example during maternity leaves, I am not sure if the husband has such pleasure in finding his wife in the dirty pajamas when he comes home.
    Or let’s face it: Are we really getting dressed up for our husbands when we fold laundry and sponger the house all day?!? I don’t.

    I really liked this link, recently shared on facebook by a friend of mine, an educated stay at home mom

    And then there is the 3rd group of women: educated, married to well to do husbands, but with sour faces whent hey take their kids to the park as actually they didnt plan to stay home when they started university.

    The ideal sitation in an individual situation. My kudos to all those phantastic women, like the one friend of mine, who is the perfect housewife. I am sure her children and husband have the perfect situation. But I am not like her and my kids would not grow up like hers if I had been a stay at home mom. But my kids do not experience less love and they do not miss out. As after kindergarten they go to sleep and when they wake up I am already home.

    I love my arrangement and I love the coffee that my husband makes me every day!

    Please do what is really good for you!!

  12. I did not have time to read all the comments, so maybe someone else mentioned this…marriage is not 50/50 – it is 100/100. Both members need to be giving 100% of themselves, emotionally, creatively, spiritually, physically – there is no such thing as division of labour. Each spouse needs to do the best they can and give all that they can – which chores will fall to whom is just details…Learned this from my high-school English teacher (male)! So kudos to Mr. Ira Berkowitz for a life lesson learned!

  13. 50/50 in marriage? That’s bound not to work. Marriage needs to be 100/100. Even 99 isn’t good enough. Each spouse needs to give 100% of themselves and do 100% of what he/she is capable of. So if it means one day she does the laundry and one day he does it, or she does it 5 days and he only does it 2, or even he does all the laundry, if that’s the way it works then that’s 100/100.

  14. I think there are 2 reasons why people try to promote a specific recipe to the “perfect marriage” or being the “perfect parent”.
    1. They actually believe there is only 1 right way to do things.
    2. They are insecure in their choices and in order to try and feel more secure/less resentful/less guilty they feel the need to persuade everyone that their way is the one right way to do it.

    Regarding no.1 – It is simply not true. It is not torah m’sinai. There are so many personality-based, social and cultural factors and expectations that will affect how each relationship works. Apart from general principles of respect, communication,always trying to give to the other partner etc. (I’m sure there are more), you cannot give people a detailed recipe for the perfect marriage / being the perfect parent.

    Regarding no. 2 – I see this all the time in discussions relating to marriage and raising children, on all sides of the debate. People need to be happy with what they do, accept that what is best for you isn’t necessarily best for me and stop trying to “educate” others. The fact that I do it differently from you doesn’t constitute an attack on your ideology.

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