Not long ago, I was emptying the dishwasher and hurriedly throwing together a spaghetti dinner for the family when my husband ambled into the kitchen.
I smiled at him, thinking he was there to help. But no: He was just weaving his way through the storm to grab a bag of tortilla chips before heading to the couch to chill.
“How about helping me out?” I barked, handing him some plates to put away.
Later, in a calmer moment, I explained to him that if he would just pitch in when it was clear that I needed a hand, I would not be, as he put it, “so crabby.” When he jumps in and cleans the dishes or sweeps the floor unasked, I feel a rush of genuine warmth as I think, “This is incredibly boring, but at least we’re in it together.”
As it turns out, new research published in Socius, the journal of the American Sociological Association, finds that those warm feelings even extend to the bedroom. Researchers pored over data gathered over three decades from low-to-middle-income couples, and found that heterosexual couples who share tasks like laundry, house cleaning and shopping equally not only have happier relationships, they’re actually having more sex, too. Call it choreplay.
It seems like a small thing, but the impact of divvying up chores in a marriage can’t be underestimated—especially if the couple starts a family. A 2015 Ohio State study of working couples found that men did a fairly equal share of housework—until, that is, they became dads. By the time their baby had reached 9 months, the women had picked up 13 extra hours of childcare and housework per week—even as both parents clocked in the same number of hours at their jobs. This inequality can breed long-term resentment that spills into other areas of the relationship.
In an often-quoted 2007 survey from the Pew Research Center, respondents ranked “faithfulness” as the most important factor for a successful marriage. A happy sexual relationship was number two. But sharing household chores came in at number three.
It’s not a surprise to Amy Kirschenblatt, a social worker at Northwell Health, that dividing housework more-or-less equally can result in more action in the bedroom. “In all the couples work I’ve ever done, the second the woman says her husband vacuums, the second after that she says, ‘…and I was turned on,’” she says.
When you see your partner picking up the slack by picking up the Swiffer, she says, “It makes you feel like you’re in a partnership, that you’re looking out for each other. It says, ‘you’re valued.’ And when you feel like you matter, it makes you feel more sexual.”