Latest update: June 3rd, 2012
Making A Game Plan
(It Needn’t Be Carved In Stone)
I know that most people will look at the list below and ask, “C’mon, who does this kind of thing in their marriage?” The answer is, couples that want to be happily married and fight less. If you and your spouse already have a system in place that works for both of you, stick to it. But for many, they are resentful of so many roles they feel they’ve been “forced” into. They want the opportunity to reconsider their roles and how they could better work with their spouse in making their family and lives work smoother.
Consider the exercise below, if even as a tool to just talk with your spouse about the kinds of roles you’ve taken on or agreed to in the past and consider if there could be changes that would help you both.
Creating Your Management System
Step 1: Together, create a general list of areas that need care.
For example: childcare, work, food, clothing (purchasing), housecleaning, home maintenance, financial management, social (calendar arrangement, purchasing gifts), transportation and pet care.
Next, list responsibilities that take place during certain periods of the year: vacations, holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. After you’ve completed your list, write each item on a separate piece of paper as a heading at the top of its own page. You’ll need plenty of room for step 2.
Step 2: List as many duties as you can create under each item.
Yes, it’s time-consuming, but your goal is to be sure you and your spouse understand what is required of each of you. If you only write something general, such as “food,” you may not realize that the category includes making up the shopping list, organizing coupons, going to the store or shopping online, putting groceries away, preparing menus, cooking meals and doing the dishes afterward. The more detailed your list is, the less room you leave for uncertainty and unspoken assumptions (“I thought you were in charge of ____.”)
For example, childcare responsibilities might be divided into general care (feeding, clothing, bathing, haircuts); education (supervising homework, reading with your child, hiring tutors, communication with teachers, yeshiva); healthcare (medical and dental checkups, visits to eye doctors, etc.); extracurricular activities (play dates, sports, music lessons, class trips); family recreation (outings and other activities); and so on. Financial management might include investing, paying bills, balancing the checkbook, doing the income taxes, reading up on investment strategies, meeting with financial planners, organizing receipts, and so on.
Step 3: Place your initials with the number 1 to the left of the specific responsibilities you would most like to be involved in. Place your initials with the number 2 to the left of the items you think you are most capable of handling. Even if you already have your initials and number in the same spot, put your initials there for the second time with the number 2 next to it.
Next, place your initials and the number 3 to the right of any items you feel you are not capable of being responsible for. Finally, place your initials and the number 4 to the right of anything you strongly prefer not having much to do with.
Be honest about your preferences. It’s foolish not to choose an area of responsibility you’re good at because you don’t want to seem “retro,” old-fashioned or stereotypical. Freedom comes from choosing from the heart, not from media messages, the advice of friends and family, or any other barometer.
The two of you are now clear on your preferences and your sense of where each of you could best serve the family union. Begin to discuss which areas you want to temporarily adopt as your own. Start with the areas that you’ve marked with a 1 or a 2, indicating that you would like to be involved in that area and that you also feel capable of handling it. You may even want to break down certain responsibilities even further. Perhaps you would like to be in charge of your children’s Torah schooling while your spouse would be in charge of their secular schooling. Or your spouse will be responsible for math, and you will supervise your child’s writing and science.
With these lists, you can also begin to see the items that are of such great importance to the marriage that both of you want to be involved in every decision in these areas. For example, my wife and I discuss all investments before either of us spends our money. That may change in time, but for now, it works, and we enjoy the discussions. Both of you may want to be involved in paying the bills, or doing homework with your children.
Be realistic in your choices. If one of you is home when the kids are doing homework and one is still at work, it would compromise the system for the parent who is home to be unable to make quick decisions about daily homework or to have to wait for the working partner to get home, at which point the kids are too tired to do homework. Make sure you’ve chosen areas that befit not only your ability, but the reality of your time and energy, as well. Just because one of you may be more qualified in a given task doesn’t mean that person must take control over it. For example, you may be an actuary, but if you’re doing most of the parenting for twin newborns, you’re probably better off allocating the responsibility for your ten-year-old’s math project to your spouse. Similarly, if it stresses you out to deal with a particular task, you can opt not to be responsible for it, or at least to create a system in which your spouse helps enough to relieve the stress.
However, if everything else is equal (you both get just as stressed over the bills), you should take responsibility for the areas you feel more confident in. To throw responsibility onto your spouse when you are more gifted at caring for that item is diminishing your marriage’s chances for success, just as you’d be hurting your business if you handed off important tasks to someone else who had less capability in that area. For the most undesirable chores (e.g. cleaning the bathrooms), you might allocate according to who finds it less objectionable; decide to take turns (which means you must agree on the length of the tour of duty); or find a third party willing to do the task (e.g. a cleaning person), which means you have to agree on the budget.
There may be some areas neither of you has volunteered to take care of. Perhaps you both love your dog, but not cleaning up after it or going to the vet. Start choosing which tasks you will do even though you don’t particularly care to, bearing in mind that these types of “sacrifices” are necessary to bring about the benefits we desire from marriage.
Use this document for one week at a time before reconvening and discussing clearly what has worked and what has not. For example, you might not have recognized how much effort it was going to take to plan the vacation and now realize you need to share the task. Adjust as you go at the end of each week. Within three or four weeks, you will have developed a streamlined, consistent approach to working well together. However, many responsibilities will not crop up for months (caring for children during summer break, preparing for a vacation trip). Both of you need to revisit your roles every few months and continue to discuss what works and what needs adjustment.
RABBI NEUMAN is a Florida licensed psychotherapist and author of two books, Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce the Sandcastles Way (Random House) and Emotional Infidelity, How to Affair-proof Your Marriage and Other Secrets to a Great Relationship (Crown). He and his work have been featured many times on The Oprah Show, Today, The View and in People, Time and elsewhere. He lives with his wife and five children in Miami Beach, Florida. For more information on his work, visit www.mgaryneuman.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Check out Gary’s web program where he interviews couples who share their struggles and innermost thoughts and feelings at mgaryneuman.com. Facebook or Twitter Gary at mgaryneuman. M. Gary Neuman is a NY Times best selling author and a frequent guest on the Oprah show. He lives in Miami with his wife and five children.
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