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.