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How Housework Can Hurt a Relationship

Study: For Women, More Housework Can Mean More Psychological Distress
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Feeling Undervalued Leads to Feeling Distressed continued...

"In general, men who earn less than their wives or who are out of work don't feel respected, and respect is a hot-button issue for men," says Weber, author of the forthcoming book Sex & Intimacy. "And men often have some shame that makes it hard for them to open up about their feelings about this perceived lack of respect."

Weber says it is easy for couples to fall into such dysfunctional, distress-building patterns, which they often live with for many years. She says it's important for couples to both recognize and talk about the causes of their distress.

"Getting into dysfunctional patterns is unavoidable at times," she says. "Couples who notice these patterns and have conversations about them and how to get out of them do better over time. It's the couples who deny that they have a problem who do poorly."

Distress Affects the Whole Family

Family psychiatrist Alan Manevitz, MD, says the study's results are neither unexpected nor earth shattering. Like Weber, Manevitz says that psychological distress results less from an unequal division of household labor and more from a perceived lack of respect and appreciation in a relationship. And, he points out that if any distress does exist, it will spread.

"One partner's unhappiness will lead to stress in the whole family," says Manevitz, who practices at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. "What matters most is that couples agree and have the same vision about how to divide things up, and that that vision evolves and has flexibility.

The kind of equal teamwork that marks successful couples -- "If they have it, they're usually not seeing me," says Manevitz -- makes for happier marriages and teaches a couple's children important lessons.

"Parents should be role models of communication and mutual respect," Manevitz says. "Their children should see them sharing tasks and making decisions as equals."

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