Relationship Blog

The Bath Couples Therapy Practice

Housework disputes

A couple unhappy about the division of labour

Arguments about how to divide housework, childcare and other responsibilities are one of the most common problems brought to Couples Therapy. Such disagreements can seem unresolvable, be highly stressful and lead to stress, resentment and hopelessness. In this post, I will discuss the long term consequences for the relationship and how can Couples Therapy can help.

What does the science say?

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A short google search on this topic will present a multitude of information and advice from scientific studies and personal experiences. Alas, many of the findings and advice are contradictory or too general, which makes it difficult to make use of this material.

There are studies that claim that equal share of housework is associated with higher relationship satisfaction and lower likelihood of separation. Another study showed that the more housework the man did, the more likely it was for the marriage to end. There are a number of claims that housework disputes are a major contributory reason for divorce in a quarter to a third of all divorces. Among the many problems with the research is that some of the findings are out of date because the results differ depending on when the relationship was formed, they are based on small and unrepresentative samples and mainly focussing on married couples.

However it is not all bad news. There are a number of important take home messages from the research. The absence of a fair balance of housework and family tasks can be detrimental for the happiness and longevity of your relationship. Concerns thereof needs to be voiced and taken seriously. There is no evidence to suggest that a 50/50 share or any other particular ratio is optimal for everyone. Instead, what matters is the perceived fairness of a couple’s arrangement of chores and duties, and the willingness of both partners to listen, negotiate their wants/desires and take action based on an agreed formal or informal schedule. Also, needs, stresses and preferences change over time and thus managing a fair balance is an ongoing process.

Old habits, prejudices and learned customs can be very hard to break. Arguments about housework commonly follow a circular dance of criticisms and defensiveness with no satisfactory outcome. Couples Therapy will facilitate change by drawing on the psychology of collaboration, negotiation and habit forming, adapt it to your individual needs and wishes, and coach practice in negotiation and forming new habits.

Irritability & Anger

A couple unhappy about the division of labour

Short temper, irritability, sullenness and anger outbursts are some of the most common issues brought to Couples Therapy. The good news is that there are powerful things you can do to stop it from hurting your relationship.

Consequences & function of anger

If expressed frequently and at high levels in a relationship, such irritability and anger gradually erode the fundamental constituents of love, such as affection, secure attachment, safety, happiness and friendship.

It is important to keep in mind that anger in itself does not mean that a person is bad or wrong. Anger, from mild annoyance to rage, is normal and has many adaptive functions such as self-defence when threatened and signalling dissatisfaction, frustration or bids for something to stop. Importantly, like all other feelings, anger emerges involuntarily and is more easily and potently triggered in the context of high levels of stress, burn-out, feeling unsafe, threatned or unloved, physical or emotional pain, noise, insomnia, depression, anxiety, hormonal imbalances and physical illness.

How is it addressed in therapy?

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In Couples Therapy we employ a three pronged approach to overcome anger issues. First task is to identify and devise a plan to mitigate contributory factors. Second, develop a co-joint behavioural plan to nip the anger in the bud. Third, facilitate and practice active awareness of and open communication about difficult emotions and underlying thoughts.

Important for the success is both your commitment to change and ongoing coaching offered in therapy to finetune and sustain successful behavioural changes.

In a nutshell

Although we are not responsible for the initial emergence of angry feelings, no matter what the causes are, we can learn to manage the intensity, precursors and ways of expression in ways to reduce its effect on the relationship and other loved ones.

Don't leave it too late

A couple leaving it too late to see help

How do we know if it is a good idea to seek therapy? How to know if your relationship is in trouble or if it is just a transient tough patch that you can manage without help? Are thoughts of stigma, perceived weakness or belief that you should be able to sort things by yourselves making you hesitant about seeking help?

What does the science say?

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Occasional conflicts, disagreements and dissatisfaction aspects of the relationship are common features of all relationship even the happiest ones. Dissatisfaction and break-up, however, usually follow a long period of unresolved problems and those things are much easier to resolve early on and with help.

What separates happy from unhappy relationships is how these challenges are managed. Alas, we aren't born with these skills. Judging by the high frequency of breakups and prevalence of relationship dissatisfaction, we all need help to acquire and practice these skills, see eg famous people benfitted from Couples Therapy.

About 50% of marriages end in divorce and the figure of relationship breakup for unmarried couples is likely to be even higher. Professor John Gottman found that couples wait on average six years from the start of troubles until help is sought. That is a very long time to suffer unnecessarily when there is strong evidence for the effectiveness of therapy.

One way of the dealing with the above questions is to postpone the decision of therapy and seek specialist advice without commitment to start therapy.

In my practice, I offer a relationship-health check, called ARC, elucidating the strengths, opportunities for growth and science-based suggestions to overcome problems. The ARC includes a personal consultation to discuss the results and where you can ask me any questions.

Being in a healthy and loving relationship is not only one of the most wonderful or sought after life goals, but it has also been found to have physical and psychological health benefits.

If things are not right in your relationship and do not improve over time, don’t wait to seek help. It is common to come to therapy as a last resort. Of course, it is better to come late than never but a high price is paid for waiting. The longer the problems are present, the more difficult it is to overcome them, and to heal attachment and emotional wounds.