Every day, they slowly accumulate. Plates covered in sauces and crumbs. Bowls with a fine layer of sticky who-knows-what. Forks, knives, and spoons all gummed with bits of this and that. At the end of a long day of work, cooking, cleaning, and, for many, negotiating with small children, a couple has to face the big question: Who is going to do the dishes?
A report from the Council of Contemporary Families (CCF), a nonprofit that studies family dynamics, suggests that the answer to that question can have a significant impact on the health and longevity of a relationship. The study examined a variety of different household tasks—including shopping, laundry, and housecleaning, and found that, for women in heterosexual relationships, it’s more important to share the responsibility of doing the dishes than any other chore. Women who wash the vast majority of the dishes themselves report more relationship conflict, less relationship satisfaction, and even worse sex, than women with partners who help. Women are happier about sharing dishwashing duties than they are about sharing any other household task.
What is it about dishes? Dan Carlson, an assistant professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah, and the lead author of the study, offers one possible reason: “Doing dishes is gross. There is old, moldy food sitting in the sink. If you have kids, there is curdled milk in sippy cups that smells disgusting.” Additionally, unlike some other chores such as cooking or gardening, doing dishes well does not beget compliments, he observes: “What is there to say? ‘Oh, the silverware is so … sparkly’?”