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The web is buzzing with a new study about the distribution of household chores and its impact on a couple’s sex life.  Literally buzzing: here, here, here, here, here, and here, just to list a few.  After research released last year offered that men who do more housework have more sex, this data follows-up to clarify that it’s only certain kinds of chores that translate into more hanky panky.

man in apronAccording to the study, couples that maintain traditional gender roles in their distribution of household chores have more sex.  Conversely, men who help out with traditionally “female” chores (like dishes, cooking, and cleaning) get laid less often.

But all this buzz has left me less than satisfied (similar, apparently, to all then men out there sporting an apron and a spatula).  While this data is informative, all of the follow-up commentaries fail to expand upon the actual factors impacting these results.  Why is it this way?  Why does your sex life depend on your chore chart?

It isn’t really about the chores.  

These data points make for a very interesting comparison and correlation, but they are not an answer or directive on how you should run your household.  The point that everyone seems to be missing is that it’s not about who does what.  It’s about how we talk about and decide who does what.

These results reflect more upon couples’ abilities to communicate and delegate responsibilities in a collaborative and supportive way.  Distribution of housework is just one manifestation of this skill set, or lack thereof.  We could just as easily correlate sex with how couples manage parenting practices; relationships with extended family members and in-laws; leisure activities; or finances.

The correlation make sense; research shows us that couples who maintain more traditional values and gender roles report higher marital satisfaction than those who are more egalitarian.  And again, this isn’t a directive on how couples should be in their relationships.  It’s a reflection of the fact that, in an more egalitarian relationship, there are typically many more conversations to be had and decisions to be made about what your day-to-day relationship looks like.  Without a traditional value system to direct your roles, you have to make them up for yourself (which is, of course, the whole point).  The issues emerge when partners can’t settle into, agree upon, or feel supported in how these roles look and function within their relationship.

It’s not about the chores themselves.  It’s about how supported and understood we feel by our partner and whether or not we feel appreciated and effective in our contributions to our relationship and family.  Many couples tolerate disagreements about various responsibilities and roles, viewing them as commonplace.  But these “minor” conflicts pack a much bigger punch, degrading intimacy, connectedness, and satisfaction over time.  This is what impacts intimacy, for the better or the worse.

Your sex life doesn’t really depend upon your chore chart (unless, of course, sex is listed on your chore chart, which is definitely a creative solution I am all for).  And this new research isn’t about chores.  It’s actually a wake-up call, a call to arms for couples to reach out and make an effort to improve their communication, problem solving, and conflict resolution skills.