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How to be a Great Husband: Help Manage the Cognitive Labor Needed to Run the Home

Original Post: 1/17/23

According to PEW, sharing household chores was in the top three highest-ranking issues associated with a successful marriage. Moreover, couples are often less distressed when there is more egalitarianism around housework.

And fellas, wives want more sex when men do more of the chores.

As you can imagine, women are less satisfied with their marriage when the chores are not fairly distributed. It's a sore spot in many marriages, and addressing the frustration is an important step toward being a great husband.

How to be a great husband

Household chores are often perceived as physical tasks like laundry, washing dishes, or vacuuming. However, according to this study, many chores are really cognitive labor, not housework.

Cognitive labor involves anticipating needs, figuring out how to fill them, making decisions, and watching your progress.

Yet the cognitive labor needed to complete many of these tasks is usually mentioned in passing, vaguely defined, or treated as equivalents to physical tasks. Because such work is taxing but often invisible to both cognitive laborers and their partners, it's a frequent source of conflict for couples.

How to be a great husband

It's also a gendered phenomenon: studies such as this one have found that women do more cognitive work overall and more anticipating and monitoring work. And that is why managing the home as a team is particularly important if you want to be a great husband.

There are many ways to be a great husband. An excellent place to start is to tackle all the labor needed to manage a home as a team.

This post shares ideas on how to approach such a significant commitment.

Have an Open Mind

Tasks can be finished by more than just you or your spouse. If you have a family, kids can participate. If you have the means, spend the money to outsource tasks. If one of you has much more free time than the other, consider that the division of labor might be unfair if it's 50/50.

Aspire to live in a home where you each have around the same amount of leisure time.

Refrain from expecting each other to finish each task as you would. There is no right or wrong way to fold towels or put dishes in the dishwasher.

According to one expert, husbands get frustrated when they think their wives' perfectionist standards at home are unnecessary. They should set reasonable expectations at home and consider what reasonable people would do in a disagreement.

Fair Play

The cognitive load of managing a home takes a heavy toll on anyone burdened with managing it independently, leading to resentment and isolation.

Author and expert Eve Rodsky maintains that all time is equal and that spouses must split household and childcare duties fairly. She also believes that spouses must value each other's time equally. Below are some common assumptions she considers toxic in a relationship.

  • Time is equal to money.

  • I make her life.

  • I can save time by doing it myself.

Eve Rodsky has devised the Fair Play card game to allow partners to divide household labor fairly. There are 100 playing cards organized into five different categories, which make up the ecosystem of your domestic life:

  • Home: activities that take place in the home that must be done daily (e.g., laundry and garbage).

  • Out: take place outside the home (e.g., taking kids to extracurricular activities and getting the car serviced).

  • Caregiving: this work traditionally falls to women (e.g., helping with homework and reading your children a bedtime story).

  • Magic: tasks that bring joy and comfort to others (e.g., birthday parties)

  • Wild: significant life events that require someone to manage all the extra activities that accompany them (e.g., moving and dealing with loss).

The Modern Husbands Podcast

Eve Rodsky shares more about the Fair Play System in this episode of the Modern Husbands Podcast.



Equal Partners

The author of "Equal Partners" and Modern Husbands board member Dr. Kate Mangino interviewed 40 couples for the book, which added a relatable narrative to many 21st-century households. She found many helpful takeaways from couples who were equal partners in the home.

I enjoyed the book and found Dr. Mangino's approaches help me understand how I can be a better spouse.

Set expectations

Dr. Mangino believes setting expectations at the beginning of a relationship is critical. Establishing habits early on is easier than changing them 10 or 20 years later.

There's still hope if you didn't have those conversations early on and your domestic load is unbalanced.

Start by discussing cultural norms that may have influenced an unfair or inefficient division of labor in your home. Take solace in that falling into gendered patterns is not uncommon rather than criticizing each other.

Have an audit

List all of the things you each do or feel responsible for. Have your partner do the same. You can use our free household chores list to guide the conversation. Expand the conversation beyond the singular tasks needed to run a home.

Start allocating tasks based on what you each enjoy or are exceptionally skilled at doing. Some couples naturally divide most of their tasks fairly using this process. Negotiate the remaining tasks.

Rethink roles at home when you get a newborn baby or pet, move, or take care of another family member. Assigning roles or domains based on personal preference can help, but be careful not to divide them by gender.


Communication is vital and must be constant, especially as life changes. Have regular meetings about managing your home and how you can best support one another.

If a couple has kids, domestic labor can become a burden for the mother on parental leave. Even more pernicious is that couples fail to consider both spouses' career aspirations and potential income. The default cannot be a mother staying home. In the 21st century, there are many other factors to consider.

The Modern Husbands Podcast

Dr. Kate Mangino shares more about her book in this episode of the Modern Husbands Podcast.



What Next

Maintaining a balanced partnership in household chores involving intense cognitive labor is vital to fostering a harmonious and supportive relationship. Follow Modern Husbands to keep the ideas that make your spouse happier at the top of your mind.

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