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January 26, 2011

Role Expectations

I really enjoyed reading about our bloggers’ experiences in the kitchen.  I was particularly interested in how culinary decisions are determined in their homes.  In Terri’s home the rule as determined by the couple is whoever gets home first makes dinner.  In Greg’s home the general consensus as determined by the family is Mom is the better cook so she should do most of it, but Dad likes to take a turn with a special dish and we will accept that occasionally because his attempts are funny and spicy! What I find important in these two examples is that both families have clearly made some decisions that work for them about who performs this important domestic role. We can all identify with this dialog because most of us have struggled with our spouses over such domestic decisions about who will cook, do the laundry, vacuum the floors, take out the trash, mow the lawn, wash the car, run the errands and—you get the idea!

Many of our views on who should perform these domestic roles are the result of our family background.  Dr. John Van Epp, in his PICK (Premarital Interpersonal Choices and Knowledge) a Partner program, states that our family background is a major influence on the way someone will interact in their marriage and family.  There are two aspects of this area of role development.

The first aspect is the way a person defines their own role.  This is referred to as role definition.  In other words, this role is who you think you should be as a spouse or parent. The relationship that contributes most to our impressions of this role was our relationship with our parent of the same sex. For example, a boy’s relationship with his father impacts his sense of masculinity.  It helps him determine what he thinks his role should be as a husband or father. A girl may think back to her mother as she develops ideas and expectations for how she will behave as a wife and mother.

The second aspect is the way a person defines their spouse’s role.  Because this will generate expectations of a spouse it is referred to as role expectation. In other words, this role is who you think your partner should be as a spouse or parent. The relationship that contributes most to the expectations you will have of your spouse is your relationship with your parent of the opposite sex.  This relationship becomes a lens through which you will look at your spouse.  For example, if you are female and your father oversaw all the car maintenance, you may expect that is a role a husband should perform. If you are a male and your mother paid all the family bills, that is a role you may expect your wife to perform.

What sometimes happens is that the husband and wife both come from a home where these roles were performed by the same gender parent. I know a couple who, when they were first married, both assumed their bills were being paid by the other person until the infamous day came that the electric was shut off. He assumed she was paying the bills because in his family of origin his mom paid them.  His role expectation was for the wife to pay the household bills.  Likewise, she assumed he was paying the bill because in her family of origin her father paid the bills.  Her role expectation was that the husband pays the bills. As a couple they had to make a decision on who would perform this important task.

Each couple must remember that there is no right or wrong answer to the question of who performs domestic tasks.  Couples should talk together and make decisions based on the unique characteristics of each family, the amount of time available by each spouse (i.e., do one or both work outside the home), and the special skill sets of each individual.  Talking about these points and looking back to the patterns established by the families of origin will help each couple develop a mutually satisfying division of labor.


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