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This CEO holds a weekly can’t-miss meeting . . . with her spouse

Four reasons working couples should consider adding a regular planning session to their household routine.

This CEO holds a weekly can’t-miss meeting . . . with her spouse
[Photo: Flickr user Pete]

I had always vowed I wouldn’t be that woman. You know, the one who makes it look so easy through her brilliant delegation but secretly is taking care of everything behind the scenes. I had always known that I’d need a life partner who would share responsibilities equally.

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Fathers now spend a significantly increased amount of time with their kids compared to previous generations, but most household chores—including childcare, cooking, and cleaning—still disproportionately fall to women, and the so-called “housework gap” stopped narrowing in the 1980s. In the U.S. alone, a typical woman from a married household spends an average of 2.24 hours per day doing housework, versus just 1.38 hours a day spent by her male counterpart.

My husband is also a successful and accomplished business leader, but we have very different styles when it comes to running a household, something that became apparent early in our marriage: I’d see a kitchen that needed tidying, he’d see leftover Chinese food as an opportunity for a snack. I didn’t quite understand why to-do lists didn’t immediately appear in his brain as they did in mine as soon as he walked into the apartment, complete with categories bolded and underlined, but they didn’t. After an epic blowout, we came up with a solution that is the envy of many: the weekly meeting.

This insignificant-sounding 45-minute session preserves my sanity and allows the ensuing week to flow pretty smoothly—and without resentment.

Every Sunday, my husband and I sit down, without the children or any distractions, to discuss tasks and goals for the upcoming week. The meeting is never more than 45 minutes (anything beyond that tests our nerves). We alternate responsibility for typing up the list, and assign initials next to the household tasks. We also review the previous week’s list and look at which tasks weren’t accomplished, deciding whether they should be re-added. It is that easy.

I have suggested this simple weekly meeting to my friends, who start off skeptical but change their tone when they see how well it works. Husbands who previously appeared allergic to housework now take a more participatory role in the home. The results are real: Some studies have shown that the difference between a happy household and a miserable one came down to devising a system for household tasks. What the simplicity masks is all the underlying reasons why the meeting works:

No more nagging

No partner wants to be hounded daily to complete chores. It’s infantilizing, and hey, they didn’t (consciously) set out to marry their mothers. Before we established our weekly meeting, I was constantly reminding my husband of tasks and errands. I used to make him to-do lists, and each time I handed one to him, I wondered if it was a mistake. Was I setting up a dynamic that would hurt me later on? Affect my independence? How did the short-term gain of his getting garbage bags, bagels, and paper towels all in one trip stack up against the possible longer-term loss of a real partner who loved me and our family life because he resented me? On the other hand, there are only so many times you can ask someone to do the dishes until you get fed up and it becomes easier just do the chore yourself, which is when my resentment would appear.

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We have agreed on a seven-day cycle. During that period, I promise not to hound him. Not at all. That can be hard for me, and in the beginning I would catch myself about to follow up on an item, and then suppress the frustration of not knowing where things stood. Now I make myself wait until Sunday. Giving your partner the seven days of space to execute his share is critical for this system to work.

 Your partner becomes aligned with your life goals

Why do people spend a year planning a wedding but often don’t devote even an hour a week to apportioning work and family and responsibilities in the long run? After several months of dating, my partner and I had a conversation that ensured we would be starting our marriage on the same page. He asked me: “What’s important to you in a husband?” I answered quickly, “That he takes paternity leave—real leave—and spends time with our children when they are born.” I also told him I expected my husband to be a hands-on father. He was perhaps surprised, but didn’t show it. I think back to that moment as a real statement of values on my part, and his acceptance of it as important.

In short, our weekly meeting is a form of self-preservation. It creates clarity, reduces resentment, and liberates the rest of our time.

You split responsibilities equally

The key word is “equally.” Typically, men spend more than twice as much time doing activities related to lawn care or doing maintenance and repairs, while women spend more time on cleaning and laundry. In our household, this isn’t the case. After deciding our priorities for the week, we assign them equally from categories that include “children,” “work,” and “home.” Creating a shared sense of responsibility is critical in the success of anything—whether it is a business or a blissful home. I’ve never once heard from my husband that something “isn’t his job.” Within each category we break it down further. I may be better at selecting children’s gifts for birthday parties, but my husband is no slouch at coordinating playdates on weekends or communicating with our son’s school bus driver.

It works (at home and at work)

My work is about solving problems for our business clients, whether that means helping them scale, laying out multi-year strategies, and creating partnerships to broaden their reach. It’s not that different from life at home. The weekly meeting is about creating a common agenda on which we both agree, and allocating responsibilities through a collective process. If I can’t do this for four people in my family (including two half-pints), how could I possibly do it well for an international conglomerate?

And hey, if the Sunday meeting works well for you at home, you could always also try it at the office.

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Alexandra Stanton is the CEO of Empire Global Ventures LLC, a New York City-based international business development firm that assists companies in complex and untested markets. 

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