Why People Hate Doing The Dishes: How This Daily Task Can Cause Relational Distress

No doubt if you have a spouse or live-in significant other (or heck, even roommates), you’ve had a conversation that begins with someone saying “Hey, it’s your turn to do the dishes.” Innocent enough, right?

Wrong. What usually follows are cross examinations worthy of Law and Order.

“Remember when we had roasted chicken and I scrubbed the pans?”

“These are mostly your dishes, aren’t they?”

“I cut the grass today, why should I have to do the dishes?”

You get the point.

Why is dish duty met with so much dread? And why do so many couples argue about whose turn it is to wash and rinse? Scientists have recently taken a look at why people hate doing the dishes, and how this daily task can create discord in the happiest of marriages.

First things first – washing up after dinner includes some pretty gross encounters. You have to scrape plates free of crumbs and sauces, rinse sticky bowls, and scrub goo and char off of your pots and pans. And this is assuming you’re doing the dishes straight away. Let them hang out in the sink overnight, and you’re in for even more gnarly odors and stubborn residue; they just get worse with time.

Don’t take my word for it. Dan Carlson, an assistant professor at the University of Utah, led a study jointly with the Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) on the topic of household chores and their impact on a family’s dynamic.

Here’s what Carlson has to say about why doing dishes is so unpleasant for most people: “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.” Carlson also observed that it’s a thankless job. “What is there to say? ‘Oh, the silverware is so … sparkly’?”

This finding is obvious, but Carlson came across something not so obvious in his research – that the most disliked chores tended to be the ones traditionally done by women. For instance, women have generally taken responsibility for things like cleaning bathrooms, laundry and, you guessed it, doing the dishes.

Men, on the other hand, have typically handled things like taking out the trash, washing the car and mowing the lawn. So, Carlson posits that men aren’t as used to getting up close and personal with other people’s daily mess in the same way. But when men don’t offer to help with the traditionally “female” chores, resentment and discord can enter the marriage.

The upset over always doing the dishes was prominent for women; it ranked as the highest household chore that female participants said they’d like to share with their partner. And women who washed dishes most of the time reported higher feelings of conflict and lower satisfaction with their partner and, get this, their sex life.

But in couples where dishwashing was a shared chore, better relationships were reported. According to Carlson, that’s because the couple is using teamwork, which lightens the burden and also helps the couple feel more bonded, both in the kitchen and in everyday life.

After the evening meal is done, why not snap on the gloves and get to scrubbing with your spouse? Better yet, get the kids involved too. You’ll all knock the chore out faster (“You wash, I’ll dry”) and science says you’ll feel better after working as a team, both in the short and long run. Now, pass the soap.

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