It’s Time to Reset Your Relationship’s Power Dynamics

The pandemic threatens to set gender equality back a generation. Here’s how to temper that in your own home.

Brigid Schulte
Forge
Published in
6 min readFeb 19, 2021

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Photo: Giselleflissak / Getty Images

All happy couples are alike — or at least, the happiest couples tend to have something in common, which is that they’re either fairly egalitarian or they’re seeking to be.

Relationships with fairer divisions of labor aren’t just happier; they’re also more stable and healthy, more fun, and more intimate. And research has shown that most people would prefer to equally share the labor of work and home — even though, as the past year has laid bare, that’s rarely how things shake out in practice. Women are currently being forced out of the workforce at shockingly high rates, and mothers in particular are now nearing their breaking point after shouldering the brunt of the child care and home schooling responsibilities.

“Prior to Covid, there was stress and resentment between couples about the work at home, but it’s just become untenable now,” says B. Janet Hibbs, a family psychologist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “I’m seeing this all over the place. We’ve dialed things up to 10 then broken off the knob.”

Of course, this unfair division of labor at home isn’t new: Research shows that pre-Covid, women in partnerships with men spent about twice as much time as their male partners doing the unpaid housework, child care, and invisible labor of household management, even when working full time. That dynamic nearly put an end to my own marriage and helped spark Better Life Lab Experiments, an initiative I now run to help couples rethink their divisions of labor.

The good news: Right now, even as gender equity is at such a low ebb, can actually be a prime opportunity for just that. The pandemic may have exacerbated the problem, but with everyone stuck at home much more than they used to be, it’s also the perfect context for figuring out a solution. I talked to psychologists, family therapists, and…

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