Division of labor is a key to a happy marriage

Published 8:50 am Friday, April 16, 2010

Marriage is a sacred union and a civil union. But why do we never acknowledge that third element of the matrimonial trinity? Marriage is, at its most realistic, a labor union. I learned this in the marital prerequisite course: “The First Five Years: Figure It Out Now or Forever Hold Your Peace.”

If you pass this course, a lifetime of educational opportunities awaits. You may move on to “Philosophy of This Baby is Crazy! What Do I Do With Her?” or “Directed Study of the Seven Year Itch: There’s a Cream For That.”

Later you might enroll in “Survey of a Mid-life Crisis: You Look Like You’re Wearing a Marmot On Your Head.” Later a graduate seminar is offered: “The Change of Life: You and Your Thermostat, The Love that Dare Not Speak Its Name.”

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Someday, if you’re alive and still living together you may earn your Ph.D in “There’s No Going Back Now.” I hear only 50 percent of students make it this far. Congratulations, Mom and Dad, you eminent scholars!

My husband, Graham, and I are at the beginning of our education, but we have figured out that division of labor is an important part of domestic harmony. No, I’m not advocating antiquated gender roles; I’m advocating common sense.

For instance, before our “labor union” rule was instituted I would try to fix the garbage disposal and end up breaking the dishwasher. When Graham emptied the dishwasher, my measuring cups ended up in the linen closet. I’m still looking for my set of Pyrex. I haven’t been able to make a hot dish in weeks.

We recognized the areas in which we are competent, and we formed two labor unions (each with one member) that divide duties and delegate responsibility. These unions allow for little arguing about who does what around the house, and things get done right the first time. Should preachers start adding, “I now pronounce you Norma Rae and Jimmy Hoffa” to the marriage ceremony? Maybe not, but it’s a system that works for us.

When a chore presents itself, Graham or I exclaim, “Union!” which means, “Dude, that’s not my bailiwick. That’s all you.” Things run smoothly until one of us deviates from the system. That’s what happened the last time I announced that our dogs, Sidney and Gizmo, needed baths. I expected to hear the familiar, “Union!” Instead I heard, “Why don’t you put them in the shower with you?”


“Wouldn’t that be easier?” Graham suggested.

“Sure, but isn’t it gross?”

“Only if you enjoy it,” he assured me.

It is true. Bathing Sidney and Gizmo takes Herculean effort. I need a war room to study secret plans for capturing them, getting them in the tub, and making them clean all while avoiding a visit from the ASPCA. The one time Graham did attempt the job, both dogs ended up smelling like wet husband. That’s when the responsibility fell into my union.

As soon as Sidney, the Yorkie, sees me get the towels he goes on the lam. Typically, I take whatever leftover carcass is in the refrigerator and walk through the house holding it over my head la John Cusack in “Say Anything” hoping his one true love, meat, will lure him out of hiding. Sometimes, I have to hum a little “In Your Eyes” to get him to show his face.

Gizmo, the Pomeranian, is as docile as a lamb while I ready his tub. When I lower him into the water he changes to lion. He bites at my wrists with such ferocity that after every bath I end up with half a stigmata. This dainty white Pom growls so devilishly, if you played his snarling backward you’d hear, “Paul is dead and Ringo better watch his back.”

Graham was right. It was a miserable ordeal every time. There had to be a better way to clean these beasts without bearing such burden. Maybe his suggestion would work, so I waited until he was in the shower and I sneaked in with a dog in each hand and thrust them through the shower curtain. It was the shock heard ’round the world. I could barely hear the barking over Graham yelling, “Union! Union! Union! Jimmy Hoffa!”

I guess there are still a few kinks in our system, a few lessons to be learned in this first class, but as long we keep laughing like we did that day. We’ll make the grade.

St. Paul resident Alexandra Kloster appears every other Friday. She may be reached at alikloster@yahoo.com and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.