How Gamification Can Save Your Marriage…And Your Sanity
“I love you and I don’t want to break up our life. I really want to stay married. But you have to start looking at my time as valuable,” said Eve Rodsky, Entrepreneur & New York Times Best Selling-Author, to her husband. That conversation changed her life. Eve, like many Moms, was overwhelmed managing a schedule with no room for error or downtime. She said, “It was the unfairness of watching him every night be able to just get into the bed and watch a documentary, finish a PowerPoint deck and workout, while I worked in service to our household until midnight.”
In the US, Moms partnered with Dads still choreograph and do most of the housework and childcare. In our pandemic study, although men are stepping up, only 30% of respondents cite their partners are helping out more. So, conflict between couples continues to rise. Without onsite school or childcare and the bulk of housework falling onto Moms, like caged tigers, we’re eviscerating anything that limits our sleep, sanity or solvency. But there aren’t many options. Adjusting expectations at work is difficult for most. So, sharing the household and childcare if partnered, is the most promising, albeit emotionally charged path to relief.
Finding The Third Option
Eve created a spreadsheet, called ‘the shit I do list’ for her husband to document the effort required to run their household. It went viral with unintended consequences. It didn’t inspire the support she hoped for with her own husband. And after learning that a woman decided to leave her marriage, when her husband didn’t respond well to it, Eve went into problem-solving mode. She said, “I was worried because as a mediator, I think about doing no harm, a lot. And this was like unleashing Pandora’s box. So, then I thought, one option would be to retract the spreadsheet, live a gray version of my life and be miserable.” Sigh. Many of us have considered this. But she wanted more.
Divorced but Married?
She said, “There are other options. And we know those narratives. But it’s a privileged narrative to be able to blow up your life.” Eve was raised by a single Mom who didn’t have the choice. She added, “Leaving doesn’t work for a lot of women so, I wanted to look at what divorce for married people could look like. Where, if you want to stay in the partnership or you don’t have the privilege to leave, the experience could be different for both people. I decided on the third option, which was that I’m not going to Eat, Pray, Love the shit out of here, because I have responsibilities. And I’m not going to burnout either.” Eve, an attorney, mediator and master of difficult conversations in her professional life; decided, “I’m going to become my own client and approach this with a question.”
Reclaim Your Most Powerful Voice
Eve interviewed hundreds of couples. And observed that successful people, confident in their work lives, lost their voices at home. She found men and women fell into patterns of passive aggression, fear, anger and acting out. The lack of alignment, on how to model values or communicate about managing the home, drained everyone. She said, “So, I realized that psychological safety and intrinsic motivation are really linked. Because when you’re intrinsically motivated, you’re not doing something because you’re scared or fearful. You’re doing it because it feels good and it’s within your value system.” Amen! She added, “And I recognized that many men were doing things in the home because they were scared of pissing off their spouse. So, there’s actually not a lot of psychological safety in the home for men.” How can established couples reset?
Depersonalize Running your Household
She outlines how to do this in Fair Play including talk tracks and a brilliant operating system that begins with values alignment. And then, she details every step from ‘conception, through to planning and execution’ for each task in a way that meets an ‘acceptable standard’ of quality. Yep. Bye-bye mental load! So, despite how critical it is to our wellbeing and happiness, to establish camaraderie managing a home together, this doesn’t happen for most couples! Pre-kids the time tension isn’t there. And post-kids, couples fall into patterns we learn from our own families. In Fair Play, Eve has tested and developed workarounds for the major pitfalls couples face dismantling old habits.
And Gain Access to Discretionary Time
As Eve shared in Fair Play, household tasks are not equal. Women are more likely to hold the operational and time-sensitive cards. Such as drop-off and pick-up, responding to school deadlines, meals and the bedtime routine. All of which have negative consequences when they’re not carried out on a rigid schedule. The tasks traditionally owned by men, such as finances or household projects, are often flexible as to when they get done. Which leaves Mothers, more likely to be racing, without breaks, until they sleep. An unsustainable way of living, that has a corrosive effect on marriages.
Eve said, “My husband had four hours after our kids went to bed to do whatever he wanted. And so, I sat down with him and said, ‘I want the time choice you have. And maybe that means less time choice for you and more time choice for me. You may get three hours of unencumbered time and I get one back. It doesn’t have to be 50/50 but this time choice thing is not okay. And it’s going to break us. We both just get 24 hours in a day.” That conversation led to the collaboration she was hungry for.
Make the Commitment to Lasting Change
Like all long-term habit change, the Fair Play system takes time. It took Eve and her husband over 2 years. But the life-changing impact, of achieving harmony with our partners and modelling healthy collaboration for our kids, is well worth the effort. Fair Play breaks down every detail – from the most mind-numbing to time-bending tasks, like planning birthday parties, getting kids into camp, packing lunches and doing laundry. So, you don’t have to document everything that exists in your head. She’s done it. And the Fair Play cards, create an easy way to have the conversation. Through her extensive research, she found that Mothers with partners who held at least 21 cards, began to feel relief. Yes, she even breaks down what types of cards need to be distributed and bakes in self-care space for both partners.
Reclaim What Makes You, You
Pre-kids, your partner can support your career and aspirations, by saying so. But post-kids, that’s not enough. You need hands-on, active support to have any time for growth in your career or interests. And if our partners’ actions don’t match their statements, it breeds distrust. In the book, Eve interviewed a Mom who when asked about how her marriage ended, said she “lost her permission to be interesting.” And that set Eve’s wheels turning on how to help people reconnect with their lost sense of self. In the book, she explains why carving time for this, equitably, is critical for a healthy marriage.
Eve admitted, “The biggest surprise to me was how much I had to fight for my identity after becoming a Mother. Because I couldn’t believe how many cultural forces around me were trying to take it away.” After she and her husband implemented Fair Play, she said, “I got to be the person who loves people again. Because I felt so isolated in parenting. I mean, for years nobody even asked me my name! I was just ‘Zack’s Mom.’ And then everyone would talk about what diaper bag to buy and growing up, my mom didn’t even believe in possessions. We had garbage bags! And so, I felt disconnected, like I was losing myself.” A common refrain among parents.
And Revel in Your Unicorn Space
Eve said, “I realized that I love interviewing and writing. Which meant I also had to get over some of my fear and become more public. I needed to meet people outside of my circle and I’ve met so many good friends along this journey by sharing my story.” Beautiful! She added, smiling, “That is my unicorn space. My happiness is sharing this with the world and receiving that back.” She carves out Sundays to write while her husband handles the kids and home life. She said, “That was the beginning of true liberation. It was the first time where I felt like Seth respected me because I finally had a boundary that he couldn’t cross. So, ironically the thing that I thought could blow up my marriage, which was setting that boundary, was actually the thing that saved it.”
Many thanks to the amazing parents who shared their stories for this study! Have you chimed in yet? Share your pandemic experiences! How are the latest changes affecting your life? It’s quick and the results from this study are used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Eve Rodsky received her BA from the University of Michigan and her JD from Harvard Law School. After working in foundation management at J.P. Morgan, she founded the Philanthropy Advisory Group to advise families and charitable foundations on best practices. In her work with hundreds of families over a decade, she realized that her expertise in family mediation, strategy, and organizational management could be applied to a problem closer to home—a system for couples seeking balance, efficiency, and peace in their lives. Rodsky was raised by a single mother in New York City and now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three children. Fair Play is her first book.