From cooking dinner to doing the housework, the shocking diary entries by two couples that reveal how doing the chores pushes their relationships to the brink

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Written By Maya Cantina

We all feel it sometimes. That clench of the jaw or roll of the eyes when our spouse loads the dishwasher badly or fails to take out the bins.

But have scientists now proved that women in long relationships do it more often than men? A study published in the Journal of the Association for Psychological Science in January revealed that wives fall out of love more quickly than husbands. 

When they asked volunteers to report their feelings every 30 minutes for ten days, researchers discovered that women in marriages of longer than three years felt love for their other half 55 per cent less frequently than those in newer relationships.

The equivalent figure for men? Just nine per cent. The reason probably isn’t rocket science. The study also found that women in longer partnerships spent more time doing chores and cooking, while men were found to spend more time relaxing and sleeping or napping.

Indeed, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty so amply demonstrated last week in a joint interview for Grazia magazine, nothing provokes disagreement in a relationship quite so much as the domestic load — though, in their case, the flashes of real irritation came from him, not her.

We asked two top writers and their husbands to record their feelings towards each other in a diary at regular intervals over a week (stock image)

When the PM testily admits on video to making the beds himself because his wife ‘isn’t a morning person’, you know you have stumbled into the middle of the household chore wars. 

Sunak might laugh as he insists the children never eat balanced meals unless he’s around to supervise, but it’s surely the weary laugh of a seasoned skirmisher. We decided to try the research experiment ourselves.

We asked two top writers and their husbands to record their feelings towards each other in a diary at regular intervals over a week. 

What emerged was a fascinating insight into married life and the division of labour — the role each sex takes, the way they communicate (or fail to) and the love they feel (or don’t!) for each other as a result. All is laid bare in these compelling extracts…

Julie Cook says:

Monday afternoon

Feeling: Resentment

It’s 1.30pm and I’m making a pasta Alfredo bake when it hits me. A huge wave of resentment. Here I am, during my working day, staving off calls and emails from commissioning editors while attempting to write copy and stirring a homemade pasta sauce.

I should be devoting all my attention to my work. And time is tight, since I’ve got to collect my children Alex, 15 and Adriana, ten, from school at 3pm. But someone needs to prep dinner and either I do it now or later, when I should be working as well.

My husband Cornel, a pianist and interpreter, is working, too, but not at home, so the frantic juggle is all down to me. For the fourth time this week.

I don’t think it’s him I’ve fallen out of love with. My constant frustration is with how much life admin I have to do, says Julie of her husband Cornel

I don’t think it’s him I’ve fallen out of love with. My constant frustration is with how much life admin I have to do, says Julie of her husband Cornel

On the drive to school, my phone rings. It’s Cornel. He’s on a break and is in Home Bargains. I put him on loudspeaker and he says: ‘Which shower cleaner do you need again? And do you want abrasive scourers or normal sponge cleaners?’

I grip the steering wheel. Breathe.

Why is it my shower cleaner? My sponge? I tell him what to get, then hang up, just as he says: ‘Love you.’

I’m too fast to press end call to respond myself. We met in 2005 in Venice when I was 27 and he was 24. He was a gentleman, forever holding doors and pulling out chairs, and I was mad about him.

Then we had our first child, Alex, in 2008, and things began to slide. With a baby to look after, romance was long forgotten. Yes, he was a hands-on dad — he changed nappies — but suddenly a host of other jobs appeared that for some reason became mine and mine alone.

Feeding, sorting laundry, going to the pharmacy for baby products. I took them on because I felt I knew best, but it was a slippery slope.

Monday evening

Feeling: The R-word again

When I get in from the school run, I reheat the Alfredo I’ve made and serve it up. Cornel swans in and sits at the table, meal placed before him.

I eat fast because I know I need to clear up. He’ll offer — but he’s been out all day and is chatting to the children about school. I load the dishwasher, wipe the sides down, and with a sparkling kitchen feel much better.

Tuesday morning

Feeling: Love

Next morning when I wake at 6am, I roll over and hug him. Yes, when I first wake up, as we snuggle, everything feels happier. I definitely feel love at this moment, which is great until it turns into . . . stress.

Cornel has no appointments this morning, so agrees to take the children to school. And yet he’s late. He is always late. My son Alex is downstairs, shoes on and bag on his back. Adriana is almost ready. But Cornel? In the loo. It’s 7:55am and it’s a 30-minute drive to school where they must be by 8:30. ‘They’ll be late!’ I call, through gritted teeth.

Why am I always on time and he is not? I run around filling water bottles, ensuring trainers are in PE bags and books are in rucksacks.

When he leaves and I close the door I breathe a sigh of relief. The house is mine again. Which I rather like. I grab my diary and write ‘feeling: Joy’.

At 8am I step into the upstairs bathroom and find three towels on the floor. One for each of the people I share my house with. I write ‘deflated/ rage’ in my notebook.

Wednesday early hours

Feeling: Intense irritation/fury

I am woken by a strange noise. It sounds like a crow. I sit bolt upright in bed, and prod Cornel next to me. Nothing. He’s out of it.

‘There’s some kind of bird!’ I hiss.

He wakes up and I push him out of the room.

‘Cat’s been sick,’ he says upon his return, yawning. ‘Where’s the carpet cleaner?’

I roll my eyes and kick the covers off, stomping downstairs.

I am left to get a kitchen towel and a clean scourer and scrub the offending area, while Cornel stands over me still muttering about carpet cleaner. This pretending to be involved and not being involved makes me even angrier. I finish up and get back into bed at 5am.

Two hours later, I come down to toast and hot coffee, made by Cornel, which cheers me up. A loving feeling returns but I am tired, so it is not a very strong feeling.

Wednesday morning

Feeling: Love

We drop the children at school, then travel to London to see my sister, who has had her first baby.

Cornel says lovely things about my nephew/niece and suddenly I feel a deep love for him, remembering our own children as babies, and how good he was then too. When we leave at 2pm, he drives us out of London weaving effortlessly through traffic. I admire his skill and find this sexy. Feeling: amorous.

Thursday evening

Feeling: Exasperation

Adriana has to make a volcano for a school project. I huff and puff, but Cornel washes his hands of it. ‘I never did anything like this!’ he wails, walking away to ‘deal with emails’.

I help make the volcano with paper and paint and am pretty pleased with the result, only to find him in the living room playing pool on his phone.

I don’t think it’s him I have fallen out of love with. What causes this constant low-level frustration is the admin of life and how much of it I do.

Saturday morning

Feeling: Calm

Cornel is working both days this weekend, which means I’m at home doing the laundry, taking the children to clubs, washing up, cooking. Somehow when I am alone, I note, I feel less resentment. Because if he’s not here, he can’t do it, can he?

The kitchen’s sparkling and the dinner is made. He comes in and eats it and says he’s grateful to have ‘someone like me.’

I’ll take that, I guess. Overall, I’ve learnt that, while my love seems to ‘reset’ every day, I’ve also created a rod for my own back by taking on all of the domestic load.

I also tended to write the word ‘love’ more when he was not around, something the study also found: absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Is the answer time away? Possibly. Certainly, a fairer division of labour would make my heart sing more often.

Cornel says:

When I was asked to keep a diary for noting down what feelings I had for my wife, I thought she was joking. I told her: ‘I feel the same all the time.’ But she insisted.

At first it was hard remembering, but on the whole my feelings were of love and gratitude, especially when I come in and find the children eating a home-cooked meal, their PE kits in the wash.

I am aware of what she does — I just don’t get involved as I’d probably get it wrong. There are times I make dinner — I make a decent curry — but often she takes over and just does it.

One entry in my diary reads ‘annoyed’. This was when she was moaning about having to make dinner, but when I offered to chop something, she said I was in the way. You can’t win.

I like it when she gets affectionate every morning. I do feel she loves me then.

We used to be a lot more affectionate before children and when we had no chores and just rented a tiny flat, but with a family comes more responsibility which, I admit, Julie mainly handles.

Glancing through my diary, the main feelings that I wrote down are ‘grateful’, ‘love’, ‘missing her’, ‘happy’.

Inge Van Lotringen says:

Saturday morning

Feeling: Companionable

Justin and I met when I entered a competition to be a ‘VJ’ at the music channel MTV. He was a director there and picked me as a winner — more because he fancied me than for any discernible talent. That was almost 30 years ago.

I remember thinking how kind and attentive he was, and what a fantastic people person. We got married 23 years ago, and never even discussed having children — we both knew we did not want them.

Now 64, he is 11 years older than me but we both think we’re about 20 years younger than we are.

This morning he is repairing some panel from the classic Australian Bolwell Nagari racing car he loves so much. In the lounge. He also makes a salsa verde, researches a holiday, fixes the broken doorbell and prints off a picture of us that he likes.

Meanwhile, I go for a run. Most of the time we chug along like this pretty well. Until…

Saturday afternoon

Feeling: Angry

Justin has suggested a pricey investment. It’s with a friend and in safe hands, but spending money freaks me out. I’m a worrier where he is not.

In fact, in many things we are polar opposites. Justin loves people, company, activity, constant chatter, and self-indulgence, and I am quiet, rather antisocial, and a bit of a control freak, fond of exercise and looking after my health. I give the go-ahead to this investment, but feel instantly resentful that he has disturbed my mental peace.

In fact, I realise, whenever I feel resentment it is almost always for the same reason: money. He wants to go on holiday, race cars and build a house in Italy so we can have a long lunch with friends every day for the rest of our lives.

I want to know where my next job is coming from and if we have enough money for a care home, should we get dementia.

Inge and Justin met almost 30 years ago when Inge entered a competition to be a ‘VJ’ at the music channel MTV. Justin was a director there and picked Inge as a winner

Inge and Justin met almost 30 years ago when Inge entered a competition to be a ‘VJ’ at the music channel MTV. Justin was a director there and picked Inge as a winner

Sunday morning

Feeling: Exasperated

Barely slept as usual. Hungover from a night spent with a friend. Worried about my ailing mum, who’s 89 and has dementia. We go for a walk but Justin is unhappy because I’m not talking. Why can’t I feel ill and distracted without him thinking there’s ‘something wrong’? I’m annoyed because he’s too needy.

Sunday afternoon

Feeling: Guilty

Whether we’re happier than parent friends I can’t say — but I know the past three decades have been ones of contentment. While we can have screaming rows, they end as abruptly as they started.

They don’t settle into the contempt I see in other couples, perhaps because neither of us feels the other isn’t pulling their weight in shouldering parental responsibilities. Having said that, this exercise in ‘checking in with your feelings’ has been quite confronting. It shows me that our being ‘complementary’ too often means Justin just puts up with my crap.

He is the fun one and I’m the drama queen. He looks after me, doing all of the practicals and chores 95 per cent of the time. That means cooking, cleaning, gardening, fixing stuff and generally sorting out life, as I fret and catastrophise and work non-stop.

I feel secure in the knowledge that I love him and he loves me, but I can be too distracted to give him the constant attention he likes, and have a tendency to put dampers on his enthusiasm in the name of avoiding risk.

Monday morning

Feeling: Irritated

The other bone of contention is mental space. As a writer, I’m constantly in my head, and can’t abide distraction. But he gets unhappy when I’m mentally elsewhere, plus he hates silence and wants to share whatever he is thinking.

With both of us often spending all day in our flat, he’s constantly in and out of my office — until I tell him, cruelly, to Just. Bloody. Give. Me. Some. Peace. And. Quiet.

Monday evening

Feeling: Loving

I cook this evening (normally he’s the designated chef), and though he is unimpressed with my sloppy plating (‘have you chopped this with a power drill?’) and lack of mood setting (he goes round the flat turning on lamps and Jazz FM), he loves that I’m making an effort really.

He also says I haven’t hung the washing up in a suitably orderly manner for his taste, but this just makes me laugh. We decide we couldn’t live without each other. Which is the truth. If I could only relax, our life would be like a permanent holiday.

Justin says:

Inge is generally in a mild state of panic 24 hours a day, only broken by a run, cat videos, hot chocolates and Prince played at maximum volume.

My job is to try and calm her down, but that can be tough sometimes because her stress rubs off on me.

On Saturday afternoon, I definitely felt tense. It’s difficult to like her much when the subject of money comes up. We should be happy with no loans, debts or a mortgage to deal with, but she catastrophises like her mum and can become quite mean. And she still hates my yellow racing car. Which hurts. She makes me worry for no reason.

On Sunday neither of us had slept much. I never know what to do to help her.

When we went for a walk she was cross with me because I wanted to chat, but she did seem to perk up again later when she fed her favourite robin. Having a pet seems to cheer her up. We must get a cat.

Sometimes I do find myself walking on eggshells with her. Normally, I bring her cups of hot chocolate and little snacks while she works, but I have to be careful not to break her concentration because she will snap at me. It makes me feel sad and dejected.

It’s usually my job to do all the shopping and cooking, but when she does it, I think she enjoys it and so do I. Even if I nag about the messy plating.

The truth is, our relationship is about sharing, protection, care and companionship. I would like more passion, but stress (hers) gets in the way.

At the end of the day, I couldn’t live without her. Like something out of a country tune, I’m still madly in love with her after 28 years.

ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇ ꜱᴏᴜʀᴄᴇ

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