From the January 2000 issue of Startups

Cash, sex and chores can be stumbling blocks in any good marriage, research shows. In dual-income households-especially those where one spouse or partner works in the home-drawing a line between housework and home work can help keep the nuptials sacred.

In most households where both partners work, women still do most of the chores, which can lead to contention and animosity, according to a study from the Mayo Clinic.

"Most of us fight with each other about who's working harder than whom, who's making the most mess in the house and who should clean it up," says Azriela Jaffe, a syndicated columnist and the author of small-business books including Honey, I Want to Start my Own Business: A Planning Guide for Couples [Harper Collins]. "Give up this notion of what's fair. You can fight for the rest of your marriage about what's fair and never solve it."

Chores go beyond rote tasks like laundry, cooking and cleaning, to include lawn work, household repairs and other projects, says Lisa Roberts, married for 14 years, a mother of four and author of How to Raise A Family & A Career Under One Roof: A Parent's Guide to Home Business (Bookhaven Press). Success comes when you share the tasks fairly, not stereotypically, says Roberts, co-founder of The Entrepreneurial Parent (http://www.en-parent.com) and the National Association of Entrepreneurial Parents.

"The trick is to divvy up chores not by gender, but by skills, and to remember your mutual goal is to manage your chore time efficiently so you can enjoy more 'play time' as a couple and as a family," she says.

Roberts and Jaffe offer these tips to keep the home office and household sane:

  • Hire a housekeeper. It's a lift to everyone's spirits when a reliable cleaning service is in place--and your time is spent more cost-effectively. Cleaning services generally charge $20/hour.
  • If you anticipate a particularly heavy home-office workload coming up, warn your spouse. Be clear which chores you'll have to drop that week, or negotiate so he or she will cover for you until things slow down.
  • Got kids? Teach them to lend a helping hand at a very early age. You do them no favors by taking care of everything yourself. Add responsibilities-and privileges-on each birthday.
  • If you have to choose, live with a messy home office but don't carry the chaos into the living areas of your home. You don't want your spouse to resent your home business because it's causing slovenly habits in other areas of your life. Contain the confusion to one room of your house.
  • Divide by talents. Don't split up the list of household chores according to time spent and then worry about clocking the hours. Figure out who does what best, then tackle it accordingly.
  • Do enjoyable chores together. Rake leaves, then jump into the pile . . . or do housework to loud music, and dance naked while you clean. Just make sure, warns Jaffe, you're not expecting any clients to show up at the door.

"Think of yourselves as a team," suggests Mayo's HealthQuest newsletter. "Figure out what needs to be done and then develop a plan to get it done by working together."