The Guilt Bank

New ways couples use to divide household duties -- and why someone is always in debt

Let me start off by saying, my husband is a very, very nice man. Sweet and thoughtful, he's even been known to buy me flowers on occasion. I lucked out in the husband department.

But when I am an overtired, often-cranky, stressed mess (which is a lot of the time, I'll admit), even Prince Charming himself would annoy me. His horse would be too stompy, or his crown would get in the way. More than likely, I'd be jealous he had all that time to look after his appearance.

My husband tries to soothe me in these moments. He suggests yoga, or a nap, or a walk around the block. Like I said, he's very nice. But this niceness appears to come with a price. The cost: Points.

Now, just as a refresher, let's discuss how the point system works. Simply put: Your Loving Partner offers to let you unload one of your tasks onto him. Or perhaps he suggests you take an hour or two off and have a pedicure/curl up with a book/lock yourself in the basement cupboard. These may be offered with the most generous of spirits. He knows that a relaxed woman is a better wife and mother. He knows that if you have to juggle one more thing it's going to get seriously ugly. He wants to help. He may even be really nice about it, like my husband.

But beware. You're going to owe him.

That hour spent getting a pedicure will come back to haunt you. Those nights he lets you get your beauty rest when Junior squalls will cost you. Sometimes it will be overt: "You got to take a nap, now I'm going to watch football for the rest of the afternoon." Or it may be subtle. Men don't tend to ask for permission to go off and surf the Internet for 45 minutes. You do, I bet. Am I right? And then you feel guilty. And then he ends up earning points for helpful behavior.

When the kids were little babies and even less sleeping went on, we were really tit-for-tat. I finally lost it one day when I returned home from the grocery store. As soon as I was in the door, my husband poured himself a cup of coffee and slunk off to watch soccer. When I—left with six bags of groceries to unload, dinner to make and a wide-awake infant—questioned his whereabouts, he replied that I had my break, and now he needed his. He had cashed in his points earned only moments before.

And this is when I explained something very important. Going to the grocery store is not a break. It may be easier for me to go by myself. I may enjoy a cup of coffee as I stroll the aisles, or a few minutes of leisurely People magazine reading as I wait to pay for the groceries—but it is still a household chore.

But that didn't matter in the end, because I still felt badly that he had "covered for me" so I could go out. In the end, this points system that has become part of our lives ends up benefiting him. If this were truly a bilateral arrangement, it would be fair. But it's not. While my husband earns points and keenly cashes them in, I just seem to acquire guilt.

Maybe I feel guilt because that's just who I am. Maybe I feel guilt because I am a woman. Maybe it's because of the woman I am. It doesn't matter that I can't do it alone: Somehow I feel I should be able to. That's why the point system exists. That's why it's so insidious.

I have modernized every other aspect of my life as a woman. But I somehow can't seem to shake the guilt that comes with getting help. And I vow right here and now to commit the ultimate woman's liberation: kiss the guilt goodbye and kick the points system out of our marriage.

Just after I ask my husband if it's okay if I go and get a pedicure.

Do you and your spouse operate on a "points system"? Tell us about it in the comments below.
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