Truth about relationships comes out in the wash

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The Independent Online
PROBLEMS WITH relationships can all come out in the wash, according to a new book that analyses couples' chances of staying together by looking at their laundry.

Washing your dirty linen in public is the latest way to reveal how your relationships work, it says. Asking questions about household chores means people are more likely to give away the real dynamics of a relationship and how they negotiate day-to-day life, in contrast to being questioned directly about how they felt about each other.

So doing your washes separately means that a separation is on the cards, and men who feel that their partners' standards are not up to their mothers' usually end up back in the family home, says the French sociologist Jean Claude Kaufmann, whose book Dirty Linen: Couples and Laundry has been translated from the French by Middlesex University Press.

Ingrained notions of traditional male and female roles mean that despite good intentions we still have a long way to go to equality. "The basic conflict in the book reveals very well the clash between the modern ideals of equality and mutuality, the ideas that we choose everything we do, and the expectations that we have inherited from our parents," said Professor Tim Putnam, who edited the English translation. "And what we have inherited from our parents is the expectation that women look after men in a relationship. A lot of people have this expectation and women more so than men."

Dr Kaufmann found that couples where the woman did all the laundry were most likely to stay together, whereas those who insisted on doing their laundry separately ended up parting. Couples where the woman was not interested in this chore and the man took it on did not have a high rate of success.

"If the woman did not want anything to do with the laundry, and the man took it on but did not think the woman lived up to his mother's standards, putting these two things together made it very interesting," said Professor Putnam. "Basically the man went back to his mother."

Couples who had learnt to negotiate the laundry - such as breaking down the task into smaller components, such as sorting, drying, ironing - also found compromises in other areas of their relationship and tended to stay together.