how wifeswap improved my life

I think I've mentioned before that my gf and I routinely watch Wifeswap, which pairs two families of very different temperaments/styles/beliefs and has the wives swap places for two weeks. Like most "reality" shows, this one has certain rules and rhetorical conventions that regular viewers come to appreciate. For the first week, the wife (as awful as the terminology is, the show has included same-sex couples and unmarried couples) has to follow the rules of her new family, trying to live the way they do. During the second week she gets to set new house rules, which usually means asking them to adjust their behaviors to be more like her own family's. The show always includes key scenes of the women exploring their host family's house before the family gets there (which is fascinating because how often do you get to do that??), the rule change scene, and a final wrap-up where both couples meet face-to-face. Along the way there's plenty of conflict, of course, since the show's producers pick families that are as opposite as they can find: super-conservative Christians and punk rockers, etc.

So why do we watch this show? Because it's completely fascinating and often encouraging to peek into other people's houses, to see the areas of conflict and concern that inevitably arise in dealing with household chores, budgets, and children. It's interesting just to see how other people live. There are all kinds of relationship issues that come up, too, of course, and it's been a springboard for many good conversations in our house about how we manage things. But at the most basic level, I love this show because it clearly exposes that household work is work -- work that somebody (and interestingly, it's not always the "wife") has to do. It shows just how darn difficult it is to get everybody fed, cleaned, educated, and happy.

Unlike some reality shows, which seem designed to build on the worst aspects of human character (greed, vengeance, etc), this one is premised on the notion that human beings are capable of change, and that seeing the world from someone else's perspective can teach you something. Sure, maybe it's corny or even semi-staged, but it's still doing really important cultural work, to show husbands tearfully realizing that their wives are overburdened and that they should do more at home.

And my own lesbian husband? She's improved 100 percent in her contributions to our household chores since we've been watching the show. She credits it with helping her realize that both her life and my life would get better if we could have a more equitable distribution of household tasks. My partner now does the grocery shopping, washes the dishes, changes the bed linens, mows the yard, washes her personal laundry, and sweeps the floor. I do the cooking, wash the household laundry, clean the bathroom & kitchen, vacuum & mop floors, and dust & vacuum surfaces and furniture. We're not perfect, and our house isn't immaculate. But we're doing OK, and we no longer argue about these things. So thanks, Wifeswap!