Should the Separate but Equal Rule Apply in a Marriage?: Ask Harry & Louise

Our advice team dives into the murky waters of sharing responsibilities as a married couple.

Dear Harry and Louise:

My wife and I have two cars. We switch back and forth driving them, so there is no “his” or “her” car. Recently she scraped the side of one of the cars while getting it out of her parking garage—something I predicted would happen, by the way. It’s been two weeks, and she still has not taken it in to be fixed. I’m worried that rust will set in, but she appears in no rush to get it fixed. I’m considering taking time off of work to do it, but I think it’s unfair. My view is that the “Colin Powell-Iraq-Pottery-Barn Rule” should be in effect—you break it, you own it—so it should be her responsibility to get it fixed.

What do you suggest? How should we handle this?

Disappointed in DC

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I am tempted to consign you to the chauvinist-pig pile because you “predicted” your wife would scrape the car, as in “women can’t drive.” I might agree with you, but I keep it to myself. Let’s avoid the entire conflict of whose time is worth more, because that’s not the point here, really, though you insinuate that taking time off of work would be a huge sacrifice for you. The issue is division of labor in your household and the fairness therein.

I figure you share various pedestrian duties. You do the dishes from time to time, care for the children, cook and clean. That’s all well and good. But there are some chores that fall beyond the boundaries of commonly shared household chores. Guys still have to show up for some stuff: hammering nails, changing tires, getting cats out of trees.

And taking the car to the shop. Your wife doesn’t know from rust. You do. Pop a chill pill, take a day off of work, take the car to the shop, make sure the job is done well, and enjoy the thanks on the back end. If it doesn’t come, write back.

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The Colin Powell rule is effective for all shopping ventures and international wars, but it does not work for marriages. That’s because of that little clause at the bottom of the marriage decree that states each party will contribute to the partnership in proportion to his or her talents, perspective, and desire. Your talent is clairvoyance (you saw that scrape before your wife even parked that day), your perspective is that it’s important to keep the cars pristine, and your desire is to repair the car. You know where this is going—no one is better qualified to rectify this situation than you.

Don’t get down about how unfair this is, because right around the corner will come a situation that will perfectly match her talents, perspective, and desire. She will know how to get the stain out of your good shirt. She will research why the cherry tree in your front yard refuses to bloom and then spend Saturday afternoon replacing it with a viburnum. She will revel in a quiet night at home with the kids while you go across town to play poker.

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HARRY SAYS: Louise is an optimist. Just fix the car, but don’t expect much in return.

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