The saying, we choose our friends but not our family, often causes a wry laugh. But, on reflection, those relationships are rather different. Do our friends typically see us having a 'bad hair day' or have to be constantly reminded to tidy their rooms, put their damp towels in the laundry basket or fix a broken shelf?
Maybe they do occasionally, but it's unlikely to be a regular occurrence. They don't see us grumpily returning home after a tough day at work or at those times when we're truly out of sorts.
We usually modify our behaviour and brighten up when we see our friends, even when we're at our worst. There's no way we're likely to snap at them in the way we would with family members. We know they could walk away and call time on our relationship. And who'd blame them if our inconsiderate behaviour happened too often!
So, our friends can be good at nudging us from being too maudlin. We may share in-depth analysis of our lousy job, relationship or situation, but there often comes a time when we realise that we have to rein it in and start to pay attention to them too. A friendship may be temporarily one-sided during tough times but there comes a point where we have to try to recover a little from being down, negative or repetitive, and that's no bad thing.
And then there's the fun element. A 2020 survey of 400 people for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that 68% of the time we spend with friends is doing fun things, like visiting restaurants, bars, concerts, participating in sports, whereas the figure for family is only 28%.
Do we need to reflect on how we allocate the time we spend with family? Yes, chores and essential maintenance does need to be done but is there some way we could make doing them more enjoyable? Washing, ironing, cleaning are important, but could they be undertaken in a more positive, upbeat way, starting by a change in perspective, where we remember to appreciate our good fortune in having a home to clean, a garden to tend, nice clothes to launder. How many people would be overjoyed to be in our position?
Remember the excitement you felt when you moved into your first new home, the satisfaction of polishing 'your' windows or dusting the furniture you'd recently chosen and had delivered, the joy of keeping everywhere fresh and tidy, walking through your front door and smiling with pride.
How quickly does that mindset change! Another 2020 survey of 2000 adults by a vitamin company has revealed that we spend an hour a day on basic chores like washing up, laundry, tidying, things we're highly unlikely to do with friends, and certainly not on a regular basis. So, it's no wonder that we'd rather be with friends than family!
But if we elevate those dull, repetitive tasks by introducing some fun, gratitude and satisfaction for a job well done it allows for a more positive approach. Start to notice how you communicate in your relationship with your partner or family, compared to when you're with friends. It can be all too easy for family interactions to drift into a mundane daily routine where you share updates and chores rather than communicate on any meaningful level, especially during busy or stressful periods.
When you're tired and preoccupied, experiencing low energy levels, try to still remember to be polite, thoughtful and respectful towards each other, smiling and touching affectionately as you pass by. Inject humour into situations and maintain channels of communication where you're genuinely interested in each other, following up on the previous day's news, noticing any change in demeanour, demonstrating that you're keen to spend time together.
The most tedious tasks were voted in the survey as ironing, cleaning and food shopping, with only 3% saying they enjoyed the day-to-day routine. But these tasks can be transformed by sharing them and perhaps including a treat or reward on completion, especially if children are involved. You could share the load in a motivational way, as in, 'you do this while I do that' or introduce a fun element by singing or dancing as you all work. Even a little competition could help to potentially lift the mood.
By ensuring that you have positive exchanges with partners and children, perhaps through play and interesting, supportive conversations, you enjoy more pleasant relationships and allow even the day-to-day stuff to be a fulfilling and meaningful part of your life. That way, chores can become a more positive investment in your daily quality of life.