Martyr Points: A Man’s Guide

Posted on February 23, 2013

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Just a few years ago I read statistics on the differences in work hours and hours spent doing housework by men and women in two income households.  When I write my book, I will need to look up the actual references, but for now, I will quote them from memory.[1]  In two income households, the men averaged 50 hours of work per week in their occupation, while women averaged 48 hours per week.  When it came to household chores and parenting, the women were putting in over 20 hours per week, while men put in about 5 hours per week.[2]  It would appear that even into the third millennium, most of the household duties continue to be done by women even if work schedules are fairly similar.

The bad news, guys, is that now that the data is available, we may need to kick it up a notch.  The good news is that as men we still get martyr points for performing in certain key areas.  For those unfamiliar with martyr points, these are the merit points you get for contributions to the relationship that appear that you have gone above and beyond the call of duty and in some way suffered for the effort.  The last part of that is an important component, hence the name, martyr points.  There is a subtlety to the acquisition and negotiation of martyr points.  Here are some things you really need to know.  First, you cannot demand or request martyr points.  They are awarded by your wife.  If you act like you have suffered, you are likely to receive fewer points than if you are more subtle in your approach.  You want to make it seem that you have made your contribution as an act of love and appreciation for her.  Second, humility is key.  Don’t act like you have done something extraordinary.  Third, let’s face it.  This is a competition.  You need to look better than any of her friends’ husbands.  You don’t just want to win, but win big.  Fourth, it is interesting that the number of martyr points that a task generates is not necessarily correlated with the difficulty of the task.  To help you maximize your return on time invested, here are a few pointers.

Laundry:  A really interesting thing about laundry is that wives get no martyr points at all for doing this, but husbands can clean up in this area.  You get this one down and you can make the man next door look like Homer Simpson, Al Bundy, Archie Bunker, or Ralph Kramden (depending on your decade reference) compared with you.  The interesting thing is that this is so easy.  It appears like a task that takes half a day, but it really only takes about half an hour spread out over that time.  Here’s how this works.  You put the load of whites in the washer.  It will take you about 3 minutes.  Then you don’t have to worry about it until the signal goes off indicating that it is done.  Next you move those to the dryer.  Most drivers will have a signal tone and a press care setting.  You want the thing to tell you when it is done and keep things tumbling until you get to them.  If you let stuff sit you will have to iron and believe me, you really don’t want that.  While you are putting the white in the dryer throw the colored laundry into the washer.  Make sure you set the washer to cold water.  If you don’t you will lose your martyr points and this effort will be all for naught.  When the timer goes off on the dryer, get that stuff out of there right away, and put the load in the washer into the dryer.  Now this part is important.  Fold or hang up the clean clothes right away.  It will take you less than 10 minutes per load and you won’t have to iron (again you really don’t want that).  There may be a third load of the towels to get going as well.  So let’s time this out.  You put in three loads: 9 minutes.  You fold three loads at 10 minutes each: 30 minutes.  For 39 minutes of your time you look like you have been busy all day, and you can get some great martyr points.  When you get good at this, you can time it so that you can be folding laundry during conference calls.  If you have a co-worker who really chews your ear, return his or her call when the timer goes off on the dryer.  In my experience, it is easier to stay focused on the conversation while folding clothes than it is while playing spider solitaire or free cell.  This is largely because it takes less mental capacity to fold clothes than it does to play solitaire.  Try this out and see if your sex appeal soars with your wife.

Parenting and Childcare: If you think laundry made your sex appeal soar with your wife, wait until she sees how involved you are as a father.  Rule #1 (and this is really important): Do not call it babysitting.  Babysitting is when you take care of other people’s kids.  When you take care of your own, it is called parenting.  Admittedly, this is substantially harder than doing the laundry so you will work hard for these points.  However, there are some additional benefits to compensate for the harder work to earn these points.  First, you actually get to know your children, and they you.  As a former workaholic I can offer some personal testimony.  When my children were very young, my wife was the full time homemaker and I was the breadwinner.  As my career advanced, the hours became longer and longer.  When our girls were nine and six, my wife started back to grad school at the same time that I got laid off.  For three months, we swapped roles.  She left the house every morning, returning at night and I took care of the home and children.  When I was the breadwinner, I had no interest in having the homemaker job.  During the time I had it, I loved that job.  You too might find that you actually enjoy parenting if you build up enough of a relationship with your children.  The second benefit is that it is best to train children during times of non-conflict.  If you want to impart lessons, the heat of battle is not a good time to do this.  When you are bathing children, or taking a walk, or shooting hoops together, it is a great time to teach.  A third benefit is that when they hit adolescence, you have enough relationship capital to be able to still instruct (and you will need it).  So back to the martyr points.  If you want to maximize your points, you need to make sure that your parenting is not limited to fun stuff.  You need to help with the daily tasks of managing and caring for the children.

Cooking:  Another easy one.  All you really need is about half a dozen meals that you can fix.  Many of them only take about a half hour to prepare.  For example, you can cook up chicken, rice, and a vegetable in about half an hour.  Voila, dinner and major martyr points.  Cook the chicken on the barbecue and there is almost no clean up as well.  When I was in high school and college I worked at Taco Bell.  When you work fast food, you learn the value of cleaning as you go.  This is important because you don’t want to leave a major mess.  Let’s say you are preparing spaghetti (also really easy).  If the kitchen ends up looking like a scene from Nightmare on Elm Street XVII, you are going to lose more points than you gain defeating the whole purpose (remember, it’s all about the martyr points).

Grocery Shopping:  Again, really easy and some great side benefits.  First, you don’t get stuck with lite or organic anything if that’s not your thing.  If it’s important to your wife, you can still buy it and pick up even more points for getting what she wanted especially if she knows it’s not what you wanted.  Second, two words: on sale.  It’s a competition, right?  When you check out, you want them to say, “You saved 22% today.”

Footrubs:  My editor (aka my wife) told me to add this one.  I don’t understand the appeal, but perhaps that is because none of my shoes have more than a ½ inch heel.  This could turn into foreplay, but don’t go in expecting that it will or you might undermine the whole thing and lose your points (I can’t stress this enough; it’s about the points).

Negotiating the points.  As I indicated at the beginning, martyr points are a legitimate medium of exchange, but it is not a straight forward, quid pro quo, exchange rate.  So here are some things you might get for your martyr points.  First, you get less conflict, fewer fights and quicker recovery from them.  You want that, right?  I am going to tell you a little secret, but told tell anyone you heard it from me (marital therapists don’t want this out there because it could cost us money).  Most of the fights are not about what they seem to be about.  This can be a difficult concept, guys.  In marriage, big fights can start from seemingly insignificant events.  That is because it is not about what you think it is about.  The fight is really about, “Do you love me?  Do you value me? Are you there for me? Do you really see me?”  While you were competing to look like a better husband than the neighbor, you inadvertently were affirming your wife.  She didn’t know it was a competition.  To her, it looked like love, concern, and support.  She thought you were just being a caring partner.  Now when you goof something up, it doesn’t feel like one more confirmation that you do not care about me.  Second, you get a more satisfying sex life.[3]  Your sex appeal goes up with the love and support she feels from you.  Additionally, if she is not so tired from doing all (or nearly all) of the household chores and the parenting, it is easier to be in the mood for sex.  The improved sex life is also a side benefit from the reduced conflict.  It is a quirky thing, but most women don’t seem to want to have sex with a man they are mad at.  Conflict goes down, sex life improves.  Third, my editor wanted me to add that you can have fewer complaints when you play zombie computer games (or whatever you happen to be into).

Try it and see how it goes.  If it doesn’t work, call me.  We’ll schedule a couple’s therapy session.


[1] Recalling the adage that 83% of statistics are made up on the spot.  Incidentally, it takes 2.1 hours to write a blog post if you check your references and .9 hours if you don’t.

[2] Like I said, the numbers are from memory.

[3] Warning: If you try to make this a quid pro quo thing, you are going to lose all of your martyr points.

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Posted in: Marriage