Do you and your partner argue about household chores?
Do you need the dishes done when you go to bed but your partner is fine to leave them until morning?
Arguments about household chores are common among couples. We enter relationships with expectations and assumptions based on what we learned growing up. Did our mother stay at home and do all of the housework and dad worked outside of the home? Did our parents share the housework? Were there household chores that were considered “men’s jobs” or “women’s jobs” in our childhood homes? All of these things impact what we expect and assume will happen in our own relationships and homes. These experiences create the way we believe things ‘should’ be done. These expectations are at the heart of many arguments and simmering resentments. If we don’t understand where our expectations came from or where our partner’s expectations came from we can get locked into our belief that we are right and they are wrong.
It is important to talk to your partner about how housework will be negotiated early in a relationship, but the conversation needs to be ongoing. As a couple goes through life transitions and changes, the negotiation around household chores needs to continue. The negotiation needs to include not only who does which chore, but also what the goal is. If one partner is comfortable with clutter and the other isn’t, the level of organization needed must also be negotiated so that resentments don’t build. It is good for a couple to sit down and write out all of the chores that need to be done. The division of all the chores doesn’t need to be 50/50. It needs to feel fair to each person. Once you agree that a chore is yours, it is important to take responsibility for it and not need reminders from your partner. When you agree to a chore being done by your partner, it is equally important to let go of it and not demand that it be done your way. If your partner is on dishes and says that they will do them in the morning, turn off the kitchen lights and walk away. The goal is to have a good relationship where both people feel loved and supported and to have a home that runs smoothly; the goal is not to have everything done your way! When negotiating housework, remind yourself that this is the person that you love and that the housework keeps the home that you both share operating smoothly. The energy invested in the home is also energy invested in your relationship.
So what if you are stuck in the argument about chores?
First of all: stop arguing! An argument is a two-step process. It begins with an accusation and is followed by a defense. It then keeps cycling. Arguments do not solve problems. Solving this problem will require good communication. Both speaking and listening.
Here is a structure to enable you to break out of the argument cycle:
- Take turns with your partner answering the following questions.
- How were chores divided when I was a child? What did mom do and what did dad do?
- Are there jobs that I have considered men’s jobs or women’s jobs and does that make sense anymore?
- Are there specific chores that I have a strong dislike for and why?
- Are there specific chores that I am very good at and get satisfaction from doing?
- What is my personal standard for the home we share? (level of cleanliness, organization, etc.)
- Is my standard a fit for my partner and is it realistic (compared to family and friends)
- When your partner is speaking, listen carefully and do not start constructing your own answer in your mind. Do not interrupt them. Once they are done answering, repeat back to them what you heard them say to make sure you understood. Then it is your turn to answer the question and your partner will also listen carefully and restate what they heard you say.
- Once you have had these conversations and you each understand where the other is coming from, it is time to negotiate how you will share the chores in your home. Sit down together and make a list of all the regular chores that need to be done.
- Once you have a complete list, discuss the jobs that the two of you are good at and get satisfaction from. If only one of you feels that way, put your name beside it. If both of you like the same chores, share them. You can decide how you will do that (week on, week off or do them together).
- Then discuss which chores each of you strongly dislike. If the other is neutral about those, put your name beside them. If you both dislike the same chores, again, share them.
- Then discuss how the remaining chores will be distributed. It can be really helpful to have each one of you completely take responsibility for specific chores to avoid confusion about whose turn it is.
- When dividing chores keep in mind the hours each of you work outside of the home and what other responsibilities you each have. The goal of this exercise is to do what feels fair to both of you.
If you have children, don’t forget to involve them in doing chores. As a family grows, the workload of household chores grows as well. It is our job to teach our children life-skills, work-ethic and to be independent one day. Young children can help out in small and age-appropriate ways and they take great pride in contributing. By the time our children move away from home, they should know how to cook, do laundry and clean.
Sometimes arguments about chores are not really about the chores. They are about deeper issues such as feeling taken for granted or disrespected or even unloved. When this is the case, the above conversations will not resolve the issues. If you know that the argument is not really about the dishes, stop the arguing and consider couple counselling to work on the deeper issues fueling the arguments. There are also some issues that strongly affect household standards. A couple of those issues are hoarding, obsessive-compulsive cleaning and organizing and one partner trying to control the other. If those are issues that are causing conflict in your relationship, counselling can help you deal with them as well.
Make chores a way that each of you demonstrates your love, respect and commitment to each other and to maintaining the home that you share.