The topic of household chores is the second biggest sticking point in domestic relationships behind money problems. Distribution of labor in our home brings up issues of power, equality, and differences in lifestyle.
This is largely a gender-based issue, with the vast majority of women in heterosexual relationships feeling they do more than their male partners. This is supported by many surveys and studies which point out that even though many women work outside the home, they still tend to do most of the household chores.
Household Chores: The Problem
Stress levels go way up when either partner is unhappy about unfinished chores.
If you end up going over budget because groceries were not purchased, or the children run out of clean clothes, or the roof leaks because it wasn’t fixed due to procrastination, there will usually be conflict. Partners get frustrated with each other for messing up the game!
The stakes feel high for many of us on a day–to-day basis. Personally, my home environment plays a big part in my sense of well-being. Clutter puts me in a bad vibe, and stagnation makes me crazy!
The problem is that we usually don’t live with people exactly like us. And when you don’t see eye-to-eye, one partner may end up feeling controlled by the other, or feel powerless to find a shared vision. Or you may feel resentful about an unequal amount of contribution to the tasks required to maintain a home.
What may feel like a baseline of cleanliness to one partner may feel obsessive/compulsive to the other.
Household Chores: 10 Ways to Solve the Distribution of Labor Problem
Start with this premise: It’s a partnership.This doesn’t mean 50/50. It means both people are 100% responsible for creating a mutually satisfying arrangement. Household chores should not be designated to just one person without agreement by both people.
Set mutual priorities. This requires asking each other: What is truly important to you? One of you might strongly value home cooked meals over eating out. Don’t judge the other for their preferences. Just look for overlapping values to guide the next steps.
If you can’t agree on how it should be, compromise. Compromise can be done in two ways: We meet halfway on each task, or, we do it one partner’s way for x, and the other partner’s way for y. Or, if you both hate certain tasks, do them together or take turns. This process will require finding out how each of you feels about various tasks. Some people would way rather wash dishes than fold laundry. Maybe your partner hates cleaning the cat litter, but you don’t mind that so much.
Ask what your partner needs to thrive. Then ask yourself if you make life easier or more difficult for them. How does your answer make you feel? Sometimes we have to give a little to create an environment in which our partner thrives. You will get so much back from this.
Don’t ask for “help.” Asking for help gives the impression the household chores are only your responsibility. Instead, ask your partner to do his/her share. Chores around the house should be shared responsibilities, unless you have mutually agreed otherwise.
Don’t force the “when:” You may want your partner to unload the dishwasher in the morning, but he may be more productive in the afternoon. Allow for things to be done on their terms, providing it gets done.
Keep lists of chores. Write them out, divide them by person, and post them somewhere visible. This may seem extreme, but after a while, the lists probably won’t be necessary.
Explore reluctance. If one of you doesn’t follow through on promises to do his/her share of the work around your home, try and discover together why there is such reluctance. Some partners may may resist because they feel controlled. Family of origin issues can be a reason for differing opinions on chores as well.
Avoid mentioning, prompting, or reminding. Some people dawdle more than others. Allow your partner’s task to not be done, because it’s not up to you (this is hard, I know). If the task hasn’t been done by the following week, bring it up the next time you sit down to share expectations. If after discussing the situation, your mate absolutely refuses to share equally in household chores – and you’re tired of carrying the load yourself – then you have some choices to make. Bottom line: you can’t change your partner.
Be flexible. If having the towels folded a certain way is super important to you, then you fold the towels. You could consider hiring some outside help, or just quit doing some tasks that you don’t want to do anymore. Ask yourself, what can I let go of? If you hate ironing, give the clothes away that need ironing and toss the iron.
Couples who get a handle on the distribution of labor at home are much happier than those that don’t. So don’t be afraid to really tackle this issue with planned and mindful conversations–just as you would a budget meeting. It’s a serious issue that doesn’t just work itself out.
Good luck with these and let me know how it goes in the comments below!