Couples fight about housework: How to stop

Sometimes I get emails from readers…

Hi, Mabel. I am so exhausted from constantly telling my husband to help with housework. Over time, I became so accustomed to shouting and yelling that I realized I had become someone else. I used to be calm, patient, and understanding.

I needed help around the house since our baby was born a year and two months ago, but he is unwilling to. As much as I believe that if he truly cares, we have no help and I am just exhausted from managing everything from finances, housework, babysitting, working, grocery shopping, etc. He is just not stepping up.

Every morning, I keep telling him to throw away garbages and leftovers or stack water, but he is either unwilling or delaying those simple tasks, which makes me mad. While I’m out for groceries and the baby is sleeping, I expect him to do chores around the house, or at the very least to clean the dishes. But he does nothing unless I tell him to. Is there anything I can do to deal with this? I know he has reasons, and I think they are valid. I really want to hear them so we can meet halfway and put things right with each other. 

Mabel:  I’m sorry it’s so hard on you. I believe two things need to happen. When two individuals people living together…

1. Have a definite list of what both of you do, and divide the housework. 

It is very important to take an inventory of what housework both of you handle in the household. Oftentimes we forget what our partners do and only focus on what they don’t do. Also, sometimes our partners don’t realize what we do and therefore don’t feel the need to step up. 

Both of you need to sit down and make a list together. The piece of paper with two columns, one is your side, and one is his side. List out what you do and what he does. If you two see that your list is long and he’s super short, Then, ask him what he would like to do about it. Just do that list, then both of you would see what housework needs to be done, who is doing it now, and how unfair things are. There is no nagging, no need to talk, no need to have emotions about it. This is purely taking an inventory of what needs to be done and who does what. This process can be very pragmatic and practical.

 If he doesn’t want to discuss things, you can say “you don’t have to talk, but this would help a lot. Perhaps, use a pen to cross out some of the things on my column and put it on your column.”

2. Are you doing too much, especially when he doesn’t do it? 

3. Instead of nagging, consider using natural consequences.

If he is responsible for certain housework, do not do it when he doesn’t do it. Do not enable him. If you rescue him, he’ll never learn. BBS poop, he picks her up, he cleans up. You don’t do it for him. If he is supposed to take the leftover out and doesn’t, put it in front of him before serving meals and say, “this is still here. Can you take this out so I have room to put dinner down?” If he is responsible to take the garbage bag out to the garbage can, if he doesn’t do it, put on his shoes for him to easy access. Don’t have to be mean or naggy. Just tell him you don’t know where else to put it.

Remember, it’s not revenge that you put things on his dinner plate or shoes. Tell him gently you run out of places to put the things he is supposed to do and you can’t do them. But let him know beforehand you’re going to do this. “Honey, you say you’re going to put the garbage out, it’s still here. I don’t know where else to put it, I’m gonna put it on your shoes. Do it when you’re ready. But don’t wait too long though, it might leak. Thanks!” If it leaks, it’s on him, “oh I’m sorry that it leaked. I informed you of this. Now go wash your shoes off.” He should be the one cleaning his shoes. And tell him you don’t have time to do it. He can either wash his shoes or wait until you do it but you don’t do it.

Our husbands need to know that our boundaries mean something. In my case, when I tell my husband I’m not doing something, I don’t do it. My husband would leave his socks in the living room. I toss them. He asked me where are his socks, I ask him, “is it in the hamper?” He said no. Then I said I don’t know where it is. When he first does that, I told him I would toss it I let him know, and then follow through. No socks in the living room after a few times.

Treat him like an adult, not necessarily strict. He doesn’t like to be nagged like a child. When we nag, it becomes like a parent-child relationship where he is very likely going to resist. Whatever you do, don’t nag. It will have a very opposite effect.

Seek Help

Seeking some help from a licensed mental health professional could also help the two of you to work together as a couple in these situations. You are not alone. Even research shows that more than 50% of couples fight over housework, and many of them turn to therapists for counseling. We’re afraid things get worse for you. Book an appointment and see how we can help.

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