In a perfect world, you would wake up each day to a completely clean house, fresh laundry and zeros errands. Now wouldn’t that be great? The problem is, we unfortunately do not live in a perfect world. We live in the real world, where there are dishes to do, laundry to wash and fold, doctor appointments to be made and a myriad of other chores that need completing on any given day. If you bring children into the picture, the list quadruples in length. With children, comes the addition of driving from one extracurricular activity to another, helping with homework and the overall job of just keeping them alive for a few days.
Next to finances and sex, the most prevalent issue I see in couple’s therapy is the division of household chores and the lack of help in the raising of children. It is not uncommon for both spouses to work and still have only one partner tasked with the responsibility of making sure everything gets done in the home and having anything to do with the children. On the surface, things may look fine and, oftentimes, the spouse pulling the larger share of the load stops even bothering to ask for help. Underneath though, over time, resentment can slowly build and erode the foundation of even the happiest of relationships. No matter how much you love someone, when a person feels like their partner takes everything they do for granted and never bothers to offer help, frustration sets in. Over time, that frustration then turns into anger and resentment because it just continues to fester if not discussed and worked out.
So, you may ask, how do you keep this from happening? Well, let’s look at how you can begin to find a solution.
Address The Issue
We are all a product of our upbringing and the values and morals instilled in us by our parents. This means we are bound to have different views and opinions on how things should be done. One mistake many couples make is failing to discuss their expectations prior to getting married. When expectations are not discussed ahead of time, it is very easy for people to fall into the roles common to them.
For instance, one partner may have grown up in a home where cleanliness was not a huge issue. Maybe their house was in a constant state of clutter. It isn’t necessarily that they are failing to help out with chores; it may just be they do not see the mess in the same way.
Another possible issue could be they grew up in a home where only one person did any of the chores and childrearing. If they are used to being in a home where only one spouse takes care of things, it stands to reason they may not fully understand they should be helping and handling fifty percent of the things to be done.
While it would be great if household expectations were discussed before every marriage, it is never too late to change things, so do not feel discouraged if you fall into this category. If you feel you are doing more than your fair share, set your spouse down and tell them how you are feeling. It might be helpful to have examples to refer to, so you ensure you touch on everything. It is not uncommon for a spouse to get defensive and ask for specific examples of what they are failing to assist with. Better to have your thoughts together than to get tongue-tied and accomplish little to nothing with your talk.
Don’t just complain about what they are failing to do, tell your partner how the problem is making you feel. It is human nature to become defensive when we feel attacked, so you want to make sure your spouse doesn’t feel as if you are “nagging” or complaining just to pick a fight. They need to fully understand how upset you are over the issue and see how this could impact your future as a couple if something does not change.
Decide What Is Most Important
The best way to get started is to work together to make a list of everything that needs to be done on a weekly or monthly basis and any extras you can think of. For example, dishes and laundry are the former because you will have to do these things every week. In contrast, setting doctor’s appointments is not something that has to be done every week/month so you could list this under extras. Make sure to include in your weekly/monthly list things such as picking up and dropping off children at school or activities, making a list and buying groceries, paying bills, yard maintenance, etc. The more you list up front, the less confusion there will be later as to who is responsible for what.
Once your list is made, discuss which things are priorities for each of you. Life has a way of changing even the best laid plans so, no matter how much you want everything on the list done exactly as planned, there will be times things come up preventing that. If you are both aware of what is the highest priority, it will be easier to make sure certain things get done no matter what you have going on.
To give an idea, one of you may have a big project at work causing you to work overtime for a time. Your list for the week may include laundry and dishes. However, if you are getting in late every night, there will be nights you may not feel like doing the dishes when you finally make it home. If this is a priority item for your spouse, you could make the decision to have this on their list for the week, therefore alleviating the chance of them getting frustrated with dishes sitting in the sink overnight.
Reevaluate As Needed
In the example above, we discussed how working overtime in a given week could cause issues in one partner completing their tasks. This is why it is important to sit down periodically and reevaluate your list of chores and decide who needs to be responsible for each item. Also, by doing this, you can mix things up so nobody is doing the same chores week after week.
It might be a good idea to have a quick meeting on a predetermined day to discuss everything going on for the upcoming week. This will allow for any “extras” to be added to that week’s list, and also ensure chores are divided in the most practical way for your schedules for that time period. A helpful item to utilize would be a family calendar. You could hang a calendar in your kitchen so everyone can see what is going on or, if you are more tech savvy, create a shared calendar online. A shared calendar can also come in handy when needing to keep up with things going on with kids, such as which days they need to be at certain locations for after school events or appointments.
When going over the list, think about a realistic timeframe you each expect tasks completed within. Let’s say you like to come home each evening and relax. In this case, you might be more inclined to save all the laundry for a weekend day and do it all in one afternoon. However, your spouse may be the type that would rather come home each day and do a load, so it never piles up. Either way is fine, provided you both understand the timeframe in which the chore will be completed. Otherwise, you might run into a misunderstanding in which your spouse thinks you are failing to complete your share of the list when they do not see you doing laundry during the week.
You also want to make sure you are each being realistic about your expectations of how things are done. If you must have towels folded a certain way, then you should be folding them. It is not fair for either of you to expect the other to help with a chore and then complain about the way it is completed. Everyone is different in the way they like for things to be done and in the timeframe they complete tasks. The sooner this is acknowledged, the more smoothly things will run. If you are reading this and you are the spouse currently doing everything, you must realize that right now you will have to relinquish some control over how things are done if you expect others to help.
If you have children, they should be included in household chores. Even children as young as three can do simple things, such as wiping off the table or folding washcloths and towels. Older kids can help with even more. Include your children in making the chore list and try to let them choose some of the chores they want. Not only does this keep kids from just laying around all of the time, it is teaching them basic life skills they will need later. There is nothing worse than seeing an adult that cannot wash a load of laundry or cook a simple meal. These are things children should be learning anyway for their own good.
When all else fails, consider outside help. There is no shame in hiring a housekeeper. Gone are the days of every mom staying home. There are more women in the workforce now than ever before. With both spouses working outside the home, more and more families are deciding to have someone come in to help with household chores. Even if only on a biweekly or monthly basis, having an extra set of hands on deck can be a huge help.
Remember, the most important thing is to do something. It is easy to just continue to go with the status quo so as to not rock the boat. The problem with that is if nothing changes, nothing changes; meaning, things will continue to steadily get worse rather than changing for the better. Spouses that feel as if they do not have any help in the home eventually start to resent their partner and this has a way of causing a marriage to implode.
The article is provided by Candice Lawhorn, M.Ed., LPC, NCC
Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in family issues, divorce and co-parentingwww.bevillandassociates.com