Relationship advice: How to get your husband to help with house work, without straining your relationship
How to get your husband to help with housework
Despite major gains by women in the last few decades, many women still face difficulty in the last bastion of domesticity: household chores. It is telling that several studies suggest that men who have wives that work and who have wives that stay at home contribute almost identical amounts of time to housework each week. Many women carry a full-time job in addition to bearing primary responsibility for childcare, which leaves little time, or patience, for bearing the full brunt of domestic chores as well. Rather than divorce your husband, it’s time to recruit him into the domestic workforce, to alleviate the pressure you feel and prevent major issues from developing in your marriage.
Step #1: Start early
Relationship patterns revolving around domestic duties develop early in a marriage, if not before, especially if a couple lives together prior to marriage. If you are doing most or all of the housework prior to marriage, it is not unreasonable for your husband to assume this will continue after marriage. First, examine your motives for performing all or most of the domestic duties: is it because your mother always did all the housework, and you are emulating her work habits? Or is it because your spouse finds convenient excuses for getting out of household chores, such as being tired from long work hours or working out at the gym? For many women, we approach housework with the attitude that it needs to be done, so we might as well be the ones to do it. However, what we end up doing in the process is setting ourselves up for a situation in which we voluntarily take on most of the housework, only to have it become overwhelming and depressing. So, take a good, honest look at why you are doing most of the housework. Pay attention to how you divide your duties: do you have a verbal agreement with your spouse that is not being honored, or are you taking the “martyr approach” to boost you self-esteem about your ability to run the house? If you recognize patterns early in your marriage that are shifting the majority of the housework to you, then it’s a good time to stop and examine the reasons why. If you are not yet married or newly married, take the time to sit down and talk to your fiancé or husband about both you and his attitudes and expectations regarding housework. For many newlyweds, this simple approach can lead to a mutual understanding within the marriage of who has responsibility for which portions of the housework.
Step #2: Figure out what housework means in your home
If a mere conversation won’t solve the inequity in your household, or if you’ve been married so long that it may be difficult to break out of old habits, then the next step is to sit down and make up a list of all the housework that needs to be done to keep your household running. When making up the list, break it down into individual components. For example, “grocery shopping” can be broken down into 1) planning the week’s meals, 2) writing out a shopping list, 3) organizing coupons and flyers from your local grocery store prior to your shopping trip, and 4) purchasing groceries. If you have one or more children, the number of duties can expand exponentially to include shuttling children to and from school, sports, and other activities. Make sure you include chores performed primarily by your spouse, such as yard work, so the list does not just represent your contributions. Next, write down who usually takes care of each item, or if it is equally shared. Also estimate the amount of time each activity takes per month. This list is important for two reasons: first, it gives you a realistic idea of the amount of housework that needs to be done, and second, it provides you with a concrete list of who is doing what around the house. This list is very important for approaching your husband about redistribution of chores around the house.
Step #3: Approaching your husband
It’s a truth of life: nobody likes a nag. If you are continually harping on your husband to perform housework and you’re getting nowhere, it’s not that he doesn’t hear you, he’s just choosing to ignore you. Quite often, men ignore the nagging because they know that if they ignore it long enough, their wife will eventually give in and do the chores themselves. You, however, are going to take an alternate approach that appeals to every man’s calm, rational side: you are going to bring evidence to your negotiation. Find a quiet time to sit down with your spouse, and bring your list of household duties. Calmly explain that you have been feeling overwhelmed by your share of the household duties, and would like to discuss some “job sharing options.” Show him your list of duties, including the amount of time each chore eats up from your daily schedule. Many men are surprised at the amount of work that goes into supposedly simple tasks like grocery shopping and keeping the family’s activity and social schedules organized. Be sure to point out the percentage of housework you perform in comparison to the total amount that needs to be done. The key point at this stage is to not assign blame to your spouse, as this will only cause your husband to become defensive and unwilling to listen to your ideas.
Next, make concrete suggestions as to how you would like to reorganize the share of household duties. BE SPECIFIC. While going through your list, underline any chores that you would like help with, so you can come back to these chores for negotiation purposes. Once you have gone through the whole list, it’s time to negotiate specific items. As you agree to items, write down whose responsibility it will be, and make sure there is a clear understanding of how often that particular chore needs to be performed. For example, if you need help with the laundry, make sure you write down how often laundry needs to be done (weekly, twice a week, etc.), and include all of its various activities (gathering, washing and drying, and redistributing clean clothes are all separate parts of laundry duties). Be willing to be flexible: if your husband hates mowing the grass on Sundays because it interferes with afternoon football games, offer to swap for a different chore that you may hate, such as scrubbing the bathroom shower each week. At the end of your discussion, you should have a list of household chores that is distributed more equally between you and your spouse.
Step #4: Making your agreement reality
We all know that having an agreement about who does what around the house, and the reality of who really does each chore, can be two wildly different things. After your negotiation with your husband, make up a new list of household duties, including frequency of each duty, and post it on the refrigerator as a reminder. If all goes well, then your burden should lift as your husband takes on more duties. However, if old habits start to reemerge, or if you notice that some or all of the duties are not getting done, there are two options: 1) gently remind your husband of your agreement, or 2) ignore his chores until he does them. It is very important that you do not give in and start performing his duties for him, or else you will be back at square one. It also may be time to take a step back and examine whether it’s worth your time to get upset over certain duties: while the streak of dirt on the kitchen floor may be driving you crazy, it may be worth more to your marriage to ignore it until the weekend when your husband has more time to perform this assigned duty. In the end, what is important is that you have a sense of equality in your marriage that lays a string foundation—after all, at your 50th wedding anniversary, it’s more important to know you’ve had a happy marriage, rather than knowing how clean your house was!