If there’s one thing that almost all couples who live together argue about, it’s completing chores. Although it’s not the sexiest thing to discuss, it’s something no couple can avoid, even when they try to brush this topic under the rug (pun intended).
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However, it’s incredibly important for couples to be on the same page about household responsibilities. Not only will their home be cleaned more often, but it helps mitigate arguments and misunderstandings. “Chores are a small yet vital way that couples show care for one another, their home, and their relationship. If couples are not on the same page about these tasks, one partner will likely do the brunt of the chores and feel resentful or as though their partner doesn’t care about them,” marriage and family therapist Justine Mastin explains.
But why do couples fight about chores in the first place? Well, according to marriage and family therapist Corrin Voeller, your childhood might be the one to blame. “We often repeat what we [saw] growing up or what was expected of us, so when you live with someone who grew up in a different household, you will have different experiences,” Voeller says. “Both of you will think your experience is the right one and your partner’s is the wrong one. Then, the fighting begins.”
The good news is is that there’s a way to navigate this very common issue. So, to get to the bottom of this argument, we connected with a few relationship experts to provide a step-by-step guide on how to make sure that you’re on the same page about household chores with your partner — or get there quickly.
1. Discuss your frustrations when you and your partner are calm
If there’s one thing that you should remember for any and all arguments, it’s to never discuss how you feel about a situation when your emotions are at an all-time high. While your feelings are completely valid, your tone and volume might distract your partner from hearing what you’re saying. “Many times chore discussions become arguments because one partner brings up something that the other partner isn’t doing,” Mastin says. “It’s very common for couples to make assumptions that their partner should ‘just know’ what chores need to get done when really this must be a discussion.”
So, before you make any assumptions and jump down your partner’s throat for not throwing out the garbage for the fifteenth time, Voeller says you should think about two things before you sit down and discuss how you feel. “[Ask yourself] ‘How does the imbalance make [me] feel?’ And ‘what specific behavioral changes would [I] like to see occur?’ Now, communicate to your partner what you’re feeling about the perceived imbalance of chores and what you like them to do,” Voeller explains.
When all of this is said and done, try to talk to your partner by only using “I statements.” For example, Voeller says you can say, “I’ve been feeling frustrated lately because it feels like I’m taking on doing more of the dishes. I would like it if we could switch off doing the dishes every other day so it feels fairer. How can we make this happen?” As long as you’re calm, open, and can articulate what you’re hoping for both of you to accomplish, then it should be all gravy between you and your partner.
2. Be understanding of each of your histories
“Remember that each of us grew up in different households,” Mastin says. “It’s very common for people to believe that the way things were done in their childhood home is ‘the right way,’ but the truth is that there is no right way to do anything.”
To tackle this issue head-on, it’s best to discuss both of your point of views and try to create a routine that’ll work for the both of you. “Partners need to decide what works best for them in their current lives, so I would invite couples to be mindful of when they start butting heads around chores and ask themselves if they’re fighting to do things as they’ve always done them and are resistant to change,” Mastin continues.
3. Account for every chore that needs to be done
Right when you both decide to sit down and talk about chores, it’s a good idea to initially list all the tasks that need to get accomplished in the house on a piece of paper to visually see everything that needs to get done on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. “[I]f you don’t talk about the list, you won’t get these things done. Trust me, don’t assume your partner will wipe out the sink because you don’t like water spots,” board-certified sexologist, Dr. Tammy Nelson says.
After you list everything out, you and your partner can discuss who does what chore and the expectations you both have. This is also a really great time to negotiate with your S.O. about the chores you prefer not to do. “If you hate an activity, chances are your partner won’t have negative feelings about it,” Voeller says. “Try to approach negotiations with a little humor and feel free to make it fun. Talking about splitting up chores sounds boring as hell but it doesn’t have to be.”
4. Pick specific days to complete household chores
Your S.O. might have a completely different schedule than you and might not be able to clean the house the same day that you do. Rather than forcing them to do things your way, opt for a more flexible understanding so it’s a win-win for you and your partner. “Choose the days that things get done and agree on when the best time is to do them. Workaround each other’s schedule and let each other know when and why that works for you,” says Nelson.
5. Don’t criticize how they choose to accomplish their chores
“If you don’t like the way your partner does something, then switch it up. Take over paying the bills if you feel like you could do a better job. But don’t tell them how to do it unless they ask for help,” Nelson says. “If it’s their job, let them do it. If they go to the grocery store, don’t tell them all the ways they shopped for the wrong food. Go shopping yourself if it means that much to you.” Criticizing your partner on how they choose to accomplish their chores will only create more unnecessary tension in the household.
However, if they are doing something that bothers you, try to stay away from using absolutes when you speak to them (i.e. “You never, I always, I do everything, you do nothing,” etc.). “Even if it’s true, human nature will most likely have the person wanting to defend themselves. We hate being told we never do something and will automatically think of the one time we’ve done that activity and then spend all our energy defending ourselves,” Voeller says. “If you are the one who feels like you do more, do yourself a favor and not mention it in an absolute because you’re not going to get what you wanted if you do.”
6. Consider hacking your chores together
If push comes to shove and neither of you can accomplish everything on the list, opt for quick-and-easy solutions that can help make life a lot easier. “Maybe buy some things that get the job done for you, like [a] toilet bowl cleaner or a Roomba, or talk about maintaining things so they stay clean. [For instance, you can] wipe out the sink every time you use it or wash your dish right away so nothing piles up,” Voeller says.
7. Have an open running dialogue with your partner
The laundry list of chores that need to get done is never-ending. Just because you have one successful meeting about who does what in the house doesn’t mean that conversation is dead and done. “Try to have an open running dialogue about [chores]. Make it normal to discuss how you’re both feeling about them so you don’t have resentment building up,” Voeller says. “Also, remember you are on the same team. You both want to feel good and want the other person to be happy with you.”
8. Show gratitude
At the end of the day, it’s important to show appreciation to your partner, especially during the early stages of this new routine. While you and your S.O. might still be working out the kinks, expressing gratitude can help create a more lasting positive environment for both of you. “For some partners, [showing gratitude] can be difficult, as they don’t believe they should thank their partner for doing their fair share,” Mastin says. “[C]onsider once a day simply thanking your partner for something that they did, even if it was an agreed-upon task (i.e. ‘I really appreciated that you emptied the dishwasher this morning.’).”
9. Hire someone
“If you both hate cleaning the house, hire someone,” Nelson advises. “Decide between the both of you what your priorities are around spending time together.” While this is completely contingent on either of your financial incomes, having an honest and open discussion about hiring someone to help clean the house could make things easier. “If you’d rather use that time you would otherwise be doing chores by hanging out at the park or going to a movie, then, by all means, save your money and spend it wisely. Your relationship deserves it,” Nelson continues.
While it might take a little elbow grease and a lot of open dialogue to get on the same page about household chores, it’s worth taking the extra mile to have a better understanding of what makes you and your partner happy. Plus, the less time you both have to think about accomplishing chores, the more you can focus on each other, which is always a good thing.