What to do when your partner doesn’t help with the housework
If it feels like your partner doesn’t help with the housework – or doesn’t help enough – you’re not alone. It’s an incredibly common complaint, whether you’re a couple new to living together or a married couple that have co-habitated for decades.
Nearly everybody goes through periods of feeling like they’re doing everything around the house, and in some cases, it can lead to serious relationship problems.
So let’s nip that feeling in the bud and take an active approach to managing it. Read on to arm yourself with the knowledge you need to even the scales when it comes to housework in your relationship.
Read more: How to make a couples’ chore chart (that actually works)
Why is uneven housework bad?
As any couple in a long-term relationship will tell you, the bedrock of a successful marriage is understanding that you’re partners in all things. In love, in life, and in running the household.
This includes the chores and duties that come with living alongside someone else, such as:
- Home maintenance
- Managing finances
- Planning family activities
- Arranging transport (e.g. driving or public transport)
Every couple has their own way of managing these tasks and who does them. Some people like to rotate jobs, other people like to have individual lists, and some people don’t organise anything at all and somehow still manage to get the dishes away (definitely some sorcery going on there).
The problems arise when the housework feels uneven. When one partner feels like they’re having to do more than their fair share, then they start feeling like less than an equal partner and more like a maid.
Uneven housework can result in:
- Poor marital satisfaction.
- Increased distress.
- Worse mental health.
One Pew Research study found that 62 percent of married couples considered ‘sharing household chores’ to be very important for a successful marriage. It was more important than having adequate income or even shared tastes and interests.
In other words, if someone feels like they’re having to bring home the bacon and cook it too – well, they won’t be as happy as a pig in mud. No more animal metaphors, I promise.
Why does housework end up uneven?
In the past, the uneven division of housework could be blamed on the make-up of the labor force. Think about the classic 1950’s housewife who does cooking, cleaning, and childcare, while the husband would work outside of the home.
While there has been a shift in this traditional allocation of labor, the reality is that there’s still a lot of inequity in housework. There’s far greater representation of women in paid work, but they’re still tasked with the same jobs as in the past: cooking, cleaning, childcare and all the other work involved in running a household and caring for a family.
Other factors that can end up with a couple that has uneven division of housework include:
- Beliefs about equality. Each partner can have very different beliefs about how work should be divided, and that results in conscious or unconscious division of housework, sometimes unequally.
- Parental leave hangovers. Depending on where they live, some partners may have the chance to go on parental leave and temporarily exit the workforce while their other half continues working. This can result in the partner on parental leave taking care of the bulk of the childcare and other duties, which then doesn’t change even after they return to work.
- Weaponized incompetence. Now there’s a buzzword with bite. Weaponised incompetence is when someone pretends to be bad at doing chores so their partner ends up taking over to make sure it gets done properly. This forces them to take on additional work or risk not having a critical chore completed. It’s underhanded but not always intentionally malicious.
How to share housework better
If you or your partner feel like the division of housework is unfair, then the first step is always to talk about it. A good relationship is all about communication; being able to hear each other and discuss your individual needs and concerns openly. You can’t just sit and hope your partner will notice your dissatisfaction – there’s a chance they won’t and you’ll end up overworked and bitter. Not a good combo.
This is how to structure that discussion:
1. What are your priorities for housework?
Start your conversation by figuring out what the most important household chores are for both of you. Compromise is key here – but so are boundaries. A few good places to start would be doing the dishes, making the beds, clearing up after the kids, and doing the cooking. Which are the ones that you personally absolutely must have done to be happy? You may not be bothered by the bottom sheet being untucked, but it could drive your partner completely crazy.
2. What are your chore preferences?
Not all chores are made equal. Some are harder than others – but only for some people. Individually rank the mandatory chores in order of preference. You’ll probably find that some of the tasks you hate, your partner can tolerate, and vice versa.
And for the truly horrible ones that you both detest? Looking at you, ‘cleaning the toilets’. That’s a great opportunity to work together to tackle it. You might be surprised at how much a shared chore can bring you closer together and a chore shared is a chore halved.
3. Pause for agreement.
You’ve got your priorities and you’ve got a list of jobs in preference order for each person. Time to stop, chat, and make sure that you both feel the lists are fair in terms of tasks and in terms of volume. Remember that housework doesn’t need to be split 50/50 to be fair. Some partners have more time and/or energy than others. It’s okay to be weighted one way as long as everybody agrees.
4. What is your timetable/plan of attack?
Once your household tasks are listed and ranked, it’s time to put them into a chore chart and figure out the organization aspect i.e. when do these tasks need to be done. Be especially considerate of one another at this stage. Some people are happy to deal with chores first thing in the morning, others prefer to handle them when they’ve built up momentum after a day at work. Allow yourself and your partner to deal with chores in your own preferred ways.
5. When will you next check in?
You don’t want that unfairness to creep back in so you must make a regularly scheduled catchup to see what’s working, what’s not, and what might impact your agreed way of doing things. New events, errands, special occasions, etc. Touch base regularly to make sure everybody is still happy.
6. What will you do if it still doesn’t work?
Sometimes it takes a while to get into a new groove. Sometimes there’s simply too much to handle by yourselves. A new schedule can help balance the scales of uneven housework, but even best-laid plans rarely survive contact with the enemy – the enemy in this case being the pile of dishes in the sink.
Many couples choose to hire a cleaning service to help ease the strain, even if it’s only once a fortnight. Others reach out to family to help with childcare. The first step to manage a housework schedule that isn’t working should be to re-evaluate what’s doable, but if that’s still not enough, don’t be afraid to reach out to others.
Housework is a necessary evil for couples living together, but you don’t need to let it get in the way of your relationship. Finding an easy way to assign and organize chores is half the battle – which is why we introduced To-Do, a new Cupla feature that provides a shared to-do list specifically for you and your partner. Combined with a shared couples’ calendar, it’s a great way to keep track of chores, make a list of date night ideas, or keep a secret list of anniversary gifts.