The Great Housework Debate

Malia pictureA couple of weeks ago, Ivy had a brief post about how she was trying to write a Home-Ec 101 post on getting your husband to help with the housework. It really is a conundrum of problem. Division of household duties is high on the list of problems that couples experience. I perused three Internet articles about it and while all three articles had good things to say and great advice to dole out. I still sat there wondering exactly how I could “get” David to help me out more with housework.

Housework has always been an issue between me and David. There has never been a time in our marriage, before or after children, that housework has not presented some sort of obstacle or hurdle for us to overcome. The only time in our relationship that housework has not been an issue was before marriage when we physically did not live under the same roof! It’s ongoing struggle.

Through the years, though, I have learned a few things:

1. Nagging is bad, asking is good: There is a difference between nagging and asking. An on-line article from ParentCenter.com, “Ending the Chore Wars – how to get your mate to help on the home front” by Gail O’Connor, says this about nagging:

Be firm, but resist nagging. “Nagging isn’t very assertive — it’s humiliating to the person doing the nagging and annoying to the person being nagged,”

While I feel that I don’t often nag, I do have a hard time asking. This is because from my perspective, requesting help with housework brings up two issues for me.

  • The first one is that I don’t want to feel like I’m his mother. I’m already the mother of two children and I “request” their assistance with things around the house on a daily basis. Whenever I ask for David’s help, I often feel as though I’m having to “parent” him into helping me. However, I have learned (though I have a hard time internalizing it) that David does not hear my requests for help as being “mothered”, he just wants to know what it is I want/need help with. I prefer him to ask me what I want done. To me that shows he not only cares about my needs and concerns but that he also cares about our home. But I now know, that if I really want his help, I must be the one to do the asking.
  • The second is that it hurts my pride to admit needing help. In the deep, dark corners of my brain I want to be SuperMom/Wife. I want to be able to do it all and do it all very well. I’m the stay-at-home parent, I have ALL day to get these things done. I secretly fear that David is going to think of me as lazy or a slacker if I ask him to do something that I feel I could have/should have accomplished during the day.

2. Don’t bribe with sexual favors: While it’s true that women often feel more amorous towards their husbands if said husbands help pick up the slack around the house, it’s never a good idea to bribe them with sex. (My comment at Ivy’s, if you clicked on that link, was a joke y’all!) In the end, you’ll both just feel manipulated. It cheapens that intimacy between you as a couple when you start using sex like currency.

3. Let him know you appreciate his help: I’m really bad about this one. The struggle in my head is twofold. I do a lot of thankless tasks around the house, why should he expect gratitude? But…how much would I like to be thanked for what I do? Women’s FAQ Blog of Daily News, Articles and Media says this in their post entitled, “How to Get Your Husband to Help Around the House“:

Clearly, when our husbands help us around the house, we can interpret that as a sign of love, which, in turn, helps us find them more attractive. But here’s the catch. When our husbands help, they typically want to know that their work is appreciated. While we are likely to see their contribution as a natural part of their marital duty, they are more likely to see it as a special favor that they are doing for us. This can be a tough concept for liberated women like us to accept. (emphasis mine)

Basically, a little gratitude goes a long way.

4. Give him time to relax when he gets home from work: While I’m working all day at home doing “my job”, he works ALL day at a very demanding job and when he gets home, he needs to relax. At PioneerThinking.com, Edel Jarboe writes an article called, “Sweat Equity” and says:

Don’t launch into a list of things to do as soon as the your mate walks in the door. Give him time to unwind from one job before he has to tackle another one. In other words, take your mate’s feelings into account. If he’s just settled down to watch his favorite television show, he is not going to be too receptive to your cleaning requests.

I know it may sound obvious and and you’re sitting there saying, “Well, Duh!” but I find that it easy to forget this small but important fact.

5. And finally the three “C’s” of any good relationship – communication, communication, communication: Don’t assume your husband can read your mind and know that the reason you’re standing at the kitchen sink, heavily sighing every 30 seconds is because you think he should be the one doing the dishes. After all you cooked the meal, right? He should help with clean-up. Again from Edel Jarboe:

If your partner really is doing what he can around the house, ease up a little. Think about it. Wouldn’t you rather spend the little time you have together pleasantly, rather than fighting about whose turn it is to unload the dishwasher? In other words, make sure you and your mate are clear about each other’s housework expectations. This is the key to housework harmony.

Communicating about housework is not easy. In fact, as I’ve tried to write this post, David and I have been trying to communicate about it via instant messaging. We apparently have some really strong feelings about it and still, after almost twelve years of marriage, don’t see eye to eye on the issue. I want to know if he’s willing to help out, he wants to keep priorities straight.

I guess it will always be, “The Great Housework Debate” for us.

Note: regarding these posts about marriage, please see my Disclaimer

30 Comments

Filed under by Malia, love & marriage

30 responses to “The Great Housework Debate

  1. First I have to admit that I am very spoiled. Jay is EXCELLENT at doing housework. I believe that there are several reasons for this.

    1. We both have always worked outside the home.
    2. He understands that this is OUR house, so WE take care of it.
    3. He knows that this is one way to show love and respect to me.
    4. He doesn’t have strong feelings about the house being in order and clean! WHEW!

    Now how did he come to these conclusions? I will be happy to tell you….

    When we first got married and got pregnant 6 weeks later….our lives went into survival mode and we had to have some long talks. They weren’t all productive and it took some time for us to find ways to communicate effectively BUT we did it.

    We wrote down the list of household chores to be done weekly and divided them according to what we like to do. Believe it or not when they get to pick what chore they do…it goes much better! Then we each had to pick a chore we hated to do. That way resentment didn’t build up that I was doing something I hated and he didn’t have to.

    I had to teach Jay how to do laundry, mop a kitchen and clean a bathroom. He had NEVER done those things.

    Now when I stayed home in the summers, I took over all the chores and made that same list and accomplished some everyday–I was fly before flylady. I have found thru my 17 1/2 years of marriage that when my house is in order then my life seems to run more smoothly. I can stay on top of things. My mood and temperment are so much better too….On those occasions that the house did get out of control, I would kindly ask Jay to either help me or take the kids somewhere for the day so I could get back into control.

    I don’t know if this helps anyone or not. Spending time with your kids is THE most important job. Remember…one day they will be gone out of the house….then it can truly be clean because you will have done what God has asked you to do with raising your kids.

  2. Malia

    I really like your #2 point.

  3. Great post, thank you so much, Malia!!

  4. Nice article.. My wife often complains about not being appreciated. I’ll give domestic duties a try.

  5. This is a great post.

    David,
    A great way to unwind in the afternoon is to kick your wife out of the kitchen, turn on sports talk radio, and clean. Especially the dishes. There’s just something about the running water and suds that helps me relax.

    Women generally don’t understand our need for “tune out” time, but they’ll give you all the time you need, if you’re doing housework.

    And – a woman only has so much energy. If she can conserve it when cleaning time is going on, who knows what she could use that energy for later? ;) Just sayin’.

  6. Lisa

    Wow, thanks for this post. A lot of it does seem like common sense stuff that I should know after 7 & 1/2 years of marriage … yet it’s sooo much easier to squabble about who’s not doing what than it is to nicely request some help. I would say you can relate well to women all across the country. I look forward to giving my hubby a break when he comes home tonight … and then politely asking if he would help me with the dishes. :) Nice job, Malia!

  7. Women generally don’t understand our need for “tune out” time, but they’ll give you all the time you need, if you’re doing housework.

    I hate housework and my better half is practically OCD about cleaning. I will gladly give him ALL the tune out time he needs. ;)

  8. Malia

    Slarti,
    Fortunately for David, my energies don’t easily wane. So that whole argument is moot point in our bedroom home.

    Lisa,
    Thanks!

  9. Malia

    Thing is Lynnster, I don’t especially “like” doing housework either but it’s one of those “has to be done” sort of things! I do like having a home that is clean and not cluttered but it’s hard for me to find the motiviation to do it since I really don’t enjoy any of the tasks. Except making our bed, I love making our bed!

  10. Well, like I said, mine is practically OCD about cleaning so when we’re living in the same house again, I’m looking forward to letting him do all of it if he wants! He won’t like the way I do anything cleaning-wise anyway so I’ll be happy to let him go to town on it. Hehe. :)

  11. Pingback: Nashville is Talking » Don’t Do Windows

  12. I agree with Slarti, there are chores around here that I love to do. The others, I try to get out of the way early in my day. Folding clothes, for instance, is relaxing. I also am the only one in the house that does it to my liking. Likewise, shopping and cooking. Dishes can be relaxing, unless i know i have to turn right back around and cook again. That gets old as hell. I hate to “pick up”. Clutter drives me crazy, so I avoid the children’s rooms like the plague. And I positively hate making beds.

    Bottom line, guys need to get over their aversion to housework. Whether it gets you laid or not…

  13. Great post Malia, and its definitely useful since I’m going to be married in a month!

  14. amy

    I’m blessed to have a husband who does help me do some things around the house. But on the whole, because I stay home, it seems to me that it’s not really fair for me to ask him to do a lot. The yardwork, heavy lifting stuff, etc is his responsibility–but otherwise, he has his own job. Homemaking is my job. I don’t go to his office and do some of his work for him–why should I expect him to come home after completing his job, and then do my job too?

    It’s a different story if both spouses work. But if one IS the “homemaker,” to me it only makes sense that the lion’s share of the housework falls on that person.

  15. Something I learned early on….

    Male defition of clean is rarely in line with female definition of clean.

    For example… I once mopped up the kitchen floor before the wife came home… but 15 minutes before she arrived… the muddy dogs ran all over it.

    Solution?

    I through a bunch of fruity pebbles all over the floor which the dogs happy licked up.

    5 minutes…. clean floor… happy wife.

    Now… to many males that floor was not clean… but to many others of us… it was. Why? Because it looked clean.

    A girl would never do that.

    Of course… We solved the chore debate years ago… buy hiring a maid. She comes along once a week and saves my marriage.

    Money. Well. Spent.

  16. Malia

    Amy, I am a stay-at-home mom and I accept and agree to the fact that the majority of the housework falls to me. I know this will sound a bit condescending and I’m sorry, but you may feel a bit differently after the baby arrives.

    I can appreciate your analogy regarding going to his job and doing his work but I just don’t see it the same way. First, I tend to agree with Ellyn, it’s OUR house, WE take care of it. Second, I don’t think the analogy works all that well since his job requires a specific skill set (meaning I couldn’t “do” his job for him) and it is separate from our home life. Helping me out at home does not require knowledge he does not have and he is apart of our home. Third, I’m NOT asking him to “do” my job for me. I’m not asking for a 50/50 split, I’m not even asking for an 80/20 split especially since, for the most part, he takes care of the outside work. I would just like some consistent help. I’d like to know he’ll do the dishes after dinner or that he’ll fold a load of laundry or two as he watches evening television (as I often do). I feel that what is mostly missing is the consistency.

    Nate,
    You’re very right about definitions of clean between the sexes. That was something else that was mentioned in one of those articles and something that I’ve really tried to learn and accept over the years. If I want David to help, I have to understand that he’s going to do it differently from me and that’s OKAY! Different does not equal wrong. He parents differently than I do and he loads the dishwasher and folds the towels differently that I do. For some reason I have an easier time accepting the former and not the latter!

  17. amy

    I know this will sound a bit condescending and I’m sorry, but you may feel a bit differently after the baby arrives.

    Not condescending at all :) I thought of that when I was commenting–and I understand that kids change the scenario. Certainly when our baby is born, I’ll need more help from hubby–especially at first. And obviously a mom with kids to look after has more messes, and less time to clean them up!

    As for the rest, we might just have to agree to disagree :) Without knowing details, it could be also that what my husband does is different from what your husband does, and therefore that colors our perspectives dramatically. Hope you and yours reach a happy consensus on the great debate!

  18. Malia

    we might just have to agree to disagree

    That’s pretty much my life’s credo! Thanks for your comments! :D

  19. Since my reputation as the “world’s greatest husband” has been sullied and dragged through the mud with this post, I feel compelled to defend myself. Well, not really, just thought I would chime in. Go fetch your rotten tomatoes and sexist pig signs while I hit the carriage return for a new paragraph.

    Every relationship is different. What works in one situation will not always work in any other. We all have baggage, we all have different priorities and ideals. Some of my baggage comes from my parents’ relationship. My mom stayed home working hard all day keeping an immaculate house while my dad worked hard all day at the salt mine. As a small child I remember watching my mother literally clean the entire house each and every day and still have time to watch her soap operas. It is difficult to overcome that imprint placed in my brain as to what a “homemaker” is “supposed” to be. I don’t know what arrangement my parents had that made that work for them, but I know it wouldn’t work for Malia and me. My marriage is not my parents’ and my wife is definitely NOT my mother.

    It is the responsibility of each party in a relationship to ensure their own satisfaction. For example, if Malia gets angry that I am not doing enough housework to make her feel like I care about it, it is her responsibility to do something. I would hope she would first talk to me about it before it became an issue large enough to become angry over or to write a well-researched blog post (full disclosure: she did pass this post by me before she posted it). I may simply be oblivious to the fact of my slackerhood thinking that I am properly contributing to the well-being of the household.

    Lastly, my kids and marriage are far greater priorities over housework, hence the purchase of the Roomba and Robomower. I have a maximum of 2 hours with the kids each day and I am certainly going to spend that time with them leaving a mere 2 hours at the end of each night to make love to my wife. This is also a major reason I don’t mind a dirty house (even though a clean house gives me great peace).

    If you haven’t thrown your rotten tomatoes, please do so now. I am off to my Sexist Pigs Anonymous meeting.

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  21. nate zuckerman

    My wife gives me w!ld s*%, during the day, for 3 hours after I clean the house (with her help) as a bonus, added on to our usual marital [soirees]. It works! I enjoy the cleaning knowing I will soon be sporting about in a very clean environment and my wife enjoys a clean place, a helpful mate, and some fun when the job is done. Try it!

    This comment has been edited by the blog administrators

  22. While we don’t want to censor much on this blog, we also don’t want spam-friendly comments. I know I started us down that primrose path with my comment, but please try to choose words wisely to help us avoid Sir Spamalot visiting our blog.

  23. These debates happen around our house as well. Here are some points that have made it easier to agree:
    1) You can tell me what to do or how to do it, but not both. The first part sounds bad, but it comes back to Malia’s point about asking and Nate’s point about ideas of clean being different. If I ask my husband to do the laundry, then he gets to do it his way.

    2) We try to remember to thank each other for the work that gets done. For awhile, I felt like I was patting him on the back for doing a load of dishes while I got no positive feedback for tackling the rest of the house. Now he makes an effort, and so do I.

    3) We’ve lowered our standards. With a child in the house and the work schedule we accomodate, there simply isn’t the time, energy or inclination to keep the house clean like we used to. Don’t get me wrong — we don’t live in filth — but we’ve got our fair share of dust bunnies under the bed.

    Excellent discussion here!

  24. Monica

    I think each partner needs to have their own tasks that they are responsible for. This is OUR home, not just mine, and I believe my husband should take equal responsibility in taking care of it. This means that it is not MY responsibility which he is good enough to “help” me with. Rather, it is for both of us, and we decide how to split the tasks fairly.

    This is in a situation where both partners work full-time. I understand that it would be different if one partner is not employed (by choice or otherwise).

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  26. Tami

    While I understand your point about allowing your husband time to unwind when he first gets home from work, I don’t necessarily agree. I also work full-time outside the home and I don’t have the luxury of “unwinding” before I have to tackle my “homework”. We have a 10 year-old daughter and as soon as we walk in the door she has to put away her things and start homework. My husband says he’s tired after a long day at work (like I’m not) and doesn’t want to do anything that requires too much effort. About all he does during the week is feed our dogs and take out the trash twice a week. Then on the weekend he has the attitude that “it’s the weekend” doesn’t want to spend it cleaning. My question to him is if he’s too tired during the week and the weekends are just for fun, when is the work supposed to get done?!?!? Needless to say, our home is never is great shape. I’m not a neat freak (but would love to have a perfectly clean home), but I can’t stand the constant state of chaos and disarray, because I can’t do it all. Any advice!?!?!?

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