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Housework Blues
April 30, 2012 6:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm confused about how to equitably split up housework. I am messier than my spouse, and to him this means I should do all the housework. Help!

My husband, before I married him, was basically the ultimate bachelor. He never, ever cooked -- not even to microwave frozen dinners. He ate out for every meal, or got take out and ate it out of cardboard containers with disposable utensils which he then threw away. He didn't own a single dish, utensil or cup and went to the convenience store to buy bottled water if he got thirsty. Before living on his own he lived with his mother who did all the cooking and cleaning.

The problem is that since we have married my husband perceives himself to not ever generate housework. I am not sure if this is a true representation or if he's sort of idealizing his bachelor days, but he seems to feel that if it weren't for me living with him, he would (almost) never have to clean. And, accordingly, that I as the primary mess-maker should assume all of the cleaning duties.

I cook about six dinners a week and prepare him lunches every weekday that I send with him to work, so it's true that I generate most of the dishes and kitchen messes. I have long hair and sometimes hair clips fall out randomly and end up places they shouldn't be, and my hair is much more visible around the apartment than his is. We have a cat, which we adopted after we married (he encouraged me to adopt it), but all cat messes are 'my' messes and he never cleans up after the animal. It's true that I wanted a cat more than he did, but he is the one who brought up adopting a cat. I know he would not have a cat if he was single, though.

I am, without question, messier than he is. But I still feel confused about how to split up the housework. It's true that I generate more messes than he does, but I feel sort of bitter that this has (in his mind) condemned me to do all the housework for the rest of our lives. When we first married we both worked full time, and I did all the cooking and housework. Now I'm in grad school part time with a part time job and I do all the cooking and housework. I am okay with this arrangement right now since I am not working full time, but I don't want it to become ingrained so that I am still doing all the chores after I am working again.

He will clean, but he gets very angry about how much messier I am when he does, and it always devolves into an argument. I don't even want to ask him to help most of the time because I know it will turn into a huge argument about how I am a slob. I don't think I'm egregiously slobby; I'm a bit untidy but in my last relationship I was the 'cleaner one' by leaps and bounds. Plus I also feel like his former sterile way of living is sort of unrealistic to expect for an adult human being who uses their kitchen at all or does more at home than just sleep. He likes my cooking and we agree that I should cook because we're fairly broke and trying to save money. Eating every single meal out, or frozen dinners, is not really possible right now.

I really need some help getting perspective on this arrangement. I don't feel like it's something that will work out long term, but I'm not sure really how to change things so that we're both happy(er). I get that it's frustrating to be responsible for someone else's messes, but I also feel angry that this translates into me doing all the housework for the rest of our lives. Thinking back on this, I now know that I've never really managed to healthily deal with this problem in any cohabiting relationship that I've been in. When I was the cleaner one in past relationships, I did all the cleaning because I felt that it was unfair to hold my SO to my arbitrary desired cleanliness level. And now that I'm messy one I still do all the cleaning because it's not fair to make my husband clean up after me.

I could use some advice from couples who have a cleanliness disparity and how they dealt with that. I did read through previous questions but a lot of them seemed like they were from the perspective of the clean spouse trying to get the messy spouse to chip in.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (54 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you cook, he cleans.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:38 PM on April 30, 2012 [70 favorites]


Well, if you're cooking his dinners and making his lunches, those are certainly at least in part "his" messes, for one thing. My mom cooked dinner every day of her married life, and for my entire life my dad has done every one of the resultant dishes.

But me and my husband, we solve this by hiring a cleaning lady. We sacrifice in other areas to make this possible because it is good for our marriage.

Otherwise, I think this has as much to do with 1) who has time for cleaning and 2) who cares more whether its clean. I mean, a lot of things that need to get done are for both of you. Like cleaning toilets. I mean, that's not just your mess.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:39 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tell him that if you stop cooking for him, you will accept that the kitchen is all your mess. If he eats food that came out of the kitchen he helps clean it. What about laundry, does he not wear clothes, or does he throw them out/dry clean them? Does he use the shower/toilet?

He sounds childish, really. I don't know how to solve that but I agree with your thought that his style is not realistic for an adult who is living in a house.
posted by jacalata at 6:44 PM on April 30, 2012 [70 favorites]


You're making all his meals for him and they're "your" messes? Stop cooking for him. He can make his own food.
posted by Lobster Garden at 6:44 PM on April 30, 2012 [47 favorites]


I think he has unrealistic expectations, coming from his mom doing everything for him. You both live in this place together then you both share the responsibility for keeping it nice. There's no "who is messier than who". That's how I see it.

If he doesn't want to help out, and he misses his carefree bachelor/refugee lifestyle, he doesn't have to enjoy the benefit of your cooking or snuggling with the cat or any of the other nice things that happen when you're around.
posted by bleep at 6:47 PM on April 30, 2012 [12 favorites]


I cook about six dinners a week and prepare him lunches every weekday that I send with him to work, so it's true that I generate most of the dishes and kitchen messes.
to
Uh, no. His thanks for you doing one important household chore is to...make you do MORE household chores and then punish you for asking him to help by arguing?

No, no, no. This is all kinds of wrong. He needs to take responsibility for his part in the decisions you made together (eating in, the cat).

Or perhaps if having someone cook and clean for him is so difficult he can move out and save himself the hassle of being part of a loving family unit.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:47 PM on April 30, 2012 [38 favorites]


Basic politeness indicates that if one cooks, the other cleans up. You're cooking for him, he cleans up. If he doesn't want to clean up, you don't make him lunch.

Secondly, the cat - you are married. It is your cat jointly. You both clean up after the cat.

Also, you are working full time (studying part time and working part time) as is he. He is more than capable of pulling his finger out and actually doing something (he just, more than likely, is now used to you doing it all).
posted by mleigh at 6:49 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


my girlfriend (with whom I live) is quite possibly one of the messiest people I have ever met. But she is a great cook, so the rough division of our labour is that she cooks, I clean. Now, this means her messiness still gets on my nerves at times, and our solution (imperfect as it may be) is that when I am tidying up random clothes she leaves around our apartment, I throw them all into a particular space we have designated for the task.

If I were you, I'd try and reach some kind of general cook/clean division as well. As for the cat, I think that's on you.
posted by modernnomad at 6:56 PM on April 30, 2012


Are you really confused? Of course it's not acceptable for you to do all the cleaning because you 'generate all the messes.' He never eats? He never wears clothes?

We don't split chores 50/50 but we try to get as close as possible considering I work more hours than him. We both care for our dog (it's our dog). He does most of the cooking and I try to keep up with the dishes. We both vacuum and sweep my long hair. It's part of being a couple. It's not your mess, it's y'alls mess, as it were.

There are a ton of common suggestions for unequal distribution of chores, but for me the foundation is meaningful conversation and mutual sharing about the situation. I don't have good suggestions for what to do if that's not possible. IME passive-aggressive solutions just lead to more problems, but YMMV.
posted by muddgirl at 6:56 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Your part time grad school and part time job = his full time job.

That should not be a factor in how to divide housework. Do NOT have children/move somewhere larger/take on more responsibility until this is solved.

Your expectations are reasonable; I would suggest perhaps he will not tune out a third party explaining fairness in relationships quite as easily.
posted by saucysault at 6:57 PM on April 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


man, i'm a housewife and i do about 90% of the housework. i do all the cooking, all the dishes, most of the tidying up, all the stuff that involves cleaners and gloves. even still, my husband understands that i'm cleaning up for both of us and he's always eager to pick up his dishes or clean his area or even help me out on my chores if i get behind.

he sounds like he needs a reality check. give him half the budget you'd give for the two of you for food and leave him at home for a week without you. request that he do zero housework so he can see what it looks like at the end of a week. he'll either starve or realize that you've been picking up after him and taking his shit about you being a slob.

my parents spent 20 years arguing about the housework and divorced bitterly. this isn't a small problem and it's one both of you will have to want to fix.
posted by nadawi at 6:57 PM on April 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


He does the dishes, certainly, since eating meals is something you both do. He can also vacuum and clean the bathrooms, since those tasks are not just "your" mess.

If he's going to keep score like this for the rest of your married life, it's going to be exhausting for you both.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:58 PM on April 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


You contribute significantly to the household by cooking - not just joint meals, but even his work lunches. He needs to contribute an equal amount. So that means the equivalent amount of cleaning, since he doesn't like to cook.
posted by barnoley at 6:59 PM on April 30, 2012


I am messier than my spouse, and to him this means I should do all the housework.

I don't think you should do ALL of the housework by any stretch, but if you're significantly messier I think that you should do more of it. Or maybe more of certain things.

Here are a few ways you could split it up.

1. Think of ways you could reduce or eliminate current sources of mess altogether. For example, not wearing shoes in the house.

2. Identify areas where you both undeniably and unavoidably contribute to the mess. For example, cleaning the floors (unless he levitates over them), the toilets (unless he poos elsewhere 100% of the time), the sink, and the shower. Those, he needs to do 50/50. Everyone is right about the cooking; if he doesn't want to help clean fine, then he should cook for himself and clean for himself as well.

3. If he wants to get really petty about things you both mess equally (e.g. not wanting to clear your hair out of the drain when it's his turn to do the shower), then you both can be really strict about not cleaning things mostly done by the other (here I'm thinking about pee drips on the outside of the toilet and around the toilet, and on the underside of the toilet seat. Women don't generally pee on the floor around the toilet. I am assuming you are a woman.)

4. You can do more of things you mess a lot more. For example if you really do just leave a lot of clutter around all the time and he does that about half the time you do, then you can just clean it up more often.

5. You can also clean up things by yourself if you know they are pretty much all you. Like if you craft and leave little bits of craft materials around for example.
posted by cairdeas at 7:01 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


If he's living in the house, he's generating mess. I'm assuming he uses the toilet, shower, sleeps in the bed, wears clothes that need washing and walks around shedding skin etc that needs vacuuming. And he eats - so the LEAST he can do after you cook for him is clean up. Your partner sounds like a spoilt child, quite frankly. Cleaning isn't just about picking up things that are lying around, so whilst you may be messier in that regard, there's a whole realm of other cleaning that he creates simply by existing in that space. You could share costs on a cleaner but if he sees it as your mess, he may not be prepared to help pay for that.

I'd have a proper talk to him about this, and consider that you may have to be more responsible for tidying your messes up but if he's not prepared to go 50/50 with actual cleaning and running of the house, to the point where he gets angry for having to do anything, I'd reconsider the whole relationship. He needs a mother, not a girlfriend. And a reality check.
posted by Jubey at 7:08 PM on April 30, 2012 [17 favorites]


My close friends, who are married, do the whole "one cooks, the other washes the dishes/pans" thing. Or if one does the laundry, the other folds. It's the fact that he is complaining and whining like a kid when you ask for help with these things tells me that he is being hugely immature. You aren't his mother - you are his PARTNER and he is not acting like an equal partner in this marriage.

Regarding the cat: when you mean "clean up the messes" do you mean when the cat pukes up a hairball does he clean it up or does he let it just sit on the floor until you get home and have to clean it up? Because he should DEFINITELY be cleaning that up.

I suggest sitting him down one quiet evening and discussing your concerns about this whole thing. If he is not willing to listen or starts putting the blame on you then I I really, really think you guys need to go to a marriage counselor. Please, please don't think about having kids before this is resolved. Because it will make this situation 10x harder.
posted by littlesq at 7:10 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know he would not have a cat if he was single, though.

he also wouldn't have a wife who cooks all his food and cleans up after all his shit. if you guys want kids, what's he going to say "well, the kid mess is your responsibility because you wanted them more than i did" - that's ridiculous right?? it's just as ridiculous for a pet you both agreed on as long as there wasn't a deal in place about how you'd do all the cleaning up on the pet forever.
posted by nadawi at 7:15 PM on April 30, 2012 [25 favorites]


Give him a reason to do certain chores. I've got laundry duty because it means football watching without any complaining about it.

Really, he's acting like a baby. He makes a mess, he should clean the mess. It's that simple.
posted by theichibun at 7:15 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


My husband and I decided not to discuss how the messes get there, we just divide the product. We both work; we both eat, sleep, and enjoy our home. Enough said.

He does dishes & kitchen; I do laundry & bathroom. (Bathrooms & kitchens need the most work; they're the grossest. I hate doing dishes, and he's not going to shrink all my clothes.) I dust & polish; he vacuums and mops. Our arrangement works for us because we both win; it plays on our strengths & weaknesses. (I dread floors...)

Housework sucks, but I love splitting it with my husband. If you have a monthly schedule of what needs to be done to keeps a house clean, it's easy to divide it. Even without the everyday messes of cooking & cleaning, dust is generated. Things need to be cleaned; frequency is the only thing that might be up in the air!
posted by Kronur at 7:16 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


My husband also believes that I make more mess than him. He claims when I go away for a few weeks, he doesn't have to clean at all.

The upshot of this is that he sometimes gently teases me about how my hair gets into everything, and about how he is such a slave. But in a kind, joking way. And he still chooses to clean when I am cleaning, because it makes him uncomfortable to see me working hard while he is sitting back doing nothing, and because he loves me and wants to make my life easier. I enjoy cooking, so I don't see that as a chore, and will happily clean up after I cook. But he usually OFFERS to do the dishes, in gratitude because he just enjoyed the food I made.

Compare this to your situation:
he gets very angry about how much messier I am when he does, and it always devolves into an argument.

it will turn into a huge argument about how I am a slob.


I don't think the problem between you guys is (solely) about a difference in messiness.
posted by lollusc at 7:21 PM on April 30, 2012 [17 favorites]


I agree with Kronur absolutely. Divide chores according to strengths and weaknesses. I mop because I think I do it better. He food shops most of the time because I dislike grocery shopping.

If he gets bent out of shape when "cleaning your messes" he can clean the stuff that needs to be cleaned, even if he lived alone. When he was a bachelor dust still accumulated. Sheets still needed to be washed. Rugs needed to be vacuumed and toilets needed to be scrubbed.

If he is cleaning other stuff, taking care of the dishes and the cat may not bother you as much. My motto is don't go looking for stuff to be upset over. I do much more detail cleaning than my husband but he does big jobs, such as cleaning the back porch, on a regular basis.

My husband wonders why I don't "clean as I go" when cooking. It annoys him that I can dump a laundry basket full of dirty clothes to look for something and fail to return the clothes to the basket. It bothers him that I leave my "shit everywhere". It bothers me that he vacuums before dusting. Sometimes he will clean the kitchen but fail to sweep, which to me isn't cleaning the kitchen at all. More baffling is that he still washes white towels with black clothes. This is how it goes. Your husband can get angry that you are the "messier" one but he still has household responsibilities and there is plenty of stuff he could be doing to contribute and lessen your load.
posted by Fairchild at 7:27 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stop doing "his" jobs, cleaning up his messes, making his lunch, cooking dinner and washing his clothes. I basically had to convince my husband that his chores didn't magically get done when we were first married so I went on a work to rule strike and only did "my" chores. Took him three very long and messy months for him to catch on but it meant we could sit down and divide up the shores with him having some idea that jobs were not magically done by the housecleaning fairy.
posted by wwax at 7:47 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree with Kronur as well. Focusing on how the mess got there sets you up for a lifetime of petty squabbles. Deciding "we are a family and this is our house and we will work together to keep it in a manner that makes us feel like we enjoy being at home" is a loving approach that seems to me to be what marriage is about - we all have strengths and weaknesses, things we love and things we hate, and it is an extra kindness to help your spouse in those areas in which are challenging. If this was a roommate issue, it would be different, but this is your partner, and you need to be partners.
posted by judith at 7:48 PM on April 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Two things - he's being ridiculous, and you're probably not going to change him.

Taking him literally, if he feels he should only clean the things he personally makes dirty, he should sweep and mop the floors half the time, clean the bathroom half the time, do all of his own laundry, wash all of the dishes he touches, empty the trash half the time, do half of the yard work and either cook his own food or cook half the time, do half of the grocery shopping or buy his own food, and so on.

The only fair way to do housework is to divide it evenly. That's not going to happen with this person, so negotiate whatever you can with him. Just understand that you're being treated unfairly, and only you can negotiate a better deal and/or decide how much unfairness you're willing to tolerate.
posted by cnc at 7:53 PM on April 30, 2012


My husband and I decided not to discuss how the messes get there, we just divide the product. We both work; we both eat, sleep, and enjoy our home. Enough said.

This. I won't pretend we do it perfectly, or perfectly fairly. But basically there is just a fair bit of work to keep a household functional, from yard work to vacuuming to fixing the toilet to dishes. Someone has to do these things; either you guys sort it out or you hire someone.

And don't be too fast to reject the idea of hiring someone. I'd guess that paying a house cleaner has saved about as many marriages as has lube. Compared to the cost of a divorce, or of a therapist, paying someone once or twice a week to take care of the heavy duty cleaning tasks is cheap.
posted by Forktine at 7:58 PM on April 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I consider myself a fairly tidy person, but I am not as tidy as my partner. We hire a cleaning service that comes every other week, and it is a godsend. Definitely worth the money. There are chores that the cleaners don't do, though, and my partner and I have divided them up without much negotiation: he does the laundry because he's picky about how things are folded; I cook much more often than he does (and do the dishes) because I enjoy cooking more. I take down the trash and recycling to the curb; he waters the plants. We share pet care even though I brought the cats to the relationship and he brought the dog. Etc.

Nthing that it doesn't sound like your husband considers the two of you to be part of the same team. How is he about handling finances? Does he insist on only paying for "his" expenses, and not a penny for yours? Does he do a tally each week to see who incurred more debt? Something that has served my partner and I very well is an attitude that we will cover for each other without owing each other anything. Last weekend he paid for a couple prescriptions for me, just because he was out running errands, and I entered a bunch of his Coke reward points, just because I was tired of looking at them piling up.

Have you seen Dan Savage's bit on the price of admission? It might be interesting to watch it with your husband and see how he reacts.
posted by southern_sky at 8:37 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


You're husband doesn't like to clean, and he needs to get over it. There's a reason they're called "chores".

There is no fair, reliable way to measure each individual's "mess" output, period. So who's responsible for what mess is inconsequential and irrelevant. The only fair thing to do is divide up the chores equally. If your husband is unhappy with this arrangement, he can feel free to make more of a mess as he sees fit. As long as he's still cleaning his fair share.
posted by grog at 8:37 PM on April 30, 2012


My husband, before I married him, was basically the ultimate bachelor. He never, ever cooked -- not even to microwave frozen dinners. He ate out for every meal, or got take out and ate it out of cardboard containers with disposable utensils which he then threw away. He didn't own a single dish, utensil or cup and went to the convenience store to buy bottled water if he got thirsty.

...

He likes my cooking and we agree that I should cook because we're fairly broke and trying to save money. Eating every single meal out, or frozen dinners, is not really possible right now.


Teach him to cook. Seriously. The charitable interpretation of his behavior is that he genuinely just has no idea what cooking involves, and imagines that you could do it without making a mess if you really wanted to. Learning to cook will disabuse him of that notion.

(The uncharitable interpretation is that he believes cooking and washing dishes are women's work, but won't say it out loud for fear that you'll call him a sexist asshole and throw him out of the house.

Conveniently, if you propose that he learn to cook, his reaction will also tell you a lot about whether you should interpret his behavior charitably or uncharitably.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:38 PM on April 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


If my boyfriend told me the kitchen was 'my mess' after I cooked all his meals for him he would no longer have me as his personal chef. If he got angry and threw fits to try to guilt/manipulate me into always doing all the household chores ever, I'd straight up leave.

This is about so much more than who made what mess. This kind of behavior speaks to a level of immaturity and pettiness that I would find unacceptable in a partner. Does he treat you with kindness, respect and generosity in other areas of your relationship? Because it sounds like this score-keeping behavior is already well ingrained in him, and for me, that would be a dealbreaker.

You should be able to have normal, adult household division-of-labor conversations without anybody resorting to angry shouty name calling. I'd take a good long look at what this says about your overall relationship. Good luck to you.
posted by Space Kitty at 8:52 PM on April 30, 2012 [18 favorites]


Man, the idea that he shouldn't have to wash dishes because you made them messy by cooking dinner is so backward that I don't even know where to begin.

If I could could advice to both of you, I'd say that it's a bad idea to get too hung up on a strict idea of fairness when dividing up housework - the best thing to do is to figure out which household tasks you each hate, and have the other do that one. But he doesn't seem to be on board with that, so I'm not sure what to tell you, except that you have my permission to tell him that he's acting like an asshole, and he should knock it off.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:02 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


He seems to view this area as "me vs you" rather than a "sum is greater than the parts".
Tit for tat is not healthy, generous or productive in personal relationships. It creates issues of power.

As a couple there needs to be a general pov as to what the goals are. Once the goals (which can and will change over time) are clear the next step is figuring out how to meet them. A good partner is willing to take on more when the circumstances demand, but over all there must be balance. Just what constitutes balance varies greatly from couple to couple.

If the rest of the relationship feels loving, respectful and on good footing this may just be an issue that needs a little tweaking. But these sorts of attitudes often permeate all actions and essentially are about a self centered need to be the most important half of the pair.

Take a really good look at his actions/in-actions in other areas. If he truly feels his time and efforts are worth more than yours there are bigger issues than housework.
posted by cat_link at 9:12 PM on April 30, 2012


My husband and I do "the cook doesn't wash up" as a rule. He does vacuuming, I clean the bathroom. He does the laundry, I do the mending. He does most of the household repairs (except plumbing, which is me), I do the gardening.

The dea that you "should" cook 6 nights a week and then also clean up afterwards would be a deal breaker for me.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:24 PM on April 30, 2012


he also wouldn't have a wife who cooks all his food and cleans up after all his shit. if you guys want kids, what's he going to say "well, the kid mess is your responsibility because you wanted them more than i did" - that's ridiculous right?? it's just as ridiculous for a pet you both agreed on as long as there wasn't a deal in place about how you'd do all the cleaning up on the pet forever.

+1,000,000 and cosigned. It sounds like he wants all the benefits of living with his loving wife in a beautifully-kept home and none of the sacrifices. Cleaning is a sacrifice he should be making for having his wonderful wife share a home with him. I would reframe this debate in that way.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 9:55 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Does he do other things around the house? I ask because part of our division of labour is that I do all the sidewalk shovelling, All the lawnmowing, and all the other miscelaneous outside stuff... in short if you have to wear boots or shoes to do it, it's part of my responsibility in the house. As a result, a larger portion of the indoor chores tends to be more of my wife's responsibility. It works out to be fairly even, but I still do a large chunk of laundry, vacuuming, dusting, etc. I certainly wouldn't call her a slob if she asked me to help unload the dishwasher or pick up the house because company was coming.

As far as the cat goes, I kind of think that that's your deal. It's funny because we just had an argument about my wife's two cats. I don't clean up after them, and similarly I don't expect her to scrub out my fish tank or go outside and shovel the dog shit in the backyard. They are her pets, her responsibility (and that was agreed upon when we brought them into the house). If one pukes up on the floor while she's gone, I'll clean it up because I don't want to look at it all day but regular "box" cleanings I flat out refuse.

FWIW I can identify a little with your husband. Growing up, my Mom was a stay at home Mom and basically did everything. I don't think I've ever seen my Dad rinse off a plate and stick it in the dishwasher. So... I'll bet you can guess how my first live-in relationship turned out when I asked "What's for supper" and then left my plate on the table for her to clean while I watched television. I wasn't consciously trying to be a dickhead, it's just what I had grown up with and what I knew. It was a very rude awakening for me, but I got over it, grew up, and now do my best to make sure it never happens again. My advice is not to let him push you around, quit making lunch and dinner six times a week and picking up after him. When he complains, that's your opportunity to sit him down and have a discussion about who does what.
posted by Beacon Inbound at 10:10 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whoever cooks doesn't do the dishes. Period. Except as a rare favor, like when someone is sick. My grandparents followed that rule, and they were conservative small-town folks from rural areas who would be over 100 years old now if they were still alive.

My husband and I divide the rest of the really obvious chores by what we don't mind doing as much. He sweeps up outside, washes the kitchen tablecloths, and more frequently does the kitchen floor. I keep the bathroom clean, am usually the one to change the bed and wash the sheets, and I take main responsibility for gardening. We do our own clothes laundry.

Despite this, I do still wind up doing more of the chores than he does. Dusting, cleaning the rest of the floors (three bedrooms, hallway, living/dining room.) But these things get done according to my schedule/willingness with absolutely no comment or criticism from him at all.

anonymous posted">> I cook about six dinners a week and prepare him lunches every weekday that I send with him to work, so it's true that I generate most of the dishes and kitchen messes. I have long hair and sometimes hair clips fall out randomly and end up places they shouldn't be, and my hair is much more visible around the apartment than his is. We have a cat, which we adopted after we married (he encouraged me to adopt it), but all cat messes are 'my' messes and he never cleans up after the animal. It's true that I wanted a cat more than he did, but he is the one who brought up adopting a cat. I know he would not have a cat if he was single, though.

You're his wife when it's time to save money by you doing all the cooking for both of you AND making his lunch everyday, but you're demoted to his...what, irritating roommate with your hair, and your cat that you decided to get as a couple? Fuck that noise, I'm sorry, but that's appalling.
posted by desuetude at 10:16 PM on April 30, 2012 [17 favorites]


I'm really messy. really messy. I can make a room go from tidy to bomb site in under an hour without even trying (my boyfriend calls me a force of entropy) Its hard to tell from your question whether you are genuinely messier than him or whether your mess is just dirty dishes, cat related mess and having longer hair.
I work full time and my partner works part-time so he does most of the cleaning, he's also a far better cook than me so he does all the cooking but there are a few areas he's not expected to clean - my desk and the living room where I spend most of my time (I work from home). Ignoring shed hair, dust and clothing fluff, the mess in those places are 99.9% mine and I don't think its fair to ask him to clean those places. He does sometimes clean up after my attempts at cooking or baking because he knows I hate it and I suck at it.

Unless you're making him a special birthday meal or similar, it seems only fair that he does the dishes if you cooked or you stop cooking for him.
General cleaning should be split equally (I don't care if your hair is longer, if he refuses to do an equal share of vacuuming because your shed a greater volume of hair, kick him to the curb - he's just an asshole). If he does more yardwork/house maintenance than you, then that does count as sharing in the housework though.
If you are more untidy than him then be sure to tidy your (belongs to you or is untidy because you used it) stuff up before asking him to clean.
The cat and its messes are a joint responsibility.
posted by missmagenta at 12:10 AM on May 1, 2012


It sounds to me like he just hates housework, and all his rationalizations about why you should do everything is just grasping at straws. Does your long hair really make vaccuuming that much more of a chore? You just push the damn vaccuum across the carpet, for pete's sake!

If you are truly the messier one, as in your shit is lying out all over your home, then I agree you should be the one cleaning that particular aspect. "Your messes" would include things like picking your shoes up from the middle of the floor, hanging up your clothes that you draped over the chair, getting your books off the dining room table, putting your craft supplies away, etc. It does not include the hair falling out of your head, that's just ridiculous.

The rest of the work needs to be divided roughly equally by some method. There is no question, and if you can't get him to see the fairness of this then I would rethink the whole relationship. He's being selfish, manipulative and taking advantage of your desire to be fair to him.

You could just stop doing anything that benefits him in any way, if that's the way he wants to play.

Is your hair long because you want it long, or is it long because he likes it that way? If it's for him, go get a cute short haircut and tell him to suck it.

Pack your own lunch and clean up your mess. Let him pack his own damn lunch, and clean up his own mess.

Eat cereal for supper (don't pour a bowl for him, let him pour it himself) then wash and put away your own bowl and spoon.

Each of you does your own laundry. Designate one or two towels that are yours, and only wash those. (Personally, I think this should be the arrangement even if you are not trying to make a point. I have for years refuse to wash the clothes of anyone who is old enough to work the controls on the washer and dryer him/herself.)

Do you have two bathrooms? Only clean yours. If you only have one bathroom, wipe down the toilet seat so it's clean for you to sit on, and let the rest of the room go to hell. Wear flipflops in the shower so the dirty tub doesn't affect you.

You get the idea. It might wake him up and make him see your point, you never know. More likely, he'll just escalate the battle somehow because he doesn't care about being fair, what he cares about is having someone to do all of his grunt work like his mom did, and he doesn't seem to give a shit about how this makes you feel. He's manipulating your desire to be a good and fair partner and twisting it to his own selfish ends. This is seriously shitty behavior.

If he's a great guy in other respects and is just a caveman about this one aspect of your lives, it's probably worth having some serious discussions and/or getting some couple's counseling in order to resolve the problem. But if you can't get him on board pretty quickly, I wouldn't waste years putting up with this. His behavior is not the way a healthy person treats someone they love.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:33 AM on May 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Bottom line: There is Work That Needs to Be Done, and you see a need to divide it up in a fair way that supports a clean home and a loving marriage.

Do you have ideas about what this might look like? Do you have a list of the chores? What would happen if you sat down with your husband and said, "This is what needs to get done. Let's take turns choosing what we're each responsible for."? Which sounds insane, I know, but it might take some of the heat out of your discussions and provide him with a better idea of the scope of the work.

I know that you're asking this question at least in part to determine what other folks think is fair (and oh, I am so with you on that because I swear to God, dead groundhog removal and cutting baling wire off the mower blades are not my favorites). But *you* are the one with the best idea of what needs to be done, and *you* (plural) are the ones who can best match needs and preferences in your situation, as others here have sensibly suggested. Take the anger and the backstories out of the equation as much as you can. It's a difficult, delicate situation, and I wish you luck with resolving it.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:37 AM on May 1, 2012


Make a list of chores, and the time required:
Cars
- change oil 1 hr/every X months
- wash car, etc.
Finnances
- balance checkbook
- pay bills, 2 hrs/month
Kitchen
- cook breakfast
- cook/pack lunch 20 minutes/day
- cook dinner 1hr/day
- dinner dishes, 20 minutes/day
- groc. list/shopping
Household
-bathroom, 1 hr/week
-laundry 2 hrs/week
- take out trash
Cat
- feed/water 20 mins/day
- clean litter 1 hr/week

and so on. Try to cover all tasks that you feel should be shared. Split tasks according to time spent as well as perceived orneriness of tasks (I hate vacuuming, don't mind cleaning bathroom)

Talk to him about having kids. Chore-sharing applies to kids' laundry, meals, driving-kids-around, but not to affection, time spent, etc.

You need to get closer to the same page on how to make decisions. I think maybe he bullies you into taking too much care of him, and you like to please him, so you let him.

I'm happy I raised my son to do chores and cook, at least some.
posted by theora55 at 4:41 AM on May 1, 2012


Just coming in as another voice in the "Whoever cooks doesn't have to do the dishes" camp. There is occasionally some disparity in our household regarding chores, but this one thing is rock-solid and non-negociable.

Planning meals, buying groceries and preparing meals takes a huge amount of time and energy, and generally saves money for the household as well. It's absurd to characterize your cooking as generating an unnecessary mess that you should therefore be solely responsible for.

If he refuses to bend on this issue, I agree with those who suggest that you stop cooking for him or packing him lunches. He's not actually a child anymore -- he doesn't get to reap the benefits of your labor and then refuse to help with the mess that results.

(And as a side note, if you ever decide to have children, this situation is an excellent argument for "make sure kids of both genders help with household chores." )

Man, what frustrating situation. You really have my sympathies, I hope you can figure out a system that takes some of the strain off of you! Please believe us that he's the one who's being unreasonable, and don't be too hard on yourself!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:25 AM on May 1, 2012


His demands and his reasoning for them are ridiculous. "You made a mess cooking for me so you should be the one to clean it up"? PLEASE. He is acting like a manipulative child. If you are cooking all of his lunches and dinners then he needs to be cleaning the kitchen. If you adopted a cat together after you were married then he needs to be changing the litter half of the time.

And do not even let him play the "I'm supporting you while you're in grad school so you should do all the housework" card. You are presumably in grad school to advance your career, which will eventually mean more money and / or a better lifestyle for both of you. You would presumably also be willing to support him if he, at some point in the future, needed to go back to school. Your being in grad school while he works full time does not entitle him to treat you like an indentured servant.

Tell him he picks up half the housecleaning or he makes his own food.

It's a shame his mother taught him to be helpless. But he's a grown-ass married man with the ability to read a cookbook or push a mop. "Mommy never taught me how to make myself a sandwich for lunch" is no longer a reasonable excuse.
posted by BlueJae at 7:28 AM on May 1, 2012


He needs to grow up a bunch. We have our disagreements about mess too, but refusing to clean after someone just made you a meal is appalling.
posted by ead at 7:30 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lots of good ideas here, but one I didn't see mentioned was to find some non-cleaning but still relatively onerous job that he could take on -- say, doing *all* the grocery shopping (which is probably a lot if you make all your own meals), and monitoring the list so that it doesn't become your job to "remind" him to make a trip. And maybe some other traditional "women's work" like keeping track of all the family holidays and buying all the cards and presents. It gets around the "who's messier" crap and right to the heart of "family labor that needs doing."
posted by acm at 8:10 AM on May 1, 2012


Yes absolutely...you cook...he cleans up. But by all means, if cooking leaves the kitchen looking like a tornado has passed through, IMHO, common courtesy would dictate that you clean up a little while you cook.
posted by teg4rvn at 8:28 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eating is a very low-priority daily activity for this man. If you didn't cook, he'd just as easily get take out. By you cooking, it's not really saving him that much in his mind. It's slightly more convenient to not have to go pick something up, but the trade-off of the kitchen mess is not worth it. But you are going to cook for 1 anyway, right? So in your mind the additional "work" of cooking for 2 isn't that much. However going from 0 minutes of clean up (getting take-out) to cleaning an entire kitchen mess is a very big difference from his perspective.

"Whoever cooks doesn't clean" can be a raw deal for someone like this and that advice won't get you very far if he wasn't already raised like that. So what can you do? Try to get him to pitch in while you are doing the chore. While you are making dinner, have him participate - chop the vegetables, or sauté, or start to clean up. Make sure there's music or TV on so he's not dragged away from something else. He will get in the way and slow you down from your normal cooking routine, but it has to start somewhere. Start with small tasks. There's a huge difference between, "Hey, can you wash the mixing bowl out and then chop the peppers?" and "OK, meal is done. Time for you to wash all the dishes."

When it does come time to do the dishes -if he doesn't do any yet- have him just do a portion at first and you do the rest. Plates and bowls are so fucking easy, I'd wash them all day. Pots and pans will have me running for the hills. Once he's done some easy dishes, he might just do a couple extra things from the momentum. Don't underestimate inertia.

Once a week, put on some his favorite band over the whole house and have a cleaning party; both of you go around the house sweeping, tidying, dusting, etc. You got to approach this like you are a team.

Finally, have him make his own lunches. If he doesn't want to and eats out at lunch, let him. And he should do his own laundry while he's at it. When he starts running out clothes, that's his own problem that he can manage.
posted by yeti at 8:41 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


i understand what yeti is getting at with goading your husband to clean along with you and i find myself nodding in agreement - but then i think, that's how you teach a 10 year old to do chores. you aren't his mother. the benefit he gets from you cooking is that it saves the household money (and it feeds him!). yes, it creates dishes, that's the trade off. that's part of being an adult. if he wants to live like a freewheeling, never cleaning, ordering out all his food bachelor, he can find the door. otherwise, he's part of a family now and he should try acting like it.

as someone who cooks for two people every day (and packs my husband's lunch) - it is a lot more work to cook for two. i would make very different meals if i were just cooking for myself. i dice the veggies a specific way just for him. i plan meals that i know will make him smile. i do things that are harder because he's mentioned he wants to try it. it's not just doubling the portion on whatever i'd be cooking if i lived alone.
posted by nadawi at 10:55 AM on May 1, 2012 [12 favorites]


Sometimes just asking him to do something, in the moment, works best. You can train him this way without having a philosophy or overarching rule oppressing you both.

"hey babe, would you mind helping me with the dishes tonight? I want to hear more about that meeting you had."

Hey honey -- I'm going to clean the bathroom this weekend, but could you scrub the toilet. I just dont feel like doing it sometimes. I promise I'll zip-snake the drains for hair."

If he can't answer yes to some of this, in the moment, then there are bigger problems.

Mr Vitabellosi and I like to spend time together. We help each other in the kitchen with dinner (I mostly cook) and cleanup -- because we're talking the whole time.

Larger projects are catch as catch can. Gross bathroom bothers me, so I mostly clean for two minutes before leaving the room. But he'd do more if I asked him. Sometimes he asks me to pick up the slack on doing laundry.

Honestly, I used to be a slob. My last partner was pissed at me all the time. I was really unhappy. Got into a good relationship and, it took me a couple of years, but I'm the neat freak now.

Also: Flylady.com
posted by vitabellosi at 11:28 AM on May 1, 2012


(what yeti said)

i understand what yeti is getting at with goading your husband to clean along with you and i find myself nodding in agreement - but then i think, that's how you teach a 10 year old to do chores. you aren't his mother.

We're all children. In fact, most if what we excuse kids of doing are behabiors we all engage in (making excuses, procrastinating, being lazy, gossiping) which is why kids think we're hypocrites when we correct them. If we didn't learn it from our mothers, it's nice to get a second chance.

BTW: same technique works with kids. But it mustn't be "goading" - it must be asked brightly and without resentment or whining.
posted by vitabellosi at 11:34 AM on May 1, 2012


the problem becomes, and i've seen this play out in lots of relationships, when you have one person acting as the parent and the other as the child, the "child" starts to act out as if they were 12 years old again (pouting, sullenness, doing "bad" to get scolded). if she wants to mother someone through all this, then sure, she can do that. but, she can also say "hey, we need to talk about your unwillingness to participate in chores and how we can fix that without either of us feeling unevenly burdened because the current set up is not working." she doesn't need to turn into molly sunshine and trick him into helping with his fair share by only asking for a little bit at a time or making sure his favorite music is on.
posted by nadawi at 11:49 AM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


By you cooking, it's not really saving him that much in his mind...Finally, have him make his own lunches. If he doesn't want to and eats out at lunch, let him.

That would sound reasonable, except she's already said we agree that I should cook because we're fairly broke and trying to save money.

Maybe you need to re-have the discussion about money. Who is the one more concerned about saving? Is it you and he's only kind of onboard - he sees it as you want to save money, fine you can cook for him if you won't let him have takeout? Or is it him? Would it cost less than constant take-out to get a housekeeper?
posted by jacalata at 12:44 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you just abruptly stop cooking, I guarantee you that he will revert back to take-out unless you literally do not have any money whatsoever. People just don't magically know how to cook even if they are in a situation where they have "no choice." You can't teach him if he doesn't want to learn, and given how angry he is about this entire situation, my guess is that he doesn't. In the early stages of our relationship, if my husband didn't want to or wasn't able to cook, I would literally just not eat that night. Not out of spite but because it didn't seem worth the effort for me to figure out what the hell I was doing in the kitchen. It's a huge hurdle that someone who already knows how to cook can't appreciate.

But back to you. This situation is so fraught with passive-aggressiveness that I'd be shocked if chores were the real issue. My guess is that one or both of you don't feel appreciated and it just happens to be surfacing in the arena of housework. I think therapy is really the only thing that's going to make a difference. A housekeeper will only shove the problem into a different area of your life, and god help you if it's the bedroom.
posted by desjardins at 1:51 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I want to address two issues.

First, I understand how you feel a bit: my fiance and I are like Oscar and Felix as well, and it does come to arguments about who is responsible for what: the one who has the higher standards, or the one who creates the greater portion of the mess.

But in part because of that, I want to say, it never gets to the ugliness that you seem to be talking about above. Does your husband actually call you a slob? Or does he talk about your messiness in a way that makes you feel like he thinks you're a slob? Because the former is absolutely not okay, and also has absolutely nothing to do with your messiness. If he is trying to make you feel guilty, that's not okay. If you're arguing about the division of labor, that's a thing that happens, but it doesn't excuse him treating you badly.

Some of the problems I think are inherent to bachelors. They often quite simply do not understand the difficulties of family living. And that's what you are, now-you're not two bachelors who happen to be roommates, you're a married couple, which makes a family, with a cat who is a family cat. And I think that's also a really difficult thing to understand, coming from a perspective where you've been doing that for a while-that these aren't always bad/good messy/clean things, but bachelor/family things.

Yeti's completely right about how it probably appears to him-he may not realize how much work it takes to cook, because he's not used to doing it. And even when he sees it, he still may not realize, because he's thinking, "If I were doing that, I wouldn't do it like that. I would do it so much better." And he wouldn't, but he doesn't know that yet. desjardins is right, he won't just magically learn. Have you thought about maybe trying to teach him?
posted by corb at 2:27 PM on May 1, 2012


Some of the problems I think are inherent to bachelors. They often quite simply do not understand the difficulties of family living. And that's what you are, now-you're not two bachelors who happen to be roommates, you're a married couple, which makes a family, with a cat who is a family cat. And I think that's also a really difficult thing to understand, coming from a perspective where you've been doing that for a while-that these aren't always bad/good messy/clean things, but bachelor/family things..

No-one's living quarters stay clean unless some cleaning is done. Even if you never ever cook and don't own a dish or spoon, the floors get dirty, the counters and furniture get dusty, hair (shed from both head and body) collects in the corners, soap scum builds up in the shower, the toilet gets fouled.

What, exactly, is inherent to bachelors here?
posted by desuetude at 8:28 PM on May 1, 2012


What, exactly, is inherent to bachelors here?

Mainly the quality of having things, I think, especially things that are not your own. I've lived as a bachelor myself, and all my things could fit into one room tidily. I kept my small apartment spotless, even with a roommate that had her own room. But when I started living /with/ people, as in, we were all part of the same partnership or family, and especially living in the same room, it became much more difficult.

Floors and counters and such do get dirty or dusty when you don't have things, but it always seemed to me much easier to clean.
posted by corb at 3:58 AM on May 2, 2012


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