Fighting the Battle of Who Could Care Less....and losing.
November 14, 2009 4:23 PM   Subscribe

I get mad, he gets silent. The madder I get, the more silent he gets. Eventually I give up, we move on, and the problem gets swept under the rug, only to turn up again months later. Lather, rinse, repeat, over and over and over again. I'm seriously considering starting a habit of drinking in the evenings.

So why don't I just kick the guy to the curb? Well, well it is never that simple is it? Or I wouldn't be blabbing here! I have a 16 yr old daughter (not his) and while we are not married, we do live together and have a nice little family unit. He is great with my daughter, and he and I have a lot in common and have a lot of fun together. Also (and this is probably more of a factor than I'd like to admit) us breaking up would entail some pretty serious financial hardships for me. I do have a job, but it's not enough for me to be able to afford to stay where I am, so I'd have to move, and the chances are good that my daughter would either have to change schools or go stay with her grandmother (who lives in the same town we do now) until she graduates (she'll be a senior next year). My mother is sorta crazy, so that's really not much of a choice for her.

Then there's the fact that I have in the past dragged my daughter through a failed relationship with another person who was not her father (same scenario: lived with the guy, it didn't work out, we broke up and I was out in the cold with a little kid and little ain't pretty but it's the truth) and I feel a lot of guilt over it. I didn't get involved with anyone else seriously for about 7 years after that, and swore I wouldn't. Now I'm facing the fact that I broke that promise, only to have yet another failure.

I suspect he senses this, and knows he kinda has the upper hand when there's a conflict and uses it against me. Mainly the conflicts are about stuff around the house. We both work full-time, but somehow I seem to end up doing *everything*. The things that are his responsibility, like the yard, are almost totally neglected. The garage is full of piles of his stuff that he keeps saying he's going to throw out, but doesn't. He has not cleaned a toilet once in the two years he's lived here. Now, I'm not exactly the world's greatest housekeeper, and I don't really care about things looking perfect, but I do feel stressed if they don't get done. And it doesn't seem fair that I should have to come home after working all day, and cook, clean, do laundry, *and* go out and do yard work.

Anyway... I know a lot of people argue over stuff like this, but we don't seem to be able to resolve anything. We have tried making lists of who is responsible for what, but what ends up happening is everyone does their share but him. Eventually I get mad and then he just acts like I'm not there anymore. It is the most hurtful thing anyone has ever done to me....I'd seriously rather he screamed and yelled and called me names.

I'm starting to become more and more convinced that the problem lies not with the conflicts themselves, but with the dynamic in our relationship that keeps them from being resolved. And I am completely powerless to do anything about it, because you can't compromise with a person who just....vacates the way he does. I am familiar with the quote "If you find you keep banging into a wall, you have to change course, because the wall certainly isn't going to." and I feel it's very fitting for my situation.

I know i have to do something, but what to do? Part of me feels like this is petty stuff to break up with an otherwise great guy over, but when I come home and see all the chores piled up for me it just fills me with rage and frustration that I can't cope with. I mean, if we broke up then I'd still have to do it all myself so it wouldn't solve anything. But i know if I go forward eventually I'm not going to be able to stand him anymore. Help!
posted by weesha to Human Relations (62 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Plan a "clean-up day" where everybody participates. Make it a group thing, so it's not just you vs. him, with the added benefit for your daughter experiencing a healthy family activity (even if she gripes about participating in it now ;).
posted by rhizome at 4:41 PM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Perhaps he doesn't know how to respond when you "get mad".

How do you "get mad?" Do you scream and yell and call him names, the way you wish he would respond? Because a lot of people will just shut down at that point, believing that there's no point in trying to communicate until the other person returns to a grown-up level. I have a friend who's prone to dramatic outbursts, and the best course of action I've learned is to shut up and wait for the wave to break, because pretty much anything I try to interject just inflames things further.

Maybe a little perspective, try to itemize the good stuff? I mean, some underdone yard work and piles of crap hidden away in the garage doesn't sound like it's worth throwing a relationship away over. On the list of all possible discord, where do those really rank? 1203rd and 1297th?
posted by rokusan at 4:42 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm starting to become more and more convinced that the problem lies not with the conflicts themselves, but with the dynamic in our relationship that keeps them from being resolved.

This is the sort of thing that couples counselors and family therapists do really well at helping people work through.

There are lots of ways to address the specific conflicts, but if you guys don't negotiate conflicts well in general, a trained third party can be immensely helpful.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:43 PM on November 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Rokusan, I don't call him names, but in the past I have screamed and yelled, after being ignored, out of frustration and in hopes that I could provoke him into saying something, anything. I know exactly what you mean, though. I have worked hard at learning to not do that, and stay calm. Now when I get to the point where I'm going to start yelling I leave the room.

The problem with this situation is that it's not the issues themselves. Undone yard work is not a big deal, but dealing with conflict by pretending it doesn't exist and ignoring the other person and their feelings is quite a big deal, to me.
posted by weesha at 4:48 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Undone yard work is not a big deal, but dealing with conflict by pretending it doesn't exist and ignoring the other person and their feelings is quite a big deal, to me.

Yes, this.

And it's really hard to have a meta-discussion like this and get anywhere with it without a trained third party mediating it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:53 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

What a crappy situation to have to live with. Rhizome's "family work day" is a good idea, I think, especially since you say your partner and your daughter get along well. If proposing that doesn't work, I'm not sure what good suggesting counseling will do if he gives your concerns such little weight - and it may be hard to afford given what you say about your financial circumstances.

I think maybe you *should* "kick him to the curb," but wait until you can better afford the break in terms of what's best for your daughter. It's not the best solution, but maybe gritting your teeth for the next eighteen months will help get you through until your daughter graduates from high school. It wouldn't be my first choice, but your options seem to be limited. You say that in the past months would pass between flare-ups of the anger (at least) though the bad behavior on his part is apparently ongoing. Once you don't need to stay with him for your daughter's sake, your expenses might go down too, letting you leave with less financial difficulty.
posted by Rain Man at 5:02 PM on November 14, 2009

Maybe he just doesn't know how to respond to your expression of anger. Often, men start feeling flooded and withdraw / give the silent treatment. You might try expressing your frustrations and concerns through a different medium, like writing.

"And it doesn't seem fair that I should have to come home after working all day, and cook, clean, do laundry, *and* go out and do yard work."

Welcome to the "second shift" that most women work. Your complaint is extremely common and your likelihood of finding a man who will do what you perceive to be his "fair share" of housework is small.

Do you pay an equal share of the bills? From your post, it sounds like you are at least partially financially dependent on him. It may be that he thinks that he is already contributing equally because he pays for more things, and feels that you are being unreasonable to expect him to pay for more of the expenses AND do housework/yard work.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:03 PM on November 14, 2009

Undone yard work is not a big deal, but dealing with conflict by pretending it doesn't exist and ignoring the other person and their feelings is quite a big deal, to me.

Sure, but the implication here is that you're creating conflict out of things that aren't a big deal in order to highlight your different approaches to conflict. The flipside of his "pretending it doesn't exist" is your (possible) exaggeration of its importance, possibly in order to use his response as a gauge to measure his concern for your "feelings."

Armchair here, IANAT.
posted by rhizome at 5:06 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Following up, I don't mean to attack you, because it does appear that you're doing the lion's share of the work around the house. It would be perfectly predictable that little frustrations take on larger roles, since they happen so much more often and tend to accumulate. I'd almost suggest the possibility of pulling back a bit. He might respond if you appear not to need him. :) If he and your daughter get along and you can enlist your daughter in helping around the house (you don't mention whether she does), which may go some of the way in inspiring some interest on his part.
posted by rhizome at 5:16 PM on November 14, 2009

Response by poster: He makes more money than me, so dollar for dollar he pays more, but I think we probably pay an equal percentage of our income. I never really sat down and added it up, but generally, he pays the rent, I pay all the other bills. We both buy groceries as needed. He probably pays more for unnecessary stuff than I do, like going out to eat, to the movies, etc. Anyway...I don't expect him to do half the housework, but I don't think it's fair for me to do all of it either. Generally I'm fine with doing everything inside the house, as long as he'll do outside.

Anyway, this seems to be turning into a debate over whether or not I am right to get upset over him not doing housework, which is really not the point. I think Sidhedevil is right: this is something that needs to be worked out in counseling...
posted by weesha at 5:21 PM on November 14, 2009

One problem is that guys, in general, can tolerate *much* more housework left undone than women. That's not to say there aren't female slobs and male clean freaks, but it's a really consistent theme. Hell, it's a consistent theme among male roommates -- the messier one will drive the other one crazy.

You may want to look into two things:

First, hire a maid. You'll pay far less for this than you will for therapy, or a breakup.
Second, don't scream. Adults don't scream at one another. And a lot of guys have it very strongly baked into them that screaming at a girl constitutes abuse, so you're just not going to get a drag out fight out of a lot of guys. They'll simply shut down and wait.
posted by effugas at 5:29 PM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sure, but the implication here is that you're creating conflict out of things that aren't a big deal in order to highlight your different approaches to conflict.

The undone yard work may not be a big deal in and of itself, but when it is part of a larger pattern where weesha is responsible for the bulk of the housework (including organisation of that housework, not just the work itself) it becomes a really big deal.

I didn't have a daughter, but I broke off a relationship and faced the financial implications of that because I was over the housework fights. The inference that no matter what, my work wasn't as hard or as important as his (even when I was earning more - and when I wasn't I was still doing more hours than he was) and I should do more because I'm 'better' at it/better suited to it. Which is a crock of shit. It's harder with a kid, for sure, but is this something you want to model for her? That sulking (I tend to lump silent treatment in with sulking, particularly the emotionally void type you describe) is a valid way to manipulate someone you love? Don't forget that the labour division you describe is reinforcing the stereotypical division of labour and normalising it.

And when I broke up with my ex, the housework got easier because I wasn't responsible for his mess as well - the kind of mess created when you don't feel responsible for cleaning up. My situation now is a sight better because my partner understands that money isn't equivalent to labour and that the house is as much his responsibility as mine. Even though I'm on maternity leave at the moment, he understands that our daughter is my 'job', not our house (for all that I do more work around the house now by virtue of being in the house more). Even though he earns roughly half again as much as I did while still working, we work the same hours and I work a more physically and emotionally draining job so that's far more of a concern than the (unfair and unbalanced) remuneration our jobs receive.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:34 PM on November 14, 2009 [10 favorites]

I'm sorry to hear about your situation. My heart hurts; I've been where you are (minus the kid) and it's hell. If the family clean up day works for you, then great, but it has been my experience that people don't respond well to this. Any halfway intelligent person is going to know you're doing it to get more work out of them, and they resent it. At least my former partners have. They just refused.

My advice is that you're worth too much for this kind of behaviour. Do you want your daughter to learn that women are no better than slaves, worth less money and less care than men? Do you want her to learn to depend on men in exchange for a comfortable life? If it's worth the trade-off, then do what you feel like you need to do, without guilt. Find a way to live with whichever decision you make: leaving or staying. There is no wrong answer. Remember that. But don't live for your daughter. She'd survive a change in schools, as long as she's getting enough to eat.

I also want to caution you that *he* may leave *you* eventually if the problems continue.

There are men who don't do this: I have women friends who have great partners, some of whom do more than their fair share. But they are rare.

And women are underpaid, and that fact isn't likely to ever change unless this country embraces socialism. Can you see that happening? I can't.

I date women, and when I date women my standard of living is lower. I know this and it is a bitter, bitter pill to swallow. I can't offer any comfort, just the knowledge that you're not alone. There are others who stand with you and see the things that you see and feel the things that you feel.
posted by tejolote at 5:37 PM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: First, hire a maid. You'll pay far less for this than you will for therapy, or a breakup.

The maid is only going to address the cleaning issues.

The cleaning issues are not the central issue. The central issue is that the OP and her partner have very different conflict and negotiation styles. The maid cannot help them fix that.

The cleaning issues are an example of the problem in action, not the problem itself.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:49 PM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

"He makes more money than me, so dollar for dollar he pays more"

Plus he's helping support YOUR (not his) daughter. Depending on how one defines equitable, his "fair share" of the household expenses could be seen as 1/3, but he's currently paying for more than half.

Have you ever asked him what HE thinks is an equitable division of expenses and housework? It's very possible that he feels used by you in your current arrangement, and that's why he withdraws when you nag/yell at him to do more.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:51 PM on November 14, 2009 [8 favorites]

If you can possibly afford it, hire a cleaning service. I spent 12 years of my marriage silently simmering (with occasional noisy boilings-over) resenting cleaning, and resenting that it was somehow all my responsibility, and letting things get so dirty it was depressing just to show him, only to find out that he really didn't care... and then I hired a service to come once every other week. They charge $100 per visit, which breaks down to $50 per week, or $25 per week per person. Is it worth that much to get rid of the cleaning conflict? It sure is for me. If you can hire a neighborhood teenager to mow the lawn as well, so much the better.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:53 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Needing money and having had a previously-failed relationship are bad reasons to have/stay in a relationship. Instead of working on his problems, why not spend time working on those two issues of yours -- become financially independent, and work through your feelings of regret (or whatever feelings you have) about your previous relationship ending as it did. When that's done, I bet your current relationship sorts itself out, as either you will leave because you don't need him anymore, or the tension will be gone because you'll want him instead of need him and so not feel victimized and un-empowered and like he's got the upper hand
posted by Houstonian at 5:57 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you and he can manage it, this sounds like a perfect example of a situation that could be helped with couples counselling (to my untrained and inexperienced ear). Good luck.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:06 PM on November 14, 2009

Your question is all about how you don't like/understand his way of fighting and you wish he'd fight right. But I think Jacqueline is on the right track here. You don't need to fight, you need to talk.

The line between fighting and talking is sometimes difficult to navigate. To talk, you have to do it at a time when you're not angry about some task not being done, or angry that you are busy and he's not. It should be a normal peaceful time. The other thing that's difficult is to make sure you watch the tone very carefully. If one of you starts to get that accusing tone (you know the one I mean) or the pitch or volume goes up (or maybe in his case, he starts getting quiet), you're going to have to take a break before you can continue the talk.

I agree with several above who say a couple's counselor can help you do this, but I know it can be done without, too. It sure takes effort if you're not used to doing it. It sounds like you and he aren't.
posted by fritley at 6:18 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree this situation can be very frustrating.

On the topic of expenses, in a family unit household expenses don't need to be divided 50-50. If one person has more income than the other they would want to help the family, regardless of whether the kids are his or her biological children. Money could be a big factor. If you had enough savings to get yourself started, maybe you wouldn't feel like he had more control in the relationship. Not that you would want to leave, but it would be an option, and you wouldn't be trapped and resent him because he has financial control.
posted by samsaunt at 6:21 PM on November 14, 2009

Response by poster: Jacqueline does bring up a good point about the money. I mean, I don't think I'm "using" him but I do make considerably less money then he does, so there would a significant lifestyle downgrade if we actually made things "fair." Our finances are pretty 'ad hoc' and that's not really good. But again...getting him involved in these things is extremely difficult. It's like he doesn't want to face anything that's possibly unpleasant. Who knows, maybe he is mad at me for it? But I can't do anything about it if he doesn't work with me...

(I do think that the idea that I should make up for the financial divide by being a servant is pretty bizarre and vaguely misogynistic. It's not like I'm sitting around at home doing nothing all day while he supports me...I put in a full day's work just like he does.)
posted by weesha at 6:32 PM on November 14, 2009

Maybe I'm just being a guy, but I'm really confused by the narrative of this discussion. It sounds like it isn't so much a problem that he doesn't do the work, but rather that he doesn't have a drag out fight with you about it when you want to? On another level, the whole issue of who is paying how much of the expenses has been brought into it, which seems to me to be neither about fair share of housework, nor about styles of handling disagreement. So, perhaps my entire comment is not useful to you, but I hope it is.

The first thing I'd do is entirely stop using conflict as the frame in which you see these issues. There is no need to have conflict about these sorts of things. Instead, you need to be clear about what you actually are looking for, and what you are willing to give for that. There have been suggestions of a third party counselor who could certainly help. But, you can also find a quiet time when you are not particularly annoyed or tired by an little thing and instead have the bigger discussion of your goals around this.

As an example, if your current goal is to have a stable home environment for your daughter for the next year, then it might be appropriate to note that you'd rather have more cleaning done around the house and ask if he would be willing to contribute the cost of hiring a maid and lawn service. Alternately, if your goal is that you don't like working around the house when he isn't you could talk about that and either decide whether or not you are willing to actually reduce the amount you do if he isn't willing to do more.

On the other hand, it somewhat sounds like you are ready to move on in your relationship from this man, but reluctant to because of the impact on your daughter. In that case, perhaps it isn't reasonable to make it about him and what he does or does not do. First, you need to determine your own priorities.

I'm not intending this as an attack on you. Just an observation that none of us do problem solving at our best when we get mad, and it sounds like there is a fundamental goal of getting this man to change who he is. That might work out, but only if you have his participation in the effort. So, when you get mad instead find a way to defer the conversation and have it when you are no longer mad about it later.
posted by meinvt at 6:58 PM on November 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

"I do think that the idea that I should make up for the financial divide by being a servant is pretty bizarre and vaguely misogynistic."

Well, then how *do* you propose to make up the financial divide?

What I see here is a guy who was nice enough to let a single mom and her kid live with him and is heavily subsidizing their living expenses. I don't think it's unreasonable for him to expect in return that his house be kept up for him.

"...when I come home and see all the chores piled up for me it just fills me with rage and frustration that I can't cope with."

I think, perhaps, the problem is not with him, how much housework he does, or how he fights (or chooses not to), but with you and your attitude about the situation.

Here's an exercise to help you gain some perspective:
1. Estimate how much more it would cost you to maintain your current lifestyle for yourself and your daughter if he was not subsidizing you.
2. Estimate how many extra hours of housework/yardwork you do for him that you wouldn't have to do if you weren't cleaning up after him (don't count the work you'd have to do for yourself and your daughter anyway).
3. Divide the former by the latter and decide whether that's a reasonable hourly rate for your second "job" as housekeeper.

If you do indeed make "considerably less" than him, it's even possible that your hourly rate from this second "job" is higher than your net hourly pay for your "real" job. He could also probably hire a maid for less than what it costs him to help support you and your daughter. So it seems like you're benefiting more from the current division of household expenses and labor than he is, yet you're complaining to him about the situation!

"I put in a full day's work just like he does."

So? Why is it his fault that you chose not to invest as much time/money/effort into developing your human capital as he did?

You seem to have a really weird sense of entitlement here. You are not his wife and your daughter is not his kid -- he doesn't have any legal or moral obligation to support you. Yet he is anyway, and you're picking fights with him over the yardwork? Do the yardwork yourself and be grateful that you have such a generous boyfriend!
posted by Jacqueline at 7:34 PM on November 14, 2009 [14 favorites]

Maybe your man is like me.
I could just be really bad at dealing with mad women but I've never seen any percentage in it. I'll try to calm/placate you, but if that doesn't seem likely then I'll let you sort yourself out, and if you still feel like discussing the issue when you're calm we can do so then.
Some of us just aren't fans of shouting matches.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:42 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

What I see here is a guy who was nice enough to let a single mom and her kid live with him and is heavily subsidizing their living expenses. I don't think it's unreasonable for him to expect in return that his house be kept up for him.

That's a ridiculous answer, given that she's not just some random single mom off the street with a kid, and they, like, you know, have a romantic relationship .
posted by anniecat at 7:58 PM on November 14, 2009 [23 favorites]

I don't see the word love in your question. Of the two paragraphs written about why you would not leave him, there is only one phrase that mentions how you feel about him as a person and it is not even its own sentence.

I don't know you, so I don't know if this is at all an accurate reflection of how you feel about this man. It could be you're madly in love, but kept it out of your question. If, however, you're staying with him because it's more convenient than breaking up, then it's the wrong reason.
posted by ODiV at 8:07 PM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

This discussion needs to focus on how to deal with a situation where two people are at an impasse, and where one party is extremely frustrated, and when that person expresses frustration and/or anger, the other party shuts down. It should not be about chores and housework.
It sounds to me like he doesn't want to change his approach to chores. Have you asked yourself, "he won't change his approach. Can I still be happy in this relationship? If so, how?"

Another thing you might try is asking more questions and brainstorming solutions that work for both of you, instead of just telling him what you want. In other words, "hey, I'm really not happy with the house looking the way it is, but I also don't want to do all of the housework myself, because it makes me resentful and I don't want to be resentful at you. What can we do?"

You might even try sitting down with him when you're calm and saying, "hey, you know, I want to find another way of us working out issues. I'd rather us discuss things directly. Even if you have to say, 'no, Betty, I'm sorry but I'm really not going to clean the garage this weekend,' I'd rather hear that than just have you not do it. Would you be at all open to the idea of just telling me directly? I realize I might need to change the way I typically respond to make this something you'd be willing to do."

In general, it seems like you all are pretty far down a dead-end way of dealing with disagreements, and like you both are getting more polarized in some sort of battle stations (to quadruple-mix my metaphors), so to get out of this situation, you'll need some sort of outside help.

Have you talked to your daughter about this? Maybe she'd be happy to have the fighting stop even if it meant she had to live with her grandmother for awhile.
posted by salvia at 8:23 PM on November 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm throwing my support behind the get a maid suggestion. It's not going to be a panacea but it will lower everyone' stress levels.
posted by afu at 8:28 PM on November 14, 2009

I read a book one time that really helped me. I can't remember the title but what it basically came down to is that most people don't know how to fight constructively. You can lash out, yell, etc. and maybe you'll feel better but the other person is angry or hurt. They can lash back or shut you out and now you're angry, hurt or frustrated. It doesn't solve anything. The main point of the book was that it works better to focus on the problem and let go of who's right or wrong.

In your case, the problem is that you don't want to feel resentful because you feel like there's not an equal share of house/yard work. It's very important not to come off as critical because most people will go into defense mode (this part is really hard when you're frustrated but worth it if you can manage to pull it off).

Ask him for suggestions on how to share chores. Maybe he hates mowing the yard and would rather cook. Maybe he doesn't want to deal with it and would be willing to pay someone else to do it. The main thing is to find a way for you not to feel upset about feeling stuck with all the work around the house. This isn't a perfect system that works every time but I get along much better with family members and more gets done.
posted by stray thoughts at 8:38 PM on November 14, 2009

Mod note: Note: there's a Metatalk thread for any side-discussion that needs to take place.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:40 PM on November 14, 2009

"That's a ridiculous answer, given that she's not just some random single mom off the street with a kid, and they, like, you know, have a romantic relationship."

But not a marriage. She's just his live-in girlfriend, but she seems to think that she's entitled to being treated like his wife.

If this were a roommate situation, I doubt she would be so pissed off. She would realize that her roommate paid a greater portion of the rent/bills in exchange for her doing the housework/yardwork. So why does having sex with the unrelated person you live with suddenly entitle you to getting something for nothing? (Unless she thinks that sex is the service she provides him, in which case, you want to talk about a bizarre and misogynistic perspective...!)

Marriage is different because when you get married, you agree to form a family that functions as a single economic unit. But if he wanted her and her kid to be his family, he'd marry her and adopt the daughter. He hasn't. Her expectation of him to act like a husband and father when he has indicated clearly (by not marrying her) that he doesn't want to assume those obligations is thus unreasonable.

The OP and many of the commenters seem to be approaching this situation as one of "my husband and I both work all day but I still do all the housework/yardwork for our family" when it is really "my boyfriend heavily subsidizes my and my daughter's living expenses and in exchange expects me to do all the housework/yardwork." Those are two very different situations.

There seems to be a big disconnect between the OP's perception of the relationship and what the relationship actually is. The boyfriend has NOT committed to becoming her husband, but the OP expects him to act like they are married (socialized contributions to the household, addressing conflicts in the context of expecting the relationship to last long-term, couples counseling, etc.).
posted by Jacqueline at 8:44 PM on November 14, 2009

Response by poster: Jacqueline, your view on relationships seems really bizarre to me. Yes he does "subsidize our lifestyle" as you put it, but I would fully expect to do the same were the situation reversed. I can't imagine getting involved with someone and expecting them to do all the work in the relationship out of some sense of obligation because I make more money than they do.

I guess my mentioning the housework and the financial/kid stuff derailed the question a bit, I was upset when writing the question and was just venting all my fears about the situation. I've gotten a lot of good suggestions and insight despite that however, and I really appreciate it.
posted by weesha at 8:49 PM on November 14, 2009

Sure, but the implication here is that you're creating conflict out of things that aren't a big deal in order to highlight your different approaches to conflict. The flipside of his "pretending it doesn't exist" is your (possible) exaggeration of its importance, possibly in order to use his response as a gauge to measure his concern for your "feelings."

Yeah, maybe he's pretending it doesn't exist because he actually doesn't think it's a big deal. I mean from his perspective it's like: every once in a while you get really upset about house work, you scream and yell, and he ignores you, and the problem goes away for a while. So from his perspective this strategy is working really well. Why would he want to change it?

And beyond that, not getting into a yelling fight is really the right thing to do. You should try to avoid yelling at him. Talk to him about it when you're not mad and see if you can reason with him. But ultimately, what could convince him to change his behavior? He probably won't change, unless he realizes that you might leave him. Do you think he would change his behavior if he realized that it was making you want to leave him? Maybe it would be for the best if you just stopped worrying about it. :/

Also, I don't mean to be cynical here but you're daughter will be off to college in 18 months or so, and you can dump him them.
posted by delmoi at 8:52 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Salvia, I agree with everything you've said, except in this case what the people are at an impasse about is relevant. One could assume from the OP's text that her partner is quite okay with the situation. For whatever reason he is not inclined to do chores. Perhaps he doesn't want to do them. Perhaps he doesn't care how clean the house is. So he's really not at an impasse. He's not doing chores and not getting in arguments, so it could really be mostly okay for him. This might not be defined as an impasse where the trouble is he shuts down, but something else - Perhaps that he comes home to a partner who seems to get mad quite a bit about things he doesn't find important.

That said, I feel for you OP. Mr anitanita and I have different ideas about priorities - if you have 30 minutes, do you work out/rest because your health is important, or do you do sort out the kitchen because an organized house brings peace and serenity to your space? It's not about shutting down or remaining present in an argument - really, we just answer that question differently. And really, when we have tersely discussed this in the past, he was quite irritatingly present in telling me this, which really didn't get me any closer to getting the dishes clean. Just to note that even if you find you communicate better, you should be prepared that to hear things you don't want to hear, and not be surprised if your dishes still aren't clean either. :)

For us, those priorities aren't going to change. So, basically I thought a great deal about what I could control and what I couldn't and what I would prioritize. So my laundry being clean? Priority. His laundry - his business. Yard work? Not. My closet, yes. Living room, only if I'm in the mood, which I was earlier today. And things really don't fall apart. What's amusing to me is that just tonight, Mr. anitanita came in and looked around at the mess in the kitchen and said and said, "you know, tomorrow morning would be a good time to clean..." and I said , "yep. I'll join you..." I don't always say that, but tonight, I felt like it.

In short, I realized if I came up with a chore list, I'd grow resentful if he didn't do it. I challenged him to come up with one, and haven't seen hide nor hair of one, and don't expect to. So I decided to see just how messy things could get without one and if I only focused on my priorities. The answer: Messy, and I found myself joining into the "oops, are those my clothes on the living room floor?" experience. But nothing has fallen apart, and no one has starved, I note we are both inclined to let it get messy and then clean up, more than keep it clean consistently. And I am much calmer, because I'm not in an epic struggle over something that I can't win. Of course, I'd rather be in a messy house with Mr. anitanita, than in a clean one without him, so YMMV.

As for the shutting down thing, I do think that there are a number of good couples communication courses out there, and therapy is an option, but once again it might help if you separated that skill building from this struggle, because it might be difficult to untangle "how we communicate" from "what we individually value".

So rather than get into a mental struggle about whether it's fair or not for you to come home after working all day, and cook, clean, do laundry, *and* go out and do yard work, perhaps you should consider which, if any of those tasks need to be done at all, fairness aside. And how much. Are you cooking for everyone? Doing laundry for everyone? What would happen if you did this just for yourself, if at all? (occasional drycleaners, takeout, etc. come to mind....)
posted by anitanita at 9:25 PM on November 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

If this were a roommate situation, I doubt she would be so pissed off. She would realize that her roommate paid a greater portion of the rent/bills in exchange for her doing the housework/yardwork. So why does having sex with the unrelated person you live with suddenly entitle you to getting something for nothing?

Jacqueline, there are about a zillion roommate AskMe threads from fed-up roommates discussing these exact issues, with plenty of pissed-off people tired of doing their roommate's dishes, regardless of how the rent is divided. You seem to have a VERY specific idea of the difference between "just" a boyfriend/girlfriend and marriage. Nothing wrong with having a more traditional view of marriage, but it's pretty common for people to feel that a longterm live-in relationship is a commitment that goes beyond "unrelated person I've having sex with." A relationship isn't a list of goods and services exchanged...part of what you "get" out of it is the relationship itself.

weesha, nthing counseling, and a good way to approach it might be to point out that the aim of this is for both of you to better appreciate each other. It seems to me that a lot of times these sort of relationship difficulties are built on foundations that include some misunderstandings that have spiraled out of control and festered and can be undone surprisingly easily. A third party is invaluable to help "translate."

Maybe this relationship won't work out in the long run anyway, but perhaps you two can give it a fair shot and get out of this resentment loop.
posted by desuetude at 9:28 PM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I wonder if you should ask advice from some people in your life who know you, and who can be sincere and fair about it? Because I just don't know if it's wise to make major decisions going only on the advice of strangers who only hear your perspective on a complicated situation... That said, is this about pride? He's too proud to back down and do what you want, you're too proud to back down and stop needing to be right and him to be wrong. Maybe? I don't know if yelling and screaming (unless you are a football coach or a drill sergeant or something) ever made a person do anything without a great deal of resentment and dragging feet. Maybe you have to back down a little bit and acknowledge his POV, and try something like.. OK.. I know you are working all day, and housework sucks, and I'm sorry I've been yelling at you.. Just give it some time and patience so the situation isn't so charged.

If you two want to be together, does it need to be who wins and loses and uses this against the other person? Does that matter?

BTW two people can live together and have a committed and equal relationship without being married.. this is the 21st century now.. not everyone has to do that. frankly I have issues right now seeing it as a choice I'd make on a personal level, for many reasons, one of which is that my gay and lesbian friends don't even have the same rights, most places.
posted by citron at 9:30 PM on November 14, 2009

Best answer: I can't speak for your SO, but I can try to share my own experience from being on the other side of a similar situation. Early in our marriage, housework was a major source of conflict for my wife and me. There are a few things that contributed to this in our relationship.
1) We have very different levels at which clutter in our lives bothers us. Often times a level of clutter that stressed my wife out would just go unnoticed by me.
2) Even when I did notice, other stresses in my life left me feeling overwhelmed and unable to figure out where to start.
3) My conflict resolution skills, quite frankly, sucked. I would very quickly become too angry and defensive to have a reasonable conversation about our issues. Not wanting to completely lose my temper, I would withdraw. Thus, nothing ever got resolved.

Things are much better now. I'm not sure what the split of housework is in any given week, but my wife no longer feels totally alone in dealing with it. She has patiently helped me to be more of a grown up over the years, but it's not been an easy process for either of us. Like you she tried lists in various formats. They usually worked for a short while, then things would go back to the way they were. Here are some strategies that have worked for us:
1) Try to avoid absolutes in your statements - things like "I always" or "You never". When my wife would take this approach, I would latch on to anything that made that statement not entirely true as reason to feel unfairly attacked.
2) Try to focus on how the situation makes you feel, and be willing to admit that your feelings are not always going to be completely rational (no one's are). This approach did much more to defuse my defensiveness. "You never help!" can feel like an attack, and can be disputed on a factual basis. "I feel like I need more help" much less so.
3) Positive reinforcement, for me, was much better than nagging. If my wife went out of her way to let me know how much she appreciated the times I did help, I was more likely to help out again. Plus, apparently doing housework makes me much more desirable in my wife's eyes. It's not the entire reason that I help out more these days, but it's a nice bonus.
Bottom line, for us this was a communication and conflict resolution issue. The best thing might be for one or both of you to work with a good counselor to develop ways of resolving conflict in your relationship.
posted by GeekDad at 9:36 PM on November 14, 2009 [11 favorites]


Would you really want your daughter living in a household where her mom and some guy screamed at eachother?

Listen, I'm going to say something and it might be painful: Stop being violent with your boyfriend. It's not OK. It wouldn't be OK if he was some guy on the street, or if he was a coworker, or a roommate, or even a best friend.

Living with him or sleeping with him does not confer magic powers.

Here's a question: Does he ever vacate on you, before you explode on him? If you want the silence to stop, the explosions must end.

The question, then, is how to get the conversation away from:

"I want you to do X, Y, and Z."
"OK. *nothing happens*"

and, of course:

"I want you to do X, Y, and Z."
"But I want you to!"
"And I want a pony."
"I'll explode."
"I'll go silent."


"I want you to do X, Y, and Z."
"Hmm. What about X and Y?"
"Don't I have a say in this?"
"You want X, Y, and Z, I don't."
"Hmmm. How bout X, and we hire a maid for Y and Z?"

Put bluntly, the explosions feel good but they literally bring nothing but your eventual eviction to the table. Negotiate, and then follow through.
posted by effugas at 9:36 PM on November 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

Oh, and good luck to you. Living with other people has always brought my values, fears and unspoken expectations into sharp relief, and I really don't always like what I see, or care to be reminded of it every time I come home. I used to think I was easy going, but in this situation I find I am shades of my mother, who I now suspect was such a 'this house must be clean, and who's gonna clean it!" freak because of her parents. In fact I think my last spanking was because my bedroom wasn't clean. And yes, we had a maid.

I was shocked to discover that Mr. Anitanita apparently does not subconsciously imagine his parents are judging the cleanliness of his home from 3,000 miles away. I am amazed when he opens the door to solicitors when the house is a pit, which they can see just over his shoulder. He lets friends use our toilet when it's messy, just because they have to go to the bathroom after dropping him off. In short, he is an odd creature who makes me cringe and smile at the same time, because I really do see a different way of being in the world, and it's not always comfortable. I say all this to say that perhaps it might help to reflect and see if there are any issues that are being flared for you around this, with your partner helping clean the house (beyond the communication issue).

....and now off to my messy kitchen for some grapes!
posted by anitanita at 9:45 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with the OP that it IS bizarre to characterise relationships in such an "owing" sense, particularly in money terms, and to distinguish so ridiculously between marriage and de facto living status.

It's not a transaction so the OP should not be told that selling her cleaning abilities is the price to pay her man for the roof over her head. Imagine if the OP added up the amount of times she had sex with her man, and toted that up/ deducted that from his wages. Or literally gave him a bill at the end of each week for her 'second shift', done in overtime. How insulting.

If both of you work full time, you should factor in some home help with cleaning. Taking care of the big demands of a home is too much on top of two full time workloads and the lesser earning partner should not have to compensate. And to address an earlier poster's words: your 'human capital' is not worth less just because you earn less money per hour. What about the 'human capital' of mothering that the OP contributes?

Beyond that, I think the OP is very interested to know how to communicate with her man when he gives her the silent treatment. That type of sulk bugs the hell out of me too, and I'm gonna bet the OP didn't start with yelling when she first tried to address the issue. Adults don't yell at each other at the outset of communication - it's a sign of desperation at not being heard. And your sense that your man is being a bit controlling and resentful over earning more than you is probably the biggest red flag to me in your post. Maybe that's what you need to try to communicate about with him. Are you still interested in making each other happy?
posted by honey-barbara at 10:09 PM on November 14, 2009

Late to the thread, but I think it's because he knows you're right and feels like shit about it. What's to say then? "I know, I'm a lazy shit head. I intended to do it, but couldn't get up the motivation." How many times can you say that in a conversation before you don't want to be in the conversation anymore?

Help him nail down more specific plans, like when exactly are you going to have a "home maintenance" work day. If it's a thing where he's out doing the yard while you're vacuuming the house, and daughter is doing the dishes, he's going to have to participate and not procrastinate about it. Then, he'll feel good about getting some stuff done. Happy family results.

With people like that (like me sometimes), you kind of have to press them for details on when stuff is going to happen so that procrastination becomes impossible. You can't just nag about doing stuff and then leave it up to them to do it on their own whenever. The procrastination - guilt - avoidance - more guilt cycle is too strong.
posted by ctmf at 10:25 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you're a guy on this thread, and you live alone, would you please post how long it's been since you've thoroughly cleaned your own toilet?
posted by effugas at 10:26 PM on November 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

"What about the 'human capital' of mothering that the OP contributes?"

Not his child, so this is not a contribution to their relationship.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:35 PM on November 14, 2009

We both work full-time, but somehow I seem to end up doing *everything*. The things that are his responsibility, like the yard, are almost totally neglected. The garage is full of piles of his stuff that he keeps saying he's going to throw out, but doesn't. He has not cleaned a toilet once in the two years he's lived here. Now, I'm not exactly the world's greatest housekeeper, and I don't really care about things looking perfect, but I do feel stressed if they don't get done. And it doesn't seem fair that I should have to come home after working all day, and cook, clean, do laundry, *and* go out and do yard work.

So, like, don't. No one's forcing you to do anything.

Clean up after yourself, but for fuck's sake, let him deal with his own messes. Here's the thing, though: You're living with a bachelor in his natural habitat. Bachelors will occasionally tend to default to Slob mode, especially when there's a magical Chore Fairy who voluntarily does everything before he's even noticed there's anything that needs doing. If that makes you too "stressed," you have a few options:

1. Continue playing Chore Fairy.
2. Dump him because he's a slob.
3. Nag him until he dumps you because you are a nag.
4. Make really loud sighing noises whenever you step over a big pile of his dirty laundry.
5. Waitaminute---there's a teenager in the house? Teenagers love being allowed to do housework. Problem solved.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:58 PM on November 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

"What about the 'human capital' of mothering that the OP contributes?"

Not his child, so this is not a contribution to their relationship."

As in, to society.

Just because people don't earn the same amount of money as others, doesn't mean they haven't got 'human capital'. I get the sense that the child is seen as [to use your mercenary take on things] a liability, not an asset, in the relationship. Wow. That is taking a lot from the question. This bloke doesn't have to take equal responsibility for their home-making together, just so that a biological point is made on a daily basis.

I think the OP's question is about how to deal with sticking points and behaviours when a couple are 'negotiating' in different ways. Yelling is not okay and silent treatment is not okay. Both are immature, yet understandable, responses to conflict - as has been covered here. Saying that the guy gets to sulk because he earns more, or it's not his kid is pretty insulting. If he wanted to keep his own income inviolate and be a lazy bum, he could stay single. He's made choices in life, like the OP, and the child was an obvious part of the choice.

And, that the OP says that the relationship has many sound points, needs to be acknowledged. She seems to want to figure out how to get some attendance on fairly common family issues without the sulks, without the yelling and without threatening to, or actually, leaving him.
posted by honey-barbara at 11:02 PM on November 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

"As in, to society."

Her contribution to "society" is irrelevant to whether he owes her financial support in their relationship.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:22 PM on November 14, 2009

In reply to effugas: I've lived alone sometimes, and for the past few years, and the number of times I've "thoroughly cleaned" my own toilet is: zero. But I have someone who comes twice a week and they take care of it.

Concerning the OP:

Everyone is smacking Jacqueline down, but she is one of the few who offers a possible possible insight into what your boyfriend is thinking.

Let's say he contributes 2/3 of the household costs, yet your family unit (self and daughter) comprises 2/3 of the household unit. That would mean, in effect, he's supporting your daughter. That would mean he's going out to work and using up a fair old chunk his valuable (to him, at least) life-time - all those irrecoverable seconds, minutes, hours, weeks - on behalf of your offspring. You may not see it quite that way, but I think there's a good chance that he does. But he's discreet and civilised enough not to say it. Do you show your understanding and appreciation of his sacrifice? I suggest that at the very least, as a means to getting him on board in the chores campaign, you do so regularly.

And maybe get some cleaning help.
posted by londongeezer at 12:14 AM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Jacqueline, where on earth did you get this idea that I think he owes me financial support? You seem to have projected your own very materialistic values on to me. He absolutely doesn't have to do anything, but the fact is he and I both chose of our own volition to get together and pool our resources. I make about X$, he makes about 2X$ ...together we have 3X$ and live in a place that's affordable on that income. He did not "take me in" like I was some kind of helpless waif that showed up on his doorstep. Now, if we were to break up, we both go back to our former living standards, which doesn't bother me really...I would just feel bad having disrupted my daughter's home life by having to move, most likely to a different area since there's a big difference in where you can live on $90K than on $30K. So it could require a school change, which is rough on a high school kid who wants to graduate with her friends. Not to mention the emotional toll of losing a person she had become close to. That's just the kind of stuff a mom has to think about when she breaks up with a guy and her kid will have to suffer the repercussions. Yeah, maybe I shouldn't have moved in with him in the first place, especially after making the same mistake before, so yeah I'll take whatever lumps you want to dole out for that, but I did it because I truly love him and think he's a great guy, not out of some desire to upgrade my lifestyle.

Anyway...I did get to have a good talk with my guy tonight, and we have come up with a possible solution, which is to schedule a time once a week where we sit and talk. I had already gotten good at walking away when I was angry, the problem was I don't know how to approach issues if I'm not having an immediate emotional reaction. And he can't deal with the emotional reaction at all! So once I got over being angry, the problem was just swept under the rug. goal is that when something bothers me, to kinda make a mental note to bring it up in our weekly conversation. That will give me a week to get over it if I was just in a bitchy mood, and avoid saying things I regret, and it prevents him from feeling like he's just getting attacked out of the blue. We are also possibly going to look into counseling.

And for the record, I did ask him if he felt it was unfair that he contributed more financially and he said 'absolutely not.' He truly just does not give a shit about the housework. lol
posted by weesha at 12:19 AM on November 15, 2009 [10 favorites]


That's a pretty good peace you've made.

And he may really not care about the money, but he does care about his time. You really are going to have to scale back your requests. I am telling you, in no uncertain terms, your guy has never voluntarily thoroughly cleaned his toilet. This is not a flaw in him, or something you're going to be able to fix. The latent stress you feel is just not felt by him.

You've come up with a much better way to discuss matters of importance. But what you didn't say, is that you've given him permission to just flat out be directly negative in response to whether he'll do housework or not. Passive aggressive negotiation is pretty lame, but he's got to understand you'll give ground if he'll assert a position he'll follow through on.

But seriously. You will not get him to care about housework as much as you do. Get a maid. You can't just discuss this away. Get a maid.
posted by effugas at 12:44 AM on November 15, 2009

Weesha, I cannot imagine what Jacqueline is talking about. You're in a defacto marriage and in Australia you'd be entitled to a payout if you split. Oh, and he's your daughter's common law step-father... so don't underestimate your rights, or the seriousness of your relationship.

Not that I thought you were. But just keep that in mind as you go forward. Glad to read you've sorted something out.
posted by taff at 1:49 AM on November 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't really the housework or the money as the problem as much as their nearly opposite styles of conflict approach creating a cyclic push/pull situation that exacerbates the miscommunication.

He kind of freaks out and "vacates" when weesha gets angry, which makes weesha try to push through to get a response from him, which makes him pull back even further, which makes weesha push more, etc. He doesn't like to discuss unpleasant things, so he pulls away from conversations that may lead in that direction, which makes weesha feel that she needs to pin him down and attack problem issues, which makes him feel that yes, he was right... certain conversations are going to be terribly uncomfortable and he needs to pull back even more preemptively... and like that.

/Beware: Folksy story inserted here/

This reminds me a bit of my dog. I walk her with one of those retractable leashes that you can also lock into a certain length. When we get near an area where there is dangerous traffic (esp. around intersections, where things are confusing), I lock the leash in a short position so that there's no danger of her darting in front of a car on the longer length.

But then a funny thing happens. She's disturbed by the loud and confusing vehicles whizzing by, and starts pulling against me toward the dangerous street. I was puzzled (and alarmed) by this for a while, until I realized that for her, the shorter lead didn't mean safety, it meant danger! danger! because it was a loss of volition/autonomy... she felt trapped in this particularly unsafe spot, and was pulling away to try to regain some personal control - yet, if I had loosened the lead at that point, she would have careered right out into traffic.

So, I've had to approach things a bit differently, create a different sort of routine at those danger spots that doesn't send her into instant panic and a feeling of helplessness.

She really doesn't want to pull away from me, she wants to feel safe on her own terms within an accepted framework (she accepts the leash - it's normal, it's that sudden short-leash loss of control that freaks her out).

So weesha and her boyfriend each feel that same kind of panic at the loss of control represented by the other person's particular approach to a problem - and they each are straining away from that perceived danger... toward a worse danger (possibly breaking up).

When you guys have your talk, weesha, maybe you can discuss that aspect, and both try to actively remember to move toward a middle ground of discussion style that is less threatening for the other.

With my dog (to push an analogy waaaaay too far), I've worked out an approach of a Stop! voice command before we get to the danger point, and Focus-on-Me (forget about the scary traffic for the moment), and okay, let's go forward now in a calm way. The leash still becomes short for the duration of crossing that busy intersection, but the new approach means it doesn't throw her into a panic. When you guys have to approach a potentially difficult problem you can also Stop (this means you each agree that you don't escalate to anger, and he doesn't mentally run and hide), focus on each other (remember how the other feels), and agree to proceed calmly forward - with the leash of that conversation shortened (meaning we will address the issue), but also of a short duration (we won't belabor this and allow it to spin off into some long, unpleasant litany of accusations, etc.) - we're just getting through this dangerous intersection as quickly, safely, and calmly as possible, together.
posted by taz at 2:26 AM on November 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Wow...congratulations on getting as far as having a talk once a week!

That's a major breakthrough! Wish I could have gotten that far with my ex.

I agree that he really probably just doesn't care about housework. Not to tick you off but its just not on his radar of important things.

I think a maid would be a great stress reliever but if that is not an option for you, perhaps some kind of "reward" for him would work?

If he does the yard, he gets a backrub. If he does the washroom, he gets served beer anytime that night. If he does something major, he gets ..... :--))

Is that so terrible of me to suggest?

You can make it a game perhaps. Put a jar full of reward "coupons" that he can pull out when he does a chore.

And a jar for you too...a coupon for a neck massage, foot massage, breakfast in bed!

That sounds like fun to me. Something interesting for the next woman I live with .......
posted by simpleton at 2:56 AM on November 15, 2009

Having a regular talk once a week, when you're calm and he's engaged, sounds like a great idea.

There's this idea that people's different interpersonal styles can be summarized as "Task-Oriented vs. People-Oriented" and "Ask vs. Tell", leading to four different quadrants. For example, someone who's task-oriented and ask-oriented is a typical engineer--very analytical and problem-solving, not so good with emotions and conflict, deals with conflict by avoiding it. Conversely, someone who's people-oriented and tell-oriented is very bubbly and expressive, great at telling stories, charismatic, often gets angry or emotional during conflicts. A great satire.

It's pretty simplistic, but I've found it useful. Often people in different quadrants have difficulty figuring out how to deal with conflicts. (Ironically, it often seems to me that people in relationships are in opposite quadrants--presumably they're attracted by the other person's differences.) My usual approach in dealing with people with other styles is to move my style as close to theirs as possible--if they're talkative, be talkative, for example. But of course it's much easier to do this when you're not in full conflict mode.

If your boyfriend is in the "Analytical" quadrant, my suggestion is to take a problem-solving approach in your weekly talks--make it about the task (how can we keep the place clean? and how clean does it need to be in the first place?) rather than about emotions (how can we divide the work so that it feels fair?). If hiring a maid is workable, that sounds like a great solution.

The other idea that immediately comes to mind while reading your question is that people in partnerships often end up specializing--one person does all the cooking, for example, or one person does all the finances--and over time, they start to resent each other for it, and the partnership breaks down. The only book I've seen which talks about this is Barry Oshry's Seeing Systems. (This applies to business partnerships as well as to personal relationships.) My wife and I try to avoid this by taking over each other's tasks occasionally. For example, I work and my wife is at home looking after our kids, so she does all the cooking and the bulk of the child care, but I try to cook once in a while, and we give each other a regular evening off once a week. Last year she went to a friend's wedding out of town for a few days, and I took a few days off work, so I got to prepare lunches, drive the kids to school and extra-curricular activities, etc. It was eye-opening.

When you're sitting down with your boyfriend and trying to figure out the housekeeping thing, I'd suggest not dividing up the work with you handling the cooking and cleaning and him doing the yardwork. If you can, try to do stuff together, like spend a couple hours on the weekend catching up on cleaning, or spend a couple hours on the yardwork. If the two of you have different expectations on how clean the place should be, both of you may need to compromise somewhat (cleaner than he thinks is necessary, not as clean as you think).

On the piles of stuff in the garage, if your boyfriend is a procrastinator, I'd suggest trying to accept it if you can, rather than trying to change your boyfriend. Easier said than done, I know!

Good luck!
posted by russilwvong at 4:24 AM on November 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

When you sit down together for that once a week talk, be sure to listen to each other.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:34 AM on November 15, 2009

but when I come home and see all the chores piled up for me it just fills me with rage and frustration that I can't cope with.

Your BF doesn't sound like a saint, he could be doing things better, but really, this sounds like your problem in that you see this as problem and he doesn't. Getting mad at him isn't going help, he's probably confused as what the problem is or imagining you as shrill nagging harpy. Again, this doesn't mean he's right, just that you're beating your head against a brick wall.

Seriously, get a maid to help around the house and someone to do some of the yard work. If you two are still having problems, then yeah try to talk about it or leave if he doesn't want to talk, but in the meantime ask yourself this: Do you want to be angry and have to chores or would you rather be happy, knowing the chores are getting done?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:00 AM on November 15, 2009

A possible tip for your once-a-week talk: When my partner and I have something heavy to deal with, we have found that one thing that really helps is to set aside a bit of time during which one person only talks and the other person only listens, and then switch. Sometimes that means 15 minutes, and then the other person talks for 15 minutes. Once, during a very difficult time, it meant him listening to me for 20 minutes or so, and then us dropping the subject for a few days, at which time I would listen to him say what he needed to say, and then a few days later, I would talk. This has really helped us avoid escalating conflict by keeping us from responding out of an immediate strong emotional reaction, which can be really helpful if you've got a lot of resentment or other feelings built up.
posted by not that girl at 9:18 AM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are a couple books you might want to look at to get ideas of how to work through such practical problems as housework in an unwed family:

Unmarried to Each Other: The Essential Guide to Living Together as an Unmarried Couple

Shacking Up: The Single Girl's Guid to Living in sin Without Getting Burned

Living Together: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples

posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:45 AM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

That's great, weesha, and it sounds like you guys are on a good path. You personally probably don't need to hear what I'm about to say, but wanted to make sure to include it anyway for the sake of others reading:

"You are not his wife and your daughter is not his kid -- he doesn't have any legal or moral obligation to support you. Yet he is anyway, and you're picking fights with him over the yardwork? Do the yardwork yourself and be grateful that you have such a generous boyfriend!"

That's just so far off from what I believe love and relationships are about that it's kind of mind-boggling to me that others think it's appropriate. Where does that end? "Do his laundry and his errands, and be grateful that you have such a generous boyfriend"? "Give him blow jobs whenever he asks for them, and be grateful that you have such a generous boyfriend"? "Suck it up when he yells at you or hits you, and be grateful that you have such a generous boyfriend"? I'm not saying Jacqueline or those who agree with her believe all those things, just that I can't wrap my mind around where/why the line gets drawn between them. And I don't think it's a "weird sense of entitlement" at all to draw that line before "Do the yardwork yourself, and be grateful that you have such a generous boyfriend!"

As someone in a long-term relationship living with a boyfriend who I very much love and who makes less money than I do-- I could not imagine just assuming that he ought to be "grateful" that I am so "generous" as to pay more than half of our living expenses, that he's always in my debt and constantly needs to make it up to me. And if I did start acting that way, I would hope he'd have enough self-respect to get out and find someone better. I really can't understand how a person could carry around that kind of entitlement and simultaneously really love and respect their partner.

Look, I totally get that there are real, valid issues with making financial sacrifices when you're not sure how long-term the relationship is. My boyfriend didn't have the right to assume that I would pay more than my share, and he didn't-- we talked about it and he offered to pay his full half and I said "no, I love you, and I want you to be happy and do the work you love best even though it happens to pay less than what I do, so let's split expenses X-Y which seems fair to me." And he said, "thanks, I really appreciate that," and then we moved on, and I think it would be incredibly rude and inappropriate for me to expect him to always pick up my slack on the household front just because I agreed to pay more. Yeah, it's a sacrifice, but love is about sacrifice, and it's not about always carrying around a ledger book tracking who sacrificed what and who's in the other's debt.

Now, I'm not saying I think Jacqueline's all wrong-- I think it would have been appropriate and helpful to say something more along the lines of "I'm not sure if you're fully considering his financial sacrifices; it's all well and good to say you think you should be full partners despite not being married, but it's a risk and maybe he feels like you doing the housework is an appropriate way to compensate him for that risk, so you two should talk about it. You don't have the right to automatically expect that he will pay more than half of the expenses and that all the rest of the household tasks will be split 50-50. I encourage the two of you to evaluate what you both think is fair and right for your relationship." It's a fair issue, and I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with a couple agreeing that housework should be split in a way to help compensate for different financial contributions. But the idea that if you're not married and your partner earns more money than you, they have the right to just expect you to make it up to them, and you should shut up and be grateful that they are making sacrifices on your behalf? I don't think it's an acceptable part of a healthy relationship to value what you each bring to the partnership in terms of dollars and cents rather than in terms of two people who love each other trying to set up an arrangement rooted in their desire for the other person's happiness and well-being.

Sure, a non-marriage relationship is (usually) not like a marriage. But it is also (usually) not like a roommate situation either, and I think people deserve more than that from their partners who supposedly love them.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 2:27 PM on November 15, 2009 [5 favorites]

Feel for you on the second-shift issue. Almost every mother I know has solved some of the pain (of course, not the underlying issues) by getting household help, even 1x a month. Best of luck.
posted by mozhet at 3:40 PM on November 15, 2009

I'd recommend you read the book Difficult Conversations. I've recommended it here before. It will help you think through your feelings and thoughts and help you figure out how best to approach your (weekly) conversations in a way that also respects his emotional needs. That should help keep him from going silent.

There's an insight I just had today. When we are in a good mood, and our partner does something right, we can show it very easily: "oh, wow, thank you for bringing me tea! You rock my world!" The partner will rapidly learn that whatever they just did was something that makes us happy. But when we are in a bad mood, it's much harder. If our partner does the wrong thing, we may respond badly -- shouting or whatnot. If our partner does the "right" thing, whatever that may be, we'll respond less badly. But we're still likely to be in a bad mood. Our partner doesn't get that immediate reward of seeing us happy to know that they've done the right thing. In fact, given that we're still in a bad mood, our partner may think they've done the wrong thing. So it is very difficult for partners to figure out what they should do when the other one is upset.

That applies to you, OP -- what should you do when your boyfriend is upset and going silent? What are his needs at that time, what is your best response? You don't know, because nothing you do will snap him out of his mood. Is it better if you leave him alone, or press at him, or what? It's hard for you to know. Similarly, he probably has no idea at all what to do with you when you are angry. Whatever he tries, it's still bad -- you're still angry. So he just gives up, goes silent.

What to do about all of this? Well, I think your weekly conversations are a good start. But also, both of you should try to be aware during the moments you are angry/stressed whatnot: is there anything the other one does that feels right to you? Make a note of it, and later on, tell them what they did right. "You know, this afternoon when I came home I got really upset about the chores. I yelled at you, and I'm sorry about that. But when you apologized, that really helped. Thanks." Slowly, each of you will begin to learn what you should be doing with each other.

Best of luck! You seem considerate and insightful -- both qualities which will help you in this journey.
posted by wyzewoman at 5:23 PM on November 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sorry to pile on.

I would say (speaking now as someone who has worked through a lot of conflict with her current living partner and feels like we have a good mechanism for communication) that I don't really care about things looking perfect, but I do feel stressed if they don't get done sounds like your need, not his. If he doesn't get stressed, okay. I would advocate the maid idea, not as a way to concede or stop working on conflict resolution, but in order to take care of the biggest evidence of the problem. It could demonstrate to your daughter that there are options other than fighting or leaving and that you have the confidence to take care of your needs, and it might reduce the practical household frustration enough to make communication possible. At the very least, it would reduce your stress until your daughter's done with school and you can leave. However, I have such hope for you -- it is so good that you two have talked about it. Weekly conferences might be a solution per se, but acknowledging a problem together and taking a step to address it is huge!

I hate feeling nagged and I love to have boundaries, so the periodic meeting idea works REALLY WELL for us --I know when the perceived nagging will begin and end, and the other person (or both of us, eventually) has a venue in which they know they'll be heard respectfully. Earlier on, a therapist recommended doing 30-second or 2-minute periods in which one person would talk and the other person would just listen. We did it for a couple of months (weekly, at restaurants, which are neutral and enjoyable) and I can still see the ways in which it changed our relationship for the better. The other thing that helps a ton is talking about metacommunication, or how the way in which we communicate makes us feel about what is said. And laying down ground rules for perceived respectful communication is always important.

I am currently the messy person in a home. Thoughts from my baser side: One reason I'm not proactive about helping out is because it feels like once I do one thing, there is just more work piled on. If I'm going to get nagged the same amount, I'll choose the scenario where I do less work total, and where the work isn't followed by a critical comment or, "Okay, now do all this, too." That works because (1) this doesn't feel like my place, like I don't have equal say in how decisions are made and what "livable" means, and (2) there isn't a real consequence for delay.

Something like, "I feel like I am doing more than my share of the work, and this is why. It's not what I respected from this arrangement. I'm really frustrated," has been much more effective than devious strategies or lists because it feels like a partnership. And recognition is really important, as is the permission to do the job in my own way. Maybe part of the garage could just become your husband's space, where he can dump things and keep them as long as he wants to.

things that are his responsibility, like the yard. Sometimes I don't actually feel ownership over things that are deemed "my responsibility." During our communication times, we can talk about why that might be, whether we're satisfied with it, what could change, and how we could support each other.
posted by ramenopres at 6:35 PM on November 15, 2009

I used to live with an ex, briefly. I earned very little, and moved into his flat without somewhere to go. He expected me to do the bulk of the cleaning to help out, and he did none, which drove up resentment. Then, for reasons too long to go into, I moved out but we kept seeing each other - and when I went round, he expected me to clean up after him, as I was at his flat and using his hot water and his electricity.

Basically, you're not flatsharing. You're in a relationship.
posted by mippy at 4:12 AM on November 16, 2009

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