A man does not need a maid!
October 25, 2010 8:35 AM   Subscribe

I can't believe that, in 2010, I have to ask this question: How do I get my SO to share housework duties?

First off, I just want to say I love him to death. This is not a deal breaker situation. We've talked about this before. He's always very willing to hear me out, and knows he needs to do more. However, actions speak louder than words! Perhaps you can help us find a solution.

We have a wonderful two bedroom, 1.5 bath house, for which I do all of the cleaning. I cook almost all of the meals (sometimes on the weekends he'll make something), and I'm usually the one to clean up afterward. Usually I need to convince him to help around the house, either with bargaining or agreeing to help him. For example, I hate taking out the trash, so that's been his job, though most of the time I need to either help him gather all of the trash in the house or haul it out to the curb for him.

So, I have a few theories about why we're having issues:

1. He really hates being told what to do. Most of the time, I feel like a nag when I have to ask him over and over again to do something. I wonder if me asking him make him loathe the task even more, so it just never gets done.

2. He's not always 'around' when I'm doing most of my tasks, so I wonder if he doesn't "actively" see how much I'm doing. So, when he comes home from work and I ask him to clean up after the dinner I just made (to be fair?), he feels like he's doing all of the work because I'm sitting around doing nothing in the meantime.

I also know that he was never big into doing the housework before I met him (oh, his bathtub was so disgusting). I'm trying to be realistic about what I should expect from him, but it bothers me (and he knows it) that I somehow should be the one to do most of it.

So, what are your solutions? I'm open to anything, really, except the current situation. We used to have a "chore sheet" when we lived with a third person, but he'd often slack on that, as well. Should we set aside an "allowance" for whoever does the most chores that month?

Please help! Recently, his mother came and spent the weekend at our house, and I was left to do all of the cleaning, cooking, and cleanup from her trip. And, my father has literally rarely ever done chores in his whole marriage to my mother. In fact, they recently moved into a new house with no dishwasher, and after months and months of my mother (who has two jobs) doing everyone's dishes, she finally broke down and sternly ordered everyone to wash their own dishes immediately after eating. My father lasted less than 3 weeks of washing his own dishes before he remodeled their whole kitchen himself in order to get a dishwasher. The present is exhausting, and the future scares me.
posted by two lights above the sea to Home & Garden (56 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
If you've spoken to him and he still doesn't adhere to it, I'm not sure what to suggest. But one thing I would advise is to stop doing his chores for him. yes, things will be grody for a while, but if you keep doing his chores, he's going to think you'll do them forever and he's off the hook.
posted by LN at 8:39 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

You need to sit him down and say, "You're an adult and you need to share household duties with me. I love you but I am very serious about this. Please help me." Then you agree on what will be his chores, and what will be yours, and how often each of you will do these things. You need to come up with something formalized so you aren't always nagging at him or bossing him around. Nobody likes to clean the house (at least, nobody I know), so that's not really an excuse on his part. He's got to understand that you don't like washing the dishes anymore than he does, but as you don't have a maid, one of you is going to have to do it.

It might help to make a list. In my household, we have a list of ten chores that must be done throughout the week, and each of us is responsible for half the list. When we do a chore, we cross it off. The idea is to do one thing each weekday so we don't have to spend the weekend cleaning, and so far it seems to be working really well. But the key is, we each have to man up and do our part.
posted by something something at 8:41 AM on October 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

I have one word for you: housecleaner.

A man may not, as your title suggests, need a maid, but a man and a woman in a relationship where there is perceived inequity about chores and household tasks do, most certainly, need a maid. My partner and I have a similar problem, and it has been astonishing how much 3 hours of professional cleaning per week have done to create harmony in our home.

Regarding the broader issue of cooking. This, too, is true in our home. I've come to accept that my partner doesn't really like to cook, so on nights that he cooks, dinner is take-out or microwaved Trader Joe's instant whatever. This works for us, too. He is still "cooking" (preparing a meal and serving it), he just doesn't ascribe the same value I do to homecooked meals.

Finally, for the little chores that will come between your weekly cleaning, may I suggest something that has worked great for us? I call it "Fifteen minutes for cleaning". Say, "X, shall we do fifteen minutes?" When they agree (usually at our house there is some schedule negotiation), set the timer on the microwave, turn on some loud, fun music and clean whatever it is you think needs cleaning. He cleans whatever it is that he thinks needs cleaning. Note that you shouldn't tell him what to clean unless he specifically asks for direction, the point is that both of you are working to clean your home simultaneously. At the end of 15 minutes, you may have done the chore yourself that you wanted him to do, but he will have cleaned something else, perhaps something that you weren't even aware needed cleaning. When the buzzer goes off, high-five him and you're done cleaning.
posted by arnicae at 8:44 AM on October 25, 2010 [22 favorites]

How much would it cost to get someone to come in once or twice a week to do his share of the chores? Tell him that he either does his half or you're going to hire one and send him the bill. He may prefer that. Either way, you don't end up doing all the work.
posted by decathecting at 8:45 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, p.s. - wrt to not doing his chores for him because eventually it will get grody enough for him to clean it himself. If your guy is like mine (you mentioned the particularly disgusting tub), the point at which he decides "This is too messy for me" much, much later than yours. Like live mold cultures later. This may not be a tenable solution unless your thresholds for grody-ness are similar.
posted by arnicae at 8:46 AM on October 25, 2010 [10 favorites]

One solution may be paying a cleaner and split the cost. That will eliminate a lot of the big chores.

I'd also consider making him 'in charge' of a few things that are totally obvious and unavoidable (i.e. Not the bathtub) - trash and recycling would be one obvious thing. Or laundry. Or dishes.

You may need to lower you expectations and fish your undies out from the laundry basket every now and then.

Unfortunately not everyone has the same standards. You may need to tell him 'I don't want to nag, but this is important to me. Thus, it needs to be important to you.'
posted by k8t at 8:47 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree that you need to sit him down and get his agreement, but I think I would offer it as choices:

1. You can make a list (together? maybe he doesn't think X needs to be cleaned as often as you think) and divide the chores however makes sense, then each person is responsible for their list and they do it on a reasonable schedule without any nagging from the other. This gives each of you individual responsibility.

2. You can be completely in charge of the list and you keep track of what needs to be done when, but you will tell/ask him to do something and he must do it, within a reasonable time. This takes him out of the responsibility level and puts him into the drone level, but if it works for your relationship, then ok.

3. Hire a maid. But know that a weekly maid is not going to clean up after each meal that gets cooked all week or take out the trash on the right day, etc - someone still needs to do that type of chore.

There is no single right answer - whatever works for the two of you. But you need to get him on board with something or you will end up resenting this after a while.
posted by CathyG at 8:57 AM on October 25, 2010

I completely agree with the "get a maid" suggestion. Consider splitting up the chores and telling him that he can do his half himself - and on time - or he can use some of his discretionary spending money to pay for a maid to do his chores for him.
posted by prefpara at 8:58 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Outsourcing your cleaning responsibilities is a popular suggestion here (and not necessarily a bad one) but it doesn't solve the real problem here, which is that he is taking advantage of the fact that he knows you will clean and cook and take care of everyone's needs no matter what, allowing him to drop the ball over and over again. Something tells me he doesn't exactly express his heartfelt appreciation for all that you do, either.

In this day and age, there is no reason a grown man in a committed relationship who has a house and a job can't handle washing some dishes or taking out trash on his own. None!

You are letting history repeat itself. No chore sheet. No allowance. He is your partner, not your child.

"Boyfriend, I am exhausted. Here is a list of all the things I do on a daily basis for the both of us. I live here because I want to share a house and a life with you, but I am feeling very alone. We have talked about this and you say you'll do more, but I haven't seen it. I don't enjoy nagging you about dishes and trash all the time. I don't want to be your mother, or turn into mine. I love you. Please, please help me here."

Then, make a deal or two. He does dishes when you cook dinner, and vice versa. You'll clean the bathroom while he vacuums. Include yourself in it so you're not just giving him tasks. Teach him how to share cleaning duties. It's possible he never learned.

Good luck! I hope things get better.
posted by blackcatcuriouser at 9:02 AM on October 25, 2010 [43 favorites]

One thing that works semi-well for us (our house is variably clean, but we have two kids and are both laid-back): having firmly-defined "yours" and "mine" chores. Tell him, "Unless you wish to discuss, X, Y and Z are your responsibilities and A, B and C are mine. I don't care WHEN you do them, or how, just that they are done." When I became aware that the dishes were MY domain, I definitely stopped letting them languish in the sink for weeks. And when he sees that YOUR chores are taken care of (he's EATING MEALS, for one) and HIS are not, that may prod him into action. Or not.
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:03 AM on October 25, 2010

I'm kind of on the other side of this equation, but not as badly as your SO. My tips are:
- Find out what chores he doesn't mind so much, and make them his job, e.g. you do all the laundry, he does all the washing up. Ideally you would match things you hate and he hates, so you can remind him that by doing the washing up (which you hate), he is helping you out and in return he never has to do the laundry (which he hates).
- Find a way to make chores less of a hassle, e.g. I don't mind washing up because I watch a TV show on my laptop at the same time.
- If he really doesn't notice that you are doing more while he's not around, remind him, but ahead of time, e.g. "Honey, tomorrow I'm going to clean the bathroom and do the laundry, so could you help out and put the trash out when you get home and vacuum the office?". Alternatively, can you postpone something you'd do before dinner until afterwards so you can both do a chore simultaneously.

If those don't work then you really do need to sit down with him and give him the "You're an adult and you need to share household duties with me. I love you but I am very serious about this. Please help me." talk.

And there's this if he has an iPhone and really loves his RPGs.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:06 AM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

Actions do speak louder than words here - he values not doing chores over dividing them equitably with you. He is a grown-up and should have the capacity to do things he doesn't want to do without being reminded and without griping about it.

I agree with the posters saying you should stop working so hard ("doing his chores for him"). Make yourself a sandwich for dinner. Do your laundry separately. Don't buy things that are difficult to clean. But however little you do, I would still consider it a problem that (it sounds like) he does nothing.

I have a problem with solving the feminism-based dilemma of unequal chores by paying (usually) another woman a menial wage to do them instead. If you do hire a housekeeper, please ensure that person is paid well, gets SS and other benefits, etc. It is still anti-feminist to devalue housework when you're having someone else do it.
posted by momus_window at 9:08 AM on October 25, 2010 [23 favorites]

He really hates being told what to do. Most of the time, I feel like a nag when I have to ask him over and over again to do something. I wonder if me asking him make him loathe the task even more, so it just never gets done.

He's an adult. The way adults avoid having to be told all the time what to do is to do it before they are told. "To live outside the law you must be honest."--Bob Dylan.

I'm kind of flabbergasted by this question, enough so that I am having a hard time coming up with useful suggestions. Aside from talking to him, I would suggest that you serve his dinner to him on dirty plates for a while. It won't kill him, but it might get his attention.
posted by OmieWise at 9:13 AM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

We used to have a "chore sheet" when we lived with a third person, but he'd often slack on that, as well.

I have recently gone back to this in my house and it's working really well. I have teenagers, not a live-in partner, but some of the relationship dynamics are the same (they don't want to be nagged/I don't want to nag, other than this there's a good bit of mutual respect, we all agree in principle on the chores, etc.). Having it written down means you're not telling him what to do, it's just a list of stuff that needs doing and you both have some things to check off every day.

Here's what I've found so far:

(1) it takes a while for any habit to develop, and that includes looking at a chores-list every day. So keep it in a very visible place and make sure there's something on there every day, ideally the same number of chores every day. If you use a whiteboard then he can cross things out as he finishes them. (That kind of thing isn't just for little kids --- I love crossing things off my to-do list!) If he has 3 things to do every day and they change every day and he can cross things out or erase them as he goes, then it will become a habit. Chores can include things you think ought to be no-brainers ("check the trash bin and empty if needed; replace with new bag") but besides those, vary them from one day to the next.

(2) his standards for cleanliness differ from yours, so show him how you want things done, and vary who does them (I have "wipe down bathroom floor/sink/toilet" on our list twice a week, and even with their cooperation I need to get in there and do it myself from time to time.)

(3) Make it fun. Lots of praise and displays of gratitude; sounds silly but chores are really chores for some people, and they don't see the payoff of a job well done & need external attaboys. Put Queen or some Violent Femmes on really loud and clean like crazy together for an hour, then go out and do something fun together.
posted by headnsouth at 9:14 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do you and you SO work outside the home the same amount of time? Just curious, because it would affect my answer to your question.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:21 AM on October 25, 2010

Hiring a maid is almost immediately out for us. It's not really in our budget, and I agree with momus_widow's point on that. Though, it's certainly worth investigating as a last resort for my sanity.

It might be worth mentioning that he leaves work a bit later than I do (7-8pm as opposed to 6pm for me). After I get home (around 6:15-30ish), I walk the dog for about 45mins and then I make dinner.

I also want to note that he is actively watching this thread, so feel free to address him directly. :D
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:23 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

"I can't believe that, in 2010, I have to ask this question"

I feel like this comment sheds some more light on your personality and that this could be causing some issues.
posted by lakerk at 9:25 AM on October 25, 2010

And he usually works a 9 hour day and I work an 8 hour day. So, we usually get up at the same time every day, I get ready and leave for work while he walks the dog. I am in work at 10, and he is usually in work by 11am. I work until 6, and he works until 8ish. Sometimes he has early days, which means he gets up an hour earlier and can leave work and hour earlier.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:26 AM on October 25, 2010

"I can't believe that, in 2010, I have to ask this question"

I feel like this comment sheds some more light on your personality and that this could be causing some issues.

Can you elaborate on that?
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:26 AM on October 25, 2010

There are some chores you need to do for yourself. You need to make yourself food. You need to clean your own clothes. You will need to do some minimum of cleaning to keep yourself happy. If he neither makes a meal nor cleans up after it, why give him the food? Why are you the one who is walking the dog? Who does his laundry? Have separate towels, etc. Don't do any chores while he's not there -- if he doesn't like to see you relaxing while he works, or cannot motivate himself in that situation, relax before he gets home, so you can do chores together.

(Does he leave for work at the same time as you do?)
posted by jeather at 9:30 AM on October 25, 2010

OK, just to state first, this kind of inequality in a relationship is a deal breaker with me.

However, you mention that you do most of your cleaning when he's not there. In a previous question you mentioned that he works until 8pm, and you get home around 6pm. Do you leave for work at the same time - does he work longer hours than you?

For me, equality is about "hours spent contributing to the relationship". Hours spent at work, hours spent cleaning, hours spent performing childcare, hours spent in class or studying are all worthy hours spent contributing to the betterment of the relationship. So, in that regard, if my partner worked 10 hours more a week than I did, I'd "owe" the relationship ten extra hours of week, which in this instance would be in the form of cleaning.

I'm not necessarily saying this needs to be your philosophy, but if he does indeed work longer hours, then it may be similar to what he's thinking. It certainly doesn't address the dysfunctional mother-child dynamic, but this is maybe a more forgiving way to look at the situation.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 9:30 AM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have a similar situation with my partner, the difference being that I'm also pretty terrible with keeping up with chores and cleaning, so our apartment ends up being a disaster zone. I both despise housework and feel like it gets dumped on me because I'm a girl and start to get panicky when the mess begins to pile up (partner is less likely to notice unless we have guests).

Frankly, we are still working through it, but based on my previous and numerous roommate situations, the thing that never worked for me was a chore list. God, chore lists suck. Ugh, micro-management of your domestic life. I think they breed resentment. Especially, if people are assigned only certain chores, you get that "the grass is greener" thing, where you feel like your chore" are so much worse/harder/etc. than everyone else's chores. (Even if you choose that chore in the beginning) I think setting aside one day for everyone to get together to have a group cleaning (yay, fun!, right? um, no), is also bound to fail. Then you end up schedule coordination issues and more resentment.

My most successful roommate chore strategy was this:
Rotate cleaning weeks. Mark it on your calendar. The agreement is that by the end of that week, the house will be cleaned. It doesn't have to happen on a certain day. It includes all basic chores: bathroom, kitchen, etc. If one person has an unusually busy/crazy week, you can swap weeks and in exchange, the other person does two weeks in a row.

I'll let other people figure out the interpersonal stuff, but on a practical level, I think it works well, as far as feeling a. fair and b. non-constraining. You can fit around your own schedule. Everyone ends up doing some of the chores the truly hate and the ones they don't mind. There isn't the irritation of "oh, here's this nit-picky excel printout of an excel spreadsheet with rows and rows of annoying shit I have to do now."

Plus, this amazing thing happens when you clean the house on a regular basic where the weekly cleaning takes less and less time, since you are less likely to reach disaster zone levels of messiness.
posted by thewrongparty at 9:31 AM on October 25, 2010

Ack, should have previewed, so maybe not ten hours, but five or so?
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 9:33 AM on October 25, 2010

I wish everyone would think of household chores as being as fundamental as personal hygiene.

Tell him to look at it this way, when did he start washing his own hair? Brushing his own teeth? Do you have to tell him to brush his own teeth? Would you brush his teeth for him? Would he let you brush his teeth? Hopefully the answer should be no. HELL NO!

Then why are you scrubbing this man's toilet?

Being an adult, a home-owning adult even, means you are obligated to a new set of personal responsibilities, just like when you first took on the responsibility of brushing your teeth. Your wife shouldn't need to tell you when to brush your teeth, no one should. They're your own damn teeth. Your wife shouldn't need to tell you when to clean the kitchen either. Its your own damn kitchen.

You are not his mother. More importantly, he should not be content to be your child either. Letting someone else clean up after you is just as infantilizing as having someone wipe your ass.

I think any lasting change will come from a fundamental appreciation of this fact, not any star stickers on a chart. You shouldn't need to one-up each other to win star stickers on a chart or allowance money. Star stickers on a chart works on 7 year olds. I hope you're not married to a 7 year old. You are two adult partners working together. You shouldn't need a game or gimmick to get an adult to brush his teeth, likewise cleaning his home.

That said, a fundamental appreciation of the way a grown-ass man should take care of himself and his home might take a while to foster. I think you should start by letting him know how deeply unhappy this situation makes you. For any loving partner that should be a wake up call. Let him know that you are growing disgusted at his childish behaviors. Stop cleaning alone. Let him know what needs to be cleaned and ask him when he'd like to work on it with you.
posted by fontophilic at 9:33 AM on October 25, 2010 [16 favorites]

Cleaning services are not as expensive as you think. Around here (California), a cleaning is $65-100/session.
posted by k8t at 9:39 AM on October 25, 2010

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he may just not care about cleanliness and neatness as much as you do. So he's not freeloading off you, necessarily, he just doesn't care if anyone cleans the bathtub.

But sucessful relationships are about compromises. To that end, I suggest you two sit down one saturday morning with a cup of coffee and good night sleep, and go through the chores and divvy them up equitably.* If he works 9 hours and you work 8, and you feel as a couple that the extra hour is important/valuable/etc., you might give him an hour chores credit every day. Try to assign yourselves chores that you can each tolerate. For example, I don't mind doing laundry and my husband hates it, so I do laundry. And I hate taking out the trash, so he does that. We're flexible, but we generally stick to that plan. I don't like the daily grind of cooking, so he does that, and he hates to clean the house, so I do that 3 out of 4 weeks (cleaning lady takes the 4th week). I know you say there's no money in your budget for a cleaning lady, but if he would RATHER use his share of the discretionary budget to pay someone else to do his fair share of the chores, then he should give it a try and see whether the X fewer Ys are worth not doing the chores. If you guys go that route, he may not have many other chores because house cleaning is such a big one. If not, he has to man up and do his chores. In our household, if someone doesn't want to do their chore then, they make cute faces and beg the other spouse to give them a pass or to do their chore for them. It doesn't happen that often because it's obvious we're shoving our chore off on the other person. And it usually makes the other person smile. We also allow a certain level of failure - sometimes the laundry piles up into huge mountains and we just deal with it for a while because something else is more important at that point than folding laundry.

*I care more about cleanliness, gardening, etc., and so I actually do more chores around the house. I think that's a fair compromise between my desire for a spotless house and his indifference to very high levels of clutter.
posted by n'muakolo at 9:46 AM on October 25, 2010

Also, (ugh, I suck at providing relevant information!), starting November 1st, I will be working 8 hour days, 6 days a week (two jobs). So, the work balance will be different soon.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:51 AM on October 25, 2010

Oh boy. Now that two lights above the sea's SO is actually READING this, I am almost tempted to school him! But I won't.

I will say that now that it's clear that she works full-time as well, I can only emphasize my earlier advice times a MILLION.

I will also say this: When I cook dinner for the bf, after we're done he just gets up and starts washing the dishes without even asking. It's a small thing, but it really makes me feel valued and cared about. Mind you, this is a guy who won't do his own laundry for over a month and wears a pair of jeans 100 times before washing them. But he'll take the 10 minutes to wash dishes after I've cooked our dinner. It makes me LIKE doing things for him, because I know he appreciates it and wants to help where he can, as opposed to being resentful and bitter that I'm doing all the work.

The bf and I have different standards of cleanliness, but there are a few things we definitely agree on. Find those things you agree on and figure out how you can get them done - TOGETHER.
posted by blackcatcuriouser at 9:56 AM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

Decades ago in the early-marriage period, after crying into the dishpan, I blubbered to my husband: "I need you to do the dishes every night, starting now." Mission accomplished.

Daily clean-up KP duty is huge. If you're the shopper and chef, you need a clean orderly kitchen to work in. If your husband isn't willing to do the dishes and cleanup--really so basic--go on strike.
posted by Elsie at 10:02 AM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

First off, in terms of things you can do to balance things out: If he does nothing and you do everything, the one thing you can do right this instant is to quite simply do less. Unless you're really super neat-freaky, or you're expecting special guests, or something like that, the place probably doesn't need to sparkle at every waking moment. Which is to say, as much as you feel his input is too low, he may well feel yours is far too high.

Secondly, a question about the dynamics of your household: What's the work situation like? Do the two of you work the same hours at equally grueling jobs? In terms of who does more housework, relative levels of workplace fatigue need to be factored in. (That said, relative payscales don't count for shit.)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:04 AM on October 25, 2010

The simplest solution to the cleaning issue when it comes to food is the deal my wife and I have: if you cook, the other person cleans. Period, no exceptions.

This isn't free of annoyance - I'm a clean-as-I-go cook and my wife, um, isn't. So I will sometimes grumble that she's managed to dirty up twice as many utensils and prep bowls as I feel like was necessary but hey, she cooked. When it's particularly horrid she'll pitch in if she's of a mind.

If we were really being sticklers for what feels perfectly equitable this might seem unfair to me; she likes to cook more than I do, has a wider repertoire, and doesn't like much of my dishes. (I love her even if some form of brain damage means she doesn't eat mushrooms) But it's hard to argue with the balance of cook or clean: pick one.

I also second hiring a cleaning service if you can afford it. Having someone else come in and clean our toilet and other services every two weeks is money well spent. It's also a timetable that makes everyone straighten up periodically.

Beyond that, this nonsense where he supposedly states understanding that this is unfair and he has to do his part... but doesn't? You can say that's not a deal-breaker but I have to say that I would find that method of dealing with a conflict to be totally unacceptable. That's not about cleaning, it's about committing to do something and respecting my priorities & needs. The fact that said lack of respect also comes with more work for me? There'd be regular discussions or counseling.

I'd say a serious sit-down is in order. Do you understand that this is unacceptable to me? Do you understand that it makes me very unhappy? What can we do about it? I know you don't like being asked and I don't like asking you - how can we deal with the times when it's not getting done?

And while I can see lakerk's point about the indicators of how you phrase that statement I have to say I am in total agreement with the sentiment. But again, I think you should look at this not as an equality issue but as a partner-conflict issue. Any argument where a partner tells the other they acknowledge a problem and will do something but doesn't follow through and reacts with anger to being called on it is an issue.
posted by phearlez at 10:04 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

It might be helpful for you if not for him to talk about the chores you've done when he hasn't been looking. At least, I've found it helpful when navigating household chore inequity in my household. Making the unseen seen and such.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:14 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Plan of action:
1. Individually. Make personal lists of what chores each of you thinks need to be done. Try being honest while doing so.
2. Together. Compare lists. Write down the items that overlap (or come reasonably close to each-other) on a third list. Split up these tasks evenly according to individual preference. Haggle about details but don't let go. These are the tasks both of you know need to be done.
3. Together. Make a week-based schedule and stick to it*, both of you.
4. Individually. Take the remaining items from the list of the other into a silent room. Free-write about each of them, highlighting their possible benefits, drawbacks, and your feelings about them.
5. Together. Have a discussion: Compare points on each and every single of these items on both lists, taking turns. Address the nature of these chores, their (non)-necessariness, their desired level of 100%ishness, the frequency they need to be done, etc.
6. Together. Step two of the discussion. Narrow down these points to negotiables and non-negotiables, taking note of differences of opinion about level of 100%ishness and frequency, etc.
7. Together. Split negotiables evenly according to individual preference, add to list 3. Do try to compromise on frequency, etc, etc.
8. Look hard at the non-negotiables. If they're a dealbreaker for one of you, you must either hire someone for doing them, or the person who "needs" them done needs to do them themselves, or you run away screaming, or you mutually agree that whatever nagging requested for getting these items resolved is okay in your relationship, but only for these items.

*Violating list 3. of unbreakable agreed chores is serious, because the list is not at all based on, you know,
- what your mother once told you,
- how she told it,
- how you, at 14, reacted to her telling it,
- how you reacted/what you felt when daddy came home and had his bark about the situation,
- whom your partner reminds you of when s/he is taking issue with household not-dones or
- whom your partner reminds you of when s/he reacts grumpily and defensively to such addresses.
It is based on something you worked out together, having spent some real quality time with each-other. Messing with that hurts both, while the bathtub remains disgusting. So don't.
posted by Namlit at 10:28 AM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

I wish everyone would think of household chores as being as fundamental as personal hygiene.
Being an adult, a home-owning adult even, means you are obligated to a new set of personal responsibilities, just like when you first took on the responsibility of brushing your teeth.

Some people really don't agree with these statements (I do, but others do not). You should understand where your SO is coming from first and let that influence your strategy. Does he value a clean house, and just doesn't take steps towards a clean house? In that case, leaving things dirty might help motivate him. But if he doesn't consider cleanliness an urgent thing, you'll have to find non-cleanliness-oriented ways of motivating, such as the chore list / tradeoff weeks / allowance suggestions.

It sounds like you've already tried giving him a Big Strong Man chore (carrying trash) - maybe find more ways of doing that, and if he misses a chore you can ask where's your Big Strong Man to do (insert Manly thing)? It's silly, but you and he might not feel like it's nagging if you dress it up somehow.

On preview: nthing everything n'muakolo said.

Addressing him directly: Man up. Take some pride in your nice place - or it won't be nice for long. How can you take pride in your place if you don't put some work into it - and that includes cleaning. Be a man, which includes responsibility and appreciating your SO. How hard is it to wash a few dishes after someone has made you a nice meal? It's not a chore, it's a way to show you her appreciate what she's done. Look at it from that positive perspective of "I'm going to return the favor I've just been given." Find some things that you can do consistently and do them, and take pride in them. Okay, maybe you can buy a larger trash can and empty it less regularly - but never miss emptying it. Maybe you don't make casseroles - what about pot roast or grilling some shanks?
posted by Tehhund at 10:33 AM on October 25, 2010

He may not care about a clean house, but I bet he cares about eating and having clean clothes. Stop cooking for him and stop doing his laundry until he is willing to treat you with some respect.
posted by Mavri at 10:45 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

"My dearest, you know that our housework deal is unfair. You should be doing approximately half of the household shared tasks. Let's clear up a few details:
A. As a grownup, you do know when the toilet needs to be scrubbed, when the trash needs to go out, when the car needs the oil changed, etc., and can do an adequate job. You may find that scheduling chores on a calendar will help you remember these tasks.
B. I know it feels bad to you to do chores, while I watch teevee. But I do many, many tasks while you are not home or not noticing, so this may be a learning issue.
C. You dislike it when I tell you what tasks need to be done. So it may work better for you to do the recurring tasks, and I will do the more of the others.
D. Because my standards are a rather higher than yours, I have resigned myself to doing a bit more, but only a bit.
E. What other issues need to be considered?

Here are some options I see:
1. You can do your share of chores yourself, and be responsible for getting them done, without prodding. This is my preference, but hasn't yet been effective.
2. We can live in squalor. Ick. I can't do that, so sorry.
3. I will continue to do my share, and you can pay someone to do your share. Since we can't afford to pay someone, you can pay me.
4. What other options can you think of?"

If your beloved pays you, you will be rewarded for doing that extra work. Your beloved will feel some pain, and this might provide some motivation to get work done. The money stays in the family, and gives you extra spending power. You might sock the money away to use on a trip or other mutual reward, because you are very fond of your husband.
posted by theora55 at 10:46 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Now that I know your work situation:

You should split up the chores into 3 categories - yours, theirs, and yous guys's.

Yours - any chores that YOU need done a certain way. For me this is laundry because I have a lot of clothes that I hand wash or that I can't put in the dryer and I don't want my white shirt in with my red pants, etc. This is all to finicky and me-ceneterd to expect my SO to care or do it right.

Theirs - chores that SO needs done a certain way. If he doesn't need anything done a particular way then he should be assigned to take care of his areas regulary, so he could be in charge of the bedroom area for picking up things out of place, running a vaccuume over the floor, stripping the bed for washing, and his desk area if he has one in the house.

Yous Guys's - These are chores that you should do together. By together I mean at the same time, preferrably at the same time each week. If you could schedule 2 hours a week to do this it should go pretty fast - hit up the full bath, one scrubs the shower while the other scrubs toilet and sink. One mops the flor white the other moves on to 1/2 bath and scrubs toilet and sink, the other follows behind to mop. Kitchen - one does dishes and moves on to vaccumme rec room. Other wipes counters and sweeps, follows in to rec room to put away items. All of the previous things can be done as often (or not) as you see fit. Since you both work full or more than full time and aren't really home alot you can probably get away with doing this every 2 weeks. For food prep, have one of you (whoever is home first) do the prep - chop, preheat oven, take out ingredients, etc. When the other gets home they mix and heat. After dinner one cleans up dishes and the other packs away excess food.

Have some beers and get a boombox for the cleaning together time. Put on the Eagles or Flyers in the background. Consider getting rid of excess stuff that makes cleaning more difficult and you house harder to manuever (this helps more than you can imagine). use All Purpose cleaners so you can take one bottle room to room. Let him know how much work housework is.

To the SO - nothing makes me not want to have sex like either being exhausted from doing all the housework myself or feeling like i have a bunch of housework to do hanging over my head. Clean house with your help = better sex. Seriously, not making a joke. Its so much easier to get comfortable in your house when it's actually a sanctuary and not a third job.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:49 AM on October 25, 2010 [6 favorites]

Are there areas that are his sole responsibility? Cars, yard work, home repair?
Otherwise, I'd say split everything in terms of areas--you cook, he cleans.
He takes out trash, you sort laundry. He vacuums, you dust, etc.

And unless he's really slacking at the job, I wouldn't get too critical about his first attempts. Yes, he might not do any of the work to your standards, but unless he's not even trying, I'd live with the results. No one wants to play housekeeping monitor.

I would never mention his parents, or how things were in either of your homes growing up. That was then, this is now.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:50 AM on October 25, 2010

Cleaning services are not as expensive as you think. Around here (California), a cleaning is $65-100/session.

To be fair, this kind of money just isn't hanging around in my relationship or in the relationships of the people I know. Two of those monthly cleaning sessions would eat up pretty much all non-bill spending in our household, and by that I mean part of the food budget and anything else not tied down. Presumably that's ignoring things like dishes and laundry that need doing usually bi-weekly. You might want to consider that the sort of young (or not!) couples who run into this problem for the first time probably won't have money to throw at the situation. I heard "It's not that expensive! It's just...more money than you spend on pretty much anything else that isn't rent!"

OP, I find that cleaning together is the most positive way to make these situations change. You feel like a team rather than a nag.
posted by Phyltre at 10:52 AM on October 25, 2010

I've known a couple of really messy blokes and, to be fair, the only time they've ever changed their lazy dirty ways has been when their girlfriend has turned the issue into a deal-breaker.

If cajoling won't work (which I suspect it won't) then I'm afraid you may have to make it a deal-breaker too.
posted by mr_silver at 10:55 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

My husband and I made a list of the things that need to get done regularly around the house.

Then we had a Chore Draft -- we flipped a coin for who got to go first, and then we each took turns picking which chores we wanted until they were all accounted for.

Each chore on the list had a schedule we'd previously agreed on for whether they were daily or weekly things. I ended up taking most of the weekly things, because I tend to do things in big bursts occasionally, and I need to have flexibility on what day they can be done, and he took the smaller daily chores because he is better at handling those (and he hates the big, weekly ones.)

We try not to butt in on the other's chores or how they do them. I think "ownership" of which chores belong to whom is a big motivator for actually getting them done.
posted by Ouisch at 10:57 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Chore Wars.

My husband gets actively COMPETITIVE with me when we do Chore Wars, which kind-of irritates me because then he doesn't see what a slacker he is, but then I'm like, "What am I complaining about? He's doing the damn chores!" Win-win! Either it spurs him to do his equal share, or you see how unequal the shares are -- and you can track how much "treasure" you get for doing the chores or whatever and he can "owe" you something if you come out however much ahead -- a day at the spa, a back rub, a trip to a movie you love and he hates with no whining, whatever.

We use it in bursts when our chore balance has gotten out of whack. We usually set the point value for each chore to the number of minutes it takes (give or take), with premiums for chores like cat litter that everybody hates. (The other thing about "number of minutes" with premiums for icky things is that if one partner is working and the other is out of work, you can assign a point value for GOING to work, and LOOKING for work, and things like that, so that if one partner is working 10 hour days and the other is currently out of work, the working partner's work can count as chores ... as can looking for work tasks.)

My other suggestion is to find a way to remind him that he agrees is a way that won't feel naggy and WILL make sure he remembers. My husband also feels nagged when I remind him of his chores, so we talked about it, and we ended up setting up Google Calendar alerts. He gets calendar alerts for work tasks, appointments, etc., so this doesn't feel naggy to him; just one more reminder. It mostly keeps him on track.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:08 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

BTW, one other thing I've noticed about my husband is that he's good at "once in a while" chores but not so good at "everyday" chores and not so good at noticing "everyday" dirt. So I do a lot of the picking up and counter-cleaning and ongoing laundry and grocery shopping and sweeping; he is better at things like scrubbing the bathroom and mopping the floors and taking out the litter that only need to occur once a week.

This is okay with me because I don't really mind picking up as I go through my day and wiping down counters before bed and so forth ... but I sort-of hate committing half an hour to scrubbing bathtubs. Whereas he prefers to be able to say, "Okay, for the next hour, I am cleaning bathrooms" and just do that once a week, instead of constantly having to chase down little mini-chores.

So if you find there's a psychological division of that sort, dividing chores along those lines may help.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:18 AM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage

In short, reward good behavior, ignore bad. Also, you don't nag and you remove his resentment of being told what to do.
posted by wrnealis at 11:31 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

What's your guy's reaction to all of the comments so far?

I feel badly for you. A caring partner / mature helpmate would make sure their partner wasn't exhausted and resentful. Your throw away comment at the end of your post about being scared about the future makes me sad.

He's always very willing to hear me out, and knows he needs to do more.

That's just so great that he's always willing to listen. Why do you have to keep bringing it up again?

Your SO sounds like my son. I have to bring up chores over and over and over and over and over again. And when he finally gets around to doing the rare thing he is asked to do, he always tries to get me involved somehow, and it's annoying as hell. If he takes out the recycling, he wants me to hold the door open or pick up the ones that fell out or....some stupid thing. Anything, to get me to help. It's like he's punishing me for something, or "paying me back" for forcing him to do something he doesn't want to do. If he empties the dishwasher, he will ALWAYS leave one or two things on the table, or turn and hand me something to put away because I'm standing near him. If I remind him to call the dentist to set up a cleaning appt he'll ask if I can go get the phone book so he can get the phone number. It's immature and annoying, since I do SO much around the house and never ever ask him to help me. But I must somehow pay for asking him to do things. I wonder if this strikes a chord with you.
posted by iconomy at 11:39 AM on October 25, 2010 [6 favorites]

Whatever you do, remove any reference of gender/sex from your discussions. This is about equitably dividing household duties, not about about what men or women should be expected to do or put up with. And I agree, more work done outside the home should equal less work done inside the home; if your work schedule becomes greater than his, he needs to handle more at home than you...and vice versa.
posted by teg4rvn at 11:51 AM on October 25, 2010

My husband works way more hours than I do and makes a lot more, but sucks at doing regular cleaning. I recently bought myself an iRobot from his account. Has cut my cleaning time in half, so I suggest it. Cheaper than a maid and/or legal rep (divorce, murder etc.)
posted by cestmoi15 at 11:55 AM on October 25, 2010

So, when he comes home from work and I ask him to clean up after the dinner I just made (to be fair?), he feels like he's doing all of the work because I'm sitting around doing nothing in the meantime.

There's a logical hole in here that you could drive a semi truck through! I am always more than willing to wash the dishes if someone made me dinner, and if I'm living with them, I'd expect the same.
posted by mikeh at 12:05 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

So, I have a few theories about why we're having issues:

I think you two need to talk, not about what you think he should be doing but rather how he views the situation. Only be talking to him, probably several times, will you get an understanding of where he's coming from and possible solution to this.

In the meantime, get a housecleaner, so you can stay sane.
posted by nomadicink at 12:23 PM on October 25, 2010

I would be interested to here why he thinks his actions (or lack there of) are fair and what he thinks of the comments in this thread.
posted by mkuhnell at 1:19 PM on October 25, 2010

Hey there, two lights above the sea's partner. Your girlfriend loves you to death! Awesome! I'm going to assume you love her to death as well.

I'm sure you do a lot of stuff to make her happy. I'm sure there are things that are important to you that you go out of your way to do for her because you love her. I'm sure that sometimes those things go unnoticed.

Well, that's where she's at at the moment. You guys are meant to be a team, and yet she feels like she's doing all the work. From the sound of it, she is doing all the work. That's okay though, because it gives you an incredible chance to make the woman you love really happy. You can make her day easier, you can help her to be more relaxed and happier at night, you can make her even more into you than she is already, and it's so easy to do.

Tonight, after she has cooked dinner for you (and how great is it when people cook for you?), get up without being asked and do the dishes. 10, 15 minutes tops, and you've got yourself a girlfriend who loves the fact that she didn't have to feel like a nagging mother. When you have some spare time over the weekend, take out a broom and sweep the floor. Again, this will be less than 10 minutes. Bam. Easy work, and you've just made the woman you love happy because you guys are a team again, working together.

The thing is, as monotonous as most of these jobs are, they only take about ten minutes each. I can't think of anything else you could do in so short a time, for so little money, that would make your girlfriend as happy as this.

It sucks being told you're a slob, because most people just have different standards about this kind of stuff and living with someone who's more serious about it than you can become a drag. Here's the thing though- don't see it as cleanliness (because it's fine, right? Why bother washing the shower again when you did it last week? There's only a few spots on the wall? And what's wrong with a few dishes by the sink?), see it as a chance to make her happy.
posted by twirlypen at 1:46 PM on October 25, 2010 [10 favorites]

Wow! I love you guys.

So, the solution we picked was this:

We figured out what tasks we want done and the frequency at which they need to be done. We each ended up with 9 tasks, and we both have two tasks that need to be done daily, two that need to be done semi-weekly, two that need to be done weekly, two that need to be done bi-weekly, and one that needs to be done monthly. It took some negotiating about the frequency of tasks and who should do what, but I think we have a list of things that works for both of us. And, the great thing about our list is that a lot of these things can be done together. For example, the day he's due to take out the trash, my task will be to sweep the trash that's piled up on our sidewalk (we live in a row home in a neighborhood full of litter bugs, and the wind constantly blows trash in the street and on the sidewalk outside our house). So, I can put the trash I've just swept up right in the trash can that's already sitting on the curb, instead of dragging out our kitchen trash can. Woo!

As far as he's concerned, he's aware of the situation. He does not think his actions are fair, and he's been trying to changing his ways. However, it's been easier said than done. He admits that part of the problem is that, in the moment of thinking about/being told to do a chore, he doesn't think about how much work I do versus how much he does, he just knows that he doesn't want to do the chore. Which is obviously incorrect. So, we're working on it.

Let's hope this works out for us! Thanks for the input so far, and feel free to keep adding on.
posted by two lights above the sea at 1:54 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Good luck!

One more thing....

I'm guessing that you don't have totally combined finances, or if so, you each have a certain amount of 'fun money' to determine spending on personally.

If he wants to allocate some of HIS money to hire someone else to do HIS share of the chores.... that would seem fair to me.

Obviously you can't hire someone to come do the dishes every night, but there are other things that could be segregated into bi-weekly tasks, like deep-cleans of the bathrooms, floor-moppings, laundry, etc.
posted by bq at 2:31 PM on October 25, 2010

A late comment on the feminism issue: it seems self-contradictory to say that the chores should be split equally because of feminism, but the woman gets to determine the standard of cleanliness that he should be doing half, implicitly relying on the sexist convention that she's a woman and the house is her domain.

Another interesting contradiction is in the advice to shame him because he's acting like a child, implicitly asserting yourself as the judging parent.
posted by AlsoMike at 5:05 PM on October 25, 2010

Late to the party but my husband and I have struggled with this and it came down to, in part, how we were raised. Husband was really only responsible for his messes and his bedroom (which had its own bathroom). I was responsible for my messes, my own laundry from age 12 and communal family chores on a daily and weekly basis. So, having a discussion about how you were raised and what the standards were isn't counterproductive in my opinion -- I think it helps to unpack where we learned this stuff and how that informs our feelings and actions today.

Also, gender should be no part of this but it so frequently is that it cannot be ignored. Moms typically seem assigned the daily grind of making the household work. Dads get the projects that require heavy lifting and occasional big pushes. And who helps the moms the most? Often, the daughters. Who helps Dad? The sons.

But here's the thing, regardless of how you were raised and whether you fall into the "traditional" role: being in charge of the daily grind is a grind. You never get that feeling of accomplishment that once-a-month lawn-mowing entails or finishing the big project. It's tedious and when you're doing it yourself, lonely.

I like being involved in the big projects but I also like a clean house. We've been together for a long time but you know what has finally worked? My husband just picking up the slack. We had a huge blowout about the bathroom a year or so ago and sorted out how to work that fairly equitably but he just does more. I don't know what changed for him but I really do hate nagging and so this is just great! Often, I'm running to keep up with all the chores he's doing!

And, a final thing. Something kind of silly that I noticed and it's so gendered that I'm totally embarrassed by it. Or, maybe it's not, I don't know. But, when he just takes initiative and does work around the house, it makes me feel cared for and valued. But, it has to include things that he does as part of the partnership of the grind and not just the stuff he likes to do. It's the rare person who likes to do chores so we all have to just get in there and do what needs to be done.

A revelation: we recently split up our laundry into his and hers and it's been really great to just do my own laundry and know that he is doing his on his own schedule. I don't know what's going to happen when our firstborn gets here. We'll have to figure things out all over again.

Good luck!
posted by amanda at 10:36 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Late to the party but my husband and I have struggled with this and it came down to, in part, how we were raised. Husband was really only responsible for his messes and his bedroom (which had its own bathroom). I was responsible for my messes, my own laundry from age 12 and communal family chores on a daily and weekly basis.

I used to live in exactly the same situation as your husband (only responsible for my mess and the bedroom) and yet, I keep a clean and tidy house. In fact, I'm less tolerant to mess than the GF is despite the fact that she did as much as you did.

In short, anyone who doesn't make the effort to help you keep a place clean and tidy is a lazy slob. Don't try and dress it up with fancy reasons, because that is just sugar-coating the truth.
posted by mr_silver at 9:19 AM on October 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

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