October 26, 2018 11:21 PM   Subscribe

Me and my partner get along great and have a generally communicative, loving, healthy relationship. So we both know about the following issue and we're working on it. But it's hard! Your advice is welcome. He hoards tangible responsibilities and I hoard free time. I will let him do the things, big or small. He is the most considerate of people. His emotional labor skills are stellar. But he will run himself into the ground before asking for help, and I let him, and then I'm frustrated because he did all the things and I'm bouncing off walls.

My theory of mind (how well you can predict what other people are thinking) is measurably shit and improves only through rote learning. And on his end, he will sometimes literally not have words (as in ASD). So on my end, I know I need to do more, but I try to bring it up and it's as useful as talking to a cat. So he overworks, I underwork, and then it comes to a head and we're both frustrated and starting to get resentful when it comes up. We're both working on it! But it's slow progress. So we would both like advice on how to share our hoard (responsibilities, free time) better.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You are vague on specifics but generally it sounds like (contrary to gender expectations) you’re not doing your fair share of labor, emotional and otherwise. If the “tangible responsibilities” you mention are mostly housework, I don’t know why it’s necessary to “bring it up” and have a conversation to do them — just do the dishes, take out the trash, etc.
posted by crazy with stars at 12:04 AM on October 27, 2018 [9 favorites]

I think, yeah, you need to take an hour of your time to decide what tasks YOU need to be doing and when and how often - without his input. Then inform him of your decisions and ask for his input. Then Do All The Things.

Don‘t make him tell you what you should be doing or how he feels about the labour balance. That‘s labour too!

So I guess my question is what‘s stopping you?
posted by Omnomnom at 12:45 AM on October 27, 2018 [19 favorites]

Find lists of ‘the tangible things,’ and instructions for how and when to do them. I’m guessing this is housework, food acquisition, possibly even social planning.

Some things must be done near constantly. Washing dishes is an easy example. Do you notice dishes in the sink? Wash them, dry them, put them away. Does the fridge need filling? Make or arrange a trip to the store, go with a list. Get foods your partner especially likes. Are you batting back and forth the question ‘what do you feel like eating?’ Offer three real suggestions instead of sarcastic things like ‘food,’ or serious but unhelpful answers like ‘whatever you want is fine,’ or ‘I’m not picky, I don’t care.’

Now search for the comic ‘you should have asked.’ It is available in English and if I recall correctly, French. Your partner doesn’t want to have to ask, and they don’t want to have to teach you. It’s also possible that your partner IS ASKING but you aren’t requesting the grammar of the request. Questions like ‘do you think it’s time to vacuum?’ Or ‘how long have those dishes been on the coffee table?’ Are requests.
posted by bilabial at 12:55 AM on October 27, 2018 [6 favorites]

"He hoards responsibilities, I hoard free time" is just a coy way of saying you aren't doing your fair share. We'd all like to "hoard" more free time. You know what you're doing is wrong--it's right here in the question. If you're struggling to figure out where to start, make a list of all the household things that need to be done daily, weekly, and monthly, from vacuuming/sweeping to taking out the trash to grocery shopping, making sure bills are paid, cleaning the toilet, etc. What would happen if you lived alone? Would all those things just never get done?
posted by tiger tiger at 1:16 AM on October 27, 2018 [26 favorites]

Something that works for recurring tasks is to have a weekly chore time when you both do things until everything is done. This doesn't help with the fact that he may still be directing or assigning tasks, but if you keep a running list of what each of you does each time, you can start to consult the list instead of asking him. You can even do a mini-version at the end of the night or after dinner to handle daily tasks.

For larger scale or one-off tasks, having a set weekly time where you go over those together can be helpful. Again, the idea is the partner who is less naturally aware of the tasks can take notes and get better at tracking them.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 1:18 AM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

This can be somewhat of an issue in our house, too. It is definitely a mindset thing. The easiest way my partner and I deal with it, is I/we try to delineate responsibilities very clearly. She's expected to do drop offs in the morning, I do pick ups. I do all the cooking for the household, and the attendant washing up; she will vacuum.

The largest areas of friction are the ones where responsibilities more fluid, e.g. the person who does laundry is meant to be the person who is free to do laundry... In reality this means I do >80% of it. Which I resent at times, I cannot lie. Especially when my weekend has hours more jobs in it than my partner's, and I'm doing jobs, and she's sleeping in or whatever.

There's no resentment with cooking cause that's "my" job, if you know what I mean, and vice versa with vacuuming. Look at what gets done in a week, negotiate what you will do, and then stick to it. Obvs, if you have flu or something, a partner is expected to pick up the slack. But if you just don't feel like it, or are "tired"... well, we're all tired.

I don't know if you have kids. Sort this out now, if you don't. Because if/once you have kids, household labour trebles and spare time goes way down, and it can be very toxic in a relationship.

Also, please don't put it on your partner to tell you what to do, or remind you, etc. Agree on what you'll do, and just do it, everyone will be happier, promise.

Best of luck,
posted by smoke at 1:21 AM on October 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm very bad at keeping up with household chores because apparently I don't know how to function.

My solution was to propose that we keep things more regimented. We take turns on a lot of tasks: I make dinner every other night, and so on. Some tasks are timed, so that one of us will put in ten minutes, the other will put in ten minutes, and we'll switch off as needed until the task is done. When possible, it's nice to do stuff together. I think studies have shown that it helps relationships when you can work together, and then it becomes a shared activity instead of a one-sided thing.

The whole system works nicely because it helps me remember what needs to be done (I would live like animal if left to myself), and it helps us both know that we're each putting in our fair share of work. It helps keep both of us from slacking off or volunteering all the time. I mean, we'll make an exception if one of us is sick, or something, but on most days we stick with it.

We don't literally have a system for every single task, but honestly, the ones that are regimented are the most hassle-free.

(Also, speaking from experience, don't try to balance one task against the other, like making dinner every night vs. doing the dishes every night. You'll both get tired of doing the same thing all the time, and you'll both resent each other for it.)

I think it probably did help that I was the one who suggested this system and figured out how how to fairly divide tasks. The last thing I wanted was to make my partner schedule chores for me. This meant being attentive to what I was neglecting, and then being honest with myself about how much I was neglecting. We rework stuff together every so often as needed, and we'll check in if one of us feels overburdened.

So that's our system. I'm not saying it works for everyone, but it's worked for us for years.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:15 AM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

So on my end, I know I need to do more, but I try to bring it up and it's as useful as talking to a cat.

Don’t discuss it then, just do more. Take the initiative and do laundry, wash dishes, straighten up, go grocery shopping. It’s not his responsibility to ask for help or delegate to you. It’s yours to pitch in and do your share.
posted by amro at 3:27 AM on October 27, 2018 [14 favorites]

Yes, echoing others: discussions are all well and good, but if you're not actually holding up your end of the bargain in terms of doing, all the talking in the world won't solve the problem.

My partner and I are like this: he's neater, more proactive, better able to see what needs to be done and then do it. I "hoard" free time, which is to say that I'm lazier and messier, always putting off tasks until the last minute. In the past, he did 90% of the cooking and grocery shopping, and generally did more of the overall housework. I did all the laundry and clothes-folding and cleaned the bathroom. It did help that I had a few concrete tasks--like, in four years of living together I don't think he did laundry more than two or three times unless I was out of town. The rest of the housework we sort of split, but I'm 100% certain he did more than his fair share. (He is also better about travel planning, though I handle a lot of social planning. In that way, we split neatly along expected gender lines. These things are also labor even if they're not as concrete as housework, in that if I plan our next bike tour route [for example] and map out a rough itinerary, it takes the burden off of him and he has more actual free time to read and laze around and enjoy himself, even though planning is also somewhat enjoyable for him.)

Honestly, what solved the problem in our case: we stopped living together. We get along fantastically as friends and lovers, but only so-so as housemates. (Plus, I'm a writer and he works remotely from home all day, so living in a 1br was really hard on our work-from-home lives.) I moved out about a year ago because I found a dreamy apartment that I could afford a couple miles away. Though our relationship was strong and stable, I wondered whether it wasn't some secret subconscious pre-breakup plan on my end -- but it wasn't, and we're happier than ever. Plus I don't think we've had a single fight since.
posted by tapir-whorf at 5:07 AM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Consider whether the two of you might be an overfunctioning/underfunctioning dynamic. If that sounds familiar, additional reading might be helpful - maybe even couple's therapy. But I wouldn't wait on therapy before making other changes.

As for getting started on this - one therapist told me to think of being a mad scientist experimenting with different things in my life just to see how they work. You can experiment with something, evaluate the results, and either do it again, tweak it, or try something different.

My suggestion for an experiment is this: Start with making sure your own personal clutter/messes are things you're taking care of. Think about the little messes we all make day-to-day - dirtying dishes by eating off of them, getting toothpaste in the sink, taking off shoes and coats when coming inside. If those things are things your partner currently takes care of, take ownership. If you're already on top of that, look at the UFYH cleaning checklists on UFYH or Real Simple. No cleaning checklist is perfect, so also take a look at your home and what needs to get done.

Where ever you're getting started - since you say having a conversation with your partner about this is challenging, send them an email. Just keep it simple "This week I am taking on these tasks: making the bed every morning, cooking on X and X nights, etc etc." Don't ask for permission or for a negotiation since it sounds like that's a struggle for your partner. Just pick some tasks that need to get done on a daily/weekly basis and that won't be potentially invasive to your partner (like organizing their hobby supplies). The email helps keep you accountable and it also gives your partner a chance to respond.

See how that first week goes. Ask your partner if they have any thoughts about it - based on what you've said they might not bring anything up, but make the space for the conversation. Send another email for the next week.

One more thing - for people who have trouble voicing their POV on certain topics, ask them the question and then stop talking. Sit with the silence and keep your attention on them. If a whole minute goes by in silence say something short and encouraging. Also, some people do way better with discussions over email than in person.
posted by bunderful at 5:09 AM on October 27, 2018 [6 favorites]

If you were a dude in a hetero relationship, people would be jumping on you so hard right now, and rightly so.

You need to get proactive about finding things to do. You can't wait to be told what to do, or ask your partner to give you things to do, or put your blinders on and ignore the things that need to be done because you don't want to deal with them right now.

You seem willing to do the things at least in principle, but you're being passive about it. You need to get active and teach yourself to see what needs to be done and then just do it. Like how at work, you don't just sit around waiting to be told what to do if you've caught up on your assigned tasks—you go out and look for another task that you can handle.

Get busy, and make it happen!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:47 AM on October 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

I am you in my relationship; when I’ve lived alone I spend one afternoon a week doing all the chores, while my partner prefers to do 30 seconds of work a bunch of times every day, which is enough to keep up with most little tasks. The end result if our defaults is badness.

Here is how we deal with it.

As some people say upthread, I am explicitly the captain of some chore ships. Laundry fits in pretty well with my style, so that’s me, and I am in charge of morning stuff (getting the kid fed and lunch packed and out the door, taking care of the animals, scooping litter.) I also do most of the types of things that suit spending more than 2 minutes (vacuum, mopping floors, scrubbing bathrooms, sorting seasonal clothes.) Partner does the dishes, spot cleaning, most bills, and other chores that are easy to pick up and put down. Basically, you need to figure out what chores make the most sense with the way you each do chores, and maybe explicitly take on tasks that he can just ignore unless asked for help.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:29 AM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Everyone 's covered "just do it" well, so I'm going to try believing a little more that he actually does hoard the responsibilities, and would not respond well to you just claiming a bunch of them. He seems like a nice person, so maybe he just gets internally agitated and you feel like you made things worse? If so, and I know I'm just guessing at this point, but if so, that's his to work through. He'll be okay. He has the emotional resilience to cope with discomfort while you figure out how you're going to do this stuff.

Also, maybe he'd respond better to very specific questions than general high-level discussions. Sometimes I quietly get completely exasperated by being asked to divide my tasks in an adequately sensible and approachable way that someone else can take some on, but I know that person is being kind and I don't want to treat them badly, and the result is the sort of verbal impasse you're describing him experiencing. However, people who just show up, decide where to jump in, and then think it over and ask relevant questions about how things should be done, those folks I have endless patience for. So say you decide you'd like to try cleaning the floor, for example. If he truly hoards responsibilities, just think of it as something you're doing this once for now, so it's not like you're taking it away when you maybe don't know what you're doing. Consider the situation. What tools are there for floor-cleaning? Broom, vacuum, mop? Some kind of liquid? If he's generally a person who's picky about how things are done and/or always does things the same way, have you seen him cleaning the floor? Can you remember what he does, and figure out why? I know this seems really simplistic, but the point is that you're trying to reduce his burdens, and figuring out how to do what he'll consider a good enough job is important. If you reach a point where you're not sure, great, now you have a relevant question! You can give him the gift of a tiny new responsibility, that of teaching you about floor-cleaning, but this responsibility will help free him. Or if it's actually pretty clear how to clean the floor at this point, great, go for it. You'll do a solid job, which shows that he can responsibly start giving that responsibility to you, instead of having to clutch it tight. Now you just have to keep doing it, or come up with a plan for when each of you takes a turn doing it, and stick to your end of that.
posted by teremala at 7:02 AM on October 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

My wife and I share similar roles to what you describe. I largely did all the cooking/cleaning/physical chores, and emotional labor was largely split up evenly between us (a consensus between us and a therapist; this is not my imagining that “I do emotional labor too!” not realizing what all that entails). I had a hard time asking for help because based on some old familial patterns I absolutely did not want to seem like I was nagging. My wife just didn’t see, or it did not occur to her when chores needed to be done. Straight up not on her radar. If I ever asked her to do something, it wouldn’t necessarily get done. She would bemoan the fact that she felt blocked from just “doing the thing” and that it seemed and insurmountable, because she felt exhausted or scattered.

Things got way better when she got screened for adult ADD and started some pretty minimal medication for it. From what I understand, ADD in women presents differently, and this kind of “spaciness” around certain things can be and expression. The light medication was prescribed to focus on other things, and has helped with those things, but the weirdest is really the newfound ability for her to recognize and then just do chores without prompting or procrastination is a crazy side effect, but a welcome one for both of us.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:12 AM on October 27, 2018 [6 favorites]

In addition to divvying up as many things as is reasonable on a List, with a written-down schedule, have regular meetings to discuss the Current State of These Things, and use the time to check-in with each other's stress levels and tweak the List as needed.
posted by dancing leaves at 7:21 AM on October 27, 2018

What are the tangible responsibilities that he hoards? Make a list of them.

Go to your partner and ask him if he has a problem with you doing any of those things. If he does, ask him why he has a problem. For example he may feel you get in his space, or don't do them right, or you only do part of the job, or it's way easier for him to do them, or it would be too much trouble to show you how.

Since he may someday be away or too busy to do all of those things, it is important that you can do them if he can't. With that as a reason get him on board with you learning and practicing those things. He may not want you paying the bills regularly because his desk is not set up for you to log into the bank there, but he should be willing to let you do it and show you how to do it, if you don't already know.

Set yourself a schedule of doing each of the things he does that you can remotely do, or doing some part of them that will make the job easier for him if you can't do the whole job yourself, no matter how. So for example if you can't manage the basement steps you could gather up all the laundry and sort it and leave it at the head of the stairs, and have him put the laundry at the top of the stairs for you to fold, sort, iron and put away.

For daily responsibilities try out doing all of each one of them, for a week. Troubleshoot the job you do. For once a month responsibilities, do them once.

Do not get him to organize this for you except the parts you don't have the information for. For example he could show you the banking passwords and the account number and all that information if you don't have it.

If possible set up a way you can do these things without his assistance in anyway. So for things like banking, set up the banking on your own phone with your own passwords so that you can do it too if his computer goes belly-up or he leaves town for two weeks with his password book.

If you need him to organize things for you because Do the Errands means "First drop of the dry cleaning, then the library books, pay the library fines, pick up your two holds at the library, go get bus passes for both of us for November..." or Get the front of the house ready for winter means "Sweep the front walk and steps using the broom in the basement not the kitchen broom, put it back, bring the snow shovels in from the garage, clean the inside of the windows with a rag and hot soapy water, make sure they are dry, you can use a hairdryer, install the vapour barrier window insulation kits which are on the bottom shelf in the hall..." then you need to work on your executive and planning skills. So the next really complex task, make a plan before you talk to him.

Get him to look at the plan and critique it. You may find that it's not your executive skills but that he is also hoarding information, such as where he put those window installation kits. In that case you both need to work on information sharing and communication.

Keep referring to the list you made to begin with. After you have spent a week doing one of those daily chores, get feedback but be very, very dispassionate about the feedback you get, as it may feel harshly critical. He might tell you that none of the dishes you washed all week was really clean, he couldn't find anything because you put them away in the wrong places, that you only did dishes every third day so the kitchen was always stacked with mess and he had to wash things as he needed them, that you ruined the frying pans by soaking and scouring them, and everything tastes of detergent because you use too much, barely rinse and only rinse in cold. Don't be offended. He probably has higher standards than you, and meeting those standards lessen his anxiety. What you are doing is finding out what part of the job is important to him and what his standards are.

Do the chore a second week, this time doing your utmost to meet his standards. You may feel it is completely unnecessary to have all the forks stacked in sets of five, but that doesn't matter. You are not in the negotiate what is important stage.

At the end of the second week figure out if the problem is that he is impossibly picky, or you are impossibly incompetent or some combination of both. At this point figure out what changes you wish to make when you do this chore, and which changes he is opposed to and trade them off, one for one. He may be inflexible about having the dishes done twice daily as opposed to being actually clean, or being in the right spot may be what's most critical, or the have to be clean enough that there are not little yellow specks of egg between the tines. And you may want to only do the dishes every second day, or cannot, cannot, cannot use water hot enough to get them clean because your hands are too sensitive to being scalded. Using your brains and your love for each other and your commitment to the relationship come up with a way of meeting both of your inflexible needs. You can boil the dishes in a pot on the stove and drain them when cool. You can get a mini fridge to store dirty dishes out of sight, almost hygienically until they are washed. You can take pictures of everything when they are away properly and refer to them when trying to figure out where to put the mixing bowls.

Use these exercises as a method of showing affection and getting closer to each other. Do them and tolerate them out of love. Go a little extra because you matter to each other and you are strong enough to do a little extra.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:52 AM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Follow-up: I once lived with someone who was very proactive about chores and was also quietly judgy of how I did them (would re-clean something immediately after I cleaned it, for example). I gave up really easily but I wish I'd had conversations like "what makes the floor "successfully" clean? Can I see the same things you see - maybe I need to bring in a flashlight or wear my glasses. What's an acceptable compromise for both of us?" I think it would have been easier to talk about a simple fact like what makes the floor clean enough vs let's discuss how bunderful is inadequate.
posted by bunderful at 8:25 AM on October 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

If you were a dude in a hetero relationship, people would be jumping on you so hard right now, and rightly so.

If you were a dude in a hetero relationship, you probably wouldn’t be posting this question, and would continue to do no chores as long as possible!

I think you should be real about what you’re both bringing to the relationship. If your job is much more demanding, or you do many more abstract and high level tasks for the household, or if you DO spend a lot of time nurturing, things may not really be that bad. The annoying thing about men slacking off at home is often they’re checked out and not really contributing in any other ways either.

If you feel like that’s not the case here, it’s not quite as simple as “just do stuff.” Life is short, if your standards aren’t as high as your partners it’s a bit barbaric to tell you you HAVE to care about everything they do. Figure out what you do care about that they do for you and maybe start there, and also consider that you may indeed need some kind of ADD or anxiety treatment.

It took me a long time to get into the swing of doing chores consistently and my house is still ugly, just clean. I tend to do a lot of the big stuff on Sundays, my partner does little stuff every day. It’s fine.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:15 AM on October 27, 2018

Seriously though, in any relationship with this dynamic, both sides need to change, however fair or not that is. You can’t fix it just by doing, if they are overdoing and getting resentful they need to unpack that too.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:16 AM on October 27, 2018

Sorry, tangent, but “hoards time” and “hoards tangible responsibilities” are more similar than they sound. Both could be soothing mechanisms. Maybe you spend all day harried and need free time to feel like a human being; maybe he spends the day bored or feeling blocked by factors out of his control and needs to come home and actually DO things. There are reasonable explanations for both that may or may not apply... but just saying, not EVERY situation where one person does more chores is a blame game or has to change.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:36 AM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

He doesn't need words, he needs words on a list of household chores you divide up.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:52 PM on October 27, 2018

I recently wrote out all the household chores and it surprised me at how much there is to do (lots of small tasks that keep things running), it's not surprising that he lacks words as it's a lot of effort to explain all the little things. I would print out a chore list and ask him to check off the things he likes doing, doesn't like doing, and what he wants you to do. Doing this with my partner I learned he doesn't mind chopping vegetables, or cooking, but he finds shopping/planning more of a chore, so now he will happily chop vegetables and I'm inclined to cook more. I don't like cleaning the fridge out but he abhors it, so I clean the fridge out and he takes the garbage out and listens to me whine about our food waste.

I think I am more like your partner, what helps me is having rules like "after I do X chore, I am going to sit and relax/do hobby". I remind myself everything will be ok if I do a lazy dinner or takeout and ignore the dishes to do something that is not chores a few nights a week, and taking an hour to exercise or read is ok for me to do. What helps my partner is me generally catching him in the moment like "hey can you come do X" (pretty sure he has ADD as he's a perfectionist with his plans and he procrastinates but he's great if I ask him to do something immediately). He has also just made a point to help make sure the kitchen isn't a disaster which is my biggest complaint because if you actually cook everyday there are always dishes and recycling and things to put away.

Also you can do chores and still have lots of free time, especially if you don't have kids or pets undoing your work right away. It takes a few minutes to unload a dishwasher and reload it. It takes less than 10 minutes usually to do a sink full of dishes. I have crappy knife skills but can make a decent stir fry with chicken and fresh veggies in about 30 minutes, and I make enough that I have at least two lunches. I often clean the toilet while I'm in the bathroom like before or after a shower, it takes less than a minute to scrub it and wipe it down. Laundry isn't a big deal to have going in the background of other activities although folding and putting things away is a pain and I find it best to pick set days for laundry so it doesn't feel like an all the time thing. I try to spend a few minutes just walking around and putting things away, it makes a big difference. The key is to not let things pile up. Commit to spending 30 minutes on weeknights being useful, and an hour or two on weekends and you'll find more of a flow with it all.
posted by lafemma at 4:11 PM on October 27, 2018

Make this change without his help: "hoard" your free time by protecting it. Set aside a specific amount of time each day, at specific times of day, to take on specific tasks that adults need to get done. Use that time to do those tasks. After that, you will feel more comfortable using your free time because you have protected yourself from criticism. Never mind that he won't ever criticise you for it; visualize the most judgmental person you've ever known, and act as if you're protecting your free time from criticism by them.

If you end up doing so many things that he starts to complain, or you end up without free time, then you can adjust. Until then, you are free to pursue this without even talking about it with anyone. Just start doing it!
posted by davejay at 9:50 AM on October 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older How do I deal with my ejaculation? Logistics.   |   Advice for a queer officer? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.