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#506 & #507: It is 2fucking0fucking1fucking3, so why is it so hard to divide up household chores?

Dobby

Is this what you are looking for in a spouse? If so, rethink your entire personality.

Things you should know going in:

This is a two-for.

I am not calm, collected, or unbiased about this topic.

#506

Dear Captain Awkward,

Been married 14 years, I think happily. We are affectionate, and sympathetic to each other’s problems, and want to help each other out. No kids.

My problem is that I’m unhappy with our household division of labor and I can’t make Spouse understand. Somehow, over the course of our relationship, I became responsible for 100% of our at-home meals – planning, shopping, cooking. I try to mitigate this burden by preparing larger portions on weekends so that we can have leftovers for dinner during the week, but it doesn’t always work; maybe the recipe doesn’t yield as much as expected, or maybe it turns out to be awful and I have to throw away what’s left – plus, cooking with an eye for leftovers really limits the available recipes. So inevitably I’m left scrambling and stressed a couple of weekdays per week, not to mention all the time I put in on my supposed days off. And on top of that, Spouse often (once or twice a week) has off-site gatherings in the evenings, meaning that I have to come home from full-time work and immediately get their dinner ready so they can eat and run.

This wouldn’t be a such a problem except for two things. One is that I’m not sure that Spouse offers an equal household contribution elsewhere. It’s true that they deal with most things related to the outside world: vet appointments, travel arrangements, calling contractors/repairpersons, things like that. I’m introverted and really don’t want to do those things, so I’m grateful that Spouse does them. But does it balance out the day-to-day grind of shopping and cooking?

The second is that Spouse flatly refuses to make any changes to this arrangement for any reason. “Can you maybe be responsible for dinner one set day a week?” No. “Can I just have an official day off once a week and we can fend for ourselves?” No. “I’m feeling a little fat – can I have two weeks off from doing the cooking for both of us so I can try out a diet?” No. (The worst is when they pull out the “but I like it when you cook for me, it makes me feel loved” argument. That drives me BONKERS.) Every so often I just can’t take it anymore and I break down and talk about how the arrangement is ruining my life, and all I get is “You poor thing, I’m sorry this is hard for you” and then everything is the same the next day.

What do I do here? Are there some magic words I can say to get Spouse to get them to realize that this arrangement is unreasonable? It is unreasonable, isn’t it?

betty draper with a gun

Does Mad Men make you feel nostalgia for the Good Old Days? OK POSSIBLY YOU MIGHT BE AN ASSHOLE

Dear Letter Writer #495:

I am sad to say that I do not think that there are any magic words that will make this division of labor more reasonable. You have asked, straight up, to make a different division of labor. You have tried, respectfully and straightforwardly to renegotiate the terms of your marriage. You have used your words like a boss and been flat out refused.

Your spouse understands. They have just decided that it would be easier and more successful to manipulate you than to make a sandwich once in a while.

You eat dinner 7 times/week. Multiply 7 meals by 14 years and you get 5110 dinners cooked by you.

I assume you ate out some of those dinners, or sometimes back in the day your Spouse cooked every now and again, but I also assume that you’ve made many breakfast and lunches, so I feel pretty good using a number around 5,000.

Have they made 5,000 vet appointments? Have you bought a zoo? Perhaps you should marry a veterinarian who can see to your hypocondriac animal farm.

Have they made say, 3000 vet appointments for the menagerie, arranged 1,000 home repairs and planned 1,000 vacations?

Unless you are doing SELFISH ASSHOLE MATH with IMAGINARY NUMBERS I find this equation to be unbalanced.

Now. Marriages do not have to be 50/50 partnerships where every task is split exactly evenly in order to work. People do negotiate different arrangements based on their different strengths and needs. So let’s head off the “My spouse does all the cooking, but I swear I am not an asshole/they just like cooking/I do all the laundry/Don’t tell us how to live our lives!!” justification right here. Whatever domestic division of labor makes sense for you and makes everyone feel like they are doing their share and being loved and respected and taken care of is a good and workable one.

Helen Mirren in Gosford Park

“I’m the perfect servant. I know when they’ll be hungry and the food is ready. I know when they’ll be tired and the bed is turned down. I know it before they know it themselves…and also this is an actual JOB with an actual PAYCHECK.”

There are several problems that make the Letter Writer’s situation extremely unworkable.

1) You, Letter Writer, feel it is unworkable. Blanket statement: It is unworkable because it is unworkable for you. It is exhausting you and making you angry & resentful.

2) You have asked your spouse to make very reasonable accommodations (accommodations that would still have you shouldering the majority of dinner-cooking) and have been met with contempt & manipulation.

It makes your spouse “feel loved” when you rush home from your full-time job and put dinner on the table. In my most generous possible assessment of what is happening, there is some primal “this is what a family feels like” thing around being fed/eating together As A Family desire that is being met for your partner. However, I get the sense that it makes you feel pretty fucking unloved when you ask for a break and it is refused. And maybe your dreams for “what a family is” involved being fed sometimes.

So not only is your relationship one where you do the majority of a daily task that involves a great deal of time, mental energy, and drudgery, but it is also a relationship where you are not allowed to renegotiate any terms or ask for things that you need. You say it’s a good marriage, and I am sure there are many good parts (There would have to be. 5,000 dinners in a row. Jesus.) but the ability to renegotiate and ask for things you need is a pretty essential part of a good marriage, in my opinion.

If you can see a marriage counselor, I think this is an issue worthy of it. This relationship could benefit from some serious renegotiating of roles and from dragging some assumptions out into the sunlight and examining them.

  • Script: “I know we have talked about this, but the dinner thing is still really bothering me, and I would like us to see a counselor who can help us work something out.
  • Script when/if you get resistance to the idea of counseling: “Yep, we will pay some stranger $100/hour to work this out. That’s how important this is to me, and that’s how angry and upset I am about this.
  • Script for if spouse refuses outright: “Well, I’m sorry to hear that. I’m going to start seeing someone on my own in that case.” Then do so. During the dinner hour.

I don’t think you are going to get any more mileage out of asking your spouse to change. You’ve done that work and been refused.

Which leaves me with some suggestions that *might* help you reset things but will not be easy or without friction. Let me say for the record that anytime you are doing this much managing & strategizing about a relationship it is an indicator of major, major trouble and that this is work you should not have to do.

I think “could you cook one night/week?” or “could we fend for ourselves this week?” are reasonable, specific requests.

But I think re-setting the relationship will require getting 1) more specific 2) with small, specific requests, that are 3) backed up with action.

When you go to the grocery store, buy a few more:

  • Sandwich makings
  • Frozen one-step meals that just need to be microwaved/thrown in a skillet or an oven
  • Cans of soup
  • Healthy but substantial snacks – cheese, crackers, hummus, carrot sticks, apples
Jeeves

“I agree, sir, I am a veritable Swiss Army Knife of companions and would make an excellent catch!”

…than you usually do. You want the house to be stocked with a few things that can be turned into a meal with 15-20 minutes of effort or less. Also collect a few takeout menus from local places and stick them to the fridge or in a prominent place.

Once you have a few things in the house, start with your extremely specific requests. Except, you don’t have to actually ask permission, so think of them less as requests than as you telling your partner how things will be.

Stick to the current week. In fact, in the beginning, stick to the current day. Pick a day when your spouse has that regular evening commitment. I suggest that you do this as a text message during the workday or some other way (like, right before one of you leaves the house, or as an email) to keep discussion to a minimum.

Script: “I forgot to tell you – I won’t be home right after work today, so you’ll have to make a sandwich or heat something up. See you tonight!

Keep it terse. Resist the urge to give detailed descriptions & directions of what food to make or otherwise mother this person. Repeat after me: “Fucking adults can make a fucking sandwich if they are fucking hungry.” You don’t have to swear AT your spouse, but let the anger out. It will feel good. Include zero apologies or justification.

Then, don’t be home right after work.

  • Go to the library.
  • Visit a farmer’s market.
  • Attend a poetry reading.
  • Go to the movies.
  • Go the gym.
  • Take a long bike ride.
  • Have a drink with a coworker or friend.
  • Check out a Meetup in your town.
  • Have a drink by yourself and read a good book.
  • Schedule a haircut, massage, or other self-care service for that time window.
  • Put on zombie makeup and wander around in a shopping mall like you are an extra in Dawn of the Dead until mall security kicks you out.

While you’re making these changes, it’s a REALLY good time to sign up for a class or a new activity that will regularly take you out of the house one night a week doing something only for yourself.

If this goes well, you will get very little friction. Your spouse will want to know where you were, probably, and you will have a cool place that you were.

If this does not go well, your spouse will give you sadface and ask 10,000 questions and talk about how unloved they felt eating a turkey-on-rye alone for 15 minutes before they rushed out the door.

This is a manipulation strategy. It can be an unconscious one on Spouse’s part, but it is one. A person who behaves this way is trying to create a lot of friction & difficulty for you so that it’s easier for you to just give into what they say. “Where were you? Who were you with? I couldn’t find the mustard, where did you leave it? How can I make a sandwich without mustard? You know I like mustard. And you got the wrong kind of bread. And I don’t like Progresso Soup, I like Healthy Choice. You know I like Healthy Choice, so why did you buy Progresso? I just feel more loved when you cook for me. It’s important that we eat dinner as a family every night.”

Please (with the help of a counselor, if you can) learn to recognize this for what it is and withstand it. The message you want to send, with your silence or “I’m sorry that you feel that way, I really wanted to catch that show before it left town” non-apology) is to show the other person that this kind of manipulation won’t work. Stay calm. Do not apologize. Do not argue or get sucked into logic or reason – this isn’t about that and there is no winning. “Cool, next time I’ll buy the soup you like. The ballet was fantastic!

In the beginning, do this every now and again. Don’t ask for a night off from cooking, TAKE a night off from cooking. Give as little notice as possible. Keep the fridge & cupboard stocked to minimize excuses. Meet groans and complaints calmly and don’t let them change your mind or suck you into apologies or unwinnable arguments.

Movie Poster for The Cook, The Thief, the Wife, and Her Lover

Oh nothing, just feeling the extreme fierceness of Helen Mirren today.

I said already that this is a good time to find some kind of weekly class or activity or self-care ritual that is just for you? Let me say it again. Theater season tickets. A concert series. Join a choir. Find a D&D game. Don’t ask Spouse to fend for Spouseself.  Just find an airtight reason to be elsewhere and reset the de-facto arrangement.

This is a baby steps thing. This is the beginning. First you change the dynamic by making it so Spouse has to fend for Spouseself once in a while. Then you show them you cannot be manipulated back into doing 100% of the food prep, even if they give you lots of guff. Then you see how you feel. Is it getting better? Is all this work & tiptoeing around worth it? Then you re-negotiate the terms of your marriage, hopefully in a way that holds onto the “affectionate, sympathetic” part.

Which leads me to our next question, #507

Dear Captain Awkward:
This might feel like the most mundane relationship issue, ever but… How do I deal with a life partner who dead refuses to do his share of the housekeeping?  
 
Our ten year relationship is otherwise good. We treat each other well, communication could be better but is still ok and we are still in love- in fact, we just set a wedding date. 
 
I’m not obsessively clean, its not like I’m asking him to colour code the tea towels… I just need a hand with doing dishes, sorting clothes, taking out the trash, making sure the place is sanitary in a house full of naturally untidy people.
 
When we first moved in together I did everything, in an effort to impress.  I got over it quickly and after a while we’d come to a fair, workable compromise. Then I took a few months maternity leave and I figured, I’m home all day and he’s at work, so it’s fair I do the housework, right? Only when I went back to work, nothing changed except the extra mess created by a toddler. Now, we work similar hours and I’m studying on top of that.  
 
Every now and then, he’ll do a load of dishes but that’s IT. I’m doing these crazy hours and coming home to a bomb site and noisy kids and he’s just hiding in his room, playing games or watching YouTube. Because he’s hidden away, it’s somehow my job to watch the kids while I study, to make sure nothing gets broken and to somehow wrestle the house into order.  We’ve had numerous discussions along the lines of ‘I’ll try harder” until about 6 months ago.  I broke down and told him I just can’t cope with the workload, and he told me that he could say things will change but we both know they won’t. That I could chose between muddling on, hiring a housekeeper (which we can’t afford) or quitting my course to free up my time. 
 
He’s been through a lot in the last two years, including job changes and bad anxiety.  I’ve tried to make allowances for this but I’ve also realised that ending our relationship is an actual option.  Since then, I’ve felt less desperate but I’m not ready to leave yet.
 
There’s nothing I can say to change him, other than show appreciation for what he does occasionally do.  Most of the time I’m ok with it, but when it’s the weekend before a real estate inspectîon, the kids are feral, the house is a mess and I’m ready to scream, how do I get out of that mindset and back to sane? How do I talk to him about it without nagging or lecturing or blaming?
 
From,
A Huffy Housewife*
Dear Huffy Housewife:
Jimmy Stewart from Rear Window, looking freaked out)

Once upon a time this person was on Team You but I don’t think he is anymore.

“….he’s just hiding in his room, playing games or watching YouTube” while you do all the housework and evening parenting? If you hire a cleaning person (and a nanny, presumably?), will he be working extra hours to pay for that so that y’all can afford it? You dropping out of school is somehow a viable option, but him going into the other room and taking out a load of trash and wiping down the counter is not? You are supposed to study and keep an eye on children at the same time, but he cannot watch YouTube and keep an eye on children?

Hulk running

You mention his anxiety, which, sure, is probably a factor that affects energy levels and housekeeping and capacity to be around small children. And I would imagine that he has some shame around this that is contributing to the avoidant behavior.

BUT BUT BUT I know lots of parents who have mental health issues, including anxiety. They deal with this by going to the doctor and doing whatever they can to make sure they stay on top of their shit. They build in breaks for themselves – to faff about on the internet, to be in a quiet room for a little while – so that they can be present for their children and their partners. I don’t think anyone has an obligation to *be* mentally healthy, but I do think that people in relationships – especially domestic partnerships, especially PARENTS – have some obligation to work on their own issues so that they can be there for the other person. He has done something approaching his share of the housework before, and occasionally pitches in with a task here and there, so he’s not incapable or unaware of what needs to happen. I think it’s worth checking in to say “Are you okay? Do you think if you went back to therapy/adjusted meds you might feel more able to do this?” but I also don’t think you can count on that as a reason or as a way that things will get better. I’d suggest couples’ counseling, but where would you fit it into your schedule? You could spend a lot of time working out the exact proportion of “just can’t” vs. “Don’t wanna!” going on with your spouse, but in the meantime you would still be shouldering all the work. This stress is harming you, and I can’t imagine that your kids don’t notice that their dad avoids them and that their mom is about to break.

You had a good past with this guy.

You have an incredibly shitty present.

And he has told you, flat out, that it will not get better and that it is on you to make any and all changes here. To quote Miss Oprah: When someone tells you who they are, believe them.

All signs point to: DO NOT MARRY

Like, take the wedding date off the calendar, stop planning it, tell people it’s been postponed indefinitely.

Whether that leads to him moving out, you guys ending the relationship, or is a wakeup call to him that this is a serious problem, I don’t know. I think relationships can survive temporarily hard times if people love each other and commit to working through it. I don’t know how they can survive when one partner just abdicates from everything and tells you the future won’t be different.  You can’t take your marbles and go home in a shared home.

Communication-wise, you could try specific, direct, timely requests. Big talks around “I need you to help out more!” once you get overwhelmed leaves “more” as a theoretical thing. So, when you need to study, what if you physically carried the kids into the room where he is on the computer and said “I need you to watch them for the next hour while I knock out some homework, thanks” and walked away (maybe to a coffee shop or library)? Do you trust him to step up for that hour? (If not? Again I say, DO NOT MARRY). You could set a timer, Unfuck Your Habitat-style, and ask him to help you focus-clean for short bursts, 20-30 minutes at a time and do a little each day. That might make things feel less anxiety-making for him and give it more structure. This still involves you doing the “mental energy and organization” portion of housework and parenting, which is still unfair, but has some hope of taking the pressure off a little bit. Family Cleaning Hour is also something you can model for kids and get them to participate in as they get older.

I don’t know how fixable either of these situations are for the Letter Writers. When one partner makes an extraordinary power play, like “No, I will not cook, ever, and I will not let you NOT cook for me” or “You’re on your own as a parent and a housekeeper, despite working and being in school,” there is so much entitlement and contempt and coercion there that I do not personally know how you come back from it without dropping the “If this does not change I will leave you” ultimatum.

If anything, maybe these letters can form a cautionary tale to young people who are just forming domestic partnerships for the first time.

That tale is: You can have all the great sex and great conversations and feelings of love in the world! But if you live with another person, making a happy life together means that you must do your share of mundane household stuff and make some kind of fair, equitable agreement about how that stuff will work out. Sometimes love means cleaning up cat puke or making the other person a sandwich or filling out the “Eat” notepad on a regular basis. Before I lived with a partner who did not have a lot of interest or competence around food preparation, I did not understand how very, very angry the question “What’s for dinner?” in a certain too-casual tone of voice could make me.  Asked enough times in a row, that question can murder all of your love for a person and turn your dinner into a constant diet of FUCK YOU.

Not everyone grows up in families where this stuff is handled functionally or those skills are taught, so it doesn’t necessarily come naturally or easily and it can cause a lot of anxiety and shame and depression (and be exacerbated by those things). That is okay. You can learn it! You can learn it together. You can work on it a little at a time. But you have to accept that no one is more “naturally inclined” toward cleaning a toilet. Everyone can learn how, it’s everyone’s job, and the toilet must be cleaned whether or not you feel like you’d be good at it or want to.

Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash in Walk The Line

“Things don’t just ‘work themselves out.’ Other people work them out, and you just think they worked themselves out.”- June to Johnny in Walk The Line

This stuff doesn’t fix itself just because you have an emotional connection and pantsfeelings for a person. It takes sustained effort and out loud conversation about boring stuff like toilets when you’d rather be watching YouTube videos or having awesome sex. Avoiding it doesn’t mean that you live in a magic world free of mundane responsibilities like toilet cleaning, it just means you have a dirty toilet and one of you is angry all the time.

The best blanket advice I can give about this is, if you’re thinking about moving in with someone, but somehow all practical discussions and negotiations about running a household, money, logistics, etc. become deferred to “later” or “why worry about that now?” or “it will all work itself out, why we gotta talk about it?”, DO NOT MARRY or share a roof. The relationship is not necessarily unsalvageable, perhaps it you will work it out in time, but it’s a good sign that you’re not quite ready.

This is still very much a gendered issue. I know it. You know it. Letter Writer #406, very scrupulously used only “spouse” and no gendered pronouns, but how many of you pictured the LW as a woman and the spouse as a man? Me, so much so that I had to physically go back and delete he, him, etc. out of the first draft of my answer. They don’t have to actually be a heterosexual couple for their dynamic to be very, very illustrative of that kind of conflict and power imbalance. Which is still going on, as so many young men and women, raised by feminists, reading all of the articles about fairness, knowing all the pitfalls, are STILL falling into unfair and anachronistic divisions of labor at home.

I think one way to fight against this is for people to really understand that there is no normal. There is no default setting for who does what around the house. You get to make up your own normal, and you get to negotiate it explicitly ahead of time, and you get to re-negotiate it over and over again as things grow and change. My folks and I have our issues, but let me praise them roundly for creating and modeling what an equitable relationship looks like. My dad was the youngest & only son in a Greek family whose mom lived to feed & take care of her kids. When he married my  mom, a registered nurse who later went on to get an MBA in health care finance and run entire nursing home facilities and units of hospitals, Yia-Yia panicked because she was worried her precious baby would starve in the hands of this non-Greek feminist. And I think in the beginning my mom tried to be SuperWife who comes home from a nursing shift and fixes her man some pork chops. But it quickly became untenable, and somehow they found a different way of handling things.

Tom Colicchio looking sexy with knives

In case you were wondering? Being a chef = also a JOB.

Throughout my childhood, my dad got home from work earlier than my mom and had a rock-solid predictable schedule. So he was the one to take us to soccer practice and get dinner on the table during the week. Mom would handle weekend dinners. We all packed our own lunches and at cereal/toast/fruit/yogurt/fend for yourself breakfast except for Sundays. Mom does the laundry. Dad mows the lawn & does yardwork. They split cleaning tasks equally (with a lot farmed out to us as weekly chores when we lived there), do renovations & take care of the extensive vegetable garden and landscaping stuff together. They took turns taking us along on errands or for outings, leaving the other parent with some alone-time in the house. When my mom was in graduate school while we were in high school, she came home at night every night to a clean house and dinner waiting for her on a covered tray in the microwave or fridge, because that’s what you do when your partner is the one with a harder schedule.

My dad did not know how to do much cooking or taking care of a house in 1968, but he learned because he loved my mom and didn’t want to be parented by his wife. They figured out, as a team, what kind of life they wanted to have and they slowly negotiated how it would work. And they renegotiated it periodically as their lives changed.

If a more “traditional” division of labor feels good* and make sense to you, by all means, do that, but don’t do it as a default. Negotiate it. Verbally work out how and when everything will be done.

Negotiate this:

Ideally, before you live together.

Then again, once you live together and have had a chance to see how your plan is working.

Then, periodically, to check in.

Then again, AT ANY TIME, if something is not working or if something changes. Both of these Letter Writers are perfectly justified in having a “This worked before, except really it didn’t, and now it’s really not working, so let’s figure out how to fix it so we can stay on the same team” conversation right now, 10 years in, 14 years in. Someone who is on Team You says “I hear you, ok, how can we make this work?”

Get down into the nitty gritty details; that’s where the Devil lives.

Once again, it’s Pledge Drive Week, where I shake the tip jar and ask people who like the site and who have a few $ to spare to contribute a little something. Non-tax deductible gifts can be made  through PayPal or  via Dwolla (for which you must be in the USA with a bank account). These drives really end up being bread and butter for me during lean times between adjunct teaching and help me save up for purchases like a new computer, so I greatly appreciate the support people have shown so far. Thank you!

*Do not, please, feel the need to defend or justify it in my comments section (If you’re happy then it’s working!) or use any kind of gender essentialist language (“But ____ gender is just more naturally suited to ______!”) in replying to this.

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640 comments
  1. I NEED this post!

    LWs, you both have all of my sympathy. I know how much you suffer!

    Okay so, my partner doesn’t quite flat out refuse to do housework but he gets out of it by being subconsciously sneaky.
    Both my partner and housemate (I live with two young males) do not do their share of the housework. One would think that if there were three of us, we would each do a third of the work. BZZZZT! Wrong! I don’t see the boys do 1-2 hours of housework every day.
    I cook dinner for them every day. And every day I have to nag them to empty the bin, pick up their dry washing, do the dishes (which get done every 2-3 days and not for lack of trying!), vaccum or any other chore than needs doing.
    Our housemate is very slack, he will often eat and then go out to visit his girlfriend, returning home very late or the next day. When he is here it seems like it’s magically someone else’s turn because more often than not, he is sitting on his butt playing video games. He works up to 38 hours a week and it’s the first year he’s lived away from his parents so suddenly, all this responsibility must seem too much. But he really needs to man up and start taking initiative.

    Boyfriend has developed this wonderful (sarcasm face) tactic of studying after dinner and then being “too tired” to do any housework.
    He doesn’t seem to get that in the real world, there are some responsibilities that trump an early bed time.
    I often will stay up late studying because I’ve spent 1-2 hours on dinner earlier in the evening. I also can end up doing housework in the wee hours of the morning because I know that it has to get done.

    They both don’t seem to grasp the concept of: *put something in full bin, ignore bin*. How hard is it to go ‘oh, bin is full, I’ll empty it.’
    They both swear that they do see it and think that, they just magically forget to do it.

    They both also spend their free time doing whatever they want. So, working on their motor vehicles or playing video games. I spend my free time sometimes doing things that I enjoy but inevitably, a lot of it ends up being housework.

    I know that I need to change it, I know that if I’m not assertive it won’t change but it’s really hard! Sexism is still very rife in our modern society it seems.

    • Honestly Awkward said:

      “THIS! THIS! THIS!” is what I am jumping up and down in my head screaming. I lived with boys for years, roommates and a longterm relationship, and the arrangement was roughly 80% me, 20% the rest of them combined.

      The relationship ended, and my old roommate and I still live together, and fortunately this last year we have worked out something much more equitable. He straight-up said he does not notice housework that needs to be done. I walked him through how it should be done step-by-step, am more comfortable saying, “R, this room needs cleaning.” and told him I needed dinner prepared a few times a week because I’m a time-and-a-half student, and he honestly is getting better at it. He buys dinner for both of us too sometimes, when he doesn’t want to cook.

      I don’t mean to imply here that *anyone’s* problems are so simple. For example, the LWs explicitly spoke to their significant others and were flat-out refused. I guess my point is the person I live with is being reasonable, and I do not even have sex/children with him. That a partner would refuse to do this thing for a loved one just blows my everloving mind and makes me jump up and down angry. I really hope both of you are able to get resolution on these issues, because that negative effect on your quality of life, and mental well-being is so, so not worth it.

      • I think we are preaching to the choir here – you and I seem to be kindred spirits in this.

        My biggest issue is that I don’t want to nag. I don’t want to have to ask every single time something needs to be done because if you have to ask, you’re a ‘nagging woman’. It’s society’s way of suppressing resistance because we want to be nice. We want to be too nice and to give them chances. We don’t want to be a nag. Society teaches us to be nice, to be polite, to serve others because it’s our duty to be self-sacrificing. We’re all good little girls who grow into super women who can have a career, cook gourmet meals, do the housework and raise the kids. Society thinks that we now are equal and have equal opportunities, but it doesn’t have equal expectations of us.

        • Jake said:

          Ugh, the nagging thing is the worst. Like we have to choose between doing all the damn housework, living in squalor, or being the bitch. I usually go for being the bitch given that choice, but honestly I reject it as a false choice. I should be able to live in relative cleanliness without having to play mother or drill sargeant to adults who should know better.

          The unfortunate thing is that there is NOTHING that will cause someone to change except for willingness on their part to do it. So either they find a way to be willing (and maybe it’s because you will leave if they aren’t) or they never change. There’s lots of advice on this thread about how to talk to people, explain it to them, convince them, etc. and looking at it I can just say been there, tried that, fuck it all. Nothing will change a person who doesn’t want to change.

          • Oh Jake, you have this spot on! The choice between a) do all the work, b) live in squalor because you refuse to do all the work, and c) be a bitch/nag because you don’t want options a or b, is so completely and utterly a false choice.The fourth option d) other person behaves like a competent adult and does their share of the work, gets completely ignored because “I’m a man! I don’t have to do chores!” *hulksmash*

          • Riot said:

            Oh my gosh, yes. If I ask for something to be done, and it doesn’t get done, and I ask again, I’m “nagging.” Spouse told me that things will get done, but maybe not on my schedule, and to stop nagging. So I stopped. My pictures that I framed for the upstairs bathroom STILL aren’t on the wall, TWO FULL YEARS later. That’s what not nagging got me. And there are other examples, some that had actual consequences, like the car breaking down because Spouse didn’t take it to get worked on for EIGHTEEN MONTHS after I said it needed to be done, Spouse drives the car and I do not, please make appointment that fits into your work schedule. But nagging–that makes me the Queen Bitch of the Universe. Having to pay $100 for a tow and $$$ because the problem was much worse 18 months later? “I just forgot, it’s not my fault.” GRRRRRRRR RAGE RAGE RAGE

          • popesuburban said:

            Another thing that bothers me about “nagging” is that I don’t feel like I should have to ask for a simple, everyday task eight times before it might get done. At least, not when I’m dealing with a neurotypical adult who has no medical issues that preclude noticing something needs doing/remember something needs doing. Nobody fucking reminds me to wash the dishes, or scrub some crud off the tub, or put food together, and yet it still gets done. Possibly because I’m a goddamn adult who knows this stuff needs to happen, maybe? So being met with “Gosh, just remind me,” or, “I know, you told me a hundred times,” flips my angry switch like no other. I’m not your mom, you’re not six, and you are still making it 100% my responsibility because you want me to think it’s my fault I didn’t remind you when shit goes untouched. Some of the worst, most vicious fights in my relationship have been over this. Thankfully, it’s improved, but I’m not going to let up/think it’s over for a long long time.

          • M Dubz said:

            Is it terrible that I get to that point and just want to dump their dirty dishes/ the full garbage/ whatever else they are not taking care of in their beds? Please note I have never actually done this.

        • Keksen said:

          Nagging. If anyone ever needs proof of how harmful certain stereotypes are, between this post and one of Carolyn Hax’s this week, they just need to look at the awfulness that being afraid of being ‘a nag’ can create. Both letters were about housekeeping, not coincidentally.

          It makes me furious.

          • quinalla said:

            On nagging, I absolutely refuse to be put into the position of nagging a grown adult to do something, bleh, it does set up that parent/child dynamic that nope, grown ass adults can do things on their own like make a fucking sandwich. So for chores, what worked best for my husband and I was splitting responsibility. Like I’m responsible for dishes & laundry, he’s responsible for vacuuming and dusting, etc. We each are in charge of our responsibilities asking for help as needed (or the other person pitches in if they see a need), but that way I’m not nagging him to vacuum and he isn’t nagging me to do laundry. For things we split (like childcare and cooking), we’ve worked out when each of us is in charge (always open for negotiation because stuff comes up) so again, no nagging required, just asking/offering help which is such a better dynamic! Also, we aren’t perfect as dinner can still end up being a hassle as I can’t quite get my husband to agree to split up responsibility for it like other chores (I would really like us to split it up by days so someone is responsible on M,W,F,Sa & the other is T,H,Su or something, but no go so far), but it’s gotten somewhat better now that we’ve split it up to he cooks while I corral children and I do ahead of time prep work and dishes while he corrals children, but meal planning is still tough.

            Not that this can really help the first LW, they have already used their words and been flat out refused. It might help the second LW to sit down and split up responsibilities, either completely (you clean bathrooms, you clean the dishes, you cook, etc.) and/or by time period (weekly, daily, whatever). And I would also advise not to dictate, but to start a conversation like “Hey, we have all these chores that need to get done, so let’s figure out a system so they get done with no one having to be the nag or doing more than their share.”, lay out the daily/weekly/whatever things that need done and ask how they want to split the work.

            And I too am so angry for both LWs are their partners/roommates, especially the first LW. Beyond livid right now! I too am very grateful that my parents also demonstrated how to fairly split up household chores, it’s served me and my brothers and sister well!

        • Anonycat said:

          Ugh, indeed. It’s not just that nagging makes you a nagging person, it’s also that if you have to nag, then you’re still the one noticing that the chore needs doing and acting on it (even if acting on it means trying to delegate it). When I say I want someone to do their share, I mean the planning/noticing as well as the execution.

          • M Dubz said:

            YUP YUP YUP. I don’t want to be responsible for noticing that shit is dirty; I want you to clean it.

          • Chloe said:

            So true!

          • helenhuntingdon said:

            Decision-making capability is a conserved quantity. We each only get so much. When someone foists off some of their chore-decisions on you, they are literally stealing from your opportunity to spend your brainpower on more awesome decisions, like which equation/physical constant/yarn color/travel opportunity looks good on you today. And then of course they get to spend their brainpower on whatever cool and fun decision-making they like to do, while you do the heavy lifting.

            http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazine/do-you-suffer-from-decision-fatigue.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

          • kanel said:

            Yes, helenhuntingdon, so very true.

        • atma said:

          I know what nagging is. It’s talking to someone who isn’t listening. It isn’t you, it’s THEM!

      • Oh, and the other thing that really, really gets on my tits.

        I come home and boyfriend comes up looking really proud of himself. “I hung out the washing today!”

        Congratulations. Gold star for you.

        They expect praise because they did one of their chores without being asked. It’s such a boy thing, they seem to think that we owe them for being helpful and not complaining when they’re simply taking responsibility like they already should be doing!

        • Suzy said:

          That’s not a boy thing, that’s a child thing.
          “Look, I tied my shoelaces all on my own.” Becomes significantly less impressive when they’re a fucking adult. Awful situation you’re in, do you see it improving? If you don’t, you need to have a serious think.

          • Ellen said:

            “That’s not a boy thing, that’s a child thing.”

            THIS. This is exactly it. It’s modelling a parent-child dynamic and NOT doing what the Captain said her dad did, which made me make a random happy sound because it was so well expressed:

            “My dad did not know how to do much cooking or taking care of a house in 1968, but he learned because he loved my mom and didn’t want to be parented by his wife.”

            Yep. It’s a child thing.

          • Just Plain Neddy said:

            It’s only a boy thing inasmuch as there are cultural narratives that this kind of thing is extra super heroic when done by a man, and those are narratives that both men and women pick up without even thinking about it. Pretty much how the cultural narrative is that single mothers are irresponsible drains on society, and single fathers are dreamy, sensitive heroes. My husband tends to do the things I ask him to do, which is nice, I suppose (and certainly puts me in a better situation than either LW), but it’d be great if he’d see the things that need to be done with his own initiative rather than regarding the default situation as “yay! Video game time until someone explicitly tells me to do something else!” It’s a difficult balance to get because I absolutely don’t want to suggest that all of life has to be boring toil, and I don’t want him to give up fun stuff. He works hard in his job and I want to let him unwind as well. But in the division of labour, somehow one of my jobs has become figuring out what the jobs are, always, and figuring out how, when and by whom they’re going to be done. People forget that that is actually a substantial job in itself and it’s the only one I have any resentment about.

          • Erin said:

            Well, it does have a place if both people already do their fair share and want to show appreciation/get appreciation.

            Person 1: I did the household thing, even though it was hard.
            Person 2: Yay.
            Person 2: I did the other household thing, even though I didn’t want to.
            Person 1: Yay.

            This way, no one feels like their contribution is overlooked and feels appreciated.
            But this does not solve the core conundrum: What to do, if only one person is actually trying. Then, like described, “I did the thing” gets really fucking annoying.

          • Looks like nested replies have run out. This is a reply to Just Plain Neddy and Erin.
            @Just Plain Neddy: Yes! But they don’t see those sorts of things as chores.
            Though making dinner might take 30mins-2 hours (depending on many things), I also spend a fair amount of time trying to remember what is in the fridge, what needs to be used up, what we need to buy and how to make whatever I’m making. That pre-thinking is also something that needs to be done. (Yes, I could make lists for all these things but a) I like testing my memory and I live close enough to the supermarket that if I do miss something, I can get it quickly, and b) it’s still a chore if you’re writing it down, you just have to do the thinking when you’re actually there.)
            Also, I agree that you don’t want to take away hubby’s fun BUT, if you’re doing so much housework that you’re too tired to have your own fun or you don’t have time to yourself, it’s not fair on you either. I don’t know whether you work or not but in my case, I study (and so does boy) and when he complains that he isn’t getting his own ‘winding down’ time or time to ‘chill out and have fun’, I’ve got to step back and say “Hey buster, I haven’t had any winding down time in weeks. Life is full of sacrifices, for me AND for you.”

            @Erin: The issue is that if there are 5 jobs that need doing and 1 gets done, boy or housemate expect praise, congratulate themselves for a job well done and then reward themselves by doing whatever they want.
            I do express gratitude. I thank them for washing the dishes and doing the vacuuming. But if praise is the only reason they do the chores, they will only do enough chores to get the amount of praise they are satisfied with. Which means inevitably, most things don’t get done.

          • Mary said:

            AGirlFromDownUnder – what if you responded to “I took the bin out!” with “Yay you! I washed up the breakfast stuff, took the clean laundry upstairs and sorted it, wiped down the counter and the table, cut up all the veg, made pasta sauce, unpacked the shopping I did on the way home from work, and watered the plants! Yay me!” *high five*

            If they get to demand gratitude, so do you! You might want to do this in a really pointed way, but you might actually do it in a really genuine way, the same way that you would if it was a five-year-old who hadput their toys away. If they get to set pathetically low standards for themselves and don’t want that to change, well, meet them there.

          • Erin said:

            @AGirlFromDownUnder

            I was more replying to Suzy, who called it “child thing”, which people usually say to mean “ridiculous” or “pathetic”.

            I’m totally with you that it’s fucked up that someone who does barely 1 in 5 of their chores expects praise for doing one of them. That’s why I said that this only works if people actually do the same amount of tasks. (At least, that’s what I meant to add.)

        • charlotte said:

          Do you try to go one holiday during one or two weeks? Perhaps, it will open their eyes on the chores?

          It looks like you talked with them, too.

          So i don’t know if it will help you but when my brother or me didn’t do any housework, my mother asks us, if she is our housemaid and each time, we tried to do it.

          Can you stop cooking one day or several days by week? Can you do the cooking only for you?

          Can you begin to talk to them to go find another flat (and explain to them why you search for a new flat)? I know it is hard to find one but they think that you are their housemaid and you are not paid. They don’t respect you for me. They have time for other thing but don’t accept to do housework.

          What is really horrible is that your boyfriend, who must like or love you, doesn’t think that your time is important. He lets you do anything and have times as it is show one facebook. Look at facebook when he is here and ask him: is my time nothing for you?

          I hope that you will find a solution.

          • I have been away a few times, once for a week and once for three.
            What I heard was they they did the dishes when the ran out of things to eat off.
            When I returned I found food that had been in the fridge since I left three weeks ago.

            One thing that really demonstrates their attitudes is that every week or so my housemate will ‘commandeer’ the washing machine and by that I mean, “It doesn’t matter what anyone else needs it for, I’ve run out of clean underwear so I need to use it now.”
            I’m sorry but, since when does your lack of forward planning trump other people’s needs?

        • Elanie May said:

          This is a person thing. I am a girl, and I am not a good cleaner. When I was single/lived alone, I managed to keep dishes clean via a dishwasher and my bathroom wiped down.

          That’s it.

          Now that I am living with my fiancé, I am making an effort to be clean, and I have my special chores. When I am done with them, I go to him proudly to tell him that the bathroom is clean, or that I washed the kitchen floor. Seeing him smile and say “good job” is the motivation I need to keep doing it. (I certainly have no other motivation.)

          I know you don’t want to give your bf a gold star just for doing what adults do, but positive reinforcement is a really good thing.

          • meh said:

            Agree with the positive reinforcement. I had a roommate who loved to cook and I enjoyed doing dishes (it relaxed me). Although this was our every night arrangement, he would cook, I would do dishes and wipe down, every night, I’d thank him for cooking and compliment the food, and he’d thank me for washing dishes. It’s nice to hear, even when it’s an every day thing.

          • At least you wiped down the bathroom :)

            Please don’t get me wrong, when they do a big job (clean the whole kitchen, tidy the study, tidy and vacuum the lounge) then they do deserve gratitude and praise. No matter what the job, big or small, they deserve gratitude. Everyone does.

            It’s when they do small jobs (wash the dishes, take out the bin, hang up the washing) and expected to be given high praise that it makes me think, ‘What are you, 10 years old?’
            I do those things without being asked and I don’t get praise. I’m a big girl and I don’t need it. Gratitude is nice but I often don’t get that either.

            The biggest issue is that it tends to lead to “Look at me, I did the dishes, I’m such a good man, now I can go and play 3 hours of DOTA 2 because man, have I earned it!”
            But the bin is overflowing, they have dry washing to put away and the house hasn’t been vacuummed in 4 weeks and both me and boyfriend’s asthma is getting worse because of it.

            The attitude is like, “I did something which means I didn’t do nothing and that is more than good enough because I don’t like doing housework.”

            It’s like, if I went grocery shopping and then said “Yep, my job’s done for the day, aren’t I good?” without bothering to actually make dinner.
            So that pride can cause problems in this case.

          • “I know you don’t want to give your bf a gold star just for doing what adults do, but positive reinforcement is a really good thing.”

            You are making a concentrated effort to do your fair share of the chores. If positive reinforcement helps you with that, great. You’ve made it easy for your fiance to give it to you. This wouldn’t be the case if the floor-washing you expected praise for was the only housework you’d managed in three months.

            On a tangential note, when I lived with roommates for the first time ever, I was a horrible slob, roommate #1 was unmotivated but better than me, and roommate #2 was a neat freak. Roommate #2 created a chores chart and bought ACTUAL GOLD STAR STICKERS for us to put on the chart when we’d completed our tasks. It actually worked.

            Of course, it helped that the negotiations and charts happened early on, so there was no baggage or resentment to deal with.

          • Kaz said:

            On a tangential note, when I lived with roommates for the first time ever, I was a horrible slob, roommate #1 was unmotivated but better than me, and roommate #2 was a neat freak. Roommate #2 created a chores chart and bought ACTUAL GOLD STAR STICKERS for us to put on the chart when we’d completed our tasks. It actually worked.

            I heard from another flatshare in my undergrad where they organised buying communal things like toilet paper and washing-up liquid and the like as follows: there was a chart with the names and with stickers, and they added a sticker whenever they bought something – letting you see who’d bought the most things and who’d bought the least. Apparently it triggered some kind of competitive instinct and what happened was that people ended up vying to be the one to replace the empty soap or whatever in order to pull into the lead.

          • Agree with this. As someone who is abysmal at cleaning and also deals with depression, sometimes you have to give yourself a pat on the back for just managing to do SOMETHING.

            (I always think of the part in The Princess Bride where Fezzik goes “You just moved your head! Doesn’t that make you happy?”)

        • Helix_Luco said:

          Maybe you could demand congratulations for doing chores in a similar manner, just a couple times a day interrupt whatever they’re doing to get the appreciation you deserve. it might help them wrap their heads around the difference in workload.

        • Rowan said:

          Aaaaaaaaargh, my ex used to do this all the time. I’d unload & reload the dishwasher, put the laundry on, make breakfast all before even waking my son then heading to nursery run & work. The once in a blue moon he managed to take the washing out of the machine or run the vacuum cleaner round (taking valuable time out from his busy schedule of sitting in front of his computer “looking for work” ie surfing for porn), he expected fanfares and blowjobs for the humungous effort required. Tosser.

        • Commander Banana said:

          I feel you, lady – honestly, this is the kind of thing that makes me so thrilled to be ALONE FOREVER. Show me the benefit of signing up for a lifetime of this bullshit?

          • I think the Captain posted something a while ago about how there used to be, like, all-single-lady art* commune/apartment complex thingies, and that they need to come back. What do we need to do to make that happen?

            *I was under the impression the historical ones were devoted largely to arts-&-letters types but there is no reason that the concept could not be extended to other ladies as well.

      • CL said:

        I think some people truly don’t notice when housework needs to be done, partly because what “needs” to be done is a matter of opinion. Some people are happy letting the trash pile up for a few days before they deal with it, while other people can’t stand the sight of it.

        I’m one of the people who is happy to ignore chores until it gets really bad — and when I’ve had to share spaces, part of the negotiation is what needs to be done at all. Pretending you don’t notice while you’re waiting for someone else to clean up is one thing, but sometimes partners truly have completely different standards. Then the person with high standards feels like the other person isn’t doing nearly enough, while the person with low standards feels like, “But you don’t need to be obsessive about this! Everything doesn’t need to be spotless all the time! It’s only unbalanced because you expect us both to be neat freaks, and if you’d just relax, it would be equal.”

        Those situations are tough — when there’s an agreement about what needs to be done, things can be divided, but sometimes very different people have to start by compromising on what should be done at all.

        • Sarah said:

          ‘Then the person with high standards feels like the other person isn’t doing nearly enough, while the person with low standards feels like, “But you don’t need to be obsessive about this! Everything doesn’t need to be spotless all the time! It’s only unbalanced because you expect us both to be neat freaks, and if you’d just relax, it would be equal.”’

          YES! Oh, so true. I’m definitely the one with the lower standards in my relationship and BF is just a Very Clean Person. I drive him nuts, and I know it. So I’m living on my own for the next year in a flat near him, and my goal is to start unfucking my habitat and trying to keep things tidy. It will drive me nuts, and I know it. I will hate it. But along the lines of the Captain’s suggestion that these things be worked out in advance, I don’t want to be that partner.

          It stinks, because I really don’t see it. I am quite fine in a messy space (though I prefer a clean one) and it doesn’t really ever bother me that the dishes have been in the sink for x number of days, or I haven’t made my bed in a month, or my clothes live in the dryer because, hey! De-wrinkle setting!

          But I think living with somebody requires compromise and it’s not always fun. But good habits can be learned and it only takes a month or two before you’re doing it without thinking. And honestly, anybody that isn’t willing to go through a few months of minor discomfort to get used to something that can drastically change their partner’s stress levels for the better needs to do some serious thinking about if they should be in a partnership at all.

          • JenniferP said:

            As a messier person, let me just say, it is easier for me to do things as part of the social contract and as a way to care for the other person than it is to just do it for myself. SOLIDARITY!

          • A few years ago, I had a conversation with a friend about my lack of housekeeping skills. Everyone else could manage basic housework. How come I couldn’t do it until the house was a disaster area?

            My friend explained that most people didn’t like housework. She didn’t like it. She just disliked housework less than she disliked seeing a mess.

            This was a good insight. Instead of willing myself not to be lazy (a lost cause), I tried to get into the habit of seeing the mess instead of ignoring it. It didn’t turn me into a neat freak by any means, but it helped.

          • Mostly Lurking said:

            I find systems like ‘unfuck your habitat’ or Flylady useful because they list all the things that need to be done (wipe down doors? really? yes, eventually!) and suggest intervalls in which to do them, as well as giving you an estimate for the time needed (five minutes to do [chore]? Why am I wibbling over it for half an hour?).

            The thing I had to learn is that housework is about doing, not about having done. Just because you did [chore] at one point in the last day/week/month doesn’t mean it doesn’t need doing again, so it’s about developing habits, not ticking things off a list.

            Also, don’t underestimate the power of wanting to make your habitat nice for someone else. My partner and I have missed doing the dishes twice in the past seven month. On my own, I probably did managed to do all dishes in one day twice in the same time period… and he’s similar. But it’s a together thing – we simply shift the conversation to the sink – so it doesn’t feel as horrible a task.

        • Honestly Awkward said:

          I think this is an excellent point. Roommate and I definitely have different standards of what is an acceptable living standard. We’ve hopefully come to an equitable arrangement (sometimes I worry that I am crowding him out of the apartment’s common areas, and we discuss this over dinner every several months) and he’s been very cool about it. So an upvote for compromising and working out an arrangement being good!

          The front room is not full of his stuff and stays generally tidy, and his room, which has never been vacuumed or tidied, has the door shut at all times until such a time as he wants to clean it badly enough. And of course, said room is not a biohazard or anything that would attract vermin that would negatively affect the shared living space.

        • staranise said:

          I’m a pretty messy person, but I was taught to have high standards for cleaning. It can happen! I’m not good at day-to-day “Oh, the garbage is full/I’m all out of clean teaspoons/I have no clean shirts” but when I roll my sleeves up and clean, it’s clean. I invite guests over just to have an excuse to do a full cleanup. I feel like, if I were to live with someone, we would actually need to take pictures of what we thought “clean” meant. We would need to concretely, visually define how messy it’s allowed to get before it has to be cleaned, and what it ought to look like once it’s been cleaned.

          • twomoogles said:

            YES to inviting guests over to have an excuse to do cleanup. This is one of the reasons why I enjoy that all tabletop games I’m in lately have been at my place. Logistically it’s because my boyfriend and I have the best space, so if we’re both in the game it just makes sense to do it in the central location with no uninvolved roommates and a table…but for me, it’s a reason to make sure everything is relatively clean at least twice a week. Neither boyfriend or I are ‘naturally’ clean people, and if things get bad they get baaaad, but we manage it when we have to.

        • General Assortment said:

          Yes, this. I’m definitely not a ‘neat freak’ but I am the “clean one” in the relationship.
          We settle the unevenness by having my partner responsible for a couple specific chores. (Grocery shopping, Dishes, Trash Cans i.e. chores I hate) but is also helpful when I provide a list of specific tasks (sweep bathroom, empty cat litter). Things he wouldn’t think of doing himself but is happy to do when asked. Other chores that I know he won’t “do correctly” (in my eyes at least) I take care of myself.
          It’s a system that works really well for us.

          • Zooey said:

            This resonates with me too – I’m the more cleaning oriented person in my relationship but as long as I explicitly ask my partner to do things it stays reasonably balanced. Iv’e definitely had to train myself to actually ask, though – it’s easy for me to just do it without thinking, and then I’ll be tired and doing something and start to feel mad that he hasn’t done it. But if I ask, he will do it (and to be fair, he’ll also sometimes stop me when I start doing something, and volunteer to do it or to help – it’s just that he doesn’t necessarily spontaneously think of doing it).

            Apart from training myself to use my words, I’ve also found that I have to make myself be okay with things not being done in the ‘right’ way. For example, I wash up in a particular order and like to rinse everything really thoroughly. He doesn’t use the same order and he’ll often leave bubbles on the clean dishes – but then he always wipes them dry and puts them away, whereas I prefer to leave things to drain. It drives me crazy to watch him wash up, but the end result is fine, so I just try not to pay attention when he’s doing it! Like General Assortment, I do reserve some tasks to me where I feel like there’s a genuine difference in the result (and where he can’t seem to learn my technique even when he’s willing to try – he canNOT fold clothes!). But I’ve grown to understand that insisting on some ‘right’ way to do things is making a rod for my own back.

            Of course, all of this type of stuff assumes a situation where the other person is willing to do their part. The LWs’ situations suck.

          • Anna said:

            That system works really, really well unless you have a classically passive-aggressive partner who REALLY doesn’t want to clean. My ex-spouse used to demand that I teach him how to clean things because he “didn’t know how,” then intentionally put as little time & effort into it as possible in the hopes that I’d just take over and not ask him to do it again.

            This worked marvelously until I moved out of the house for 10 months for our separation, then moved back in after he’d left to a house that hadn’t been cleaned even a little bit in 10 months (including a floor covered in used tissues, a year-old air intake filter the dog had laid up against every day, a kitchen he’d cooked in daily but never so much as wiped down, etc.). But you know, then he moved in with his parents who have a cleaner, so good for him!

            Sidenote: this thread is making me take a good, hard look at the balance between me and my new spouse-elect; I don’t think either of us feels put-upon (though maybe he does? would I even know?) but the house is never as clean as it should be (where “should be” = “to our mutual liking” – we both value cleanliness and being basically able to find stuff, but are also both perfectly comfortable with messiness, where “messy” is not the same as “dirty”). We often say we should be better about it but I don’t think it’s about a balance so much as mutual poor motivation. Now that he is spending basically all day at home (full time student without a job, contributing to the household in many other pre-negotiated ways, including taking on more cooking and some additional household tasks), I feel maybe I should step up and help him keep his full-time environment unfucked.

          • Muddie Mae said:

            @ Anna, as we’ve run out of reply-nesting,

            I am really curious to see if this happens with my recent ex. I am staying with a friend for about 10 days while he stays in our apartment and looks for a houseshare, at which point I move back in. His general lack of responsibility was a huge sticking point for me – for example, in the last 6 months I traveled twice for work and both times came home to huge messes. He won’t have quite as much time to turn the apartment into a hovel as your ex did, but it will be interesting to see if he rises to the occasion when he knows I’m not going to do it for him.

        • This, exactly. My husband prefers not to have a schedule for cleaning, but for people to just pitch in and do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. I…would notice that the bathroom needs to be cleaned approximately every 6 months if left to myself. He ends up doing most of the housework, and neither of us are happy about it. I suspect that whatever we end up coming up with will involve a detailed “you must clean the bathroom every three weeks!” schedule, possibly with physical gold stars, for me. Because that’s what I need in order to get my shit together: structure and accountability.

          Getting into the pattern of being the “freeloader” spouse (for a number of reasons, most of which are no one’s fault) has been really, really bad for me as well as for our relationship. I have to say, I just don’t understand the LWs’ partners. How can they treat their people with such disrespect?

          • Kim said:

            When I shared a house with 3 other people, we divided the house up into 4 zones (ignoring bedrooms). Each week we each had to do a thorough cleaning of our zone-for-the-week. If we didn’t do our clean, then we’d have to do that zone AND our new zone the next week. In theory we could do our zone any time during the week, but usually everyone would leave it til Sunday afternoon, and then we’d all go on a cleaning frenzy together.

            It really was effective having it be explicit, and while we often had people doing 2 zones in a week, I don’t think we ever had 3. It did help that everyone accepted that they should do their share of the housework.

          • @Kim – some friends of mine did ‘zones’ but with a little spinning thing with their faces on to assign zones. It made it a little more fun! I am a huge fan of rotas, zones and explicit directions (so ‘clean bathroom’ is bad, but ‘wipe down bathroom surfaces, scrub loo, mop floor and scrub shower’ is good). I am also one of those people who honestly does not see clutter, though I’m ok with dirt, and if I’m not explicitly told otherwise, I will quietly cover the house in discarded books, jumpers and shoes.

        • naath said:

          yessssss this.

          I think my household division-of-labour works pretty well, mostly because we have similar ideas of where the “OH GOD THIS MUST BE DONE NOW” threshold lies (we tend towards the “messy” end of things; I think I’ve actually hoovered once this year).

      • Definitely this – and also, figure out what you need and what you want. I NEED to not cook every night in a week. While I’d like it if I had a homecooked meal the nights I have off, if my husband orders take out, he is still getting food on the table, you know?

        So to make a suggestion, that might help is how it works with my husband – “one/two nights a week is yours to take care of food. That can be take out.”

    • FlyBy said:

      Ouch. Do you think posted lists of chores might help? Making everyone sit down to create such lists and then enforcing them is extra work for you, which is not fair, but sometimes a big damn checklist on the wall is more effective than verbal reminders. It certainly helps set boundaries and expectations. Of course for others it descends into a worse situation where people don’t do their chores because the mess doesn’t bother them, so it doesn’t need to be done, right? YMMV.

      • I’ve done that. They look at the list, eyes grow wide and there are mumbles of “oh yeah, I’ll do it tomorrow.”

        Tommorow comes. “Oh, I didn’t get time.”
        On their day off. When they spent over 5 hours tinkering with the motorcycle (and posted facebook updates on it) and doing all sorts of other things that they enjoy.

        • JenniferP said:

          Question for you:

          Do you think it will ever get better?
          Could you live like this for another 10 years?
          Does he contribute to household stuff in some other way?
          Could you get them to shell out for a cleaning person?

          Because Gurl, this sucks and I don’t see it getting better on its own.

          • Yes (but not on its own), no, sort of… not really… no (I think he’s under the common delusion that by doing something, he is doing his share and anything more is unfair. I have internalised this and I need to be harder on it.) and No (we can’t afford a cleaning person and even if we could, the boys would insist that they will do more but then not.).

            I just have to suck it up and start connecting my boot with butts. I guess I don’t like being the ‘mean one’ as my mind paints it and I secretly hope that they will improve on their own. Too much faith, I know.
            But this post has made it clear, it HAS to change. I can’t just put up with it and I can’t live like this.

            So thank you Jennifer for posting about it and I dearly hope that it will help me get it all togather!

          • Bubbles said:

            @AGirlFromDownUnder: Don’t feel bad about being “the mean one.” They are both already being mean to YOU. You’re just going to be sticking up for yourself.

        • Specific suggestion requiring someone who’s genuinely trying, but, I need deadlines, personally. I like to have a list that says “X must be done BY THIS DATE.” And then I give myself penalties if it doesn’t happen. I end up doing a lot of chores in the middle of the night, but you know, it gets done.

          • My problem is setting penalties that will motivate but aren’t unreasonable. Because if they aren’t harsh enough, it still won’t get done. Too harsh? That makes me a bitch and also hypocritical if there are days where I’ve not kept up my end because I’m exhausted or whatever.

          • Bibliophilian said:

            This is a response to AGirlFromDownUnder, but we’re at the end of the threading. I really liked the $1/day/chore penalty another person mentioned downthread (can’t find it atm); it’s not stupidly harsh in case of bad days, but it can really start to add up if people are truly slacking.

            In my house, we tried a combination chore chart/checklist that seems to be working pretty well. We have a list that is 3 standard weekly chores (kitchen counters/stove wipedown, vacuum, clean bathroom) and 1 chore that changes as needed (for things like dusting/window cleaning that don’t need to be done every week). In addition to one item on the list, everyone is responsible for doing their dishes and picking up stuff out of common spaces 3x weekly. The “due date” for all of this is just the end of the week, cause everyone has really varied schedules.

      • Rakka said:

        I visited a friend and friendspouse and they had “Epic Quest” list on the kitchen wall with errands and XP toll. I’m thinking we need something similar at home.

        • Greenie said:

          Chore wars? It worked for me and my roommates some, when I could still stand roommates.

    • Ros said:

      Oh, man, that was my husband when we started living together. Sympathy. A few things that worked for me:

      – I started off with a few conversations about how there’s X amount of work to be done, and we each need to be doing half of X. (It’s really hard to defend against that starting point…)
      – We had a few blow-up fights (ok, I blew up, admitted) when no housework was being done other than by me. He had the traditional excuses (“but I don’t notice it”, “but I’m so tired”, “but you’re better at it”, and, the killer “but I don’t like doing housework” – let’s just say there’s a reason I was doing the blowing up – I don’t like doing the housework EITHER, dude!!)
      – The last big blow-up, though, was when I told him that when I came home from working a 12-hour day and found the house a mess and him playing video games, what he was saying with his actions is that he valued his free time more than mine, his video games over my comfort, and that he valued his immediate pleasure over my happiness and the commitments and promises he’d made to me, and that this was A Problem that Would Be Addressed, one way or another. (I’d reached the point where I was like “I love you, but I’m not signing up for this”).

      Somehow, that one hit home. There was crying (on both sides), but he’s gotten a LOT better at actually a) noticing what needs to happen, and b) doing it without expecting praise or wonder. I don’t think he actually saw all that much wrong with “just playing video games for a few hours, I don’t know why this is such a big deal” until it was put in context of how it directly affected me, and, specifically, how I wasn’t standing for it.

      • Thank you for sharing Ros and I am glad that it worked out for you – the fact that it did gives me hope.

        I think the points you raised are really important and I’m going to have to bring them up with him so he really can understand where I am coming from.

        Thank you!
        Jedi Hugs!

      • jadriver said:

        *internet applause*

        This is an awesome example of using your words and clearly, firmly telling your spouse how X was affecting you. I have used this same approach for a different issue with my SO, and it just felt GOOD to say “You know what, I am not putting up with this anymore. Here’s the deal.” I am so pleased for you that your hubs listened, and acted.

    • Bubbles said:

      I have a similar issue with my fiance not pulling his weight when it comes to the dishes. My therapist suggested that if I get home from work and the dishes are not clean, I “cook” PB&J for dinner. Set the table all nice as if it were a “real” meal, and plop a couple of sammitches on the plates.

      Of course, I haven’t had need of this advice since I received it, so YMMV.

      • If only! I think he would love me more if I made him PB&J Sandwiches for dinner. They are his favourite snack. :p

        • Jake said:

          But why cook dinner for him at all? There are no clean dishes to cook with? Okay, make a PB&J for yourself and the other two adults can fend for themselves like adults.

          It’s a little passive-aggressive, but in the past with roommates I’ve been a fan of dirty dishes go in the bedroom of the person who was supposed to wash them. Of course if you’re sharing a bedroom with one of the offenders it’s a little harder. Maybe they go on/under/in the games console?

          • Guava said:

            Seriously. After years and years and years of my husband “forgetting” to put the laundry in the dryer while I was out food shopping…or “forgetting” to put in the second load when I asked him to…or “forgetting” to take it out, fold it or put it away, I just stopped.

            Now I will literally pull his dirty clothes out of the basket and leave them for him to wash, dry and fold himself. Can’t close the closet where we keep the laundry because of his mountain of dirty clothes? Not my problem.

          • MsM said:

            Doesn’t even have to be passive-aggressive. Just “Hey, I gotta study tonight. There’s peanut butter in the fridge.” If he gets mad: “Look, I’m sorry, but I really need to focus on this material. Let’s talk about it more tomorrow, okay?”

            Of course, I am blessed/cursed with a significant other who will happily eat cereal three meals a day if left to his own devices, so maybe I’m out of my depth here.

          • I guess part of it is that, I don’t want to eat PB sandwiches for dinner. I want a proper meal and if I make food for myself, I may as well make enough for everyone since it takes pretty much the same amount of effort.
            That and I get the terrible guilts if I don’t make enough. I think it’s a cultural thing – my mother is Chinese and not feeding your family members/household enough food is practically a crime in her eyes. (She wouldn’t make me feel bad but, because I’ve internalised that attitude, I do feel bad.)

          • Jake said:

            You’ve answered your own “why not” question though. Why not make enough for everyone when you cook for yourself? Because if you do they will take it for granted. I get that you’ll feel guilty and the only thing I can say about that is that sometimes you can choose to do something that feels uncomfortable in the hopes of leading to better outcomes for yourself later. And I think working on not feeling guilty is probably a good idea.

          • Commander Banana said:

            Seriously. I am coming to terms with the fact that I am a Selfish, Terrible Person (sarcasm) and I am just not. fucking. willing to feed and clean up after another human being. Not willing. Ain’t gonna. Can’t be made to. Big bag of nopes delivered by a nopetopus from Planet Nope topped with a bouquet of noperoses and a layer of cheesy nopesauce. I realize that this is not realistic for a lot of people, and it may not reflect that well on me, but just ain’t gonna.

          • Minor practical point: The ‘dirty dishes go in the bedroom of the person who was supposed to wash them’ move backfired somewhat the one time a couple of housemates tried it on me. I’d planned to wash the dishes after getting in from work (I was on the late shift), came in, looked at the empty sink, and thought “Huh. Could have sworn there was a stack of dishes for me to wash. Maybe I’m remembering yesterday instead. Well, cool, I can hang out for a bit before bedtime.” And hung out for a bit before bedtime, just chilling, and finally went upstairs when it got late to find all the dishes stacked outside my bedroom door. By which time it was late and I was exhausted and needed to get to sleep to be any good at work the next day, and I just wasn’t going back downstairs to wash a bunch of dishes that I’d have been perfectly willing to wash when I got in. Left them there, stepped over them, and went to bed.

            Looking back on that, I bet the housemates had good reason to be fed up with me, and I’m certain I should have got my act together to get the dishes done earlier. I’m not trying to excuse any of that. It’s just that that particular move backfired, because it actually misled me into thinking that the dishes didn’t need doing when they did.

          • tlh_in_tlh said:

            ::snicker:: I did have housemates that left paper take-out cups of soda on their own computer desk long enough that the paper cups disintegrated and oozed *nasty* old soda onto the desk. Karma, amirite? ::chuckle::

    • PBnoJ said:

      That sounds epically frustrating – I’m very sorry you’re going through that.

      I know you said elsewhere that you tried the list and it got ignored, would a strike (a la http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/10/11/setting-them-up-for-failure-calgary-mom-tired-of-cleaning-after-messy-kids-goes-on-strike/) and a list of Things That Need Doing Around Here be a workable combination? Though I fully admit that kind of thing might work better with kids/teens than adults.

    • Liz said:

      You don’t need to be all that assertive – although it helps. What you need to do is go limp. I.e. don’t cook for your roommates. Cook for yourself if you want, wash up your stuff and let them take care of themselves. I have lived in a number of archaeological field houses and 2 fraternities, and that is how I kept my sanity. It got weird at times – in one house, I had to keep my dishes, pots, pans, etc in my room. The guys would pile up dishes in the sink? I’d take them out, wash my dishes and cook my meal, then put their dirty dishes back in the sink. Guys like this rely on the fact that most women will clean rather than let dirty stuff pile up. So don’t be the unpaid housekeeper. If a guy asked me to cook for him or clean for him, I would say, “I was out in the field today, just like you were and I worked just as hard. Now, if you want to pay me $20/hour to do this, sure. But I’m not your mother or your girlfriend and I’m not doing it for free.” That generally shut them up. It helped that the apartment was paid for by our employer who would periodically inspect and give them hell if it was dirty.
      It may get ugly for a while – some people can live in an appalling amount of squalor. But hopefully you can negotiate a compromise.
      As to the roommates who slide out? Set out a list of tasks and set a fine for not getting them done within an allotted time. That worked really well in one of the frats where I lived. If it was your turn to sweep the hall, if you didn’t get it done by Wednesday, you were fined $5.00. If you didn’t pay? You were evicted. It was a nice place, mostly because they were strict about keeping it clean, and they had a waiting list for rooms.
      Hope this helps.

    • staranise said:

      What are you afraid will happen if you’re too mean?

      A lot of the time the thing holding somebody back from demanding what they deserve is a complex pile of worries. It can be childhood training not to ask for anything, or it can involve fear that if they ask, the other person will get angry and/or their request will be totally ignored and they’ll feel unloved and/or they’ll be abandoned. They can be rational and based on real, recent experience, or totally your hindbrain going, “No, self! If we leave the shade of the boulder, a hawk will eat us!”

      What’s your worst-case scenario? And if so, could you realistically think of a way to deal with that?

      • dawnofthenerds said:

        “‘“No, self! If we leave the shade of the boulder, a hawk will eat us!”’

        This is brilliant and just clicked in my brain like whoah. Thank you.

    • Sarah G. said:

      I lived with three roommates a few years ago – I was dating one. One of my roommates made a lot of money, but absolutely DID NOT want to any chores at all except for straightening his own room and doing his own laundry. He wanted dinners cooked the way he liked them and to come home to a reasonably clean house in which all of his errands had been run.

      We figured out how much it would cost to run the house – rent, bills, food, and household supplies – and he paid a significantly higher percentage of the household costs in cash. In fact, I think he paid about 60-70% of the total costs of running a household of 4 all by himself. My boyfriend did all the cooking (and would cook something different for us if our tastes that night differed), I ran most of the errands, and the fourth person was on disability so he did some of the cleaning and errands as well, in compensation for his miniscule monthly pay. We were all able to keep a percentage of our income (which in my case was damn near $0 because I was in college and had no job) and everyone felt the situation was equitable. We lived in peace and harmony for 6 years and parted friends. No one had to nag anyone.

      But we agreed to this IN ADVANCE of moving in together and we renegotiated when necessary. We had a WRITTEN CONTRACT concerning this. And we were all friends ahead of time, wanting the best for each other.

      Part of the problem is that most people don’t see housework as a paid chore. Once you put a dollar amount on it and start charging for it, they either become willing to do more themselves, to pay you more/reduce your rent, or they hire a housekeeper. If they’re not willing to do that, move out because your situation isn’t equitable.

    • helbling said:

      You have the patience of a saint. And are nicer than I am.

      Husband and I have an arrangement about washing up and laundry, as he has weirdly high standards thanks to his background in chemistry and it was leading to arguments when I tried to do it (to him, a couple of suds not rinsed off on the underside of the grill pan is a big deal, whereas to me it…really wasn’t) so we simply said we’d both cook, he’d wash up and I’d do laundry and wipe the kitchen down. However, prior to that we lived with someone…urgh. I could tell you a tale about dead bird water…don’t ask. And prior to that I lived with people very similar to yours. And in the end…I lost patience.

      If they didn’t do their chores, they didn’t get fed. Simple as. I stopped cooking for them. I made sure my own room was tidy, took out my own trash, did my own laundry, made sure the bathroom was clean enough I could stand to use it and kept my own crockery (which I washed up) in a box under my bed. To my mind, this accomplished two things:
      1) I stopped throwing away energy on stuff which I didn’t need to do, as I was already throwing away energy on being angry about it.
      2) It communicated to them, in a big non-avoidable way, how much I thought their behavior was unacceptable, and how much it was upsetting me. I kind of missed cooking for them – I like to cook. And they didn’t like not being fed.

      I’d love to tell you they bucked their ideas up, but they didn’t, it simply meant they wallowed in filth for 6 months eating take away, and come the end of the lease, I moved out and had a screaming argument with them when they tried to take some of the money we got docked by the landlord for the house needing a professional deep clean out of my deposit. We aren’t really friends anymore.

      But that being said, one of yours is your romantic partner, so has a far larger vested interest in keeping you happy than these guys did with me, so the ‘you are pissing me off, and THIS is how much you are pissing me off’ gesture might have more impact? Downside: it kind of puts your relationship on the line. Alternatively, you can put your foot down and say he needs to get his own place, because living with him is intolerable, which might also be a wake up call?

      And yes, with the exception one of the above, all of those I’ve butted heads with about here were guys. Coincidence? I think not.

    • Yeine said:

      I read through the thread and didn’t see anyone else say this, but when they see the full bin and then forget to empty it, what they’re actually doing is deciding not to do it. They possibly even have themselves fooled into thinking that they’re just forgetting, but the decision not to do it right now is the decision not to do it.

      • I think that’s a hint un-generous but it is certainly where my sympathy lies and what drove a lot of my seething indignation for a long time. This sort of thing was (and still a little bit is) a source of conflict between me and my wife; it’s completely beyond my comprehension that she could, for example, walk right past a basket of clothing that needs to go where she’s going and head there empty-handed. But she really is that oblivious to those things.

        Now, that excuse goes only so far. This isn’t asking someone to learn to fly empty-handed, it’s asking them to get into a certain (marital-harmony-increasing) habit. In our case the process of improvement has required both of us to suck it up and be grown-ups. For one, I had to stop letting myself wallow in my indignation and help the learning. “Hey, you headed upstairs? Would you please take that basket with you?” There’s a certain pleasure in wallowing in righteousness but who wants to be the most righteous person in divorce court if there’s another option?

        The other was “be less helpful.” I see people making this suggestion all over the place here in forms like going on cooking strike or the like. It can be tough – or at least it is in my marriage – to apply this in a way that doesn’t just make my happiness level lower too. But finding ways to make my wife complicit in making things better for both of us by not simply grumbling and doing it myself has made matters better for everyone.

        So sometimes that basket/full bin/whatever would just sit there and eventually it was an issue for her. She needed laundry from it or needed to put something in it or whatever. And I’d say “yeah, it’s in your clean laundry in that basket downstairs.” Leaving the snotty I-told-you-so out of my voice and resisting the urge to just bring it up and seeth are challenges, but change is never easy. And getting to where I could do that and have it be productive meant having had the conversation BEFORE about the issue and saying what I wanted and needed. See earlier re: righteous smugness.

    • Oh my heavens. it is not your job to cook dinner or pick up the dry cleaning for your room mate, though I get how it ends up becoming your job by default. If you are responsible for meal-planning and cooking, it is entirely fair for those who benefit from your meal-planning and cooking (your boyfriend and room mate) to clean up. Maybe call a household conference and cut them a deal: “I am happy to cook dinner for you if you clean up the kitchen immediately afterward.” And then stick to your guns. Make them dinner, enjoy a nice meal as a household, and then say, “well, I need to go study /work out/read a book/ take a shower/organize my shit for the next day/sit quietly and stare at the wall because my life is also very demanding” and leave them to it. They might do a terrible job, which is something you’ll either learn to accept or it’ll be a whole other domestic labor negotiation talk to have. They might not do it at all, in which case I suggest only making enough food for yourself or taking your meals elsewhere. And the dry cleaning? Dang. Pick up your own dry cleaning and let them worry about theirs. And if they can’t adapt to the restructuring of domestic labor, it may be time to find a new room mate and/or new boyfriend, because if a dude isn’t willing to pull his weight around the house in 2013, he deserves to eat cold pizza and live in celibate squalor. But what if they do adapt? You will have helped two dudes join the rest of us in the 21st century!

    • briardain said:

      My brother was in this exact situation for several years, only it was him doing the housework while his wife and their male roommate ignored everything. He was often the only one of the 3 with a job, more often the only one working full time, and still every day he came home to a dog frantic to get outside before she wet herself, dirty dishes piled everywhere, and blank stares if he asked about dinner plans. He tried a lot of the tactics others have mentioned; having discussions about it, setting up chore charts, washing only the dishes he needed and cooking only for himself, letting things go as far as he could stand. Nothing worked. His wife would respond to any serious discussion of it with anger or tears; called him names, claimed it was sexist of him to want her to cook or clean EVER, claimed debilitating depression but refused to take prescribed meds and dumped every therapist after a few sessions (and had no problem motivating herself to go out with girlfriends or play MMORPGs for hours), anything to deny that she was simply an incredibly lazy slob who expected him to both support her financially and take care of every adult responsibility. The roommate (who was only around for the last 2-3 years and made things worse, but didn’t start it) would just retreat to his room and usually took night jobs so he was never around. He was happy to live off fast food and prepackaged snacks and have someone else pay the bills in exchange for a chunk of his paycheck, but never made enough or kept a job long enough to actually pay 1/3 of the bills or cover the cost of outside help. In the end, my brother moved out and left them there. He held off filing for divorce, hoping that would be the eye-opener she needed, but since she kept asking him for money and help while telling him how awesome it was not to have him nagging her, he eventually gave up. The two perpetual children are still living together, although they did have to downgrade to a much smaller, cheaper apartment without my brother’s income. My brother is happily single and claims he will never live with another person.

      So while most often household chore bullshit IS mostly about sex and gender and traditional roles, your case sounds similarly extreme enough that it’s probably just about them being unsuitable for adult life, period.

  2. Margaret said:

    Negotiating housekeeping duties was one of the most difficult things about moving in with my current partner – before then I’d never realised how much I’d soaked up about “roles” and who should default into which duties. There is no default, of course. You have to work out what works for you.

    (Captain, your response is wonderful, but I just wanted to point out that it’s possible that the first LW used “they” pronouns not because they were trying to obscure their partner’s gender but because their partner is non-binary and uses “they” pronouns habitually. But yes, I do see your point -people can still take harmful power imbalances into non-cishet relationships.)

    • JenniferP said:

      Good point about the non-binary thing, sorry to miss it!

    • “I’d never realised how much I’d soaked up about “roles” and who should default into which duties. There is no default, of course. You have to work out what works for you.”

      This! It’s a shame that this is so hard when dominant societal narratives exist and try to assert themselves, whether in our heads or through the behavior of those around us.

      I’m a bisexual girl, and while I’ve never dated any women so far, when I hear too much gender-role normativity about relationships (from my mother, generally) I ultimately react with “goddammit I need to just date girls so there IS no script and we are totally free to write our own script and people trying to enforce gender norms will just gape in confusion.” Of course, what this really means is that I need to learn to ignore that normative pressure and not bring it into my own head.

      • Actually I did some academic research into this and read that apparently female/female relationships have the most equitable division of household labour – and I think it’s exactly what you’ve said – that there’s more of the idea of negotiating your own script for household chores.

      • staranise said:

        As a bisexual woman who’s never had a serious relationship, this whole comment thread is making me go, “I always assumed I had a statistically higher chance of dating a man than a woman, just because of the low prevalence of queer women. But maybe I’m wrong! Maybe men who won’t drive me fucking crazy are just as rare!”

      • My partner and I are both female and while we’ve certainly had times of no-one wanting to do a specific task, the biggest equality-of-housework battle we’ve ever had was a brief discussion about changing the toilet roll. We still had to work out different tidiness levels and who prefers which task, but lack of respect was not the issue. So I suppose my answer is everyone should be a lesbian.

        • Lady Commenter said:

          Not sure if you were just venting or if you actually wanted input on the theoretical Dating-A-Messy-Dude stress. Ignore this if you were just venting :)

          If the thought of a messy partner stresses you out, it might be good to remember that there is space for discovery and discussions between “dating” and “living together”, where you could probably find out quite a lot about the other person’s cleaning habits and cleaning expectations.

          If you reach the point of maybe moving in together, make sure that you have a conversation about cleaning. What does a clean room look like to you? What does it look like to them? What does a “good enough after a hellish day at work”-room look like to both you and them? Are there chores you like more than others? Are there any chores you truly HATE? What are your current habits? Chart? Divided chores? A set amount of time for chores?

          You get to treat it like any other possible dealbreaker, and you have plenty of time to discuss it.

          • AnonymousGuy said:

            The Atlantic did an article about why same-sex couples tend to have more harmonious marriages (I don’t know if that’s actually the case, so let’s not argue about that bit) and one of their hypotheses was that same-sex couples tend to negotiate this kind of stuff in advance.

            “Who takes out the trash?” is a conversation that should happen before two people move in together. Working out later is much trickier because the whole thing becomes very loaded. Same is true for questions like “what exactly does marital fidelity mean?” and other such boundary issues.

            Talk about stuff before it becomes a problem. If it’s already a problem talk about it REGULARLY until it’s not a problem anymore, and then keep talking about it.

          • Jiu Jiu said:

            Yes! I had a friend who would complain that her boyfriend never cleaned the kitchen. Only, it turns out he did – according to his own definition of it. He would wash the dishes, leave them on the counter, and wipe the counter and the stove. This would make her angry because to her, cleaning the kitchen meant: wash, dry and put away the dishes, clean off the counter, wipe the counter, wipe the stove, sweep and mop the kitchen.

            I had another roommate who would say I SWEPT THE KITCHEN, but there would always be a pile of rubbish on the floor – because he would sweep and not bother to put the swept pile into the trash can. That was a facepalm moment.

  3. Graebel said:

    Our solution – and I’m not offering it up as everyone’s. The spouse refused to help with dinner (she/he considers cooking picking up fast food) and no cleaning. Ever. They’ll load the dishwasher but that’s it. Childcare is better but still… kids are usually the better part of the housekeeping deal.

    We hired a cleaning service. It is a horrible burden financially, but may have saved our marriage. I am a FT worker, just finished my Masters and the spouse is also FT. But by the time the kids were done with their activities, dinnered, bathed, and it was 8pm. I am not about to clean the GD house by myself at 8pm at night.

    Cleaning help = salvation for me. Twice a month the house gets a ‘real’ cleaning by two women who work for a local woman-owned company with benefits. I still do all laundry, cooking, drs appts, and you know my job and school, but I’m no superperson.

    • JenniferP said:

      I think cleaning help, if you can afford it and with the strictures you mention (paying a living wage, benefits), can be an awesome thing to do for people having conflicts like this or for people who are bad at prioritizing & structuring cleaning. My most functional roommate relationship ever built this into our rent, and as I’m about to move in with boyfriend we are planning on doing this and budgeted it right into the living expenses. For me, I don’t mind the cleaning itself, but I struggle with structure and prioritizing it and when I’m depressed or super-busy it’s easy to let things slide. So if nothing else, knowing that every two weeks there is a scheduled time that cleaning will happen is extremely comforting to me. I view it as self-care.

      However, “if you can afford it” is a big if, and #407 indicated that she could not.
      And I generally think that the person partner who is avoiding the cleaning or not shouldering their fair share is the one who should come up with the $ to pay for it out of their discretionary funds – work extra hours, cut back on their own luxuries – and not put that burden on the partner who is already stretched.

      • Graebel said:

        Agreed on both your points. Sometimes it is not financially viable, we’ve actually taken breaks more than once from our service. The spouse and I don’t split it equally but we have an unusual $$ arrangement in that we have not pooled income in 13 years of marriage. Instead, any time I am unable to include it in my budget, spouse does. I also have taken other hits to maintain the service, but I think if the answer is ‘No, I won’t help’ from a SO, then something drastic is necessary. Sometimes $$ is a good motivator of behavior change.

      • darthtrina said:

        Would it be cool to request that other readers could pipe in comments on how they found cleaning help? We had a service, one of the few that offered ‘green’ cleaning, and paid $85 for two hours. We figured the actual employees must have gotten at least half ($40, that is $20/hr). However, the most recent cleaner told us she only gets $10/hr AND has to pay for her own gasoline, which is not cool with us. It would be nice to hire an independent person on a cash basis, but I am too nervous about the legal and tax implications to go that direction.

        • What legal and tax implications? A cleaner who is in business for hirself is running a small business and responsible for hir own taxes. You don’t have to pay, like, payroll tax for hir or file any paperwork.

          If you’re concerned about theft arrange for the first few cleanings to happen when you’re at home, and don’t leave any valuables lying around. Self-employed client-based professionals depend on referrals and customer satisfaction to get clients, after all, and someone getting paid $60/hour is much less likely to steal than someone making $10.

          I guess you can still be victimized if the cleaner is just casing the joint for burglars, but you can always do/ask for a police check if you’re concerned. They cost like $45 in Canada.

          I’d say ask around and look for signs up in your neighbourhood and local businesses. I run a client-based small business (not cleaning) and I get the bulk of my new clients through referrals now, but postering was invaluable when I was starting out. Good luck!

          • DarthTrina said:

            As in Commander Logic’s link, most cleaning people are not actually legally incorporated, insured, and bonded to make themselves actual contractors.

            I am not as concerned about theft as breakage and use of incorrect cleaning materials that could damage a surface or non-preferred materials that would aggravate my asthma (hello Pine-Sol). At this apartment for this service, I or spouse have always been home.

        • Mary said:

          Generally, if you go with an independent person, there are no real legal and tax implications (US based). If you are concerned about this, you can write a simple contract stating that you are paying them as a contractor at x rate and they are responsible for their own taxes. It is the same as paying someone to mow your lawn or clean your gutters. One way to find someone is to ask the cleaner if they could clean your house on the side, or ask friends, or post on one of those web sites that connect you with professionals. I have done all of these. Good luck!

        • commanderlogic said:

          Mr. Logic and I have a housecleaner visit on a monthly basis, and we hired her through… slightly shady means. Basically, she was part of a cleaning service that my roommates and I had hired, and she told us what one of your cleaners told you. She also gave us her number and said that she was starting up on her own. Right now, she charges $20/hr that she gets to keep all of.

          Tax-wise, you’d have to pay a housecleaner over $1800/year before you’d need to worry about payroll taxes or W-2s: http://www.4nannytaxes.com/index.cfm/faq/nannyhousekeeper-faq-list/payroll-taxes-cleaning-lady/ For perspective, if you had a service come every week for $40/visit, that would be $2080.

          Legally, it’s all about the risks you’re willing to take. In my situation, we’ve know the person who’s been cleaning for us for years. We trust her with our house keys. YMMV

          • DarthTrina said:

            Thank you, that is a helpful link! I was nervous in part because of the 16 pages on hiring help in Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelsohn. Her thoroughness (and of course the caution an author puts in a printed book) led to the “either consult a lawyer and an accountant or hire a service” conclusion.

            (By the way, the book is very thorough and detailed on how to do all manner of work in the home, and she even talks about why you’d want to do it and cultural history, so for comment thread readers looking for a “how to” for themselves or a partner, it’s a good start. I also recommend Clean House, Clean Planet.)

        • General Assortment said:

          My mother has an independent guy come by and clean twice a month. He uses it to supplement his part-time nursing salary. She found her’s by asking around with friends in her city who had a cleaning person that they liked/trusted.

        • As CommanderLogic says, if you pay over $1800/year, it counts as domestic employment, and you have to pay medicare, social security, etc. If you google “nanny tax” there are some good online resources for this.

          Not sure if specific plugs are okay, but: I work as a nanny and tutor, and I have actually had a really good experience using the site Care.com . They have listings for child care, senior care, tutoring, pet care, housekeeping, etc.; it’s free; and there are good resources like “hey, what does the average person doing this job get paid in my area?” to help you make sure you’re taking care of your employees. It’s easy to navigate and easy to get in touch with real people. (The baby I take care of just started trying to say my name, so I’m sort of warm and fuzzy about my job right now.)

        • hexacat said:

          If you’re really that nervous about tax implications, which I don’t think you need to be if you live in the US, you could probably just pay cash. I have clients who write me checks without a second thought, and others won’t do that at all. I keep all of my money and know I probably shouldn’t, and I should probably find a way to declare at least some of it and get a tax identity like a damn grownup, but that’s on me.

      • Bwmn said:

        I was looking for a place to post this – but hiring a cleaning service to come once every 2/3 weeks, using a laundry service, getting a landscapper to attend to the lawn (or paying a neighborhood kid….), getting take away/premade meals, paying for all of that can be costly. However, using just one of those services judiciously often is not so expensive. I’ve also found that for the “non cleaners” of us, it really helps put the cost of those things into perspective.

        I’m definitely prone to messiness, and at one point I started using a laundry service regularly and it always served as a direct point of “because you are not doing this yourself appropriately you are charged this fine”. Growing up, my parents both worked full time, and for many years my mom did that on top of earning her PhD. At the point when they started using a cleaning service, it really came as a breaking point of her frustration with trying to get the house clean (both regarding help from my dad and us kids). After that my parents always made a point that if we asked for take away for dinner or some kind of a treat – that at this point we couldn’t afford those kinds of luxuries because we needed to save more to pay for the cleaners.

        My parents weren’t cruel about it – but it left a lasting impression. These services exist to help out for mental health, for sanitary reasons, but it’s not without a cost. There are people who really can’t afford it, but I’ve also had friends who don’t want to go that route because they feel like it lets the “sloppy” partner off the hook.

  4. enigmaticblue said:

    I think the thing that really raised red flags for me was the very reasonable request that some adjustments be made, and the flat-out refusal to even talk about it. Especially with the cooking. I might do a majority of the cooking and meal planning in my marriage (because of our schedules, because I like it, whatever), but on nights when I’m just not feeling it, we’re both more than capable of fending for ourselves or ordering a pizza. And when I’m not feeling good, or when I’ve been particularly stressed, my husband will offer to pick up dinner somewhere on the way home, even if he doesn’t want to cook/doesn’t have time to cook. There is just NO REASON for someone to insist that you cook for them every. single. night. If that’s what they want, maybe they should hire a professional chef and pay them to cook.

    • ShannonBonanan said:

      What also raised my hackles? The fact that when LW tried to say that they wanted to do something else because of a diet (i.e. something for their HEALTH), partner still refused!

      The BS about “you cooking for me makes me feel loved” is pure manipulation. It might have been a primal thing at one point, but there is no way a grown-ass adult should think that this is the only way they can experience love from their partner. If they do think like that, then there are some WAY deeper issues going on.

      • curious86 said:

        Yeah, especially because you know what would probably make LW “feel loved”? A supportive-freaking-partner! Ugh.

        • Suzy said:

          Especially when it’s like
          “But I feel loved when you do X.”
          “But doing X constantly is ruining my life.”

          If the partner is still reiterating “But I want you to do X,” THEY ARE A SELFISH DOUCHECANOE.

          There are evil bees coming our their eyes. The walls are bleeding evil bees. They are in fact made of evil bees.

          Now, a supportive non-shit partner would say “Oh my god, I’m so sorry i didn’t know,” and then endeavour to make things less unbearably shit for the other partner.

          That is NOT what is happening here though.

      • misspiggy said:

        It’s wanting to relive the secure bits of one’s childhood, as far as I can see. While I will do the kind of ‘looking after’ that my partner thought he was getting out of being married, I make it very clear that it’s a treat because I love him, not something he should expect. When he does show signs of expecting it, I just stop with the doing of tasks and blithely inform him that he will be needing to do X.

        All the asking and discussing in the world made no difference. I try not to think about how he could have let me come home day after day from 10 hours at work, in pain and ill, having had to do the shopping, cook the dinner and organise the clearup. But now I just stop doing things when I feel the balance has got unfair, and tell him specifically and smilingly what he needs to do. I also thank him with genuine appreciation, and make it clear I expect the same.

        A similar comment got eaten I think; apologies if it resurfaces.

      • Dude. Yes. These partners remind me of The Boyfriend Who Would Not Leave the Toilet. Intractable unwillingness to help is just not okay.

        I am not the LWs, so this is just me saying what I feel, not declaring what the partners are actually doing. But. I don’t care how good things are otherwise. If my *hug* met these kinds of requests/needs from me with “I don’t wanna and I’m not gonna but you hafta?” I would feel like that was the real statement of respect for me.

        LWs, please please please consider the “I need you to X, okay, byeeee” tactic. You are not obligated to do these things in this way. You aren’t.

        • manybellsdown said:

          Oh my god, I totally thought of that guy too. We never did get an update on her, did we?

          • Liz said:

            No joke, I wonder about that guy all the time. One of the most unusual advice columns I’ve ever read.

          • VA said:

            I wonder about that LW too sometimes, and hope she’s doing okay.

      • piny1 said:

        Yeah, you peeling some grapes for me makes me feel loved. I don’t think the reason is very important at all – “I don’t want to do this every goddamn day,” is plenty reason not to have to do it. And like CA said, she doesn’t need permission to refuse to cook.

    • manybellsdown said:

      Yes! That’s so ridiculously frustrating! My spouse has the habit of asking me “do you have plans for dinner?” And it is okay for me to say “Ugh … can you grab tacos on the way home?”

      Your last sentence makes me think the LWs should start presenting their partners with an itemized bill for their cooking and cleaning services. :D

    • Zillah said:

      Yes. That’s what’s really inexcusable to me. It’s totally fine for one spouse to do more cooking than the other spouse, but when the other spouse is unwilling to *ever* do it, or even to just clean up afterward?

      No. Just no.

    • THIS. Seriously, if the other person hates cooking, they can pick something up. Thus they take responsibility.

    • jadriver said:

      Exactly this! Imaging that scenario made my stomach do lurchy flips, and not in the good way. It just seems really cruel and I have similar feels to CA that this is grade-A bologna. Refusing to discuss, and even emotional manipulation…yeesh. LW, love, you deserve better.

  5. DFTBAwkward said:

    The advice about negotiating these things BEFORE living together is invaluable, thanks.

    LWs I hope you are able to find a way to make things more manageable for you soon. Jedi hugs to you both.

  6. gem said:

    I have feelings about the gender roles surrounding this issue. I am completely unbiased as well.

    I do more of the cleaning for reasons that make sense in my current replationship and I am totally happy with. But the amount of shock I get from people because I ‘make’ my partner iron his own shirts (note: My partner just irons his own shirts because he’s a bloody adult and can look after himself, I do not factor into this equation at all), but it’s ‘ok, because I do all the other cleaning, right?’.

    It’s so easy to fall into a pattern of unevenness that might even make sense in your present but, like everything in a relationship, there can (and sometimes should!) be re-negotiation and comprimise when situations change.

    I feel for both of you, you seem to have both used your words like bosses, and just got shut down in the process. The captain’s advice seems A+ spot on, and I really hope you both find solutions that work.

    • Anothermous said:

      Oh man, are you my life? ;) Due to our living and working arrangement right now, I do most of the household chores. But Husband gets to iron his own shirts, period. (He does a fair amount of cooking, too.) I occasionally feel guilty about this; I’m the one who works at home and has a more flexible schedule, but I realized the following:

      -I fucking HATE ironing and thus do not buy clothing that needs regular ironing
      -he’s the one making the choice to buy shirts that need ironing

      Thus, I absolve myself of that guilt. He doesn’t have to buy shirts that need ironing; his workplace certainly does not require that type of wardrobe.

      • gemmahill1987 said:

        seriously. I work 4 days a week to his 5, so I feel like I can ‘afford’ to do more housework, but he can do his stuff during the weekends, just like I have to do mine, you know?

        Also I hear you on ironing! Ridiculous task.

        • Anothermous said:

          I did buy an ironing board cover in a pattern of labrador puppies, so at least the ironing board is nice to look at now!

          But seriously. Husband, right now, has the more demanding job and provides the vast majority of our household income, so I’m cool with doing nearly all the laundry, cleaning, and general tidying. But the ironing I will never budge on, haha.

          • Sarah said:

            I think I love you two. I told my partner that when we move in together we have to make sure we have a tumble dryer, because I like my de-wrinkle setting and I don’t care if he calls it “the least British thing ever.” I am not British and I love tumble dryers and I hate ironing. He took one look at my face during this discussion and realized it was better for him to agree.

          • gemmahill1987 said:

            Mine is multi-coloured polka dots! It makes me happy everytime I open the kitchen cupboard :P

            My life is basically the same as yours! And also I like cleaning/cooking, it gives me a nice sense of accomplishment and I know that if I can get one task done it can do wonders for my mood.

            But fuck ironing *solidarity fistbump*

          • Ace said:

            @Sarah

            I’ve never understood the bizarre British compulsion to hang things up to dry outside instead of using a tumble dryer. This place is famous for it’s rain and you want me to use a clothesline?

          • I can’t hang things on a proper clothesline due to back problems, and we don’t even have a dryer, but we do have plenty of clothes horses! In summer we can put them outside, in winter/spring/whenever it’s raining they can go inside or often for a smaller load we’ll put them in the hot water cupboard. It is fairly sunny here though, which helps.

          • Anothermous said:

            One good quick de-wrinkle (or, if not quick, at least less annoying to me than ironing) is to hang up the shirt or piece of clothing that needs ironing in the bathroom while you take a hot, steamy shower. The heat relaxes the fabric and will take care of most of the wrinkles. It’s not as effective as ironing, but it works well enough!

          • staranise said:

            Today I used the good old “spritz wrinkled shirt with water from a spray bottle, hang up to dry” trick. It did well enough for my purposes. :D

          • Miranda said:

            “I’ve never understood the bizarre British compulsion to hang things up to dry outside instead of using a tumble dryer. ”

            It costs less, is better for the environment and requries less ironing (if you don’t have a dewrinkle setting). Also the tumble drier is noisy and makes the house really hot.

          • Zooey said:

            Haha, I am a weirdo and actually love ironing. I have hardly any clothes than need to be ironed but will volunteer to do my partner’s shirts. And then i get feminist guilt about it *g*. (It’s fine, it’s not something he expects or that always do, but i am still very conscious of lapsing into gendered roles.)

          • Brits will indeed work themselves into froths over the suggestion that hanging a wet bath towel in the rain is not a productive way to do laundry. It is a very important piece of culture.

            Husband does the ironing and the laundry. My attitude towards it is far too casual, apparently, and my habit of storing clean clothes in a large tangled ball (rather like a dung beetle or dragon’s hoard) and then removing what I want to wear, putting it on, spraying it with water from a bottle and then running a hair dryer over myself to really set the ensemble upsets him for primal reasons that I can’t really understand.

          • Mary said:

            I’m feeling weirdly defensive reading this thread. Can you guys just agree that you prefer tumble driers without making it some big “oh those weirdy British people!” issue?

          • Sarah said:

            @Mary – Sorry, think that started with me! It was really much more of a sweet-in-the-context-of-our-relationship thing (he teases me about my lazy Yank ways, I tease him about his devotion to doing things the British way) so the being told the dewrinkle setting was “the least British thing ever” was met with, “It must be so hard to love a lazy Yank” with a wink and a kiss. Definitely didn’t mean to make it into an “Oh, those crazy Brits!” pile on. Sorry!

          • Mary said:

            No worries and thank you for coming back to say that! I got that it was meant in jest but I slightly surprised at how much it niggled.by the time there were several similar comments. :)

          • Ace said:

            @Mary

            I’m sorry too. I’m a Yank married to a Brit in London and it was just another one of those cultural preference I had to get used to when I moved here, but I didn’t mean to make you feel weird about it.

      • I moved to a new city a couple of months ago with nothing but two suitcases and one of the things I brought up was a suit despite being an unemployed student coz I’m flash like that and I can wear it to Parliament, and I don’t iron my shirts or anything. I hang clothes up to dry (no dryer, that’s how we like it, saves money) so if there are any wrinkles left by the time I put it on they’ll disappear through wearing.

        Chores have worked out pretty well here though. We do all our own shopping, cooking, laundry, pick up after ourselves, and dishes tend to get done properly every couple of days. I also wash mine out after using anything anyway, though it’s not a complete using detergent/wash/dry. Sometimes my flatmate who “owns” the house (she’s going to buy it from her dad, we just signed statements yesterday for the bank telling them how much we’re paying her to help her get the mortgage) asks me to feed her dogs or something if she can’t, since she works odd hours, but we all love dogs so that’s no drama. I think if I was expected to do all the cooking for someone else as well as me I would do what the Captain suggested and just go on strike one day. “Sorry, you can deal with it yourself today.” I might not necessarily go out, even, I’d just sit down and decide that if they didn’t cook something I’d grab a sandwich later. Hopefully the next place I eventually live will be by myself though, because negotiating chores is a shit and you don’t always get lucky.

      • mamacitaconpistoles said:

        Hahahaa….. my mom has said for all my life that it is in their prenup that my dad does his own damned ironing. (USAF uniform shirts, every day, for a whole career holla.)

        I have never once seen my mater iron anything that wasn’t a table cloth or a sewing project.

        • mamacitaconpistoles said:

          Except my mom wouldn’t say “damned.”

      • foolsgame said:

        My mother tells this really excellent story of how, not long after they got married (thirty years last week!), my father quietly took over all laundry duties in the household. He wanted his shirts starched to a certain level, his handkerchiefs folded right-way-out, and his boxers ironed. Yes, really.
        Mother, of course, said hell no, and left him to it. So Dad was the one doing the laundry, hanging it out, bring it in, folding, shouting at us to put it away, and, of course, ironing.

    • people still expect one partner to iron the other’s SHIRTS? That makes me want to say, ‘SCREW COHABITING.’

      • gemmahill1987 said:

        my charitable reading is that they envison someone (me, aka the lady, obvs), doing a weekly iron load and it makes sense to do everything in one go?

        But we don’t wear enough clothes that need ironing to do that much ironing so we do it individually on a need to iron basis.

      • thecynicalromantic said:

        This ENTIRE THREAD is making me be like “I will never live with a male romantic partner. I will never get married, and I will never cohabit. I will do my damndest to never have male roommates again if I can possibly help it. I want to move back in with my mommy since I got my cleanliness standards and practices from her.”

        • Women can be just as bad!

          Some men can be amazing at housework.
          My parents are almost the opposite of this. My mother cooks but my dad does pretty much all the housework and is a complete neat-freak. My mother is really messy and it drives him up the wall sometimes.

          So they do exist! (Men who do housework)

          • thecynicalromantic said:

            Then can be, but I’ve never yet had an experience where they were, and it sounds like they are much less frequently.

            This isn’t going to be fixed as a general social problem until women. stop. cleaning. up. after. grown. ass. men. Period. And I, personally, have less than zero patience for cleaning up after grown-ass men. Any relationship in which I would have to pick up after the other partner would feel not just annoying, but also gross and creepy and pedophiley, because I am an adult and, therefore, ought not to be dating small children. If a person cannot live in a house without Mommy to keep it for them, I will mentally classify them as a small child. And when I find myself picking up after my roommates in order to be able to use the house, like I have done in my current situation, I start looking at apartment listings. I have only ever been driven to checking out apartment listings to calm myself down by male roommates.

            Also, my history of having roommates, I have come to the conclusion that there are basically 3 forms of “messy”
            1. is “dirty.”
            2. is “atmospherically messy”, also known as “untidy,” “disorganized,” or “regular messy”.
            3. is “in people’s way messy.”

            Dirty is a problem due to smell and the danger of mice and bugs and stuff. I have had a few dirty male roommates. I have never had a dirty female roommate. Dirty I have a problem with, because I have a problem with smells and bugs.

            Atmospherically messy is cluttered, or stuff being generally strewn around instead of put all the way away, and stuff like that. I don’t have a problem with this sort of messy all that much; I sometimes get this sort of messy, particularly when I am stressed or busy. I don’t care all that much if someone else keeps all their clean clothes unfolded in the laundry basket and the dirty ones on the floor of their closet where the laundry basket is nominally supposed to belong if they ever fold thier clothes, and the worn-for-a-few-hours-but-not-dirty clothes draped over bedposts and chair backs. I used to be this sort of messy when I was a kid/teen but am not so much now.

            “In people’s way” messy is when someone leaves shit so half-done in communal spaces that becomes physically impossible, due to the laws of time and space and object permanence, for other housemates to use shared spaces without picking up after the other person. In my way messy is when someone puts a plate of food in the microwave and then somehow removes the food but not the plate, so the next person who tries to use the microwave must remove their dirty plate and put it somewhere else. Regular messy is when your shelf in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom has your stuff crammed into it in an untidy jumble, which I don’t care about; in my way messy is when someone leaves the cabinet doors open so they jut out into the tiny bathroom and make it smaller so that other people have to close the fucking cabinet doors after you in order to move around the room without getting their head hit by large pieces of plywood. Regular messy is when you hang your wet towels over a door or a chair back or wherever and leave it there until the next time you need that towel (I have hung towels on so many weird things in my day; any time I don’t live in a house with Victorian radiators i’m like WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THESE); in my way messy is when you leave your wet towel on the couch seat in the living room so that other people cannot sit on the couch without either moving your towel or sitting on it and getting their butt wet with somebody else’s used bathwater.

            I have only ever had dude roommates that were In My Fuckin’ Way Messy, and I do *not* deal very well with people being In My Fuckin’ Way. I have had a lot of female roommates who take off clothes and leave them in the corner of the room (THE CORNER, NEAR THE WALL, NOT RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MAIN WALKING PATH) or have bras hanging off their doorknobs or take off their sweater and put it on the back of the chair and leave it there for a week. I have only ever had male roommates who will, while sitting in the common room watching TV, decide they don’t need to be wearing pants anymore, stand up, undo their belt, push their pants down to their ankles, step out of them, and go on their merry way without so much as picking their pants up off the floor and giving them a cursory fling in the general direction of their own rooms. I have come home to houses devoid of any other people, but with empty pairs of pants sitting on the couch watching a paused video game. Then I have to move the pants if I want to sit in the living room (I usually opt not to sit in the living room, but it still strikes me as rude that now I CAN’T do it without picking up after another adult), and I have to turn the game off because it’s playing theme music that I don’t want to listen to at top volume so it echoes through the empty apartment.

            All my “messy” female roommates may have not been very aware of messiness or often you’re supposed to clean stuff but they were all at least aware that having roommates meant that other people sometimes physically occupied the common spaces within the apartment as well, and refrained from blockading them from doing so.

          • Emmers said:

            Yup, they exist (I’m in one of those relationships), but it’s also important to remember that this is still, very much, the exception.

            (For me, this thread is mostly making me go HOLY GOD I AM THE LUCKIEST. My husband was the “cleaner” when he lived in houses with all guys, because he had the lowest tolerance for grossness, and I can comfort myself with the fact that I’m at least not as bad as any of them.)

            When I lived in all-female housing in college, I was the messy one; when I lived in majority-male housing, I was the clean one. One time in the latter case, somebody put an entire bowl of pasta down the kitchen sink (I guess he thought the sink had a garbage disposal? WELL IT DIDN’T), causing it to back up, and the kitchen got grosser than it usually did. This was my breaking point – I fished all the pasta out of the drain and put it in the garbage, and then proceeded to wash every dish in the kitchen and put them all away in MY cabinet. Some people freaked out (“where is my super special mug?”) and I gave them their dishes back with an explanation of what happened; but I also took home a nice souvenir mug that year that I hadn’t begun the year with. Mean bitch, what?

        • I know, right? Except for the last sentence, that’s exactly how I feel too. I’m kind of hoping someone here can reassure me that not all men expect their female partner to wash their socks and make dinner while they play Skyrim.

          • mooocow said:

            mine doesn’t – he cooks while I read Captain Awkward comment threads :-D

          • VA said:

            Reassurances! My husband and I have a very fair balance of household management. I won’t get into the chore breakdown because it’s boring and changes based on who is more busy in any given week (we both work full-time outside the home), but suffice it to say that it works for us. Plus he’s an amazing cook.

            It hugely helps that we have pretty similar thresholds for what constitutes a clean house, and that we were both raised in families where *all* the kids (boys and girls) were expected to chip in to do *all* the kinds of chores (no “boy chores” and “girl chores”).

            I don’t mean this to be braggy. Just… if men are your thing, and you happen to like the ones that pick up after themselves and mop the floors and cook tasty meals – and not because you nag them to… they’re out there!

          • hereandnow said:

            Reassurance here. My husband and I took a while to work out our current system because we didn’t realise at first that we have different strengths. He is really super fantastic at doing thing in a routine, or writing himself out a schedule and burning through a couple of hours of jobs at once, but he HATES having things sprung on him when he thought he was done. I am much more free-form in my approach, but I am super-sensitive to clutter. I like things to have their Proper Place and it stresses me out when they aren’t.

            The way we work it is I do the low-level, rolling job of tidying, as well as some other cleaning (bathroom, floors) and he looks after certain areas such as laundry and food.

            Husband is a better cook than I am, and also enjoys it more. So he plans meals on Sundays, puts them in the shared Meals GCalendar so we both know what’s coming up in the next week, and handles most of the grocery shopping. I have some input on meal planning and I cook the occasional dinner (as I did tonight, because he’s sick), but my main job is to clean up after he’s done cooking. The meal planning in particular is great because he has taken over the mental work of feeding us as well as the visible, physical part. And I don’t get that low-level anxiety of ‘what am I going to do for dinner’ anymore because it’s there for me to see in the calendar. We also go out or get takeaway fairly often, so he isn’t cooking every single night.

            It really stresses me out to have paper sitting around, so after we moved in together I got him to spend a couple of hours sorting out the filing cabinet, and now I am in charge of all filing. I find this soothing, because – everything in its proper place! :) I have a perverse enjoyment of vacuuming, while he finds ironing satisfying … and so on. We try to split the jobs according to our personal strengths and preferences, while also acknowledging that there are some things that neither of us likes to do that need doing anyway.

            Of course, if one of us makes a big mess as part of a project or having friends around, that person is in charge of cleaning up in a timely fashion.

            There has definitely been some mutual adjustment of Cleanliness Standards to reach a level we’re both (mostly) comfortable with. But this is an ongoing conversation.

            At the moment this is a really great system for us. We check in with each other every so often to see if we need to tweak it. I anticipate we’ll need to do a lot more negotiating and adjusting if/when we have kids, though, because I think I’ve internalised some stuff about female-parent ‘duties’ (stupid patriarchy), and because some/much of the work involved may not fit into the neatly scheduled times that suit my husband best.

        • mooocow said:

          For me, reading this thread is one big party – I am ever so lucky that my (male) SO is so much tidier and cleaner and more organized than me (female) when it comes to household chores. So these men do exist. Although I do make it easy for a man to be cleaner and tidier than me… I tend to be messy, and generally have so many interesting things to do that I never seem to find the time for cleaning… and by the time I have moved from a) realizing the dishwasher needs emptying via b) deciding that I should do something about it to c) actually starting on it, usually he has emptied it and cleaned half the kitchen while he was at it.

          At one point after we moved in together, I realized that I was subconsciously putting stuff off because I knew that he would be doing them soon enough anyway. I decided to put a stop to it – I don’t want to be that kind of person. Now we have The Wheel of Terror with a region for me and a region for him, and an arrow for each task – as soon as I clean the kitchen-floor, I can move the kitchen-floor-cleaning-arrow to his area, etc. This way everyone gets to do the chores at their own pace (i.e. no pressure, no fixed time-tables, etc.) but they have to do them eventually. I’m still a messy chaotic person and usually take longer to do my chores than him, but I do them eventually. Usually, when I feel up to doing something I ask SO which of my chores is most urgent to him and do that first.

          Oh, and I absolutely second what has been said earlier: It is a matter subject to negotiation in and of itself to decide what level of cleanliness is, under the given life circumstances, a realistically achievable goal. e.g. cleaning kitchen, bathroom, toilet, living room every week = not a realistic goal for our household. Keeping the kitchen surfaces clean on a daily basis and cleaning the kitchen floor at least once a week when serious cooking is taking place and leaving everything else until it actually starts annoying anyone = realistic goal for our household.

    • Ace said:

      Ha! I get looks from people when Mr. Ace talks about ironing his shirts for work too. He always did it himself, he’ll always do it himself. Not only am I crappy at ironing, THEY’RE NOT MY DAMN SHIRTS.

    • General Assortment said:

      Ha, yes.
      I get the same looks when I explain that partner does 99% of the dishes, because I do 95% of the cooking and laundry (and also I hate doing the dishes).
      And people respond “Huh? What does HE get out of it?”
      And I’m like “I dunno? A functioning healthy relationship?”

      • Ellen Fremedon said:

        Clean dishes?

        • staranise said:

          Food? Clean laundry?

        • Anothermous said:

          This made me laugh out loud. :D

      • Guava said:

        I can’t tell you the number of people who think my husband should be canonized for sainthood because he drives the kids to/from school, activities, and sports practices. Or the looks of surprise when I show up for a softball game, like I’m Snuffelopagus or something. I didn’t realize that ferrying kids around was strictly a mom’s job!

      • neenerini said:

        Oh my fucking god. “What does he get out of it”?!? The satisfaction of knowing that he is a grown-ass adult who can pull his own weight in a relationship? That question doesn’t even make any sense! Or rather, it only makes sense if you assume that a person (read: man) only does housework either when he can’t make someone else do it or when there is some outside tangible benefit (not encapsulated, presumably, in making one’s partner happy or taking care of one’s responsibilities). WOW that is insulting to men. Who is it who hates men again? Feminists? Of course.

      • Virginia said:

        Right?

        I washed dishes last weekend – the first time I’ve washed dishes in months, because I’m the cook.

        But, you know, I figured that while Mr. Dingo Jones was putting in a new seal under the toilet, maybe I could clean up the kitchen.

        Ye olde givve and takke. It worketh inne morre roommes of ye house than just ye bedroomme.

    • naath said:

      I my life I do my laundry, my un-husband does his. Start to finish. I once had someone express to me their utter amazement and incomprehension that it was even possible to do that. It removes any arguing over who is responsible for laundry, or about how laundry should be done (temperature, spin speed, to iron or not iron, etc.). It removes the need to sort the laundry into mine/yours when it’s clean. It’s great (for us).

      • miss_chevious said:

        This was the division that worked best for me and my partner ultimately. I would never let him do mine but at first I was willing to do his along with mine. Until he started hiding his in his bathroom for weeks and bringing seven loads at a time down to the laundry room. And then complaining about how I folded it.
        Okay, dude, you’re on your own!

        It worked like a charm. No arguments, no problems about who is folding what the wrong way, no more ten loads of laundry for me: problem SOLVED. I can’t believe we didn’t think of it earlier.

      • krisawesome said:

        Yes, this is how BF and I and handle laundry as well, much to some of our acquaintances’ chagrin. I’ve gotten horrified “you make him do his own laundry?!” responses from more than one person when discussing our divisions of labor.

        And then I get to watch their heads explode when I point out that we both grew up in households where our dads did most of the laundry, so I’m actually doing him a favor by not making him wash my clothes in addition to his.

        Disrupting gendered expectations AND not getting into arguments over the “proper” way to do each other’s laundry? Wins all around!

  7. Dear #506: Of course your spouse doesn’t see the problem: there isn’t one for him/her! Your partner does some of the work but you do the day to day stuff. It often sounds good to divide stuff like you’ve done but it’s a trap. All in all you do more work and more often than your partner. After all, vet appointments and the like don’t happen every single day. You’re not imagining things.

    I’m inclined to ask you to get some distance from your spouse. If s/he says a flat ”no” when you ask for this reasonable thing, what else is a “no” in his/her book? But if you don’t want to, then please start doing things they way you want them to be. Your partner will adapt or go hungry. In which case: not your problem.

    As for dear #507: I’m sorry, but it sounds like you’re married to an 8 year old. Hiding in his room, playing games and watching clips? Hiding in his freaking room. Don’t make excuses for him: YOU’VE been through a lot in the last years from the sound of things. Is there any way for you to again, get some distance from him? Like CA says: tell him, don’t ask nicely.

    I’ve been with a partner who said he ”just didn’t see the garbage” when I pointed it out to him, up to my ears in frustration. The quick and easy thing right there and then would have been for me to throw it out and be done. And then I’d be stuck doing that for the rest of the relationship. But I held my ground and let it sit there until he noticed it and wow: he learned a new skill. Best of luck to the both of you!

    • Honestly Awkward said:

      I tried this once with the recycling for two and a half months until the entire apartment reeked of compost and the front room was overflowing with empty bottles, boxes, and cans. Neither boy took it out. I broke down and did it.

      • I know right?!
        I once left the dishes for 5 days. In the end it drove me up the wall and I did it because I didn’t have any pots or pans to cook in. And the mess just drove me mad.

        My housemate is terrible with dirty containers. A few times he has left them in his car for more then a week and then puts them on the sink but doesn’t wash them straight away. My boyfriend refuses to wash them because they absolutely reek when you open them and are moldy and housemate just conveniently ignores them. Guess who got to wash them up?

        • Is it terrible that I would just take said nasty containers and leave them on the dude’s bed every time he put them in the sink and the just sat there? Like, no, you can’t just ignore this, and it is now super inconvenient for you that you have this habit, not for me. (This would, of course be after I’d tried the ask nicely => state firmly that I’m not cleaning his crap profression.)

          • mandassassin said:

            *progression

          • It’s not terrible because I did think about it. Truly, I was tempted.
            I guess it’s just not in my nature to be that confrontational.
            That and my housemate can be a touchy B-##@ and I swear gets male PMS, non-stop. So if I did that, the result would be that he would get upset because he feels I am overreacting, that I should be more forgiving because he forgot about it and that I shouldn’t do such a nasty thing.

            Damn. I am too nice.

            He’s getting better at not leaving them for a week on end so it’s not so bad. But in the future, it’s not acceptable and I will have words.

          • Bacall_x said:

            Hi, this is supposed to be a reply to GirlFromDownUnder, but I can’t nest it under her comment so…

            In case you’re looking for tips on how to deal with the mouldy containers of the flatmate, I would suggest that the next time you find one in the kitchen, you take it to them and tell them that 1. you won’t wash mouldy dishes anymore and 2. you don’t want mouldy dishes in the kitchen (so they should keep them in their own room, until they’re ready to wash them and if you find any mouldy dishes in the common area you’ll just take them to their room). And then of course you’d need to enforce this.

            Maybe this is something you’ve tried already, but I think it’s generally a good idea to make sure that everybody knows the rules of the game before you start playing it. That way they lose the right to accuse you of passive-aggresiveness or being mean or anything like that.

            Or are you sharing containers, so if they don’t wash them, you’ll be out of containers? Would it be possible for each of you to start using a personal set of plates etc. so that everyone would have to be responsible for their own dishes? Or is the general messiness stressing you out more than not-having-any-clean-plates-when-you-wanna-eat? I know that my shared-living-space situation only worked because we all had our own plates and utensils.

            If this would work regarding the dishes, maybe it would work also regarding the cooking-situation? What if you simply stop cooking for the others? You could cook a larger batch of food for yourself and then eat out of that batch for a few days, vs. having to cook everyday for 3 people. It would at least lessen your own workload.

            Naturally you know your situation best, but these are just a few things that have worked for me in the past :)

        • Nat said:

          Are they his? Put them in his room or tell him that you are going to throw them away because – gross (then do it). If they are yours, tell him that it is his responsibility to clean it to a usable and hygienic standard by X time, or you will throw it away (for sanitary reasons). It will be his financial responsibility to replace it for you.

        • Zillah said:

          Hmm. I’ve had roommates who were terrible about washing dishes, so what I started doing was wash my own dishes right after I used them and keep them in my room. If someone complained, I would just say, “I keep asking you to wash your dishes, and you keep not doing it. I don’t want to have to wash your dishes to make food. Therefore, I am keeping these things in my room.”

          • human said:

            Wow, they had the nerve to complain? Wow!

      • xenoglossy said:

        Yeah, I’ve done this a few times with my housemates who won’t clean, and no dice. I just end up getting fed up and doing it myself, at which point it’s a way bigger task than it would’ve been if I’d just kept doing it. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that certain things like taking the recycling out and getting the mail won’t happen unless I do them or specifically ask someone to do them.

      • mostlyclueless said:

        My husband takes out the trash every Wednesday. There is a reminder on his phone. No one has to “see” the mess; it just goes out.

        • Miranda said:

          WHY HAVE I NOT THOUGHT OF THIS BEFORE?

          • Vir Modestus said:

            There’s an app for that. Actually, a number of chore-minding apps that can be shared, alert people, etc. I think at least one of them gives little gold stars when the chore is marked completed!

      • Katamari said:

        I feel you. I somehow got stuck with taking the bins out every week because the other housemates just never did it. One time I got home at 2am and still had to take the bins out despite the fact that the housemates had been home all evening. When I broached the subject with one of them she said, “I didn’t know the bin had to go out”. I guess she thought there was a magical bin fairy that just made the rubbish disappear out of the bin every week. :) To be fair, they started pulling their weight more after I brought it up with them.

        • Elikit said:

          I am the bin fairy at the moment, and have been for the past two years, and I am just kinda done. It’s been especially galling since one flatmate put a recycling box in the kitchen. Before that, one would just walk one’s recycling out to the big bin as needed. Now there’s emptying the trash bin, and a big box full of recycling, and I just don’t wanna, so I’m not gonna.

    • Dude. I am the partner who “doesn’t see” the garbage/dirty stuff. Guess what? I WORK HARDER. I ask to be reminded (bearing in mind that it’s a gift and a kindness and not my partner’s job). When I’m really forgetful and things are piling up (and I DO legitimately forget from one moment to the next that the trash needs to be taken out) I take it out and put it in front of the apartment door so I can’t leave the house without noticing it. “I don’t see the dirt” is an explanation, not an excuse.

      • What about the guy who puts of in front of the door and then steps over it to go in and out of the house? Selective blindness/forgetfulness is evidently a thing.

        I applaud you for making an effort, it means you are and that you are working to overcome the fact that these things do not come naturally to you. That is the difference between trying and caring, and not.

  8. eliza said:

    One thing I’m glad CA touched upon in both answers (but cannot be emphasized enough) is that sometimes you’ve gotta stop talking about the changes you want to see and just DO it. A few reasons for this:

    1. Because housework is often a gendered issue and a cliched topic for couples to fight about, having a big discussion about it is likely to run immediately into entrenched beliefs, assumptions and attitudes on both sides. If what you want to change is behavior, you don’t necessarily need to make it about a principle.

    2. In many scenarios where one partner isn’t pulling their weight, they actually believe they are already doing so. Talking broadly about this has a huge chance of derailing immediately into an argument about who is the more accurate scorekeeper. Again, if it’s action you want, why waste time trying to establish who’s in the right about the past?

    3. Habit takes practice, not willpower. For partners who are currently doing more housework: how did it get that way? Likely not because someone sat you down one time and told you “you are now responsible for 90% of household tasks.” More likely you ended up in this position because over and over again, you did most of the work until you and your partner both grew to expect that. Changing the habit and coming to a new mutual sense of what is “normal” is also going to take practice… not endless discussion.

    And I agree that you should not have to spend an inordinate amount of time slowly, subtly tricking your partner into doing what they truly should have been expected to do all along. But I also think you need to look at the situation for what it is: a constant, repeated, every-single-goddamn-day problem. Those are the types of problems that talking usually doesn’t solve, and if you want to fix them you need to be willing to live through a little discomfort and imperfect execution while things gradually change.

    • Yes!
      Everything you have said here, especially #2 is true.
      I relate so hard to this. Thank you!

      I will have to think about this a lot more but yes, I will try my best to take your advice.

    • ordinarygoddess said:

      Everything, everything about this. Absolutely. Yes, yes, yes.

      I’ll expand on #2 a little – there’s a part of the gendered socialization of housekeeping, for men, that perhaps women don’t always get. “I am MANLY MAN and I am supposed to be IN CONTROL OF THE UNIVERSE AND ALL WITHIN IT but I am TRUSTING YOU to TELL ME WHAT TO EAT AND WHAT TO WEAR. Acknowledge now, please, how much this proves my love.” Almost never articulated that explicitly, but that’s one of many subtexts often at play.

      I got no traction, NONE, on getting my partner to help with cooking until I reframed the question from “we both work fulltime, and it is unfair to expect me to do all the cooking” – which he didn’t disagree with by any means, but wouldn’t fucking DO anything about – to “guess what? You are a grownup and I trust you! You get to decide what we eat sometimes!” (Our schedules overlap – sometimes I get home earlier and sometimes he does – so his early nights are now his dinner nights.) Sometimes he decides we get to eat something complicated that he felt like cooking, and sometimes he decides that we get Chinese takeout, or frozen ravioli and pasta sauce out of a jar. And – here’s the kicker – I smile and say, “This is great, thank you!” And I fix myself a fucking gin and tonic and thank the stars that I didn’t have to cook tonight. Because I TOLD HIM that I TRUST HIM and I’m true to that, even if it’s what I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen. That engenders more trust and confidence and willingness to take ownership of other aspects of household management.

      LW #1, I have no doubt whatsoever that you are an awesomely conscientious person who works her tail off to make sure that what you cook is both healthy and enjoyable, but if someone told me what I was going to eat 5000 nights in a row, I would throw a fit. You would too, right? Your husband has abdicated a certain category of personal power to you, and reframing changes that you are making as empowering HIM may help. When you follow the advice to get out of the house and leave him to fend for himself (when, not if; PLEASE DO THAT) and he whines “but what will I eeeeeaaat????? (because he will), resist the temptation (RESIST THE TEMPTATION) to treat him like a nine-year-old and say, “Well, honey, you can heat up that canned soup or you can take the $10 I left on the counter and order Subway.” Instead, say, as cheerfully as you can muster, “Whatever you like! There’s loads of stuff!” (I have confidence in you! You’ll figure it out! Go forth and conquer dinner!)

      Changing old, entrenched expectations is slow and hard but it is so worth it. For his sake as well as for yours.

      • eliza said:

        Great points.

        It has also been my experience that talking frankly about trust, care-taking, gender roles, responsibility and self-sufficiency is difficult and somewhat embarrassing for many men. Much more difficult, in some cases, than the actual act of doing a new behavior in one of those areas.

        As weird as I feel being like, “talk less, don’t analyze, enough with the feelings!” (as I usually think communication is important and helpful), I see this issue as something that people have the opportunity to practice doing differently, a little bit, each and every day – and where practice will go much further than discussion in the abstract.

      • Guava said:

        Another thought on your excellent list regarding #2: I remember a huge turning point a few years back with my husband and me. We got into yet another fight about the housework, and he started trying to tell me that, if you broke it down into a bullet pointed list, it would be 50/50, and then he was doing things like putting “raking the leaves in the side yard” on the same footing as “all of the laundry for 4 people, always.”

        I ended up saying, “You know what? It doesn’t matter whether you think it’s currently 50/50 or not. Because the current workload that I have FEELS LIKE IT’S TOO MUCH FOR ME. I am overwhelmed, whether it’s 50/50 or not. I need for you to do more. I can’t go on like this.”

        Huge, massive turning point.

    • pineapplelost said:

      This is really good advice. I sort of stumbled on this with my boyfriend. Instead of generally telling my boyfriend I wanted more help around the house, I started saying things like, “Well, guess we’d better clean up a little before bed. Do you want to put away the laundry or clean up the kitchen?” or “Ugh, I really don’t feel like cooking. How about this- if you make dinner, I’ll clean the bathroom”. Lo and behold, it became part of his routine.

  9. ShannonBonanan said:

    I feel like our society as a whole disregards the importance of the nitty-gritty details of coexistence. Cleaning your environment together, cooking/eating together, raising kids together….that’s all very primal stuff that is very hard for one member of a couple (or family) to take on. That stuff adds up. And these two letters take that sentiment and multiply it by a BILLION. There is a distinct kind of selfishness going on with both the LWs spouses, and it’s the kind of selfishness that negates both LWs basic needs. LW 1, you can’t try to eat differently or diet? Doesn’t that enrage you?! And LW 2, your significant other is asking you to forgo bettering yourself and your future through school just so he can watch YouTube videos?! WHAT?!

    The Captain makes a very important point in the sense that you don’t owe your significant other an explanation for needing to change the dynamic of your relationship. If you are unhappy, that is reason enough. To both LWs; take back your happiness in this relationship and dig your heels in. You do NOT deserve to be treated this way!

    Virtual hugs to both of you!

  10. Temporarily Anonymous, because I hope my friend reads this! said:

    This was a good read for me.
    I actually have a somewhat-similar labor division problem with a close friend, same gender, that I do not live with. We had a routine for many years of picking up groceries and cooking them together.
    Then Friend had several life changes that made it more difficult to cook and clean for Friendself. For a long time, I took over much of the planning and cooking of the farmshare (that was already paid for and showing up weekly), planning for us each to have leftovers and lunches in the week, and washing not only the dishes I dirtied by cooking but others in the sink. Sometimes I did other random chores, such as cleaning out Friend’s refrigerator–often having to throw out old or rotten food that I’d cooked weeks before, which had gotten buried behind takeout and other quick food.

    Things have improved if not completely resolved, and Friend has regained a lot of time and physical ability for self-care. Yet, when our farmshare started up this year, I found myself again walking in to see a sink full of dishes that needed to be cleared (often by me) before we could cook. Eventually I stopped doing them, pointedly only washing the dishes we dirtied. The problem didn’t resolve, exactly, but now we cook more in my kitchen than Friend’s.
    But even now, I plan and cook in such a way that uses up my half of the share, and then when Friend and I make plans to cook, we’re nearly always cooking up old veg from weeks ago that Friend hasn’t used up yet. So, in a way, I get more than my share of the food. . . but I also do more than my share of the planning and labor. It’s not as skewed of a division as it was when I was deliberately helping, or even as it was when we started the season, because I’ve just backed away from what I do not want to do. . . but I just don’t enjoy cooking together the way we used to, and I feel like I don’t want to share groceries and cooking again next year. Then I feel like a jerk about it.

    I feel a little comforted, though, by your advice to LW1. “Sorry, you’re on your own for dinner” is a completely legit response for Spouse and Friend alike. I am not responsible for Friend’s stewardship of groceries.

    • staranise said:

      Do you need to cook together? I don’t wanting to separate a little is being a jerk. This isn’t working ideally for either of you, and wanting to give it up is pretty understandable.

    • I’m in the same position as your friend–while I was dealing with a debilitating mental illness, my husband started picking up pretty much all of the housework. I’m pretty much back on track by now, but because it’s been such a gradual process, and because I’m still pretty fragile, and (let’s face it) because I am lazy (because I’m a person, and people are lazy!), he’s still doing way more than his fair share. It’s not cool, I know it’s not cool, and we are in the process of fixing it.

      How direct have you been about this? Personally, I have a lot of shame about the way things have been working/not working, and it would have been sort of a relief for my husband to say, “This isn’t working for me any more; I need you to start doing X, Y, and Z.” One of the things that is tough about being a sick person, or a convalescing person, is how much everyone tiptoes around you. Even if you actually NEED people to be gentle with you, or to pick up the slack on things you can’t handle, it still feels horrible. Then you get used to people doing things for you, and you start building weird entitlements, and that feels crappy, too. Obviously I don’t know anything about your friend’s situation; but I can certainly envision a world in which being asked to take responsibility for Self could be a really good thing–a sign of your continued respect.

      • solecism said:

        I am on the other side of this. My partner has been in a LONG depressive episode (all or most of our time living together–3 years now). I work full time to support us and do most of the housework. I have repeatedly tried to negotiate pointing out that it is too much for me, and I need hir to do more, but I don’t know how much is reasonable to ask given hir very real limitations. And the conversation is always shut down, derailed, postponed indefinitely. The most definitive response I got was that I don’t seem to understand what disabled means. Arrggh.

        Now my partner isn’t all bad. Zie does try to step up to making dinner most weeknights and doing some of the dishes. And I have refused to clean the toilet and bathroom sink, so zie will take care of those (usually just before houseguests, and boy did it get bad). And zie is entirely in charge of things like mowing, snow removal, and leaves. But zie still needs to be doing more.

        We recently started couples counseling, and for me, the household contributions and communications are a key issue.

        For example, the original agreement regarding the cat litter was that I would scoop and zie would clean the litter boxes and replace the litter. Sounded okay at first, but then I realized that I needed help with the regular scooping. So I asked if zie would be willing to take charge of it one day a week. That’s it. Zie nominally agreed but didn’t name a day. Revisit 2-3 times (over several months), still no specific commitment. Finally, last night brought it up again. Counteroffer: how about zie clean and replace litter when I let hir know it’s needed. No. I need you to do that but also scoop one day a week. Finally committed to a specific day. We’ll see how it goes.

        Last month it was the trash/recycling containers. I asked hir to return them to the house once they’d been emptied by the city. No deadline on this, unlike taking them out. Counteroffer: zie could take them to the curb if I reminded hir. No, you are missing the point. I don’t want to manage you. I want you to be responsible all by yourself for doing the tasks you agree to. Finally got this across, and it’s been going okay. Zie even takes them to the curb occasionally. But it took blowing up after doing this on my own for 3 years and repeated suggestions falling down with thuds.

        Supposedly the laundry situation will get better now that we have a separate hamper for items that need special treatment. Hir excuse has always been that zie doesn’t want to mess up my clothes and doesn’t know what they need. Read the label! It’s not hard, really. But whatever. For awhile there, I was sorting, washing, drying, folding, and putting them away. Then I was stopping after folding because zie can put hir own damn clothes away. So they’d sit on the dining table for a week or whatever until I finally got sick of it and told hir to move them. My recent resolution was to stop another step short: don’t fold them, just leave them on top of the dryer or hanging from the clothesline (shiny new umbrella line that I love love love!). But then zie was gone for 2 weeks, and I am waiting to see what develops now.

        I admit that part of the laundry thing involves managing myself. My partner is willing to help out with sorting and folding, etc., but that means that I have to wait until zie is up and about to start those activities. And I tend to get up much earlier. So I have to work harder at restraining myself until we’re both active around the house so that we can do these tasks together. That’s on me for sure.

      • Temporarily Anonymous, because I hope my friend reads this! said:

        Another Mary, I’m so glad you responded with this perspective. I think it does probably describe a lot of what Friend is feeling. I know Friend feels pretty crappy in general, and quite likely feels crappy about domestic labor specifically, and I would love for Friend to stop feeling crappy. . . but I can’t make that happen, only Friend can.

        Friend, historically, leans very hard on the belief that external factors cause internal anguish so only external factors can take it away, and so would not agree with that statement. In fact, I haven’t been very direct about my needs *because* those conversations tend to go so poorly. However, I have been setting my own boundaries, and when we do talk about food labor I’ve been being a little more direct about immediate concerns, kind of like CA was suggesting in her reply to LW1. Like, I’m on a deadline so I can’t co-cook *this* week; or, I’d rather use fresh vegetables for *this* dish, perhaps you can turn your old vegetables into something else?

        So, what your comment and staranise’s comment just helped me figure out is: I am pretty much getting my way here after all. I am no longer putting in more cooking, planning, or cleanup labor on Friend’s behalf that I am comfortable with, because I’ve drawn lines about what I’m comfortable with and stuck to them, even if we haven’t had a big honest conversation about it.
        But I still have a lot of residual bad feelings about it, and I guess some of this is a grudge, and some of it is probably guilt–because Friend is not doing a great job cooking and cleaning for herself, at least according to Friend, who remarks on it often. When Friend mentions that she has unused vegetables from several weeks ago, or had to throw out something we made or received, or something along those lines, I feel angry–partly because I feel like I’m being called out for not helping more, although this may or may not be so; partly because I know Friend can take better care of Friendself than this, and taking better care would lead to feeling better, and no one likes to see their Friend in a slump.

        But while those feelings are real, there isn’t an actual problem. And this is not someone I share a household or a romantic relationship with, so it’s not like I need to lay down ground rules for a shared life. I will just keep hoping Friend feels better.

      • monologue said:

        It really helps me when I’ve put something off and I’m getting shame spirally (I have an anxiety disorder) when someone brings up whatever that thing is and kinda lets me off the hook a little. Like, “I noticed blah thing isn’t happening, I know it’s tough for you, but we need to figure out how it’s going to get done going forward.” I find that really helpful because it’s basically that person saying, I noticed the problem, let’s actually address it, and no I don’t hate you forever. It kind of resets the clock or something and gives me an opportunity to try again to fix the problem without continuing to freak out about the messy past. This is probably extra work on the part of the person raising the issue though, so it might not be a good approach for everyone.

        Though in the case of the farm share above, it could turn out that the best thing to do going forward might be to just end the arrangement.

  11. manybellsdown said:

    “Before I lived with a partner who did not have a lot of interest or competence around food preparation, I did not understand how very, very angry the question “What’s for dinner?” in a certain too-casual tone of voice could make me. ”

    AUGH so much this. My first husband worked nights, so I’d be coming home from a long day of work, fresh off an hour-long bus ride, just as he was getting up. And the first words out of his mouth when I walked in the door (after taking care of a dozen toddlers for 8 hours and did I mention the HOUR ON THE BUS?) would invariably be “What’s for dinner?”

    When I suggested that he might cook a few nights a week, as I was just getting home and all, he said “I don’t think it’s fair that *I* have to cook dinner all the time just because I’m home!” But somehow it was fair that I cook it all the time … because I was a woman, I guess. He wouldn’t do a lick of housework either. You can see why that marriage didn’t last.

    Do the counseling. Do it. It’s immensely helpful just to be able to express yourself in a safe space with an objective mediator. And take the night off. Just take it.

  12. Emmers said:

    Can I just emphatically cosign this? “Whatever domestic division of labor makes sense for you and makes everyone feel like they are doing their share and being loved and respected and taken care of is a good and workable one.”

    This post actually made me feel better about the fact that my husband does most of the cooking, because I DO go grocery shopping and help with prep work and stuff, and I AM more than happy to eat sandwiches or a can of soup (in fact, that’s what I’d be eating every day if I weren’t married to him).

    • Aunt Vixen said:

      Preach.

      As long as it’s fair – where “fair” is defined as “feels fair to every adult involved” – then it’s good. Himself does almost all of the cooking at our house, because he’s better at it and I hate doing it. I do almost all of the kitchen-cleaning, because he does most of the cooking and I care more than he does about how clean the kitchen is. We are both capable of, and inclined to, load and run and unload the dishwasher; do the laundry, including gathering the socks he’s randomly left scattered around the place; corral the socks he’s randomly left scattered around the place if we’re expecting a visitor; take out the trash; etc. I’m much more inclined to scrub a bathroom than he is, but I’m much less likely to mow the lawn.

      Crucially, despite what the preceding graf might suggest, we are neither of us likely to keep score.

      LWs, I heartily applaud and endorse all of the Captain’s advice. Strength to your arms!

    • twomoogles said:

      This is not my situation, this is a close friend’s situation. I don’t know if there’s a solution or an answer, but it was on my mind, and related to this question. I am slightly afraid of coming across as an asshole here, so please tell me if I am one.

      What do you do when the person uses the ‘I have no spoons left’ chronic illness language as a reason to do no housework? My friend lives with her roommate (both female). My friend works, roommate doesn’t. My friend does pretty close to 100% of the cleaning, and all the dishes, though the agreement was for 50/50 split of housework. When they talk about it, roommate always says ‘Sorry, I was out of spoons today/I wasn’t feeling for up for it I will do it tomorrow’. My friend feels like there is NO way she can respond to this any other way than doing the dishes. But it’s exhausting for friend too, at that point.

      My friend would be fine with picking up the slack when roommate is particularly ill, but has a very hard with a situation where she works all day, comes home, and friend is doing everything other than cleaning. Then says she is too sick to clean. Then goes out for a party/game night etc. Friend doesn’t want to say ‘please use all your energy for cleaning and don’t do this fun thing’, but..is it ever OK for her to ask that? My friend feels like the ‘spoons’ thing is kind of a discussion ender. My friend doesn’t want to sound like she’s skeptical when roommate says she is too ill/tired, but…my friend feels like she *never* gets to be too tired to do it. And if she *doesn’t* do it, roommate is unhappy with that, too. Roommate is unaware of how she never does dishes, and talks as though she does it half the time, and really it’s ‘just this one time’ she is too tired to do it, so friend shouldn’t begrudge it. Is there any way for friend not to be a jerk, but not do the dishes all the time, in this situation?

      • twomoogles said:

        Argh, for some reason this posted here instead of to the thread as a whole. I feel dumb now, and am sorry!

        • remi said:

          Perhaps your friend could reply with the spoons argument too? My understanding of that argument (though it’s possible I am incorrect, and I apologize if this is a wrong way to look at it) was that everybody has spoons, but ill or disabled people start out with fewer spoons than say, I would, being a (mostly) healthy, able-bodied person. But just because your friend and I have more spoons to start with, it does not mean we have unlimited spoons, and doing all of the work uses them up too, especially since your friend or I would be trying to help the less spoonful individual by taking on more than half of the work. Your friend has a right to save her spoons for fun things too, or to not have to do dishes when she has also run out of spoons for the day.

          And as for Roommate not being aware of how much more work Friend is doing, perhaps Friend could start keeping track? Mark on a calendar in the kitchen who did what when, perhaps? If Roommate is made aware of how often Friend picks up her slack, that might be all she needs to remind her that she has to do stuff too.

          • I like this idea. I mentioned in another comment that the star-chart system worked well for me and a couple of roommates. The wonderful, magical thing about it was that everybody could see what everybody else had done, everybody could see if one person wasn’t pulling their weight, with no nagging involved.

          • Ystir said:

            Personally, I dislike it when people who don’t have a chronic illness talk about spoons because, while obviously everyone has only a finite amount of ‘ability to do stuff’ (which is, roughly speaking, what spoons are units of), people with chronic illness have so vastly fewer than healthy people that it’s just not a useful comparison. I also don’t really think it’s appropriate for someone with a very mild chronic illness, to be quite honest, because (having been someone with very mild fibromyalgia) that doesn’t really cause anything like the kind of limitation on getting basic tasks done that spoons really refers to. So, if you can do things like having a shower, making the bed, washing up, going to the loo without having to worry about whether that will leave you unable to do any other basic tasks for the rest of the day/week you don’t (IMO, but it’s shared by most spoonies I’ve discussed this with) get to use ‘spoons’. If you regularly have to choose between washing up and washing your hair, or find yourself needing a bath for pain relief as well as hygiene but can’t actually get yourself into the bath without causing more pain, then you probably do.

            THAT SAID, of COURSE you get to point out to your friend/room mate/partner/whoever that you don’t actually have unlimited energy, and also, if your friend is regularly going off and having fun then… yeah, maybe (without wishing to armchair diagnose the extent of someone else’s illness) she needs to start understanding that she needs to prioritise her spoon use better. If she’s going off having fun once a week having spent the rest of the week in bed/in her desk chair, hoping to find the spoons to go to the loo before it starts to hurt/she wets herself, probably that once a week is the only thing keeping her sane. If she’s going off having fun twice a week, having spent the rest of the week pottering about the flat, doing fun projects, writing fanfic, going for little walks and having a shower every day? Then she might well be taking the piss. Chances are, it’s somewhere in the middle, and she’s genuinely not really realising that, yeah, she probably could use the little walks spoons to wash up and make things easier for everyone. I agree that tracking who should/actually does do what is worth a try, especially if she has brain fog which can make it difficult to remember what you’ve actually done (and can even make you feel like you’re being gaslit, possibly by yourself…)

      • You are not dumb! You aren’t an asshole either. Your friend has a legitimate gripe.

        Unfortunately, I don’t have a script for “I’m out of spoons.” “Use your spoons on our shared responsibilities once in a while instead of fun stuff” might be reasonable, but it’s hard to say without feeling like the bad guy.

        The only thing I can think of is for your friend to stop filling in for her roommate. Make not doing the dishes result in the roommate having no clean dishes. I don’t know if it will work, but it might be worth a shot.

        • Badger Rose said:

          “Use your spoons on shared tasks sometimes” is actually an entirely reasonable answer, I think. I say that as a person with a mental illness! It’s not reasonable to expect someone to use 100% of their spoons on housework–by which I mean, if your illness is severe enough that eating a sandwich and taking a shower uses all the spoons, then probably there’s not much to be done for it–but if someone has some spoons available to allocate for things that are not necessities-of-life (like eating, sleeping, and bathing), it’s reasonable to ask them to allocate at least some of them per week to helping around the house.

          That’s true even if, yes, it’s sometimes a choice between ‘fun thing’ and ‘housework.’ It’s not cool if you *always* have to choose ‘housework’ over ‘fun thing,’ so I think it would be reasonable to have a discussion about, okay, you can’t do chores on X day because that’s game night, but on Y day please allocate some spoons to doing the dishes. Because sometimes it’s fair to ask someone to do that. After all, everyone–with spoons, without spoons, with a plethora of spoons, with infinite energy–has to choose ‘housework’ over ‘fun thing’ occasionally.

        • MamaCheshire said:

          Spouse and I have very different spoon-related issues.

          I have a precise Spoon Exchange Rate, where on a good day (Mankoski pain scale below 4 and ADHD under reasonable control), 1 spoon = any of:

          – One emotionally draining but brief task (eg dealing with an unpleasant phone call)
          – One physically draining/unpleasant but brief task (eg crawling under table to deal with spill)
          – Roughly 15 minutes of things-that-require-standing-or-walking (dishes, grocery shopping, etc.)
          – Roughly 30 minutes of things that require mental energy but can be done sitting down. Driving, unless in bad traffic, also falls in this category.

          Under “ordinary” conditions, I have approximately three spoons every two hours. With good self-care habits, I can raise this to four spoons in two hours.

          If pain scale is between 4 and 6 or ADHD is acting up, all of the above times are one-half to one-third of the good day.
          If pain scale is 7 or higher, anything other than Things That Will Make Pain Stop is going to not be happening right now.

          Spouse…has an invisible spoon balance with a malicious banker. He is never sure precisely how many he has until he is overdrawn, which sometimes takes the form of a grand plan to make awesome dinner/do remodeling thing/etc. until suddenly the energy isn’t there and he’s collapsed on the bed with glasses still on or snoring in his computer chair.

          What works for us unless I am pain scale 7+ or Spouse has completely wiped out and not yet recovered is, “Can we both give the house one spoon?” Even if that one spoon is mopping up a single puddle of cat puke and then going, “OK I’m done!” it’s still one spoon. Sometimes having the person who is unwell up and visibly trying matters more than the accomplishment itself.

          • staranise said:

            *wavy pointy hands* This is the spoon math I’m used to. I lived with a depressed, autistic friend for a summer and it was actually really refreshing to sit down and negotiate, instead of passive-aggressive hints like I got at home. “Can you get the living room and den clean within the next two days?”/”I need not to think about anything else tonight, dinner is your job”/”I am way the heck out of spoons, I’m sorry but I can’t clean the kitchen.” I’m used to PWD explicitly negotiating with each other in complete good faith.

      • staranise said:

        I think it’s totally okay for your friend to insist on more housework.

        The thing about the spoons metaphor is that it emphasizes budgeting. It’s about prioritizing and thinking ahead. You think: “If I need to clean the dishes, and I want to go out with friends in the evening, then I should clean the dishes in the morning, then rest, then go out” instead of waiting until the afternoon when your roommate gets home and knowing that if you do the dishes now, you’ll be too tired to see your friends.

        It is really, really hard to differentiate “out of spoons” and “dunwanna”, because the black belt of spoon management is knowing when to stop when you still feel okay, so you never actually have to run on fumes. However, if this is physical spoons, pure “make your meat puppet move through space” spoons (as opposed to, say, anxiety spoons, which can be limited for some things but not others), it is totally reasonable to say, “If you can do all these voluntary tiring things, I think it’s fair to say you have extra energy you’ve chosen to budget in different ways. I think it’s fair to ask you to put doing the dishes once a week further up in your priority list.”

        Actually getting a chart where the two roommates put their names or a sticker or something on it every time they do a chore to visually demonstrate the workload split might really help.

        • MamaCheshire said:

          Yeah, the not-always-running-on-fumes thing is part of why I actually sat down and wrote out the Spoon Exchange Rate.

          Something else along those lines that helps me with the budgeting (but might not help annoyed roommate with out-of-spoons roommate) is remembering that there are some activities that are spoon-investments. I have to have the available spoons, at my usual exchange rate, to DO those things – but I will make back what I used plus possibly more. “Making a meal” and “keeping the kitchen in useable enough condition that the types of meals I find restorative can actually BE made” both fall in that category, as do various other acts of self-care. “Making sure things are ready to go in the morning so we don’t burn spoons searching the house for them and then more spoons being upset about being late” is another one that I’m having to think about as we approach school-starting time.

  13. curious86 said:

    Oh Captain, you have once again hit the nail on the head. Love all the advice and the helpful suggestions for both LWs.

    I just wanted to reiterate how very important division of labor conversations are. People develop a lot of their cleaning habits and needs based on how they were raised. And if you don’t talk about it, you can walk around with a lot of expectations and resentment that are not good for relationships! My husband and I were raised very differently; in my household, the kids were expected to clean our own rooms and do our own laundry from a young age and also help out daily with housework/yardwork. We picked up the house before my parents got home and cleaned the kitchen after dinner; whoever did not cook was responsible for cleaning. This was so engrained in us that my dad’s extended family once worried aloud about my younger brother potentially being “taken advantage of” by a woman when he got older because he was helping to do the dishes after Thanksgiving dinner (barf). In my husband’s household, his mom took care of everything. He did not learn how to do laundry until I taught him when we were in college. He was not expected to do household chores (neither was his sister, so I don’t think it’s gendered in this case so much as parents not preparing their kids for independence).

    This is all to say that when we moved in together, we had to talk and agree to chore norms around the house. He was honestly kind of oblivious to the shit-that-needs-to-get-done-on-a-regular-basis-to-avoid-living-in-squalor. But we talked about it. And came to an agreement that works for us. And he learned to pay attention to and do things that he was not taught as a child and not naturally inclined to do. And now, he has his chores and I have my chores and we both contribute to the general cleanliness of the house. And mostly importantly, when one of us is unable to hold up our end of the bargain either for a day or on a more permanent basis, we RE-NEGOTIATE. It isn’t perfect, but at least we have made space in our relationship where we can talk about it.

    Bottom line: if it’s not working for you, it is good and important to ask for change. And if that doesn’t work, find ways to make it work for you (see CA’s awesome suggestions).

  14. I come from a household where my mom plus some cleaning help did literally everything. And I am particularly bad about doing any kind of housework. I will leave it forever and if you give me the option I will do no errands.

    I will always do the minimum amount of work I can get away with doing.

    That means if you ask me to do xyz, or show a willingness to do it for me, I’m probably not going to do it. I will only do it when it is clear that it will never get done for me.

    This strategy works well for me when living with men, because this is a strategy that many of them share. When I first moved into a house with 2 male roommates I realized after not very long that I was the only one cooking,cleaning, or grocery shopping. So I stopped. After that I’d pitch in when people were working and drive to the store, but I wouldn’t do it all the time on a schedule or consistently, because that’s how you get screwed.

    This is not a nice way to look at housework, and it isn’t very mature. But the fact is, some people like me are just spoiled, and don’t care that much, so if we can get out of it, we will.

    Sometimes you just have to make sure they know that it is not a choice. They refuse to ever wash a dish. Fine, that means that the dishes don’t get washed. They wont cook dinner for the house, fine, no dinner is now cooked. Happy sandwiching. This is harder with child care, obviously.

    My partner is at home so he does 90% of the housework. But there are still some chores that are mine, and no matter how long I leave them he never does them for me. My laundry, the cat box, the grocery store. Those are my things that I do. And when he finds a job, there will be more things that will be my job, and that he will not do because they are my job.

    And that is the only reason he doesn’t hate me forever. Because he DOESN”T pick up after me, he waits me out, no matter how bad it gets, and he teases me about it. But he never does it for me, because I’m an adult and theoretically I can take care of my fucking self.

    • Thanks for being so honest about this. Even when it’s not pretty. I’m a similar way when it comes to nagging. You know, I know, everyone knows that nagging people to get what you want is a Bad Thing. But I still do it, because sometimes it works. If someone doesn’t respond to it, I’ll switch my behaviour but as long as I’m rewarded for it…

    • Katie said:

      Ugh, are you me? I have exactly the same history and tendencies. :)

  15. golden peanut said:

    I dated a guy who met the Captain’s diagnosis for Spouse of LW #506. The specifics were very different, but he sure had a “this is what dating feels like” thing going, with the same “I feel loved” blah blah. It *is* manipulative, and it’s also coercive, and it also dehumanizes the recipient and makes them into Stepford Spousebot 1000. Nobody has to put up with that.

  16. Leigh in TX said:

    I noticed in the first letter that when LW offered examples of questions LW would ask Spouse, they were “Can I” questions: can I take a few days off cooking, can I try a diet, etc. These really ought not be questions at all; they ought to be declarative statements. “I am going to stop cooking on Tuesday nights.” “I am going on a diet and will be cooking differently.” “Since you need to eat before your meeting tonight you’ll need to either get your dinner out or make something yourself.” LW, you are an adult, and you do not need to ask permission to take a night off making dinner for someone who is also an adult and can feed themselves.

    My husband does not cook and if asked to do anything in the kitchen when I’m home, he’ll ask me things like, “Where do you keep the mustard?” and “Which knife should I use?” I once asked him to chop an bell pepper and it looked like he’d hacked it apart with a spork. But if I’m gone for an evening or too tired to put a meal together, he is capable of either stopping at Chipotle on his way home from work or preparing a delicious meal of frozen waffles and peanut butter for himself and the kids. Although he doesn’t complain I know that he doesn’t like doing either of those things and would prefer a hot home-cooked meal prepared by my loving hands, but he also understands that I’m not the paid help.

    • Zillah said:

      “but he also understands that I’m not the paid help.”

      For serious. It is depressing how few people understand this about their significant others, particularly men.

    • JenniferP said:

      Oh yes, the “I will grudgingly make dinner, but I will ask you 1,000 questions the entire time that I do so that it will be, theoretically, ‘easier’ for you to do it yourself” maneuver. I am familiar.

      • staranise said:

        Also the great, “I will flail around helplessly and do it all wrong, until you take over out of frustration at seeing it all done so ineptly” follow-up.

        • WT said:

          Ugh, not a Spouse issue but my brother is the King of this– and not only that, but he leveled it up to “I don’t know what all of this mail is so rather than sorting through it to pick out what’s important I’m just going to throw it all away.” So, you know, now he never has to clean the kitchen where the mail is kept, even once we got a mail sorter with a handy slot for as-of-yet unsorted mail. In addition to outright refusing to ever do dishes, LW’s Spouse-style!

          • staranise said:

            The more of these stories I read, the more the word “contempt” rings louder and louder in my ears.

        • espritdecorps said:

          I had learn to ignore both of those maneuvers.
          Spouse used to do this constantly. It drove me nuts until I started letting him flail, and turned every question right back on to him.

        • Toestands said:

          Actually, I’m pretty much on the other side of this at the moment. My mother won’t let me do laundry (not even my own) because I don’t do it to her exacting standards. (Me doing my own laundry would “mess up her schedule.”) This leaves me stuck wearing whatever she has washed recently, and I have in the past run out of clean work clothes because of this. The few times I’ve tried to convince her to let me do my own washing have ended up with her shouting at me because I’m doing it “wrong” (i.e. not making sure the clothes are 100% straightened out when hung up to dry).

          The real kicker here is that this doesn’t stop her from complaining that she doesn’t want to do ALL the laundry ALL the time.

          • espritdecorps said:

            Learning to live with things being done differently then I would do them was my issue as well.
            I am very familiar with this cycle of one person being the martyr and the other one feeling incompetent. Not cool.

            I’m sorry you are trapped in this right now, it sucks for both sides.

            I suggest you take over all the chores that relate directly to you (own laundry, own bathroom, own dishes, etc.), then when your mother complains/snipes/yells that you’ve done things wrong (I can see myself doing this), let her know she is free to redo it if she likes, then walk away.
            If she actually redoes what you’ve just done, ignore it, leave the room or house if you need to. Especially if it is accompanied by passive aggressive remarks while she is doing it (again I’m cringing as I write this because I’ve been that controlling).

            Continue to do your own chores. Ignore her efforts to ‘help’ you. Tell her she has enough to do, and you don’t want to add to her work. If she butts in and tries to take over, walk away and do something else. Read labels, consult the internet, learn from whatever mistakes you make. If you accidentally turn all your whites pink, you can bleach them back to a very soft pink that is close enough to white. Make dinner for the family every once in a while. Smile when your mom tells you it’s wrong and say “You’re welcome.”

            Your mom will see that the world has not come to an end because you put a dish ‘in the wrong place’, and start treating you better, or not. Either way you will have the skills you need to take care of yourself when you move out.

            Writing this made me aware of the irony of telling someone what to do about someone who tells them what to do.
            I apologize on behalf of controlling martyrs everywhere, we don’t realize how f’d up we’re being, we think it’s love.

          • Toestands said:

            @ espritdecorps Thanks! I’ll try your advice. I already know I can do laundry (did it all on my own the year I lived not-with-my-parents and never dyed or resized anything), but it would be great if this helped me convince my mother of that fact, too. :)

          • EB said:

            You probably shouldn’t complain you don’t have clothes you need when you don’t do a thing about it. Just do the laundry and walk away if she has an issue. Or take it out to a laundry mat. Refuse to be a co-dependent. Earplugs help with this.

      • manybellsdown said:

        The corollary being “I will totally pick up the living room like you asked, but I will ask you where every. single. thing. goes. Even my own socks.”

        • misspiggy said:

          Tee hee, I beat my husband on all the others except this one, which he is a master of. However, I have inflicted such squalor on him by refusing to ‘see’ a filthy toilet or overflowing bin that I feel I can give him that. We fight dirty in our house!

      • Leigh in TX said:

        It bugged me for years that he always acted so helpless in the kitchen until one day I was at his parents’ and his dad was doing the EXACT same thing! It cracked me up, especially since I know his dad actually does most of the cooking. It was like a weird habit or tic. But I’m happy to put up with it forever as long as Husband stays the designated toilet-cleaner and floor-mopper.

  17. I (female) presently live with four roommates (male) one of whom is my brother and NONE of whom do housework. I have been cleaning all the shared space in the apartment, doing the dishes, and taking out the garbage and recycling in the three months I’ve lived there. I much agree that this is still a gendered issue, and have heard them joking (not joking) that they need to find another girl to live with when I move out at the end of the month.

    What really cracks me up, though, is that my brother is going to move in with his girlfriend, in a country where he doesn’t speak the language and so basically will not have a job. She plans to sustain him while he does the housework. The boy can cook, but still believes in “girls’ jobs” and “boys’ jobs” as defined by our conservative parents: the former being housework, the latter being yard work, which was pretty fair in the rural setting where we grew up but is ridiculous in the urban setting we live in now and he will be living with his girlfriend.

    And, for the record, one thing that NEVER works is trying to get into a stand-off regarding the dishes: it’s going to get way, way worse before it gets better.

    • Aunt Vixen said:

      one thing that NEVER works is trying to get into a stand-off regarding the dishes: it’s going to get way, way worse before it gets better.

      In college I once lived in an apartment where the kitchen sink sometimes had to be smelled to be believed. We were all pretty stubborn, but two of us had earlier breaking points than the others and would occasionally go on whirlwind cleaning binges (the others mainly cleaned what they needed for as long as they needed it to be clean, such as washing a glass, pouring soda in it, drinking the soda, and now you’re back where you began). I was the last one to leave for spring break and every dish in the place was clean and put away when I left. One of the less-diligent housemates was the first to return from spring break, and by the time I got back the sink was full. Some short time later I asked if maybe something could be done about the kitchen because the sink smelled like something was rotting in there. First-to-return housemate’s suggestion was to light a scented candle. I’m pretty sure I remember losing my cool pretty spectacularly.

      • JenniferP said:

        I had a similar situation in college.

        Solution 1: Put dirty dishes in the rooms of chronic not-dishwashers. Now it’s your problem. Enjoy your maggots!

        Solution 2: One problem was that we had too many plates, cups, pots, etc. between the 4 of us. So there was always another clean dish if yours were dirty. So one day after a bitch-from-hell cleaning spree, I laid out 1 plate, 1 bowl, 1 glass, 1 fork/knife/spoon for each person who lived in the apartment. I kept a couple of the best pots & pans out, one of each kind. I boxed up the rest and hid them deep in the basement storage unit. I was called many names for this, but at least when I did all the dishes going forward there were only 4 or so at a time.

        • Aunt Vixen said:

          Losing my shit got that housemate up and doing dishes, in that instance, so I didn’t even have to handle the things long enough to take them into other people’s bedrooms. So everybody’s a winner there.

          My dad once told me a story from when he was in college – of the three guys in his room, two were fairly tidy and one was extremely not. The two kept after the one to clean up his part of the room in advance of parents’ weekend, when their families would be visiting but he was going to be away, and he kept promising to do it, and never did. So before their folks came by, my dad and the other remaining roommate gathered up all the mess and cleaned up the room; and once the folks were gone, they dumped all the mess (laundry, trash, maybe dishes but it was the 60’s so probably not like it would be now) on the third guy’s bed, with a hand-lettered sign reading “This mess courtesy of Slob Roommate’s Name.” When he returned he thought it had been there when company was over, and was sufficiently mortified that he straightened up and flew right after that. Probably wouldn’t work with These Kids Today, though.

        • attica said:

          As kids, we had a rota of chores. One week when it was my sister’s turn, she neglected dish duty. And neglected. And as CA suggests, mom humped the stacked-to-overflowing dish drainer up two flights of stairs and deposited it onto my sister’s bed. We all had a laugh, and that never ever happened again.

          Tangentially, my mom used to enjoy doing the lawn-mowing. Until she married a dude whose friends and neighbors mocked him mercilessly for ‘his ol’ lady doing a man’s job.’ He then felt he *had* to take it over, but only after buying a souped up riding mower. Because if it’s a manly chore, goddammit, it needs horsepower.

          • Aunt Vixen said:

            My mom did the lawn-mowing and especially the snow-shoveling until we kids were big enough to help her or do it ourselves, on account of Dad was not unafraid he’d be more vulnerable to a heart attack. But he did the laundry and all the paperwork-slogging and a fair amount of the cooking. Balance.

          • Cyberwulf said:

            Mowing the lawn was my brother’s job while we lived in town. If he didn’t keep on it my father would say things like “there’s a fine crop of daisies out the front there.” When we moved to the country and had a much larger garden, my father bought a ride-on lawnmower. Now it went, “Hey dad, I’ll mow the lawn -” “No, son, that’s all right, I can do it.”

          • ThatHat said:

            My mom is super big on conservative gender roles, but with 7 acres, mowing was an “everybody, but especially you young healthy kids who need to practice your driving anyway” chore. I don’t think I ever even realized it was a “man’s chore” until King of the Hill.

            Though when my stepfather had hip trouble, he used the (smaller) riding mower to get everywhere, like a very manly boss.

          • Emmers said:

            OMG. I mow the lawn (except not now because I recently gave birth) and my husband’s father mocks him for it. WTF.

        • WT said:

          Once my mom created a rule that “no dirty dishes except for those used to cook can go in the sink”– like a self-regulated “put the dirty dishes in the offending not-dishwasher’s room.”

          It still backfired.

          My brother kept so many unwashed dishes in his room that soon the rest of us had nothing to eat with.

        • Elsajeni said:

          We just enacted a slightly-less-strict version of Solution 2 in my household! (We each get 2 of each type of dish.) So far it has not noticeably improved our dishwashing habits, but like you say, at least now there’s a sharp limit to how many dishes can accumulate in the sink.

        • Pterinochilus murinus said:

          “Solution 1: Put dirty dishes in the rooms of chronic not-dishwashers. Now it’s your problem. Enjoy your maggots!”

          Oh no. No way. Never again.

          I had a housemate who was worse at washing dishes than I am, and I’m pretty bad. She didn’t need me to put the dishes in her room. She’d just take all meals she prepared for herself into her room so she could eat them at her computer, and leave them there. Dirty. She’d pile them on the floor in various parts of her room because they were getting in her way. And next meal she’d go get some fresh clean dishes.

          When she ran out of all the dishes actually meant for eating out of, she’d take the mixing bowls I use for baking and the serving platter I only use for special occasions, and eat out of them. And then leave them dirty in her room.

          I would not have had anything to eat from if I didn’t keep one bowl, one plate, and one knife, fork, and spoon, in my own room.

          Eventually, when she’d dirtied literally every single plate, bowl, or other food-safe object in the house that could be used as a plate or bowl, she would wash some of them. I had to do raids when I needed more food preparation and serving equipment than I was hiding in my room.

          Did I mention that these were mostly my dishes? I was okay with her using them, but not with her preventing me from using them.

          • miss_chevious said:

            I came home from a week-long trip once to find my live-in boyfriend eating cereal out of a Frisbee. A FRISBEE. So I sympathize with the “I will eat food out of anything” strategy of not doing the dishes.

            (P.S. I made him wash all those dishes. No way, Jose.)

        • Just Plain Neddy said:

          We tried this with one of the housemates at uni. Unfortunately when dirty dishes got put in her room, they’d be left there for weeks, and she’d go on using the clean stuff right up until every single item from the kitchen was dirty and in her room and nobody had anything left to put their dinner on. Things got pretty tense in that house.

        • Emmers said:

          The problem with “Enjoy your maggots!” is that in my part of the country, especially apartments, it quickly becomes “Now we will ALL enjoy our MUTUAL cockroaches!” Which just…eurgh eurgh eurgh. There’s no good solution there. (But this *is* great for situations that allow for Maggot Isolation!)

      • Katamari said:

        It’s amazing what some people will do to get out of cleaning a dish or two. A friend of mine, who I thankfully have never had to live with, has never picked up a cleaning rag in her life. When her house got so filthy they were finding mice in it, guess what they did about it? They got a cat.

        • Or they think the cat will forage for itself. See: endless episodes of Hoarders and dead cats. I’d hope that Katamari’s friend knew better though.

  18. peregrinations said:

    Oh hells yes to this response!! I actually grew up in the odd family where my mother pulled this. She stayed home when sister and I were young while our father worked long hours, so she did most of the housework while he did yard work (of which there was LOTS because HUGE yard) and repairs. But she resented the HECK out of it, and so as soon as she deemed us old enough (where “old enough” = standing on kitchen chairs to cook dinner because we were still too short to reach the stove!) all the household tasks got reassigned to sister and I. By junior high we were expected to run the entire house: all cooking, cleaning, even their own personal laundry. Now, even though she’s retired (and he passed away a couple years ago), she still refuses to do more than absolutely necessary around the house. The rest she either pays a housekeeper to do (which, cool) or pressures sister (who lives nearby) to do, despite the fact that sister has a full-time job, house, and life of her own. Which, HULK SMASH, but that’s between the two of them (I live far away), though I’ve made it clear to sister that I’ve got her back if/when needed.

    This made us very independent, yes, but also set me up to be accustomed to doing all the work. So in my first few live-in relationships I naturally fell into the role of doing most-all the housework. In the first it made sense because he worked much longer hours than I. But in the second I was working very long hours while he was often unemployed – but still didn’t do anything other than make messes and play video games. MAJOR PROBLEM! But this kind of manipulation was a recurring theme in that relationship, which shortly ended.

    Since then, I’ve negotiated household duties *before* moving in, as recommended here, and (knock on wood) it’s worked so far. Though I’ve got a younger male roommate moving in next month, so we’ll see how that goes. I’ll be bookmarking this page!

    • Roison said:

      Shit, that’s the worst. My mom spent most of my childhood pregnant, so it didn’t seem absurd that she’d ask us to clean up or bring her a plate of food. BUT SHE NEVER BROKE THE HABIT.

    • This very much. My mother was a pure houswife all her life and now she’s a petulant jerk about how everyone…. except my able bodied father…. has to take care of her, especially now that she’s sick. But my brother is never asked to do anything and is the perfect stereotype of the basement dwelling gamer dudebro.. so I end up taking care of two homes and getting a bunch of lovely emotional abuse while doing it.

      Unequal housework can RUIN people.

      • Karyn said:

        What would happen if you just didn’t go over there? Or just had coffee and chatted, and did not a lick of housework?

        • Oh, that would go badly. Very badly. (I’ve had to call 911 for how unsafe I ended up feeling a few times I tried to put my foot down on her manipulation.) My mother is my landlord, and I’m unemployed, so she has every power possible over me, and she’s supported by my father because he doesn’t want to do anything. She’s one of those people who’ll never change, sadly.

          • Bookwyrm said:

            Oh man, do you have a plan for how you can get out? Don’t tell them about it, just make your plans and then move out as soon as you can and don’t let them find out about it?

  19. ona555 said:

    The thing that made a dent in the housework, kids, and food arena for my family was when I went back to work after my fourth was born. Finances were so tight that we couldn’t afford childcare so it made sense for Spouse to work days and me to work nights. I’d be home with the three little ones all day while Souse was at work and eldest was in school, so I’d do meals, cleaning and childcare all day then we’d switch. Spouse considers himself a pretty empathetic, supportive guy (and I’d agree with him) but it was still a huge reality check for him to come home from work four nights a week to two poopy butts, four hungry bellies, and a stack of unfolded laundry five feet tall. The kids ate a lot of takeout pizza and canned spaghetti for those three years but the point here is that it was takeout and canned food I had to take no part in deciding on or preparing. When I got home, about half the time the dishes were done, mostly because uh, I’d left them all dirty when I went to work and Spouse had to wash them in order to make dinner, and besides which, I’d been with the kids all day and he was only in the weeds for a few hours after he got home (because bedtime) so he still had some juice left to make with the cleaning whilst I had to try to do cleaning + kid wrangling.

    The moral of this story is that sometimes the only way a partner gets it is when they have no choice but to get it, and getting it won’t necessarily happen if you are there for them to foist responsibilities onto. Seconding CA’s motion to habitually find somewhere else to be and for both LW’s to take care of yourselves first.

    • ona555 said:

      Second thought, I’m reminded of when my mom came to visit a few years ago and my stepdad told her not to cook a week’s worth of meals (from scratch) for him in advance because he could feed himself, so she didn’t, and only made a few nights worth of dinners. Two days into her visit with the grandkids he called her several times to complain that he’d eaten all the pre-made meals she’d made him already and had nothing left to eat but hot dogs. Mom was 2500 miles away, he had money and a vehicle, and the fridge had food in it, just food that needed to be cooked. What did he expect her to do about it? Rush back home and make him dinner? Mail him some frozen entrees? It boggles.

  20. I want to chime in here on the kids for LW 507:

    Something my in-laws had the hardest time realizing (but luckily Spouse did not!) is that *children have two parents*. If I had plans, I would let Spouse know and then let him make arrangements as he needed. I can’t tell you how many of my friends would say to me, “It’s so great that you can get Spouse to babysit!” Yeah, I’m not getting Spouse to babysit; he’s parenting.

    Funny how, when one partner is out for the night childcare arrangements are expected, but when it’s the other out for the night, well, ZOMFGoddess, it’s 2013 and Spouse is home with the kids?! Amazeballs!

    SO, LW507, what I’m trying to say here is that if Housemate is also one of the progenitors of these children, then there is a responsibility there. It’s called parenting, and you don’t have to ask permission for Housemate to step up. It’s expected. It’s a requirement. It’s part of twisting your DNA together into new and exciting shapes. Housemate isn’t *babysitting* the kids whilst you do your coursework; Housemate is parenting, because that’s what parents do.

    • FlyBy said:

      Yes, this. I grew up in a “two parent” household that was really a “one parent and one lump sitting in front of a screen” household. Watching a parent deliberately arrange things so they have as little to do with you as possible is damn painful. For us at least, it would have been much less harmful if that one had died when we were little – better some good memories and grief than a lifetime of bad memories and ongoing rejection.

      • To this day I’m seriously not close to my father because when I was a kid he left the house at 8am for work and didn’t get home until 7pm – later if he had a meeting. On the weekends he shut himself in his study. When we grew up, and he started working for himself, he tried more but since the only context we had was him as the mostly-absent disciplinarian what I assume is meant to be interest and helpful advice comes across as busybodying and controlling. I sort of feel bad about it, and about actively disliking him sometimes, but… I’m not the one who arranged that dynamic. We could have managed with a bit of a lower income.

        • Commander Banana said:

          Yup. My dad is a workaholic and I have very few memories of him from my childhood. We’ve become friends as adults but not really in a father/daughter context, and I have zip guilt about that. I wasn’t the one who chose to have children and then see them every couple weeks because things at work were ever so much more important.

        • Yep, this is my mum. And my god does it feel good to have someone else say it’s a reason they don’t feel close to their parent. Mum also filled the time she did have with us with emotional manipulation of the ‘I’m a terrible mother for working all day aren’t I’ form. Weirdly she stopped doing that when teenage me started replying yes.

        • anon said:

          I feel this way about my parents, too, and the thing is, my parents actually tried to run an equal household. They both taught night courses and so they arranged the schedule to have someone home every night, never both of them. They alternated who did shopping, and once the kids were old enough, we did vacuuming, lawn mowing, dishes, etc.

          My parents were still both abusive to each other and us kids, each in their own ways. My mom never really had time for me or cared about me at all. There was probably a space that exists in her head for $daughter, but it doesn’t match the person I am, and she never cared.

          And then a couple years ago, she told me she loved me and i just looked at her. And I think she’s trying to Be A Mom, but, you know? It’s too late. If you weren’t there for me, I’m sorry, but you don’t get to decide now that you’re suddenly ready. I don’t have to give you a second chance, because it’s not a second chance. It’s the millionth. We’re blood relatives, but you weren’t a mother to me when I needed you as a kid. I’m not required to let you try again now, at your convenience, when I’m an adult.

        • Erin said:

          … what I assume is meant to be interest and helpful advice comes across as busybodying and controlling.

          Oh thaaat, yes. When my father stepped up way too late (well, tried to), it was like “Why are you talking to me?” I didn’t have any respect for him though anyway because I don’t let someone who doesn’t do anything in the household tell me what I should do for the household.

    • PetPeever said:

      Babysit? BABYSIT?! Who says that??

      • ona555 said:

        My eldest’s biodad, for one. And damn near half the people at my last job who told me I should be so thankful I had a spouse who was willing to babysit while I worked.

      • I actually know a woman who would NOT leave her children home alone with her husband.

        Does not compute.

        • Yes, me too. I know a woman with two girls, aged 5 and 3, and their father has never been alone with them for more than an hour. They stay with their grandparents, but Dad can’t parent solo. Ever. It boggles my mind. My husband and I have meticulously (and consciously) equal amounts of solo time with our baby, and I know I would go trucknutz if it were any other way.

      • Aunt Vixen said:

        Oh man, a lot of people talk about dads babysitting their own children. It is infuriating.

        I believe it’s Carolyn Hax who so routinely encourages her LWs to think less in terms of asking their spouses to “help” with the kids, housework, whatever, because it is categorically not one person’s job with which the other is helping – it is BOTH PEOPLE’S JOB.

        • ordinarygoddess said:

          That’s the conceptual leap we’re working on at my house. My partner and young-adult offspring will fairly cheerfully do whatever I ask them to do, fulfill scheduled responsibilities if I decide who’s responsibility a thing is and when, from the Big Picture that I am expected to maintain in my head – effectively, will cheerfully respond to me DELEGATING MY RESPONSIBILITIES TO THEM. Which still makes it all my responsibility. Which is wrong. [insert feminist rant] They agree in principle, they seem to understand the words, but they haven’t fully internalized it, and implementation is sticky.

          I have variations on this conversation with The Kid every few weeks:
          “What will you do when it’s your own house?”
          “I’ll be responsible for it, so… I dunno, I guess, I’ll pull my act together and do what needs done?”
          “THIS IS YOUR OWN HOUSE.”
          “o.0….”

          • GirlBob said:

            Mmm, this is certainly true and it’s a problem in our house too… my mother often complains that she has to be in charge of everything, even if she doesn’t have to do it all, and she has a valid point. EXCEPT, if she doesn’t tell people what to do we get yelled at for not doing it the way she thinks we should have. So that means that it is safer for us to wait until she tells us to do stuff, because even though she occasionally gets cranky because she doesn’t like having to be the one in charge, at least it’s only occasionally as opposed to all the time.

          • ordinarygoddess said:

            (Trying to reply to GirlBob – let’s see if it nests correctly!)

            Yeah, that’s a dynamic I am well familiar with, and try to avoid. It’s hard. (See the “Field Marshall” subthread below; that is me, SPOT ON. It is a role I despise and resent but can’t seem to escape.) I’m a big fan of the Getting Things Done method in general (break down tasks into actions, get it out of brain and on paper, touch it once) and I try to just… make sure they always have access to all of that. (You don’t NEED me to tell you what chores need done today, you can log into Remember The Milk all by yourself.) It’s discouraging that I put so much effort into DOCUMENTING and SHARING that “silent” work, and they don’t express a lot of interest in taking advantage of that.

            I do praise and encourage initiative wherever I can, unhesitatingly and sincerely. Where I know I fall down is 1.) when I get frustrated by prioritization fails* and 2.) when I’m so behind/overwhelmed/facing a domestic deadline that I don’t know where to start, and the answer to “what do you need help with first?” is “I DON’T KNOW *FLAIL*”, so I just sort of wade in and get to work but everyone else stands around waiting for me to decide what they can do and I’m too damn busy to do that, just pick something for gods’ sake. Unfortunately, these two scenarios often intersect, and I get very frustrated. :-/

            *The kitchen needs cleaned and I will be home in half an hour and will want to cook dinner. Howabout tidying and cleaning counters first so I can start that, and hanging out with me while I cook and you wash dishes, instead of puttering at dishes for TWO HOURS before even looking at the counters, which WASTES MY TIME and puts us all in danger of being forced to grilled-cheese-and-canned-tomato-soup extremes?

        • I resent that framework too! As much as I resent all the discussion of parenting talking about moms moms moms. I keep trying to emphasize to my spouse that we both have full time jobs (I’m an academic with a more flexible schedule, so I do childcare 2.5 days a week during weekdays) and that it should not be default me who cares for our tiny chaos machine. I have to continually remind him that those 2.5 days a week are taking away from my full time job when I should be prepping courses, writing, researching, attending committee meetings. etc.

          I noticed that LW#2’s situation changed during maternity leave and I think that is fairly normal when a kid comes on the scene. When a family member who needs oversight and care 24/7 is added, it means that the household duties generally shuffle from where they were before offspring. But, that doesn’t mean that it has to stay constant in any one place. As AuntVixen says, it is BOTH people’s to keep your toddler alive and out of trouble and it is BOTH people’s responsibility to keep the house in whatever state it needs to be in.

          One of the solutions that has worked for us is to try and do 20-minute UFYH-style blitzes (without vacuums or noisy appliances) together when the kid is asleep. We each tell ourselves stories about how the other doesn’t do enough work for the family when we are in the midst of any given chore, so I find that it creates marital harmony to do chores simultaneously.

      • Cyberwulf said:

        A friend of mine says it, but I think with her it’s more a case of “this is my first baby and I’m the one who’s home all day with him and *ONLY I* know how he ticks and what will hush his cry-hole”. I think her husband would like to be more hands-on, actually.

    • Zillah said:

      Oh my god. The babysitting-father thing is the absolute worst. Parents can’t babysit their own children. That’s not how it works.

    • Zooey said:

      SO, LW507, what I’m trying to say here is that if Housemate is also one of the progenitors of these children, then there is a responsibility there.

      I’d go further and say that even if he’s not a biological parent, moving in with a partner who has children entails some parenting responsibilities, at least unless you have explicitly agreed otherwise. Hell, if I moved in with someone who was not my partner and their kids, I’d assume that I had some responsibility for the children, if only in the sense that I should stop them drinking bleach or whatnot.

  21. CL said:

    I’m wondering if the Awkward Army has opinions on how household tasks should be divided when one person works and the other doesn’t, or when one person works much longer hours than the other? In my family, my dad works full time. He works long hours, and he makes about 95% of the family income. My mother works part time, doing something she loves, for very little money. My dad’s expectation is that my mother should do 100% of the housework. So my mother does all of the cooking, and he just watches her clean up — or he’ll leave the room completely when he’s done eating.

    His point of view is that since he works full time, he shouldn’t have to do any of the housework — in his mind, he works, and she does the housework, and that’s a fair division of labor. When my mother and I have been busy in the kitchen, and have called him out for just sitting there watching us, his immediate, frustrated response is, “I pay for all of this!” And I do see that point to some degree. But my mother wants him to help her when he’s home, and I also see her point — when someone is doing almost 0% of the chores, not even cleaning up after himself, it feels disrespectful to her. And so I see her side as well.

    So I guess my question is, when one person doesn’t work at all, or works a lot less, does it make sense for that person to do all of the housework? Or should the household tasks still be shared equally even when work and money-earning are not equal?

    • My partner has been out of work for a long time due to this stupid recession. As a result I earn 100% of our income. But he probably does about 75% of our total housework. There are still some jobs that are mine, and I take responsibility for cleaning up my spaces and doing my own laundry. And I do most of the long term planning type stuff.

      There was a time when my mom was a SAHM. She did everything, including things that were patently absurd. My father would read his mail and the papers every night, in the living room and leave a huge pile of stuff he didn’t want or was done with on the floor. And then she would pick it up in the morning.

      One of our biggest fights was while mom was in the hospital. I came home to visit, and i was watching TV, and he came home started yelling at me for not picking up all his newspapers off the damned floor.

      I still didn’t pick up his newspapers off the floor. I told him that if he didn’t want newspapers on the floor he should try not leaving them there.

      So I guess what I’m saying is that I think working people should still have some responsibility for themselves. Otherwise when shit hits the fan they’ll be standing there going “Well why hasn’t anyone done the laundry or the dishes?” But I don’t think it’s fair for someone to be working 40 hours while someone else works 20, and then expect them to do a full half of the housework.

      • Muddie Mae said:

        Ugh, your father’s newspaper thing is one of my biggest pet peeves. Ex tended to leave a trail of detritus throughout the house. It wasn’t such a big deal when we were in a too-small place and it was constantly messy because they’re wasn’t enough room. But when we moved to a bigger place and his life calmed down, and he still couldn’t be arsed to put his dirty socks in the laundry basket and trash in the trash can, I realized I can’t stand people who don’t deal with that minor stuff immediately.

        • It’s a good thing we don’t live together! I’m so bad about that. The trail leaving is so my thing.

          But, I totally acknowledge it and do not expect to be cleaned up after, mostly I expect to be yelled at, which also never happens. I’m trying to get better, but putting stuff away is just not part of my normal mental process, which I’m sure is enraging.

          • Muddie Mae said:

            For sure. It took me a long time to develop the habit of tidying as I go, and honestly it also helped when I got a nice apartment that I actually liked. Suddenly there seemed to be more of a point to keeping it mostly neat. A friend of mine from high school occasionally laughs about my apartment now versus my bedroom in high school, which was very hoarder-y.

          • Bibliophilian said:

            Another perpetual trail-leaver here! I’ve actually been pretty good about it in my current living arrangement, for a couple reasons.

            1) This is the first time I’m living with an SO, and he is happier when the place is cleaner.
            2) One of our roommates is (way) worse than I am, and I try to make an effort to be not-as-bad-as-her.
            3) We have the entryway set up with a: coat-rack right by front door, where my purse and jackets go; shoe-rack 1 step past coat-rack.

            I still have slip-ups occasionally, but especially step 3 has made a huge dent in the trails I leave

          • Emmers said:

            I think the attitude/entitlement is what makes all of this so enraging. Lacking that, you’re more or less okay – or if not okay, at least not awful.

            Also, +1 for coat and shoe rack. That makes things WAY easier for me (the messy one), because when I’ve got hands full of $stuff I need to put my coat down right now, in a way that uses only one hand.

            Really, I’m big on Things having a Forever Home and for that Forever Home to be convenient and in a place close to where the Things are used. So, e.g., shoes go on the shoe rack; out-of-season shoes go in a shoe bag in the front hall closet, and are swapped in when the weather requires. Likewise with jackets and whatnot.

      • helenhuntingdon said:

        Making a mess that someone else has to clean up after you, or that you expect them to clean up after you, is an act of aggression. As your father so beautifully illustrated with the newspapers.

        • Exactly!

          Your comments on this thread have been awesome, by the way.

    • I really don’t think that earning the bulk of the household income entitles someone to do no work around the house, especially if the person who IS doing that work is frustrated by the arrangement. I also don’t see how saying “I pay for all of this!” is at all a loving or respectful thing to say to a partner.

      Now, I say this as someone who makes significantly less than my partner, so maybe I’m projecting a bit here. I do most of the housework and am ok with that – but if I did ALL of it, especially if my partner made a point of not doing any just because they made more money, I would be really unhappy with that situation.

      That doesn’t mean that chores need to be divided completely equally, or 5%/95%, but that it isn’t helpful to just assume that someone should do particular tasks just because they aren’t making as much money outside of the house.

      • Florian said:

        It is not just about the money, but also about that in that situation one partner spends much more hours working for money than the other (part-time, unemployed, etc) partner.

      • Erin said:

        The argument with the money is utter bullshit b/c what if both people work the same hours, but the one person (likely the woman in a heterosexual realtionship because hello, sexism) gets paid siginificantly less? The person making less is still exhausted. If you pay the person because cleaning is their job, this argument makes sense (even though it still sounds oddly abusive), but if you are in a relationship, should you be able to buy rights based on your income? Hell no.

        • Yes, exactly! I’ve had similar conversations w/my partner; even when we both worked full-time and had the same hours, I made maybe 1/3 of what they did, because they write code and I was managing a business at the time. I used to feel a lot of guilt for not contributing as much, financially, and they’d say “look, you’re working as hard as I am, just because you’re in an industry that pays you less doesn’t mean your work doesn’t count.”

          Certainly when I think about really physically exhausting work, much of that isn’t paid as well as jobs where someone’s sitting in a climate-controlled office all day. Sure, challenging work is tiring whether you’re being challenged physically or mentally, but it doesn’t excuse anyone from doing work around the home.

    • Ros said:

      The way it’s worked for my family (my mom and dad, and now my husband and I) is a two-pronged understanding:
      – There is X amount of total work to do (outside of home, housework, schoolwork, childcare or petcare if needed, etc – sum total of all work to do) and we each gotta do half of X. So, whoever is less busy that day/week picks up the slack.
      – It’s not fair for one person to sit down and relax at the end of the day while the other is working. Granted, this presupposes that all partners have been working all day (no 3-hour break with friend mid-afternoon), but, in our situation, that means that we’re both a hell of a lot less resentful that The Partner is sitting down in front of video games while we’re still folding the f*ing laundry. Basically, this ensures that both partners get a fair crack at the Y amount of “free” time that can be spread around. :)

      So, basically: if one person is at home more, I think it’s fair that they do more housework. However, “more” doesn’t mean “all”…

    • commanderlogic said:

      When I was heavily pregnant, I worked from home for the last few weeks. Since I was at home, I did most of the housekeeping, and it was fine. But after about a week I said to Mr. Logic, out loud with words, that I could not possibly deal with much more than this. That Work is one job, Household is one job, and Baby is one job, and I can’t do more than 1.5 jobs at once, and I wouldn’t expect him to do more than 1.5 jobs either.

      So it’s kind of mathed out to where we both work from home part of the week and are responsible for some Household jobbing during that time (Baby is at daycare during the day). We also worked out that if one of us ended up staying home with WeeLogic, that would be considered a full job, and no more than .5 of Household would be expected. Just like with our “real” jobs.

      Even our handling of WeeLogic has become more equitable as she’s become less dependent on me specifically (BOOBS!) – I still have to get up at 6AM every day for her first feeding, but Mr. Logic is in charge of the bedtime routine. I’m pretty much 100% in charge of baby laundry, but he’s taken point on making baby food.

      We also check in with each other once a week, family meeting style per this amazing Offbeat Life post: http://offbeathome.com/2013/05/family-meetings

      It’s working for us!

    • Sarabeth said:

      One metric I think can work well is that both partners should end up with an equal amount of free time. So maybe one partner is working outside the home 40 hours a week, and the other is working outside the home 20 hours a week plus doing 20 hours of housework. They both end up with the same amount of free time. Of course, the division between “free time” and “work time” isn’t always clear, as in the case of your mom’s work (which sounds like it’s something she does more for passion than for money, and would be doing in her “free time” anyway). But it’s one way to approach the issue.

      • Laura said:

        Really like this. It’s almost impossible to assign monetary value to these tasks, so free time seems like the best, if not only, starting place. (Or even jobs that do have monetary value, being paid more to do it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll make it more difficult for you to do housework.)

        That said, in certain cases I would factor in tiredness from a certain task or job as something that decreases free time – like, quality of the time spent working/free is also important, so if you love cooking and have a job that’s emotionally fulfilling and physically undemanding, you can spend a little more of your time on cooking while your partner recovers from their miserable 2-hour commute or whatever. But that kind of evaluation and negotiation really depends on everyone being honest and approaching things fully ready to do their fair share

        • Especially since work that women gravitate to (eg caring professions) earn less than male dominated jobs (eg finance) despite often arguably being more important. Apparently we just won a landmark equal pay case in my country yesterday where just that point was at the centre of it, though while I’ve downloaded the judgment I haven’t read it yet.

      • Badger Rose said:

        I love the idea of framing it as each partner deserving similar amounts of free time.

        This can also be a useful countermeasure against the problem of “I handle meals and he takes out the trash,” where each one can be framed as one task but in reality taking out the trash takes five minutes and ‘meals’ takes an hour. If you’re looking at it in terms of how it cuts into free time, as opposed to how it tallies up on an abstract list-o-chores, it’s harder to paint them as equivalent.

      • Sarabeth, focussing on ‘free time’ rather than ‘stuff done’ cuts right into what has been irritating me so much about my home situation. I work full time and my partner is home full time, and yet I find myself after work doings things like dishes and vacuuming and changing the cat litter and cleaning the toilet, especially in marathon cleans before visitors. I haven’t been able to actually put it into words before now, but I’m getting angry not because I’m bringing in 95% of the income, not because I have to contribute around the house, but because I seem to have 5% of the free time he has, and free time is so, so precious to me.
        I’m more than happy to help around the house, when I’m in the right mood I actually like cleaning (instant reward for effort? YAY!) but having to sacrifice my valuable beloved free time when I have 5 games and 3 art projects I’d rather be working on sucks bigtime. I think I’ll try to have a chat to my partner, now that I actually understand what my issue with it is. Thank you!

    • HA2 said:

      Speaking off the cuff, it seems like it would be reasonable to expect that the person who works X hours less to spend those X hours on housework/chores. If that isn’t enough to cover everything that needs to be done, then it makes sense for the rest should be divided evenly.

      • JenniferP said:

        I like Sarabeths’s similar suggestion of working back from equal amounts of free time.

    • Z said:

      I’m working full-time at the moment and partner isn’t. So he’s picking up the slack — he takes out the trash, he tends to cook dinner, and I haven’t done the laundry in ages. BUT the way I think of it is, I still need to pitch in because it is our home and we have a shared responsibility for it. If I were single and working FT I’d still have to clean up my own house, or pay someone to clean it for me, so I don’t think it’s fair if I just abdicate all responsibility for housework just because I currently earn 100% of our household income. I always do the dishes if he’s done the cooking, I cook in the weekends if we’re not eating out, and when we do our big clean (which happens on fortnightly/monthly basis) we do it together. You need to be a team. I don’t think your dad is doing that.

    • Zillah said:

      Two thoughts.

      1) Household tasks should be divided up in a way that doesn’t leave either person feeling exhausted, and where the person doing more of the chores doesn’t feel taken advantage of.

      2) One person should never be responsible for doing 100% of the housework.

      I think that housework isn’t just about overall division of work – it’s about being part of a household. Yes, division of labor differs based on circumstances, but if one person is responsible for doing 100% of the housework, then the other person will probably stop understanding that it is work, and they’ll be a lot more unwilling to pick any of it up when the situation does change.

      • Zillah said:

        Also, it turns the partner doing the housework into a maid. I’m opposed to that. If you want a maid, get a goddamn maid. If you want a partner, treat them like a partner.

      • Commander Banana said:

        Exactly – if you live in a house, unless you hover off the floor a few inches at all times, never shower, eat, cook, or wear clothing, you are generating messes that need to be cleaned. There’s a difference between cleaning shared messes, IMHO – the dinner we ate together – and cleaning up AFTER another person, i.e., their laundry. That would really fucking cheese me off.

    • neenerini said:

      I’m a stay-at-home parent of 2 and my spouse works full time (40 hours a week) and earns 100% of the money, so we have dealt with this very situation, only more extreme I suppose because I don’t earn income at all. I do most of the household chores and most of the childcare. Spouse does the chores I hate (bathrooms, catbox, taking out the trash) and the childcare when he is home, plus he washes dishes because I cook. This works pretty well for us as an equitable division of labor.

      I think it’s easy to get into the mindset of “well, I do all the work outside the home, so partner should all the work inside the home” because…sounds even, right? Except, running a household isn’t a 40 hour/week job. It’s a 168 hour/week job. The work of a household doesn’t just take place from 9-5 and then it’s done. It’s a constant round of things that need to get done. Earning the money that enables a household to run does not, in my opinion, absolve a person of helping with the rest of the work that enables a household to run.

      So, I would say that while it does make sense for the person at home to do more of the housework, it does not make sense for one person to work 168 hours/week while the other gets to sit back and abdicate all responsibility after 40 hours/week. Household tasks being “shared equally” is going to look different for each household, of course, but a good metric is “is each person satisfied with the division?” If the answer is no, some reallocation should be going on.

    • I can’t really speak to this from a partner/relationship angle, but I lived with my parents after graduation for a while (they worked, I was unemployed) and we made it work thusly: Parents went off to work. While at home, I watched TV, futzed around on the internet, and did maintenance stuff that needed doing: sweeping, mopping, trash, etc. 2-3 nights a week, I would make dinner, or lend a hand. Parents did things like laundry, or working in the garden. Based as the system was in mutual respect and a sense of “Hey! Let’s keep this a nice place to live–together!”, it all worked swimmingly. Also, I will add that this whole thing is super-timely, because I am currently beginning to renegotiate the whole housecleaning thing with my roommates. Thanks, Army!

    • CL said:

      Thanks for the thoughtful responses, everyone. Since this isn’t my marriage I mostly just stay out of it (other than gently supporting my mom when she talks to me about it), but I think about this a lot since it’s the model I had growing up. I sympathize with both of their perspectives, especially since their expectations are strongly influenced by what they were taught about gender roles growing up. I think it’s right for the person who doesn’t work as much to do more housework, but I also think that it’s important for the other person to pick up after himself, and to pitch in with things like washing dishes out of respect — and because arrangements where one person makes 100% of the money and one does 100% of the housework, even when they are an equal exchange of labor hours, are disempowering to the person who does the housework.

    • Just Plain Neddy said:

      This will probably vary from one household to the next and people will need to negotiate what works for them. However, even if one person is doing a lot of paid work and isn’t around much, I think it’s probably best that they have some kind of regular household work just to keep them connected to the process of household management. It might not take all that much in terms of time or energy, but it helps to avoid people coming to see their own house as a hotel and the other people who live there as staff. If all it is is taking their place on the toilet cleaning rota and loading up recyclables and taking them to the bottle bank once a week that may be enough. Likewise it’s a really useful thing for children to have some kind of consistent, regular chores that they’re expected to do – even if the parents would be able to perform these better and more quickly by just doing them themselves. It helps when people feel that they have a stake in the upkeep of their living environment.

    • E. said:

      My general view is that the people in the relationship have to work it out for themselves based on their own needs and circumstances, but that earning all/most of the income doesn’t in and of itself constitute a pass on housework. As someone noted in comments further up, a lot of “housework” is really about the day-to-day work of maintaining one’s physical surroundings, and since this something that every human being needs, it’s something that every human being needs to have a part in doing. Bringing income to a household is certainly valuable, and people in a particular situation might give more weight to it based on the particulars of their circumstance; but I don’t believe it should be the only factor that determines who takes on chores.

      Husband & I did the conversations about chore expectations and divisions of labor well before we even moved in together (having each learned from hard experience in prior relationships what happens if one doesn’t do that), so we had a base from which to work in terms of who does what, who needs what, and how we might make adjustments in changed circumstances, and that carried us well the first several years of our relationship when we were both employed (and each often working extremely long hours at our jobs or career-supporting activities such as school and volunteering). That discussion and negotiation about needs and expectations really is absolutely critical to making a household run smoothly, I think.

      Currently husband has a job in which he works full-time, with sometimes-odd and unpredictable hours, whereas I didn’t have a job at all for two years (partly due to circumstances, partly due to some health stuff that limits my physical abilities and energy) and then took a seasonal part-time job that has further effects on the health/energy things as well as time. When I wasn’t employed, I made efforts to pick up more of the housework than I had previously, since I had more time available, but the health stuff would sometimes limit how much I was capable of; I tried to be honest with both him and myself about where I couldn’t keep up, and we were able to prioritize what I should focus on when I wasn’t up to all of it. When I started the job and it became clear that it was having further impact on my time and energy, husband made a decision that he would take on more of the cooking, because he felt that it was something he generally had more brain space and energy to do, and I’m bringing in some income which offset the reduction in my housework availability; he feels that this is a reasonable equation under current circumstances and is okay with it. And when the circumstances of any individual day don’t allow for our usual routine (such as when he unexpectedly has to work late or go out of town), we both recognize that we’re on our own for some things and that one of us might have to step up to a task we don’t usually do, and can be okay with it.

      I’m still not entirely comfortable with not being as physically capable as I once was, but because we have this foundation of discussion and understanding, I can recognize that I do still provide value to our partnership and household, and that when my current job is done we’ll revisit and revise our division of labor so we’re both still comfortable with it. Neither of us thinks that income in and of itself relegates either person to specific roles or excuses either person from contributing to the work of the household; we’ve simply put in effort to find equations that make the circumstances acceptable to both of us.

    • Cerberus said:

      My parents are in the same situation as regards working hours and relative income, plus Papa has to travel all over the country, though when he’s not travelling his work is often done at home, which helps.

      But he still does stuff around the house! Not much compared to Maman, who’s a housewife and does some private music tuition a couple of afternoons a week, but he cooks about half the time (which he enjoys) and loads the dishwasher about half the time. We have our groceries delivered, but if we need something in the middle of the week he’ll go to the supermarket without complaint. He helped with my childcare as much as he could quite happily (see: photo of him with tiny!me, a bottle and an adoring expression). Maman takes care of the other chores, particularly cleaning – which he could probably never do to her exacting standards anyway, to be fair – but he’s dealt with the laundry when both Maman and I were too ill to do it perfectly adequately and without complaint. He’s not a neat freak like Maman, but aside from some crumbs, he keeps the rooms he uses most – the study and the library – reasonably neat and clean. Now, considering that he earns 95% of the money, he could theoretically do as your father does and wash his hands of the housework – but he doesn’t, because it’s not a big deal to him to help out when he can and because he’s not a wanker.

      So, no, the housework split clearly doesn’t have to be 50/50 for both parties to be happy. But one person not doing any of the housework ever, even when they’ve nothing better to do and they’ve been asked to lend a hand is not showing a good-faith effort and is, frankly, being something of a tit.

    • Rose Fox said:

      So I guess my question is, when one person doesn’t work at all, or works a lot less, does it make sense for that person to do all of the housework? Or should the household tasks still be shared equally even when work and money-earning are not equal?

      What makes sense is what leaves everyone involved equally satisfied and non-exhausted.

      In my household of three adults, the one who makes the most money (as in, about as much as the other two of us put together) is also the one who does the bulk of the cooking during the week, because he gets home earlier than I do and my other partner doesn’t cook. Going from work to shopping to cooking wears him out, so we recently got an upright freezer, and now he and I cook on the weekends and fill the fridge and freezer so we can eat leftovers on some weeknights and he’s less exhausted. We would have done exactly the same thing if he made half as much money as I do. Everyone in the household contributed equally to the cost of the freezer. We went with the original arrangement because it was the most practical one; when there was an untenable cost to all of us–because we don’t enjoy eating dinner with someone who’s practically falling asleep in his food–we all collaborated on changing the “What is most practical” equation. If only two of us had been able to afford to contribute to the freezer, then those two would have bought it and the third person would have contributed in other ways, such as researching good recipes for freezer cooking or sources for bulk ingredients.

      I think all of this comes down to whether your household is capitalist or communist. The three of us have decided that we don’t like transactional relationships, so we’ve got a communist household where we contribute as much as we can in our various ways and support one another as best we can. We trust one another to be more caring than lazy. (We are all still lazy, don’t get me wrong. But as long as the caring outweighs that, we’re good.) We speak up when we feel maxed out or not cared for. It works pretty well.

      I have never lived in a happy, functional capitalist household where a person who makes a lot of money could basically buy the labor of another household member. I suppose it’s possible for that to work, if the laboring person feels they’re getting well paid and enjoys the labor, but I certainly can’t see it working out well if there’s any element of coercion or substantial dissatisfaction.

      That’s separate from how completely rude it is to watch someone work their ass off for you and not say a word of thanks. If you’re hiring your spouse to cook and clean for you, the least you can do is treat them as well as you treat a waiter in a restaurant, the plumber who fixes a leak in your house, or anyone else you pay for their labor.

  22. I am 100% behind the idea that talking about household chores/tasks is VITAL for any partners deciding to live together. It’s also a good idea to re-evaluate how things work, if circumstances change.

    At one point, my partner and I had similar work schedules; we got home around the same time every day. We usually made dinner together, as we both enjoy cooking and had fun doing it together. After a move a few years back, I had a job that got me home later by at least an hour most nights; at that point, my partner would often make or start dinner before I came home. And that was nice too, although I missed cooking as often.

    After a year at that shitty job, I quit. Not only am I working from home now, my work and volunteering don’t quite add up to full-time. So I’m doing most of the meal-planning, grocery shopping, and cooking, as well as other chores and errands. And for the most part, I enjoy it; I love making food and meal planning (and if I get stuck in a rut and make a lot of Huge Salads and okonomiyaki, they never mind). But one of the reasons I like it is that I KNOW that if I said “I don’t want to cook today, can we eat out or can you help me once you get home from work?” or “I’d like us to do the grocery shopping on weekends when we can both go, from now on” my partner would agree, or at least sit down and work things out with me.

    Several years back we agreed to trade off days scooping the cat litter boxes, but it kept happening that my partner wouldn’t remember, most of the time. I felt like I was nagging ALL THE TIME about something that should have been trivial. I suggested setting a phone alarm! I pointed out that the litter box was within sight when they walked into the office every morning! I even said, point-blank, “when you do not do this thing I’ve asked you to do multiple times, even after you’ve agreed to do it and you know how frustrating it is for me, I can only assume that my frustration and hurt feelings don’t matter to you.” And nothing worked. So I became this huge, seething ball of resentment, angry not only at my partner but at myself for getting worked up over a small chore that shouldn’t have been a big deal. I can kind of look back on my RAGE-FILLED poop-scooping and laugh a little, but it was pretty terrible.

    Fairly recently, we had a similar conflict about dishwashing. We’ve moved to a city where dishwashers in rental properties aren’t common. I don’t enjoy it, and while I’ll often take care of it, that’s one chore I really want to divide between us. There were several days when my partner had either volunteered to wash dishes or had been asked to and agreed, but didn’t do it before heading to work in the morning, which meant I had a huge stack of dishes to wash before I could make dinner and build up MORE dishes in the sink.
    I am not good at conflict or pushing an issue, but when I hit the point where I’d just assume that they wouldn’t be washed from the moment I made the request, I knew things were pretty messed up and called them out on it. And this time, things changed! It took a while for me to trust that my partner would actually do a chore they said they’d do, but I feel like it’s easier for me to ask them for help now and I have a lot more confidence that it’ll happen.

    • Whitney S. said:

      I totally get this whole feeling of “When I ask you to do something b/c it’s important to me, and you still don’t do it, if feels like an emotional slap to the face…the ultimate sign of disrespect.” B/c it’s not about the dishes or the cat poop.

      I’ve had this conversation millions of times. My fella will cook up a delish storm every night, but forget about cleaning anything (kitchen, dusting, sweeping, laundry, bathroom). He doesn’t like doing it and it’s not a priority. He doesn’t even notice it.

      I reframed it this way. In order for me to be happy and functioning, I have a certain level of cleanliness to maintain. Now, this level isn’t even the happiest level. This is functioning level. In order for me to live with you (which you like), we HAVE TO maintain this otherwise this won’t work. I know you love me, and you want me to be comfortable in my own home without killing myself. Here are a list of the things that need to be done and how often. Now…pick half. Awesome. Now when are we going to do this (usually pick a half day that works for both of us to knock it out).

      Concreteness really helps. So does some standard level mutual respect. If you ain’t got respect though, nothing is going to change. I think it also helps that I’m visible more relaxed and happy once our place gets under control. Now he volunteers to do some of my crazier projects, like scrubbing the gunky ceiling fan in the kitchen.

    • Mary said:

      >>“when you do not do this thing I’ve asked you to do multiple times, even after you’ve agreed to do it and you know how frustrating it is for me, I can only assume that my frustration and hurt feelings don’t matter to you.”

      Absolutely, and I am really glad that the Captain used the word contempt for it.

      I actively avoid discussions about household division of labour with most of my straight female friends because the way they talk about it sounds to me like living with abuse, and it makes me so angry with their partners that I lose all respect for them. It is NOT a trivial thing when the person who is supposed to be your partner in life is repeatedly showing their contempt for your love, your time, your energy, your company, your right to spend your free time on pleasurable things and your desire to live in a functioning home.

      Those awful conversations where two or three women pitch in with stories about how impossible it is to get their boyfriends or husbands to do a fair share of the housework and childcare and it ends with a resigned laugh about how this is just life. To me, it is not the same as but it is on the same scale as a conversation which normalises being hit by your partner, or repeatedly cheated on and lied to. It is incredibly cruel when your partner professes to love you by repeatedly shows you in their words and actions that You. Don’t. Matter. It has exactly the same effects on your self-worth.

      Same-sex relationships aren’t perfect at splitting chores by ANY means, but the absence of heavily socialised gender expectations does mean that mismatches are more likely to be recognised as problems, and there’s less social pressure to just live with it (though I also know couples who were managing that very well until they have kids or there was a big change in incomes, at which point some “gender” expectations kick in about what each person’s expected contribution should be.) But because men are men and women are women, there is this social blind spot about the level of contempt and manipulation some men employ to avoid taking their fair share of house-managing. It’s completely shite.

      • Rose Fox said:

        When my partner X moved in with me and my partner J, we had a very awkward conversation a few months in where X said, “Wow, R, it looks like you do an awful lot of things for J, in a way that looks uncomfortably like the classic male/female dynamic. It looks like him taking advantage of you. I really don’t like that.”

        So I sat down and had a long hard think about it, and finally I said, “You know what, I’m actually pretty comfortable with it. J and I have eight years of living together under our belts, and there was a long stretch when he did basically everything around the house because I was working to support us both, and battling depression, and unable to contribute to the housework at all. Now he’s working and we’re a lot more financially stable, and I’m glad to do things for him out of gratitude for those years of him being house-husband; and I’m no longer depressed, and I really enjoy being able to do so much more than I used to be able to. So to some extent I’m going to need you to accept this as something like a kink dynamic–right now I do service-y things for him, and it’s healthy and consensual, even though it looks a lot like an unhealthy skewed dynamic.” And X nodded and put effort into accepting that, because adults get to decide what sort of relationships they want.

        But I also kept an eye on myself to see whether I was occasionally feeling irritation over doing chores and then shoving it down in the name of not being a nag or being fussy. And whenever I caught a bit of that, I’d bring it to J. It turned out I was happy to load the dishwasher every night, but I rolled my eyes every time I moved his shoes out of the living room and onto the shoe rack, so I asked him to start putting his own shoes away. I didn’t mind being a better “noticer” than he is, but I asked him to get in the habit of doing things every day or otherwise on a schedule so they got done without relying on me noticing that they needed doing. Because adults get to decide what sort of relationships they want, and that means sometimes actually asking yourself “What do I want?” and seeing whether it’s different from what you have, rather than just falling into the groove that society has worn for you.

        (J responded awesomely, I hasten to add. Yay for guys who fight the patriarchy.)

    • Guava said:

      Seriously. My kitty-litter trigger is when I’ve cooked a meal for my husband and kids, set a nice table, and then, after eating, he gets up and LEAVES HIS DIRTY PLATE AT THE TABLE.

      I fucking hate this, and every single time it sends me into a quaking rage.

      My husband has really bad ADHD, and he says he isn’t doing this on purpose, and many, many times he does bring his plate to the sink – and then washes it – and then “forgets” to help me bring the rest of the plates because hey, he washed his. But still, he is a grown man. And nothing says, “you’re the maid!” like eating a meal that someone else prepared for you, and then leaving your fucking plate for them while you go do something else.

      The only thing that really works is for me to get up from the table and leave everything there, and then just go into the other room and plonk down on the couch. Eventually he’ll go back in and clean the place up.

      Oh – and the best part? I love watching him get so mad when his family comes to visit, and they do the same thing to him.

  23. PBnoJ said:

    I don’t have kids and I know that kids are not the issue here, but the drastic measure of going on strike might be of interest to commenters and readers:

    http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/10/11/setting-them-up-for-failure-calgary-mom-tired-of-cleaning-after-messy-kids-goes-on-strike/

    Not to ignore the larger issues of spouse vs. kids in Not Doing A Fair Share (LWs, I feel for you, I think CA’s advice is spot-on) but I found her blog howlingly funny. http://strikingmom.blogspot.ca/2012/10/monday-october-1st-2012-striking.html

    • Katamari said:

      That strike blog is hilarious! My mum used to threaten to go on strike all the time. As far as I remember, it never happened. I’m guessing she probably tried a few times and then snapped after half a day. :)

    • Pterinochilus murinus said:

      “Mothers are especially guilty of hogging responsibility in busy households because”

      At this point I ragequit reading that article. FLAMES. FLAMES ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE.

  24. Bunny said:

    Heh, we’ve got a sort-of almost issue like this, but not quite. I wonder if what I do might possibly help the second LW… probably not the first, though. Simply because I think LW2’s spouse is avoiding not just the housework, but THINKING about the housework. OH and I both have some mental health issues, and there was a period of about 3 years during which we were both bad enough at life that we lived in squalor. Now we’re mentally much better, but the level of housework we had to deal with to get things to rights felt too much, and it was easier to ignore it, pretend it wasn’t there, put it off until we almost seem to have forgotten HOW to take care of a house.

    Anyway, we’ve been getting back motivation and the will to work… but I got it back before OH did, and got it back more. It wasn’t that they were unwilling to work or didn’t care, but that we’d tried to many times to get things back in order to no success, and it felt overwhelming. Again, so easy to not see it, to forget how much work goes into keeping a house.

    So when I started doing regular housework again, I made a point to talk about it openly. I’d make myself a list of jobs I wanted done that day and would TELL OH as I was writing it that “I’m just putting together a list of chores for the day.” Each time I got up to do a job, I’d announce it. “I’m going to go do the dishes now.” “I’ve finished the dishes, now I’m going to try and clear through some of the rubbish in the bedroom.”, so they were always aware of just how much work I was putting into the day and what it took. I also made a point to praise myself out loud. “I worked hard today! I got some studying done, did two loads of laundry and put them out, changed the cat litter and washed down all the kitchen surfaces.” and involving my OH in the discussion. “All I need to do now is empty the bin, take all the bags of refuse outside and put the laundry away.” “I’m out of jobs, what do you think needs doing next?”. I never said it in a way that was like I was poking fun at their laziness or to make them feel guilty, it was just me talking about what I was doing and expressing pride in myself.

    Things happened. First, my OH tried to support my work by praising my hard work, reminding me to take breaks and bringing me coffee during them. Then, they started responding to my commentary and getting involved: “All I need to do now is put the laundry away and change the bins!” “I can do those things, why don’t you finish up the dishes instead?” or “What should I do next?” “I think the bedroom needs a quick tidy up, I’ll help”. Recently they’ve started getting up on their own when they see me doing something and asking what work needs doing if they aren’t sure, or suggesting jobs they could do or help with unasked.

    Your life partner is hiding in another room away from everything that needs to be done. This is easy for them, not only because you’ll do it, but because they don’t have to see, think or be aware of how much you’re actually doing or how much needs to be done. For my partner, relearning how to think about housework and becoming aware of how much work was being done each day was all it took for them to get involved, because fundamentally they do care about me and my needs, they just felt overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start, and being given specific jobs by me unasked felt like being given chores by a nagging parent. Given that your partner stated “we both know it won’t change”, YMMV whether this is a viable strategy, but I figured it was worth just sharing what worked for me.

    • This is an awesome suggestion that has totally worked on my lazy ass.

    • staranise said:

      I really like this suggestion! A lot of the work of housework is mental work–deciding what needs to be done, when. Doing the work aloud not only lets the other person know about the tasks, but lets them learn how to do the mental work of deciding when to do them.

      • Bunny said:

        It helped that I was (and still am) relearning all that stuff myself! So not only was I improving my own skills and relearning how to think about housework habitually, I was demonstrating that even really crappy, inadequate cleaning and planning makes a difference! Heh… it also left lots of openings for him to respond “no, it’d make more sense/be easier/be quicker to do X job now and Y job later” or similar.

        We’re still working on it, of course. This week’s reason to celebrate – I got the (previously inaccessible) computer room to an almost-done state, until the next thing that needed to be done before the floor could be cleaned was getting behind the semi-collapsed desks to clean the stuff that had fallen back there.

        OH not only identified that this was the next job that needed doing, but told me not to start it without them as they didn’t want me moving broken furniture taller than me by myself, proceeded to help me dismantle and move said furniture the next day and did the cleaning-behind-them work by themselves, unprompted. And today! Today while I sorted out the recycling, they scrubbed the toilet and changed the cat litter completely independently, unasked, when I hadn’t even mentioned those being things that needed doing!

        I’m making a point to thank them every time they do something – I know it’s not “necessary”, but I think it’s important to do. Also, we’ve both cultivated a habit of expressing gratitude to each other for even tiny things, as a means of keeping the relationship happy. Every glass of water, cup of tea, sandwich, small chore one of us does for the other gets a thank you and some sort of loving physical contact, whether it’s just a hand touch or forehead kiss,

    • MamaCheshire said:

      This is so, so helpful. Thank you!

    • Badger Rose said:

      I love this. I have done something very similar–not so much because my partner skives off on chores (although sometimes that does happen) but becuase it’s hard to restart stuff when we both get hit by the depression bat.

      And it makes a huge difference to say, “Today I’m going to clean the fridge and unload the dishwasher!” And then later I say, “I cleaned the fridge and unloaded the dishwasher! I’m a rock star!” and my partner says, “You ARE a rock star!” And then as often as not he’ll actually say, “I’ll unload the dishwasher so you don’t have to do that.” And then I call him a rock star.

      (I realize that for some people, the praise-for-basic-baseline-tasks thing is condescending and/or reinforces negative perceptions, and I respect that for them. But for us, it is both mutual and positive, so we do it.)

      For some reason, acknowledging these plans out loud, and then acknowledging that they’ve been done out loud, makes a huge difference.

      • Bunny said:

        Total rockstars, both of you!

  25. DameB said:

    So, I am an insane foodie/cook/locavore. I cook three meals a day from scratch for my family. Everything from scratch. I make my own bread, my own cheese, my own sausage, I make my own *mustard*. I am that insane person. I do this for many many many reasons, most of which is that I *love* cooking. It makes me feel happy and fulfilled and clever. (I love eating, too.)

    And *I* don’t cook every dinner. We have a set day for going out to eat every week and sometimes I’m just too damned something to cook and we order take-out from Wang’s or get pizza.

    My honey, wonderful man though he is, can’t cook a lick. Is befuddled by the kitchen. Seriously, if he’s hungry and goes into the kitchen and there isn’t something obvious (like, fruit in a bowl on the counter), he comes back out and sits down to work on the computer and just goes hungry rather than even rummage.

    And yet, on those days when I’ve got tickets to a lecture or I’ve got headache or I just don’t want to, I can say to him, “Honey, you must feed the child tonight.” And he DOES. It’s not, you know, the best food ever. But it’s whole wheat pasta with jarred sauce and a tossed salad out of a bag.

    Not to mention that he does about half the shopping.

    LW #506, I say this all as back-up to what the Genius Captain has said. It’s entirely reasonable for you to ask Spouse to fend for themself (themselves? zirself?) sometimes. In fact, as that insane person who makes every damned thing from scratch, I think it’s entirely *unreasonable* for Spouse to insist you do all the cooking. Cooking, even when you love it, is a chore and a drudge sometimes. If you don’t love it, it’s always a miserable drudge. There’s a reason that women pounced on convenience food when it came out.

    • Bunny said:

      Yes this! My OH is so bad at the cooking. They didn’t grow up in a household that valued contributions from kids so was never involved with or taught cooking, and our kitchen is too small for me to teach them in.

      But when I spend a few days visiting family, they don’t starve. They might eat simple, boring food, but if there is a bag of frozen veg in the freezer, some chicken portions in the fridge and a bag of rice or pasta in the cupboard they manage to consume food every day I’m gone.

    • I’m more of a baker than a cook but oh I love baking from scratch so I just want to enthuse for a moment :P I don’t do my own cheese though – bread and pizza bases are the things people most go “woah” about and at some point I’d like to get another ice cream maker (left my old one behind when I moved since space and weight were at a premium). I need to put on some bread today and probably some scones too once I’ve had breakfast.

      But yeah cooking is really different for me, I’m not sure why. Sometimes just deciding is so hard all I do is open the cupboard and grab the first thing that catches my eye, so I help myself by eating things like canned soup and spaghetti. I guess it balances out though.

  26. Josie said:

    I am one of those young people just starting cohabiting with my boyfriend. We’ve been living together a year now and have had to overcome some of these problems. It’s definitely a learning curve, and at times really not fun, but I think if you listen to each other things change.

    We are in a place right now where we spend (usually) Saturday morning doing household chores together (always with music playing). We both know what needs doing and which parts we are best at and we get on with it. We also do cooking/cleaning up after in the week together. He’ll chop while I stir, add/prepare stuff, set the table etc. This works because we get home at a similar time and are both working full time.

    As far as I can tell so far it’s about being a team but also thinking about what you’re doing and occasionally asking yourself: are things fair? Am I looking after myself too?

  27. Suzy said:

    My husband does most of the cooking, and the cleaning if I’m honest. I work stupid hours and he’s home before me so he’s home before me and if we’re not going out, dinner is on the table when I get in. I am the luckiest person ever. I’m also really, REALLY messy and I’m one of those awful people who doesn’t see clutter. I’ve never EVER flat out refused to do housework though.

    Halfway through reading this I jumped up and did the dishes, which isn’t much I know. However, HOWEVER, I am horrified, HORRIFIED, that LW2’s partner drop out of school. HORRIFIED. I mean, what the fuck. Seriously. DO NOT MARRY this overgrown irresponsible manchild. He will tell you that he won’t survive without you, but trust me, he’ll find a way, cockroaches are very hardy creatures. And you’ll be fine, you’re doing it all on your anyway, just now you won’t have his useless ass dragging you down and adding to your workload.

    Both these LW’s partners have said the same thing. “What I want is more important than what you need.” It is full of entitlement, contempt and they just don’t care. Maybe it’s not conscious, but there doesn’t have to be intent for there to be manipulation and abuse.

    • V said:

      “However, HOWEVER, I am horrified, HORRIFIED, that LW2′s partner drop out of school. HORRIFIED.”

      Seriously! I nearly passed out when I read that. On what planet does someone hear their partner say “I’m exhausted from working, going to school and taking care of your lazy ass” and think an acceptable answer is “Maybe you should quit school then?” God.

      • staranise said:

        “Come down to my level of laziness, ’cause I don’t wanna step up to your level of work.”

      • I wouldn’t drop out of school for anyone. I worked too hard to get here.

      • Guava said:

        I know, right? Because if LW dropped out of school, s/he would have fewer options, and would feel like s/he was stuck with him?

  28. Zillah said:

    YES. This is a huge, huge peeve of mine, too – hearing about situations like this actually make me see red. I totally agree that people thinking about moving in together need to have this conversation beforehand. (That’s not to say that the LWs should be blamed for not doing it, though! Just that people should learn from their experiences.)

    Here’s the thing: I can actually understand people falling into a situation where one half of the couple is doing more than their fair share of the work. I can see how one half of the couple may just not realize it, or how people might just fall into a pattern that works in one situation, and not modify their actions when the situation changes.

    What I don’t understand is how someone can react to someone they supposedly love saying ‘This is too much for me and I need a little more help’ with ‘Tough shit.’ I don’t understand how someone who thinks they’re adult enough to be in a serious relationship can expect their spouse/partner to baby them like they’re five.

    That is not okay. The extent to which it is not okay is actually pretty epic. That is not how you treat people you love.

    It is okay not to divide things up totally equally. It is even okay for one person to usually do the cooking. However, as soon as someone says, ‘this is a problem,’ the only decent response is, ‘oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t realize. What would you like me to change?’

    • misspiggy said:

      My theory is that the person is saying, ‘But I wanna be looked after, like my mum did for me, and that is what being in a relationship means for me.’ And the only answer to that is, ‘Fuck that noise, we both look after each other in varying and equal ways but you do not get to apply the roles of your childhood to an adult relationship.’

      In my case I’ve learned that doing as the Captain suggests, and simply not doing the shopping or the cooking or cleaning, says much the same thing. Plus saying in a light positive tone, ‘Oh, I didn’t get time to do x, so you need to do it. Bye’. I am very appreciative of tasks done, and (nicely) make it clear that I expect appreciation for what I do. I very rarely nag or complain, as I remember how my mother’s nagging made me dig my heels in. Immature, but this is what we are dealing with.

      However, if I had kids, a job, study, and my partner said I had to give up my studies or no change, I would be moving out for the weekend. I would encourage him – sorry, them – to get checked out for depression and to come to couples counselling, but I would set a very clear set of goals for behaviour change before seriously considering my options, because wtf.

  29. Wow, these two letters made me feel very angry toward the two spouses in the letters. That would be maddening and exhausting.

    I am glad that so far, serious boyfriend and I have not had this issue. I think that where we might find problems in the future will be on my end, because I have had anxiety/anemic/low energy issues in the past (and present) that have caused my house to just slip into disarray. Boyfriend doesn’t even live there, but has washed my dishes more times than I can count. I want to make sure when we do eventually live together, that I do my own share too. It’s getting better all the time, but it’s great to see the encouragement to talk about how to divide things up in a way that works for us.

    • Anothermous said:

      I do think it’s important to take health/medical issues into account. For example, I’ve had some serious medical stuff to deal with recently (and more coming) which has affected my energy levels and ability to work/contribute around the house. But I think communicating that is important. I talk with my husband about those things, and I let him know with my words that I appreciate his doing more while I need to rest and recuperate.

      With a condition like serious anxiety or anemia, it may never be possible for your workload to be divided 50/50, but there are still ways that can be fine. Maybe you buy him nice things in thanks every now and again, or something like that. I think, even if the workload is unevenly divided for reasons that are beyond control, showing that you do not take your partner’s work for granted is critical. Good luck to both of you!

      • notmyusualname said:

        Yes, this. I have a bunch of medical conditions (some diagnosed, some confusing the doctors) that result in injuries, a limit on the weight I can carry, and chronic pain and fatigue. It’s a bit better now (although I still have bad days where I’m back where I was) than it has been over the past six years, but I doubt I’ll ever be able to do 50/50, especially if I ever manage to get a job.

        But I try to do what I can, and as much as I can on the good days (I got through four boxes of to-be-filed one day recently, before the latest medicine-gone-bad experience laid me out again), and try not to get super impatient when we can’t between us get everything I’d like to see done done. And most important, I try very hard not to take everything my husband does for granted. I thank him for cooking dinner most nights, and I push myself extra hard to take care of more of the things when I know his work load is extra-heavy or when he’s not feeling well.

        (Before all this started, I too got very sick of always having to be the one to plan dinner, even if he helped cook it sometimes, the planning seems to be a lot of work for me when it’s on a regular basis.)

    • Emmers said:

      Re: low energy, here is an anecdote that might be helpful: I know a couple (they have since divorced) where the wife had some kind of chronic condition that resulted in a lot of fatigue; husband was able-bodied. Wife purchased some kind of fancypants dishes that COULD NOT be run through the dishwasher; she then expected husband to clean them, since she didn’t have the spoons to do it.

      Now, not having the spoons to do something is one thing; but expecting your spouse to deal with un-dishwashable dishes, because YOU think they’re pretty, is bullshit. (And I told husband so.) The correct solution in this scenario (if you can afford it, which they easily could have) is to buy some inexpensive replacement dishes, put the nice stuff into storage/on display until wife’s fatigue goes away, and let husband have a slightly easier time of being her carer.

  30. Director said:

    There’s an entirely different dynamic to being roommates than being friends and/or lovers. Not everyone who loves each other should live together. When you find out your roommate is crappy, move out. It might even help the relationship survive.

  31. Bittybird said:

    Let me tell you all a horror story.

    My mother, when my brother and I were young, shouldered all the responsibility for all chores–cooking, childrearing, cleaning. She accepted this since he worked full-time while she left grad school when she had us (although she had hoped, one day to return…but that would’ve involved him ever stepping up to the plate, and that sure didn’t happen!), but she still asked him to do SOME things. Cleaning became a particular point of contention with my father, because a significant portion of the mess was his. She repeatedly told him he needed to clean up, or at least not MAKE the mess. No. They fought; nothing changed. They fought more, horribly: he still refused.

    Finally, at her wits end, she went on strike: She told him she would not lift another finger to clean until he did..

    We Never. Cleaned. Again.

    I am not kidding. I am not exaggerating. Dishes/laundry would get done only when we lacked anything clean enough to use. Objects fall on the floor and stay there for years. Bad food would get thrown away, but other trash just sort of stayed where it was. I thought it was normal to have a channel through the clutter to get to your bed. The pissing contest went on for years, until it just became the norm. It lasted decades. My father passed away having never lifted a finger to fix it all–

    And right up until he died, he’d secretly complain to me about what a messy wife he had.

    Letter Writers: DON’T LET THIS BE YOU. This is a BIG thing, because CaptainAwkward hit the nail on the head–there is a shit-ton of entitlement, and a certain amount of contempt (which may be entirely unconscious) involved in this behavior. I don’t know if the Captain’s strategies could have helped my family before it was too late, but I feel like they could really help in the LW’s situations, because LW1’s partner will HAVE to feed themselves. If LW2’s children are put in a room with him, he’ll HAVE to notice them (I hope!). Maybe they could even have bonding-with-the-kids-over-funny-youtube-vids time. The not stepping up to the plate re: parenting thing is an even bigger red flag, for me–and believe me, your kids are noticing that one parent is disengaged from them, and it’ll affect them in small, stupid ways you won’t even think of.

    Anyway, I don’t know if this story was helpful, except to show you just how far and awful it can go. It would have been so, so easy to man up and change all of it…when someone doesn’t, think about what that says about them.

    • staranise said:

      EEEEEK.

    • KitaC said:

      Wow. Thanks for sharing that story. It was illuminating. And also, WOW.

    • Wow. I’m so sorry, not only for your mother but also for you and your brother. That must have warped your sense of what a normal house looks like?

      • Datdamwuf said:

        Wow, that’s taking the strategy too far. My first SO made messes and didn’t clean up after himself or do chores. I finally went on strike, I didn’t tell him, I simply stopped cleaning, except my nightstand, the spot/table where I sat in the living room. After a few weeks i bought made food for myself because he’d trashed the kitchen totally and roaches were appearing, i hate them. He finally asked what was going on. I said, I have cleaned up after myself only, I will not clean up after you, I will not do all the weekly stuff either. This is what it looks like. He tried to tell me I contributed to the mess and I just said no I did not and went to bed. Two days later I came home from work and the apartment was pristine, amazing. Then he was willing to talk and divide the regular cleaning and agree to clean as we go.

        This did not work on my last ex, destroying the house was part of how he abused me, that is a whole damn novel I won’t go into.

  32. Anon21 said:

    Really timely letters and advice from the Captain. I (a dude) am moving in with my girlfriend shortly, and this is a conversation we need to have, because I could certainly see a scenario in which I let the housework pile up on her disproportionately. Luckily, I think we will be able to afford a cleaning service, which should take some of the burden off of both of us; but business around cooking/dishes/laundry/pet care needs to be addressed in advance, and then the plan stuck to.

    • JenniferP said:

      Gold sparkly unicorn hearts to you. Figure it out now, stick to it, and see doing shitty household chores as a way you love each other.

    • I was waiting for there to be a dude in this thread saying “Wow, I see myself in the descriptions of the slacking partners; I really need to step it up.” Thanks.

  33. Kat said:

    My partner, for the longest time, just would not do ANY housework and it was driving me up the wall. I cut him some slack because he was raised by hoarders, had never been taught how to clean, and honestly does have trouble sometimes understanding when stuff needs cleaning*. Once he learned how to clean and had gotten used to living in a clean environment, things improved massively, although we still had fights over him not pulling his weight with things like dishes and laundry.

    [*I don't usually buy this excuse coming from men, since 90% of the time "I don't see the mess" is just douchebag-ese for "I don't see myself as the one who should clean up the mess, because having women do the work for me since childhood has worked out really well for my ass." However, since my guy's female relatives are just as obliviously filthy as he was to this day, in his case I think it was the actual truth.]

    What worked for us was basically what the good Captain suggested. I stopped picking up after him as a matter of habit, and I tried to be more specific and direct in my requests rather than complaining generally when I got fed up. For example, we used to go to the laundromat together with a big hamper of pooled clothes, and that was fine because we were both putting in the effort during scheduled trips. But when we moved to a house with a washer and dryer, suddenly I was the only one washing our gigantic piles of communal laundry. So I bought myself a separate hamper and quit including his clothes and towels in my loads. Lo and behold, he magically began doing his laundry regularly again. Dishes were trickier because they are truly communal, and we’re still working on those. When I bring up the problem in general, he’ll agree that he needs to do more dishes for things to be fair, but after improving for a while he’ll always slide back. What does work is me saying “Babe, can you wash the dishes in the sink?” in the moment when he hasn’t in a while — he always happily obliges when the request is direct and specific like that. It’s not perfect, since I’m still the one doing most of the work of assigning the work, but I can live with that since his good intentions are obvious and he’s always getting better about these things. If both partners are invested in creating a fair and happy relationship, I can testify that these strategies do sometimes work!

  34. Kat said:

    Hmmm, looks like my comment got eaten. I’ll summarize by saying that the Captain’s recommended methods of dealing with a partner not pulling their weight — making direct and specific requests in the moment, and quitting the habit of picking up after them as a default — totally worked in my relationship, although to be fair my boyfriend is not an ass and has always been very invested in creating a fair and happy relationship with me. My heart goes out to the LWs. I know how frustrating this problem can be, even with a partner who has genuine good intentions. With the way your SO’s have been acting I am amazed you guys haven’t gone on godzilla-style rampages by now.

  35. “My dad did not know how to do much cooking or taking care of a house in 1968, but he learned because he loved my mom and didn’t want to be parented by his wife.

    So very this.

  36. Esti said:

    Oh, LWs. I am so UNBELIEVABLY ANGRY on both of your behalfs. I can’t even.

    I don’t want to repeat a lot of what’s already been said here, but LW #506, two things really concerned me in your letter that I didn’t see other comments discussing:

    (1) It sounds like you have to go home straight from work and cook for your spouse literally every single night, even when spouse is just going to eat and then go out to do spouse-activity somewhere. What effect does that have on your ability to do things that are not work or being home? Are you able to get drinks or dinner with friends after work sometimes? If there’s a client event or training in the evening, are you able to go? How often do you get to do activities outside of the house that are just your own, without spouse also being there?

    If the answers to those questions are “very rarely” or “sometimes, but only late at night because I have to cook, eat, and clean up from dinner first,” that means that there’s a whole other issue here (not that the meal thing isn’t enough on its own to be unbelievably unfair and not-okay) with the level of control your spouse is exercising over your life. While you’re thinking about the meal issue, I’d encourage you to also think about the individual (not together-time) social lives that you and your spouse each have. Are those as unbalanced as the meal preparation responsibilities?

    (2) This part of your letter confused and concerned me: “I’m feeling a little fat – can I have two weeks off from doing the cooking for both of us so I can try out a diet?” No.

    Let me start by saying you do not need any reason at all beyond “I don’t want to cook for the next two weeks” to not cook for the next two weeks. I’m definitely not raising this to suggest that your justification wasn’t good enough. But why would you wanting to try a diet require you to not cook for the two of you? Maybe you just meant that you wanted to try one of those pre-prepared meal diets, in which case forget I mentioned this. But it struck me that you might have said it because your spouse not only demands that you cook every night, but also expects that you will cook the kind of things they like and/or that they are not willing to eat the kind of food you wanted to cook for your diet. And if that’s the case, it’s extra bad times eleventy million that they insist you do all of the work but also that you do it the way they want you to. If spouse demands you cook every night even after you’ve repeatedly said you’re not okay with that arrangement, then he gets no say in what you cook.

    • KitaC said:

      These are really, really good points. Really good, disturbing points.

    • Solestria said:

      This. This had been bothering me as well, and I’ve been surprised that so few of the responses seem to have touched on this directly.

      LW1, you are an adult. Your partner does not get to ALLOW you to take a night off of cooking. You do not need his permission. He only holds this power over you if you let him (barring more severe control issues, in which case, please contact a domestic violence line for help, but I do not see that in your letter). You have the right, as a person, to do things for yourself and not to let him dictate to you 1) that you will cook every night periodtheend and 2) what you are allowed to cook for yourself.

      I mean, I’m in a D/s relationship, where I’m the submissive and my partner is my dominant. To put this in perspective, when I felt that I was putting more energy into the domestic chores than felt healthy to me and needed a little help, we talked about it. He did not tell me no. We’re still working out the bugs, but he *wants me to be happy.* That I have willingly given him that control of my life doesn’t mean he abuses it by making me do things that leave me drained and resentful.

      It doesn’t sound like you’ve even explicitly agreed to give over this power, and he’d STILL be abusing it even if you had.

      I hope you can learn to take back your power, and I hope that your partner learns to respect you for it, but I hope you do it regardless, because you are a full human being worthy of love and respect.

      • Solestria said:

        . . . and as the Captain mentioned, I resorted to assumptions of gender in my pronoun use in my comment. Sorry about that, I’ll be more careful in the future.

      • Datdamwuf said:

        This kind of disrespect and disregard came first with my ex so I agree it can indicate abusive behavior. And it slowly escalated with my ex. Shortly before physical escalation, he would drop trash on the floor and other shit. I remember begging my ex to clean the mess he’d made in the kitchen. I was having serious appetite issues and after I’d spent 2 hours cleaning it I had lost my appetite so I was telling him it had to be clean for the next day because I had not eaten in two days and by the time I cleaned I would lose the little appetite I had. I was in bad shape. He accused me of making the mess and said I never cleaned anything. Gas lighting, it got pretty bad.

  37. Esti said:

    I’m posting this separately because it’s applicable to both LWs:

    The thing that struck me in BOTH letters was that the LWs started off by saying that their relationship was generally great because they were “sympathetic to each other’s problems, and want to help each other out” or that they and their partner “treat each other well.” I need to be blunt here: THOSE STATEMENTS ARE NOT TRUE. They might be true in other areas of life, but the housework issues you are both describing are not peripheral annoyances that have nothing to do with the rest of the relationship.

    You both described having had something akin to breakdowns on more than one occasion, in front of your respective partners, because of the amount of housework you are expected to do and the amount your partner is not pulling their weight. Your partners are both aware that this is a serious, SERIOUS issue for you, that it is hurting you for them to not contribute, and that you are unhappy and asking for help. And your partners are utterly refusing to even consider trying to make changes that would fix or at least mitigate the problem. In essence, what they are saying to you is: “I am not actually sympathetic to this. I do not want to help you out with it. I am not interested in treating you well if it requires me to do things I don’t feel like doing, or that would be inconvenient for me, or that do not fit my view of how relationships should be.”

    Your letters do not read like “I have a great relationship except for this one little thing.” They read like “I thought we had a great relationship but my partner is demonstrating every single day that they are absolutely unconcerned if their actions are destroying my happiness and ruining my life.” Does that sound dramatic? It is dramatic. You both sound so unhappy, and you both have very good reason for being so, and the reasons are directly 100% attributable to the unfair actions of your partners, and you have used your words and asked for their help in changing that, and they have looked you in the eye over and over and said no. The Captain gave good, thoughtful advice, but mine is this: you are both living in a house of evil bees, and you should pack up your things right now and run the hell away. Run.

    • kanel said:

      Yes, this. And also what you wrote above.

    • mamacitaconpistoles said:

      Yes, this. They aren’t sympathetic to your problems. If they were, they would do some fucking housework/cooking/parenting, on a schedule, like goddamned adults.

      Doing your share of the work is C-Grade behavior. It is a foundational part of the relationship. It is basic. If they can’t do these things, they are FAILING at sympathetic partnering. Failing in practice, and there is no goddamned A for effort here.

      (That was blue language… but I am that upset at this.)

      • JenniferP said:

        Mamacitaconpistoles:

        1) I love your username.
        2) You are allowed to swear here. :)

        • Hee. A commenter at the Pin started calling me that, and it has turned out handy because the user name Pistol Packin’ Mama is usually taken. (I like it too.)

          It’s a good thing swearing is OK, because I am pretty sure I ran out of polite the more I thought about the Partners Who Would Not Clean or Cook or Help. >:(

    • Commander Banana said:

      BING BING BING. Every time I see an LW who is like “things are awesome, but…” I want to yell LOOK AT THE BUT. CONCENTRATE ON THE BUT.

  38. kanel said:

    Wow. Gut reaction: your partners are selfish assholes.

    Now, for some actual, practical advice on dividing housework:

    1. Games, programs, apps

    Something to help the organization of duties and not make one person responsible for making things happen. Some friends of mine bought a house together in February. They are all gamers and one of them who is a programmer made a nifty little program for dividing chores with a sophisticated point system that made it all kind of like a game. And it logs everything so no one can get away with doing less work or claim they are doing half the work while in reality doing 20% or so. I want their program too! I hope they’ll make it available to other people some time. After I heard about their program I looked around online and found this http://www.chorewars.com/ Not sure if it’s any good (haven’t gotten past the unappealing graphics yet). Could be worth looking into. Also I’m sure there are other options out there.

    2. Lists, schedules, housework areas/weeks

    When I have been living with housemates who are not my romantic partners this is usually how we have been dealing with it. We mostly did our own cooking, but divided cleaning in fair ways. In one place we had cleaning areas, most places we have had cleaning weeks. We have had lists in the cleaning cabinet or on the fridge with all the things that should be done in the different areas. In one place where I lived we had cleaning weeks, but had not made those lists. When I felt like I was doing way more cleaning than the other’s I just made a combined list and schedule with check boxes for every task. I did this instead of complaining that they weren’t doing their part. I just told them, hey guys, I made a list just so that we don’t forget things and so that we all put in the same amount of work. This tactic worked so well in that situation! I never needed to nag. I had to put in the work to make the list, but being used to cleaning lists it wasn’t a big mental effort for me. Besides having lists in previous cohabitation situations I had also worked some office cleaning and there were always lists in the cleaning cabinets to make sure all the tasks got done. The key here is to make the lists specific enough and preferably make them together, that’s what we did where I live now.

    3. Doing housework at the same time

    This is obviously not always possible, but it can make it more fun and bring more energy into it. It also needs less organization and negotiation. This has been mostly how I’ve done it while living with a partner. Partly because then we could spend time together and do housework at the same time (yay!). Partly it was a cheat way for me when I felt like I was doing more than half of the housework and didn’t feel like I had the energy/interest in bringing up the topic. I have wanted to do something more like #2 here, because the gender issues at work always seemed to make the whole housework issue more of my responsibility (even with feminist partners). I resented feeling like I had to be in charge or be the one to bring up the issue. Somehow the cleaning weeks and lists never really felt like an option though. Like it was too rigid for a partnership. Not working unless he was also working was my sort of passive way of making sure we put the same amount of time and effort into it. There was talking and negotiating also, but I couldn’t be the one to always initiate those talks. Then again, I would probably initiate 70% or more of the together-work.

    The next time I live with a partner I will most definitely try something like that program my cohabiting friends use. It has the potential of avoiding so much relationship drama, tension and resentment, especially in heterosexual relationships. It has the equality of #2 paired with flexibility and the togetherness of #3. This topic reminds me to ask them if it’s possible to share the program. I should try it with my current housemates! If so, I’ll let you know.

    • eliza said:

      A few commenters have mentioned this “doing housework at the same” thing, which sounds like a good idea but has the potential to backfire if you’re dealing with someone who THINKS they are already doing 50% of the work. They then get into the habit of only cleaning when you are also cleaning, and blindly ignore the work you do when they’re not around.

      I have joked (not joking) that my partner and I always share his half of the housework equally.

      • kanel said:

        Yeah, that tactic has a few problems. The main one being that you can only do house work while at home at the same time. For me it was kind of an easy way to almost solve the problem, at least temporarily.

        Somehow logging what work is being done, so that both people can work together or separately and still know that they have spent as much time and effort, and there’s no room for subjectivity, seems like a better idea to me.

        • twomoogles said:

          My boyfriend and I do the ‘housework at the same time’ thing and it works really well for us. I think it might work less well if one of us was as bad as either of the LW’s partner’s, though. But for people like us, who are not naturally clean people but do want to put our fair share in, it’s a good way to do it, especially when there’s a lot of little tasks to get done. As mentioned, it keeps energy up. I find if we do half an hour of ‘combined’ housework that is really a lot and gets most of the basic tasks done. But, well, we live in a one bedroom apartment with no pets or kids, so we kinda have to try to get it to a really notable level of messy.

      • Cleaning together: in college I had a roommate who would try to wake us up at SEVEN AM EVERY GODDAMNED SATURDAY to do chores, and if we didn’t, he would complain he was doing all the work. We were happy to clean and do our share, just not at SEVEN AM ON A GODDAMNED SATURDAY.

        • Oh thank the heavens I’m not the only one this happened to. It was my mother: She would always wake us up at 8am to clean the house, and complain that she did all the work when we weren’t happy about it. My sister and I were more than happy to help! Just not during sleeping hours! (I had serious vitamin deficiencies back then too, so i needed every scrap of sleep I could get.)
          She couldn’t get her head around the idea that not all the cleaning has to be First Thing In The Damn Morning, so she could never just leave a task for us to do after we were actually awake. I don’t miss living with her.

    • staranise said:

      Another suggestion: give your partner resources for learning about how to clean. I’m one of those people that likes to sit back, gather information, and then act; nothing frustrates me more than being asked to do a job with vague instructions, and then judged on the outcome. It sucks to struggle with a job that’s poorly-defined and you don’t know just what it is you’re doing. So if cleaning with, or giving instructions to, the new cleaner it can help to point them at Ask a Clean Person, go swank out with a Martha Stewart guide, or get a basic housekeeping book out of your local library. That way they can establish their own base of knowledge instead of fumbling around and accidentally shrinking half the laundry or always deferring to the “clean” person in the house.

      • kanel said:

        Yes, good suggestion. When I started doing office cleaning my boss went through all the tasks with me to show how to do them at the proper level. If someone is more experienced in cleaning than the other they could do something similar. However I can’t help but feel a little bit uneasy about it from the perspective of gender, that oftentimes women are expected to know more about housework than men and that teaching their partners to clean would be kind of a parenting thing. Ask a Clean Person seems like a neat resource though.

        One of my exes once did a big favor for one of his friends. A younger colleague who hadn’t yet learned how to do laundry and who would take his dirty laundry and travel to the city where his parents lived and let them do it. After seeing him doing this for a couple of months my ex decided that it was time his friend learned how to do laundry and they went to the laundry together and my ex taught him how to separate the clothes and use the machines and all that. I was lucky enough to learn some things from home. My father would always take one of the kids with him to the laundry room and so we would learn naturally. Also, when I went vegetarian I had to start to learn to cook to get some decent food. What I didn’t learn at home I learn when I moved in with other people though. How to clean the drain and such.

        • staranise said:

          I was raised to be really domestically ept, because my whole family is. My mom used to organize “family clean-up” on weekends, where everyone claimed an area of the house and we had a collective cleaning frenzy until things were done. My brothers and I all helped cook several nights a week. We had farm chores. That was normal to me.

          Then I moved out and realized that some of my domestic skills weren’t actually normal at all–I found myself taking the U-bend out of the sink to retrieve a friend’s earring, or disassembling the dishwasher food trap to reduce residue on dishes, or hemming my own pants, or cooking a pork roast and vegetable sides when friends came over for dinner, and people kept looking at me like: O.o. (Apparently if you’re intellectual, you’re not domestic; and if you’re a girl, you don’t own/use a toolbox?) And I went: Aha. The state of these peoples’ rooms/apartments is not just a laziness/effort thing. It is a skills thing. If you don’t know how to put shelves up and you’re in a tiny space, of course all your shit is on the floor.

          Also, I really do read Martha Stewart guides. >.> They’re so impractical but so lovely, and the advice really is solid.

      • DameB said:

        A useful book on HOW to do housework is Cheryl Mendelson’s Home Comforts. Ignore the preachy sections, the rhapsodic sighing about the good old days, all that. The hands-on practical advice is useful, clear, and has diagrams. I <3 diagrams.

        • Pterinochilus murinus said:

          Home Comforts is an excellent book, really really thorough and with a high standard of research, but WAY INTIMIDATING too. I think that for a beginner, it’d be best to go through the chore lists in the chapter on routines, and make an agreement together on which chores actually will be done in this household, since even the author didn’t expect that every person would use every item on those lists.

    • DameB said:

      I myself have not used ChoreWars. But at least two of my friends said it saved their marriage and several more feel it keeps housemate situations under control.

  39. Ace said:

    A new baby, new house, and new work arrangements threw us for a loop so we had to recently renegotiate the chore situation. We’ve had a few hiccups but it’s working ok. What I can’t fathom is the outright refusal to change at all! LW 506, take the Captain’s advice and hideout somewhere for a few hours ASAP. I’m sure your spouse won’t starve.

    Sadly, I know someone like LW 507. Her spouse would hide out in his ‘office’ which was also the only place in the house that smoking was allowed (says who? says him!) and then say he was working and no the kids couldn’t come in because that was the smoking room and it wasn’t good for them. Sure, he was just in there playing games on his computer or watching TV, but if he lit a cigarette each time his wife knocked… Things have changed with them now and as far as I know it’s gotten better, but for a few years it was really really hard on her.

    • KitaC said:

      For a while my brother did that hide-in-the-basement-with-a-cigarette-on-the-computer thing too! Like, exactly that. I saw him in 507 and I see him in your post. What weirdly specific behavior. I think his wife had a serious come-to-Jesus talk with him. They’ve recently hit a new honeymoon period in their marriage and it’s wonderful to see. He’s more engaged with the family, she’s happier, he’s happier. So many of us don’t have models for doing this successfully… I really appreciate them when they happen.

      • staranise said:

        I feel like the smoking thing is some weird throwback to the quaint old custom of men retiring after dinner for liquor and a cigar. My brother did it too–he literally took up pipe smoking when he married, and his wife has asthma, so he always had to do it in a separate room. Their divorce was… not actually that surprising.

  40. GemmaM said:

    Dang, sometimes I get complacent and don’t see how lucky I am. My partner and I are both eldest children of messy households. We both take responsibility for mess, but neither of us is freaked out by it. Our definitions of “messy” pretty much synched to each other within a few months of living together. About once a month or so we’d have a moment where both of us was thinking that the other one was doing the dishes too much and that it was about time we stepped up to the plate.

    We thank each other scrupulously for doing chores, see the cooking and cleaning as ways to love each other, and his hyper-responsibility and my hyper-independence kind of balance against each other so that we’re both working hard not to be the one doing less.

    I’m having to adjust, now, because he’s got a job in another city (fortunately still close enough to see each other on weekends) and I’m living with my sister and her husband. I don’t think we’re actually going to have big issues, but I’m having to turn off those parts of me that were a necessary pushback to living with someone whose first impulse is to take care of everything.

    and yet there was that one time when he was coming back from a long trip and then going into shoulder surgery immediately afterwards and I switched into complete ‘caretaker’ mode, which was a necessary and good thing for me to be doing at first, but after a couple of weeks I kind of blew up about it and we had to have a discussion about how to reassign things, with due care given to which things would not hurt his shoulder etc, and, well, actually after that it was all fine.

    Okay, I’ll stop talking now before somebody shoots me ;)

  41. meh said:

    Just have to say: Captain, I loved the pictures on this! I laughed my whole way through, even though the issues the LWs are talking about sound awful, and both SO’s behaviors make me very angry.

  42. anonforthis23498273 said:

    Oh captain!

    I have a similar situation on my hands – with a twist.
    I am living with two flatmates – male – and I am apparently the only one who thinks that beard stubbles left from shaving should not stay in the bathroom sink when done with shaving. Or that using a toilet brush is not optional.
    The thing is I have social anxiety and I am not cool with confronting them. So I just give in and clean up after them. :-(

    I’ll be finished with my PhD and studies in about two years – and I am soooo looking forward to living in an appartment on my own.

    Do you have any suggestions for us SAD-suffering, fed-up people?

    (just for clarification: while I identify as agender, I am not out to them and I am generally read as male… so no classical role models at work here)

    • As a fellow non-confrontational type:

      With my last roommate (we’re both female), I would sit and stew and get angry about SOMETHING that had to get done that wasn’t getting done and she’s just not doing it to spite me and UGH I can’t believe how awful this is… until finally I’d screw up my courage and say, casually, “Hey, can you take out the trash tonight?” And she’d say “oh, yeah, sure, no problem!” and it would get done right away. And then I’d feel absurd for having spent two days of my life being irrationally angry.

      Script, at a time when you notice there’s hair in the sink: “Hey, you left hair in the sink. Can you rinse it out? Thanks.”
      Script: “Hey, the toilet’s getting pretty grungy. Can you clean it tonight? Thanks.”

      Moral of the story: Sometimes things escalate into the kind of train-wreck catastrophes where people are awful to each other. Often it’s just decent people who can’t read your mind and don’t know that you want something done, and using your words can save you a lot of heartache. It always surprised me how inconsequential the whole interaction was when I did this, and how completely non-confrontational using your words could be when I brought it up casually. For me, the key was to mention it in a manner that suggests that it’s not actually a big deal at all (which puts much less emotional pressure on the other person, who hasn’t been privy to your weeks’ worth of anger and resentment about that damn toilet!).

      *It helps that my roommate was generally a reasonably clean, responsible individual. Your situation may vary! But from someone who’s pretty introverted and had to learn every. single. social. skill., confrontation, when done casually, isn’t necessarily a huge deal at all.

      **This is a first step. If you say this and it doesn’t happen, then you’re on to more steps. But it sounds like you’re looking for a starting place, and hopefully something here will be helpful. Best of luck!

      • DarthTrina said:

        I remember a month or so into living with my first roommates as an adult, housemate A was talking to me about the pots and pans and she had this weird expression on her face. It was this total light bulb moment. “A, you are asking me to change something. Are you mad?” It turned out she was, and had been, but since she did not a) say “I’m mad” or b) yell at me, I had had no idea she was mad. From then on I started learning little cues about her to tell when she was upset, which were skills I then transferred to other people. And picking up on the early signals helped me figure out when there was a specific task she wanted me to do.

    • DFTBAwkward said:

      I am answering this as someone with social anxiety, too. It is not a fun, happy answer that you will like. It is a HARD answer. But I think it’s the only right one. You’re going to have to muster up the courage to use your words and talk to them. I know! When you have social anxiety that seems insurmountable. But it’s the best thing for this situation. The problem will not fix itself if you don’t speak up, so this is going to be a process of working through/against your disorder to get the outcome you want. They can’t know you have a problem if you don’t tell them.

      You can make it easier on yourself, and you don’t have to do it alone! What medium of communication is easier for you? For me, when I’m nervous about speaking face to face I do pretty well over text or email. Can you send an email to your roommates saying you have a problem with cleanliness and would like to outline chore duties in a more concrete way? Compose an email where you clearly write out your expectations and ideas about what chores/housework are appropriate for each roommate, and send it off as the beginning of a negotiation. You can rally your Team You to help compose the email–maybe a trusted friend or therapist can go over a script with you and help you write and edit.

      The other two options if the idea of using your words is too difficult would be to either 1) hire a cleaning person, as has been suggested often in this thread, or 2) move. They’re just roommates, you don’t have any familial ties to them, and perhaps getting out of there and into a new situation would be the best thing for your happiness.

    • staranise said:

      I have SAnD too. *wave* (I add the n in just to differentiate it from Seasonal Affective Disorder)

      Maybe as a gentle thing to start with, just start commenting on it? Not in a “I am passive-aggressively hinting you guys are slobs” way, just in a “Oh, the sky is blue; oh, it’s raining; oh, the toilet is super messy, that needs cleaning.” Or like Bunny suggested, add it to your narrative of the day: “I studied all last night, then took a break and scrubbed the bathtub to floss my brain out.” Then sure, go clean the toilet like normal if you want. At the very least, this gets them aware of all the extra work that you’re doing. It can also help with the social anxiety if you’re one of the people who is like, “Everything I say is wrong so I just won’t say anything ever,” because you’re getting used to just hearing yourself talk with the sole purpose of being heard, instead of trying to accomplish something else. That’s an acquired comfort.

      But what would be really great would be to engage and recruit your flatmates. For instance, it would be cool if one of your flatmates were to reply, “Heh, yeah, I’ve noticed that,” or after you’ve taken to commenting on the state of the flat and it’s permeated their brains a bit, they look around the bathroom and notice: “Oh yes, the toilet bowl is dirty. Also, there are cobwebs behind the toilet tank.”

      Then, once you’ve all gotten used to assessing the state of the flat, you can ask: Are you happy with how clean it is here? Are you able to keep it as clean as it is, even if I have to stop doing housework for a bit to do something school-related for a week or two? Should we all try stepping it up a bit?

      Because right now, all your flatmates know is that they don’t have to clean up their stubble, since it magically disappears from the sink anyway.

    • Commander Banana said:

      Urk!

      I leave lots and lots of luxuriant black hair everywhere because I shed like I’m getting paid a zillion bucks per strand, and it grosses me out so much.

      Someone told me once that a bathroom needs to be cleaned X number of times per week as the number of people using it. I gotta say that’s a pretty good formula.

  43. Great post, Captain. To be honest, I struggle with doing my share of the housework, but I like to think I try and succeed at least some of the time. I have a few things that are always my job (catbox, trash/recycling, garage, others), and we have a few things we split based on who has the time (and inclination; I’m more likely to throw in a load of laundry than she is), plus we all (my wife, me, one housemate) try to keep things picked up as we go, since that’s just nicer than facing accumulated mess, and I have a personal rule: if it bugs you, clean it up instead of expecting or asking someone else to do it. This has led to me tackling the occasional pile of dishes or trolling most of the detritus out of the living room and the like.

    But I won’t say that I like doing housework. No ma’am. But I don’t expect her to love it either. And I say to both letter writers, from the perspective of a mate who’d rather not do housework, that their partners are being utterly unreasonable and need a reality check. You are not wrong to be upset and hurt and angry. Time to get determined. Strength to you.

  44. espritdecorps said:

    This is an issue that spouse and I are working out. It very nearly ruined our marriage.

    I worked two jobs, did all the shopping and budgeting for food and child supplies (diapers, clothes, etc.) kept up with all child’s activities/therapy, did all of the discipline and handling of our special needs child, cooked all meals, did all laundry.

    Spouse worked one job, played games on computer, helped out grudgingly if nagged to do a specific task, criticized my parenting when I got overwhelmed, as well as the disgusting state of our home because I didn’t have the time or the spoons to keep it up, refused to declutter the piles of his things that were making walking safely in our home a problem, became very angry if I attempted to organize/throw away his things (He is in therapy, and now dealing with the hoarding).

    Breaking down what something like doing the laundry entails (shopping for supplies, picking up clothes, sorting clothes, pre-treating clothes, washing clothes, checking to be sure clothes got clean, rewashing clothes, drying clothes, folding clothes, putting clothes away, doing all this with a toddler undoing half of it) was a huge part of getting to him to acknowledge that he wasn’t pulling his weight.

    I left a decently paying job and took two part-time jobs that gave me the flexibility to do what needed to be done for our daughter. It was my choice to do this and so it was my ‘fault’ I was tired all the time.
    I broke down everything caring for our daughter entailed. Then I asked him point blank which things I should stop doing for her so I could work less. Which things she didn’t need.

    In his head he was bringing home a paycheck that had been more than enough to support us pre-baby, and doing the same amount of work he had done in the small apartment we shared pre-baby, and that had been enough then, so why wasn’t it now?

    Since I had taken over all of the extra work gradually as it happened, he never really understood what that was. What he saw was that he had been doing his job and I was not keeping up with mine.

    Showing him in very direct, unequivocal terms what I was doing, and getting him to admit that he benefited directly from my effort, helped tremendously.
    This only worked because he loves us and wants to do right by us. He truly didn’t realize he was slacking that badly. I have to ask, but he will do things without complaint. Unless something is done completely wrong (child in dirty diaper, best dress ruined) I don’t complain if it’s not my way.

    I had to let go of the fantasy of a perfect partner, be grateful for one who is willing to figure out what his role will be, and give him space to do it. Does he slack off if I let him? Yes. But he has just recently started to do small things without being asked, and has stepped up a lot on the child-rearing. He had felt overwhelmed by our daughter, and scared he would mess her up, but he loves her greatly, and has a lot of input that has helped us all now that he is more confident in giving it.

    Counseling helped us work these things out, learn to use our words, and listen to each others.

    • I particularly love the “breakdown of what doing the laundry entails” and the acknowledgment that planning, choosing and budgeting for meals is .

      Doing the laundry is not a push-button task – it requires a lot of invisible work and preparation, like, as you say, ensuring that you have the correct supplies, keeping an eye on the levels, shopping for replacements, reading labels, and so on. And invisible work is often the province of women (or the more domestic partner.) A lot of time, preparation, care and planning ahead is required to get domestic tasks in line.

      In the laboratory, if you keep an eye on stock levels, calculate when you’ll need to reorder, and plan to not run out, it is a marketable skill that you can put that on your CV – it’s a skill actively sought in the workplace, as so few people actually pay attention to that kind of work.

      A partner socialized to believe that domestic activities are performed by pushing a button, wandering off and complaining is not a helpful partner. So I really love your breakdown.

    • Phospher said:

      How did you do this? I mean, was it in the course of an argument, or did you get hold of him when the issue wasn’t actually pressing and say, “look, I need to talk to you about this, this is what the laundry entails,” and then recite bullet points, or did you write it out and hand it or send it to him?

      Sorry if it’s obvious; I’m interested because my parents’ marriage is like the LWs’ and on some level I’m terrified of getting into a longterm relationship where I end up either babying someone or constantly fighting with them. I’m kind of stymied by coming across as very confident in most social situations yet being very anxious about confrontation so I … worry about conflicts with hypothetical people I haven’t even MET, apparently.

    • Commander Banana said:

      I’m asking not to be judgey but because I am really, really curious – was he like that before you had a baby, and if so, did that factor into your decision to have a child?

      I ask because my father (neat freak with a side of diagnosed OCD) has always always criticized my mom for her failure to keep the house pin-tidy like he’d like, but then he told me he knew she was a slob when he married her, and I guess expected her to magically change once she had children and was a SAHM? And she didn’t, and it’s caused a LOT of resentment in their marriage. They both work full time now and I keep trying to nag them into getting a cleaning service, but apparently they’d rather live in squalor.

    • espritdecorps said:

      Phosopher – I wrote it out after we were separated. I made a schedule of how I had spent my time every day with all the “invisible work” on it. (Thanks for that, Elodie. I get paid to do the invisible work at my job as well)
      1:45 – home from 1st job pick up clothes, sort, start laundry.
      2:10 – prep dinner and put in oven
      2:35 – drive to store, get paper towels, family prescriptions, family toiletries
      3:00 – pick up daughter from child care, take to play therapy
      4:50 – bring home daughter, put clothes in dryers, clear table, put dinner on table, eat
      5:30 – go to second job

      I did that for the time I got up to the time I went to bed. Then I asked him to show me where was the time to vacuum? Where was the time for me to play games or read? What things on that list were unnecessary? What could I leave off and still have the family function?
      A lot of his argument was that I was too fussy and that’s why I had no time. That I just needed to chill out. I was too fussy, and did need to chill, but I had no time because I was spending it on things that had to be done.
      It might seem silly to be that blunt, but it was what worked. He has started making sure I have time that is just for me, has taken over some of the day-to-day as part of his work, instead of him ‘helping’ me.

      But how to avoid it in the first place? Which I think is also what Commander Banana is alluding to.

      Be aware of what your stress reaction is. What your parents did in similar circumstances. Ask partner what their stress reactions are, how their parents handled things. Be aware that you have prejudices that are fundamental truth to you and so will your partner. That neither of you will question them initially, so the other person will be ‘wrong’ if your assumptions of how the world works don’t match.
      Unless you are being abusive to each other, assume that you love each other, talk, listen, listen more.
      If your worlds are too far apart, leave. If they are close enough, and you love each other enough, figure out what you are willing to give up, and what is absolute. Revise that list, revise it again. Either leave or stay.
      If you stay, do all this again every few years until you either leave or die.

      I have lots of friends in long-term relationships/marriages, it seems to be the way it works for them too.

      Sometimes it’s hard to know how you’re going to react to things until you’re in them.

      Like Spouse and I are very gender non-conforming, but we both come from traditional families, and neither of us realized how much we had absorbed the “Man do this, Woman do this” message. We started trying to do marriage and family the way it was ‘supposed’ to be done, without really thinking about it, because that’s how we had seen it done.

      This was a disaster. The worse things got the more we defaulted to our stress reactions, and the less we talked and listened.
      We are deciding what our relationship will be for us right now, and accepting that as our lives change, our roles will change too. We both like absolutes, so it’s hard, but worthwhile.

      • Commander Banana said:

        That’s a great strategy!

        I asked that question because a friend of mine very abruptly got married and had a baby recently, and is just…really very obviously unhappy with both the marriage and the parenting. We were all really mystified about why she entered into this situation when it seemed like she really didn’t want to be there.
        Turned out her mother had been diagnosed with cancer and she decided that she had to get married and have a child before her mother died.
        I’m not saying that’s a good or bad reason to get married or have kids. It’s just a reason. But once I knew that, the whole thing made a lot more sense to me.

        So I’m curious about how, if knowing you could afford to get divorced or have baby #2, the choice was baby #2?

        • espritdecorps said:

          I have two children. Our second child was a pure leap of faith. She was conceived when things were quite terrible between Spouse and I, and we separated shortly after her birth.

          I wanted another child. I was of the age where that needed to happen if it was going to, so I got pregnant. It was not a smart thing to do.
          But even when I was separated and overwhelmed, and sleep deprived with a special needs child and an infant by myself, I couldn’t regret it. I would have regretted not having her for the rest of my life.

          I have made huge sacrifices for my oldest, I do whatever it takes to give her the best chance at a full and satisfying life, and I have that ‘I would fight a bear for you’ crazy maternal love for her.
          But she’s a hard kid. It took years for her to be able to express affection for us, and to be comfortable receiving it. I don’t know how her life will go, how much independence she will have from us.

          Our second is a pure joy for me. She is the eye in my oldest’s storm. I am a better mother to my oldest now that I’m not resenting what she can’t give me. I enjoy her more for who she is, instead of focusing on what she isn’t.

          So for me my second was logically a poor choice, but emotionally so incredibly right and necessary.

          • Commander Banana said:

            Thanks for explaining your reasoning! This is a really tough situation and I’m so sorry your spouse is being so awful, but you sound like an amazing parent and your kids are really fortunate to be yours. I hope things improve.

          • espritdecorps said:

            Spouse is not awful. He loves us and is working very hard to show it, as am I. Things are much better.

            When we separated, we committed to being good parents no matter what. In the process of figuring out how to co-parent, we had to work together, compromise and communicate clearly. Once we started doing that, we remembered why we loved each other in the first place. Seeing how much we both loved our children, and how committed we were to their welfare, helped cut through a lot of the built-up resentment and bitterness.

            It’s not like the movies. It’s messy and complicated, we are both the bad guy, and we are both the hero, and we are both the love interest worth fighting for.

      • Phospher said:

        Thank you! I am so glad things improved for you. (Because you made them improve, of course, I don’t mean it just happened).

      • VA said:

        “…assume that you love each other, talk, listen, listen more.”

        Beautiful.

  45. Dante said:

    It shows a serious lack of respect for another human being to foist work off onto that person and just expect that other person will do it and assume it will thereby get done.

    This isn’t limited to housework, I’ve noticed. This happens to me at work-work, too. Some kind of thing comes in that looks complicated or ugly or difficult, so it gets dumped into my inbox, usually without a note or anything to tell me who the guilty party might be, but I know who it is because everyone else will ASK FIRST before passing crap work onto me.

    It’s extremely disrespectful and yes, also gendered (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the person who does this is the only man in the department).

    My parents are both retired and they both cook sometimes, but the rule in their house is that if Mom cooks then Dad cleans up, and vice versa. Mom does more of the cooking but doesn’t mind it because Dad does all the washing-up when she does. That’s a respectful way of handling it.

    Seems like the LWs both have partners who don’t respect them. Respect is action, not words.

    • Zillah said:

      This is one of my favorite ways of handling cooking ever, and it’s how it was typically modeled in my house growing up, too.

      • neenerini said:

        Mine too. My mom did most of the cooking and my dad did most of the cleaning because of availability, but the rule was whoever cooked didn’t clean. I also think it’s a respectful way to deal with it. Watching my parents do this when I was growing up, I learned that my dad respected the work my mom did to get dinner ready and was willing to divide the work of the household evenly with her. This is how spouse and I divide cooking/dishes and it was one of the things I explicitly negotiated when we started eating together all the time.

        I didn’t realize how much that division of labor meant to me until I started having dinner at my in-laws’ house. My mother-in-law cooks and cleans, while my father-in-law shows up to eat dinner and then sits in the living room and reads or watches tv while my mother-in-law cleans up. I guess it works for them (they seem happily married) but it absolutely sets my teeth on edge. I feel like he is being entitled and disrespectful when he takes advantage of my mother-in-law’s labor at table and then takes advantage of it again so he can go and relax.

        • andie said:

          Yeah, in my house at the moment the way it works is whoever cooks gets to relax at the end of dinner, and my sister and I alternate between whoever clears the table also refills the water bottles (soda stream, yeah!) and the other washes all the dishes, and we alternate.
          Another little thing to make washing the dishes (the more difficult job) more appealing is that whoever washes gets the ‘good chair’ out of all our couches :D

      • Keks said:

        Mine too. When I lived with my ex, however, we started out doing that, because it seemed perfect, but changed it to cooking AND cleaning the kitchen. Why? Cause he was a great but incredibly messy cook and I’d always end up having to scrub the kitchen top to bottom.

        Resentment averted. That was actually the only chore we didn’t fight over.

        • Rose Fox said:

          My partner J, who does most of the cooking, is also a messy cook. Fortunately I’m a clean-as-you-go cook and J and I enjoy cooking together, so when we started doing more collaborative cooking for other reasons, that also cut down on the post-meal cleanup burden. J is picking up the clean-as-you-go habit from me modeling it and nudging him about it. I definitely recommend collaborating on a task as a way of encouraging the other person to see the advantages of doing it the way you want it done!

  46. KitaC said:

    I have a partner who “doesn’t see mess.” And I actually believe him about that. A full 1/3 of the crap in his room before we lived together was actual candy-bar-wrappers, coffee-cups, receipts, papers, sometimes-even-apple-cores, *garbage*.

    But he still does half the cleaning. Because I looked at his room, looked at our future, and went NOPE NOT SPENDING MY LIFE AS HIS UNPAID MOM/HOUSEKEEPER. He has a feminist mom who raised him to acknowledge that gender issues Are A Thing, so when we discussed moving in together, he said he didn’t want to make my life a reverse Cinderella story, and he wanted to have a healthy functioning house but wasn’t sure how. So what we worked out (before we moved in together!) was this:

    I create house maintenance routines. I do the everyday 20-minute-pickup-and-wipedown. I do the once-a-day-cleaning-task like vacuuming or bathrooms or whatever, depending on the day. I do most of the cooking and toss stuff in the dishwasher as I do it, but definitely not all and definitely not every night. In other words, I do the stuff he would never notice, never see.

    He does alll the laundry, often a full Saturday’s worth of his phone going off at forty-minute intervals. He takes out the garbage and recycling when they are full. He does dishes when they need hand-washed. In other words, he does the routine stuff he can notice needs done on his own, or at least set a phone alarm to do periodically.

    Together we do big spring-cleaning stuff like cleaning the cupboards or organizing. I do have to be the impetus and direction for these things — the “manager” of the house — but he appreciates that that kind of management is actually a type of work that I do for him, for us, for our household. He respects it. Beyond love, I think that his real honest respect for me makes all the difference in our relationship.

    Hang on, I have to go tell him that. <3

    • KitaC said:

      And wow, this sounded really fucking braggy. I apologize for that. I think I posted it because I’ve seen so few models of functional romantic cohabitation in my life that I want to shout it to the rooftops that I’ve discovered it’s actually possible, if both partners care about each other and respect each other enough to take it seriously.

      And I do think it’s a respect issue — a serious one — when they don’t.

      • MamaCheshire said:

        You are doing awesome. Keep being awesome. Both of you. :)

      • This makes me feel better. When I was working full time, it was fewer hours than my husband but I was on my feet all day, while he was in a comfortable office. We had a fight over something insignificant and unrelated, and when we talked it out, he was upset about the state of our home.

        So we sat down and made a list of chores. He hadn’t realized how much I’d been doing before working full time, all he saw was the end results. Clean clothes with all the buttons attached and no holes, good meals, no dust, relatively clean kitchen and bathroom, that sort of thing. His mom’s tidy, but she always does the chores before anybody wakes up. The work is hidden.

        It helped that I’m teaching my husband to cook. We cooked a couple meals together and he got to see how much work goes into it. The amount of effort is mitigated a little by learned skills, but it’s still work. I’ve made him promise that if we have kids, the meals he feeds them will have vegetables. It’s okay if they come out of a bag! I’m not picky. But meals have green stuff in them.

        But we do okay. We’ve since gotten a dog! I do all the training and my husband makes a big deal talking up my training skills to the neighbors. :-P I saved his new clothes from blood stains after he did first aid for someone on the street. He talked that up waaay more than his kind of badass first responder actions. I try to give him the same appreciation he gives me, but sometimes I think I sound like Leslie Knope describing her loved ones.

        This kind of column is disheartening. I had a bad roommate situation that was comparable, and I wanted to burn the ant-infested place to. the. ground. But it’s possible to make it work!

        • KitaC said:

          I know what you mean about these stories being disenheartening. I think some parts of the communication issues couples have around housework is the fact the culture at large has turned “chore arguments” into a joke. Tee hee, silly little woman and/or neat freak, isn’t it cute? The man and/or messier human has cultural permission to roll their eyes and ignore it. When in fact, when these issues come up in day-to-day life in the relationships of real people, it’s about really fundamental stuff like can we communicate? can we take each other’s needs seriously? can we value each other’s work? can we create a home and relationship where we are both truly happy?

          And the normalization of the “eyeroll and dismiss” portion of the chore-argument stereotype is just creepy. No one has the right to treat their partner with contempt. Ever.

          • Guava said:

            Your point about our culture trivializing it is so spot on. This has been a major bone of contention in my marriage, and sometimes when I talk about it, people say things like, “But you’re not going to get divorced over laundry…” with a dismissive little chuckle.

            It’s not about the laundry, or the dishes, people. It’s totally about respect.

      • miss_chevious said:

        It totally did not sound braggy to me at all, and it’s a division that I never would have thought of. Thanks for sharing it.

  47. Margaret1 said:

    The Politics of Housework by Pat Mainardi, 1969, is a concise take on the housework battles, and pretty funny too for such a rage-inducing subject. My ex looked at me going bananas over him not doing any housework ever – even though we had two kids in diapers, I worked full time, didn’t get much sleep, and had a medical problem that prevented me from doing heavy lifting – and he decided I was “crazy”. Housework had to be one of the main reasons I divorced him! Trivial eh? (I like when Mainardi uses the word “trivial”…)

    • MamaCheshire said:

      YES YES YES OMG YES.

      Also Alix Kates Shulman’s “A Marriage Agreement”. Reading that and implementing some divisions vaguely based on it probably saved my marriage.

      • VA said:

        I don’t know exactly when I realized that my now-husband was the man I wanted to marry, but it certainly didn’t hurt when I found a copy of “The Second Shift” full of insightful margin notes on his bookshelf.

        • Damn. I think *I* want to marry him now. :D Best book ever.

        • Elikit said:

          Whoa – that’d be a definite green flag…

      • Margaret1 said:

        Loved it, read it, printed it!

  48. GirlBob said:

    Oddly enough! I am actually naturally inclined to toilet cleaning. I clean toilets well! I do not mind cleaning toilets! I am, in fact, a talented toilet cleaner.

    But I am I am DREADFUL at cleaning anything else or maintaining any kind of orderly space around me, so it’s not really worth all that much actually. When I had my own apartment every room was a dire mess of Stuff and there was always a pile of dishes in the sink — but by GODS my toilet was SPARKLING.

    • Sarah said:

      Are you me? My mom had me trained very young in bathroom cleaning – my grandma talks about coming over to the house when I was five and my mom saying, “Okay, Sarah, cleaning time!” and I got my equipment and scrubbed that bathroom. Grandma thought there was no way I could do it on my own, and walked in to a perfectly clean bathroom when I was done. To this day it is the only thing I know how to clean well every time.

      • GirlBob said:

        Weirdest thing is I never cleaned a toilet until I was in my early twenties, then did it once for my mum, and then didn’t do it again until I got my own place… and then I was all CLEANEST TOILET IN THE WEST. I wound up having to move out of that place in a hurry and my Mum came to help me clean up and pack, and she wasn’t surprised by the Dire Mess everywhere else in the apartment, but she certainly was surprised by the perfectly clean and shiny toilet.

  49. H.Regalis said:

    ::sigh:: This one really hits home for me on the gendered stuff. I worked, took care of a disabled relative, was in college fuilltime, and had roommates who didn’t clean jack shit. To keep the apartment clean, I literally would’ve had to clean two hours/day, every day. I dated a guy for three years who did do some helpful things, but nowhere near equal chores, and he was unemployed the bulk of the time we dated and I worked fulltime AND was in grad school. I had a roommate who is a very good friend, but is also very, “LOL I can’t take of myself,” and I started to resent him for how oblivious he was to the work he was piling on everyone else
    in the house. I have two friends, both divorced, who I’ve heard say, “When I left X, it was suddenly like I had one less kid.” My best friend takes care of her disabled mother. Her brothers, both adults, don’t do jack shit.

    I wish I had a good solution or something hopeul to tell either of the LWs, but really I’m just worn-out angry and don’t have any how-to-fix shit answers.

  50. Linden said:

    When I was still married, I was certain I was spending more of my time on housework than my spouse. We agreed to write down the number of minutes we spent doing a household chore as soon as that chore was completed on a sheet kept on the refrigerator. We agreed in advance to not “rules lawyer” the thing to death by trying to decide what counted as a chore or if a particular chore was necessary — if it was done for the household, it counted. Well, as I suspected, I was spending more hours. We rebalanced the chores to make the time more equal.

    It was a pretty good solution, but there were still a couple of problems with it. One was standards — to me, a kitchen counter with visible crumbs on it is not clean just because all the dishes are off of it, but to him, it was. This meant I either had to accept the counter as-is, or clean it myself, because apparently there was no option for him to learn how to clean it properly, that would have been crazy. The other problem was I was still the field marshal of the household, doing all the mental work of organizing cleaning routines, keeping grocery lists, event planning, childcare logistics, etc. That stuff wasn’t being captured because it was all going on in my head in small snatches of time here and there, but it was still essential. I think some gratitude from him to me for doing that would have gone a long way, but no such luck. So I think in the end, the moral of the story comes back to the goodwill and appreciation between partners for each others’ efforts.

    • neenerini said:

      I just want to say I love your phrase “field marshal of the household.” This is a thing that really does not get enough attention when we talk about housework and division of labor, because like you said, it happens in little bits, constantly, almost entirely in one person’s head. But it is WORK. And it is incredibly difficult to delegate, partly because I think people tend to be good at it or not good at it (not tons of wiggle room to learn to do it better), but mostly because once you start doing it, it is really really hard to turn off. I’ve tried passing on at least part of the field marshal job to spouse, but with little success because I found even if spouse was doing some of it, I was still doing all of it also. It didn’t result in any less work for me!

      • Totally Unfair to Men said:

        Oh god, there is not enough “THIS” in the world for this comment. I posted below about my situation in more detail, but my husband is a SAHD who needs me to field marshal in DETAIL if anything is to get done. And I end up feeling hugely stressed out and imposed upon, and when there are lots of chores that just don’t get done well if I don’t do them, the dynamic tilts even more, and I end up jealous of his downtime and resentful, and then guilty because “OMG, am I suggesting that wimmin’s work isn’t real work when I get cranky with him?”

        But there is a HUGE mental and emotional stressload of “these are all the things that may need to get done. Let’s track them all, decide when they need action, prioritize, decide on the proper action, and plan strategies,” all of which happen before the steps of “drive to store, buy X, drive home, use X.”

      • staranise said:

        And it is incredibly difficult to delegate, partly because I think people tend to be good at it or not good at it (not tons of wiggle room to learn to do it better

        There is wiggle room, but it comes at a cost. The cost is: You have to let the other person make mistakes and learn by trial-and-error in a way you probably haven’t done in years. Most people aren’t okay with that because it’s excruciating watching someone they love fail at something they consider important, but that’s how the unequal balance is maintained.

        • neenerini said:

          This is true. I thought, “hm, it’s really more complicated than that” as I was writing that comment, but it was long anyway, so I left it out. Thanks for bringing the complication!

          • There is a lot about the brain-work aspect of managing it all in ‘Wifework’ by Susan Maushart. All kinds of things! I try not to get in the habit of Reminding Husband To Do Things all the time, because he needs to remember his family’s birthday greetings cards etc himself. I’m not naturally more organised (actually I’m dyspraxic and achieve organisation only through countless coping strategies) but I have been socialised into feeling like it’s my job to remember.

        • espritdecorps said:

          Yep. As a former field marshal of the household, I have to remind myself that I was not born knowing how to do all this. Just because I learned it as a girl/adolescent/young adult, and Spouse is learning it now doesn’t mean I have mystical powers of homemaking that Spouse doesn’t.
          It means the house is going to be a work in progress for a while while Spouse learns.

          Also that Spouse is not going to learn if I fix all the problems.
          So when spouse is walking out the door, and I remind Spouse that Daughter needs lunch packed, I ignore sad face and “Oh, no but I will be late for work!” He makes lunch, is late for work, and after a few days of that starts packing her lunch the night before.

      • I told my now husband that I didn’t want to be “head housekeeper” ordering the chambermaid around when it came to chores. We now use a smartphone app that is the head housekeeper and we are both chambermaids. Even if I still think about chores more (gender roles are a doozy), the psychic burden of being the one in charge is lifted. It’s been a game changer for us.

        • Solestria said:

          What app, if you don’t mind sharing? I like this idea.

          • We are using Wunderlist right now, after the demise of Astrid (was bought out by Yahoo so presumably will show up in Yahoo’s functionality at some point). It was more fun when the app had a person’s name. “Astrid is such a stickler! She totally doesn’t care that I have a cold, she still wants me to clean out the fridge!”

      • Mary said:

        Yes, I discovered that when I was twenty and my then-boyfriend was kind of default living in my halls of residence at university. Obviously we didn’t have kids and the rooms were cleaned regularly by university cleaners, so about the only thing we really had to worry about was cooking. And I discovered that I had a little ticker-tape in the back of my head going, “There’s half a courgette that needs using, but we finished the last of the tomatos yesterday. We also need more butter. I can butter from the union shop but dammit, they don’t have fruit and veg, so I’ll detour through the village and go to the co-op.”

        When I was twenty-eight me and my girlfriend moved in together, and we spent the first five months in a state of pure blissed out amazement, as we each discovered that what we had taken in previous relationships to be an equal split of work was actually more like 70/30. OMG, so much free time! Coming home and discovering that someone else had figured out what to do for dinner! Gearing up to clean the bathroom and finding out that someone else had already done it! Or, nearly as good, cleaning the bathroom and then having someone go, “You cleaned the bathroom and it looks great! Thank you love!” I love that we’ve both got the tickertape, and it means that when you do a job it WILL get noticed, which dramatically increases my motivation to do it.

    • Pterinochilus murinus said:

      I really like “field marshal of the household.” I’ve heard this role described as “CEO of your home,” and yours is way cooler.

  51. bunny farmer said:

    Wow. This was perfect for me and also made me sad. Sometimes I worry that I am the LW’s spouse. (Ok. I think I’m not quite that bad but . . .)

    My SO and I just had a giant fight about this a couple of days ago. We have 3-4 of these fights every year and it is probably the only thing we really ever argue/get really angry/ cry about in our relationship. The big trigger for it is that pretty much every year since we’ve been dating (and that’s 7 years) my SO goes away for the whole summer. I am left at home, and take care of the place while he’s gone.

    I’m a messy person. I’ve always been a messy person. I was “the messy one” as a kid and always just sort of accepted it. And I never really had to do any chores growing up. My SO, on the other hand is very clean, and when he’s around he does 80% of the cleaning. I feel a bit bad about it, but I do what I think are the important chores (some dish washing, cleaning my pet rabbits’ cage, laundry, etc.) and really neglect some other things (dusting, wiping down counters, etc.) that I kind of don’t notice. But for the most part it works out OK.

    But every time my SO comes home from abroad we have a giant fight. Because I keep the house pretty messy all summer while it’s just me, then try to do a massive cleaning before he comes home. But it’s never quite up to his standards, so he usually comes straight home from an 8 – 12 hour flight, and starts re-cleaning everything again. And this makes me feel terrible – that he feels he needs to do that, that it’s that dirty and gross, and that he’d rather clean than tell me how much he missed me. And while he cleans he narrates about how much it disappoints him that I didn’t do such-and-such chore right (or at all.)

    And then this turns into a massive fight where I start crying because the whole situation makes me feel so guilty and crappy, and he says that he feels like I don’t respect him because I don’t try to keep things clean enough for him to be happy. And it just goes downhill from there. He says I’ve given up. I say he is making me feel so shitty I don’t want to do anything. Etc. etc. etc.

    I kind of felt that this problem was insoluble for us, and we were just going to have this fight over and over again and nothing would ever change. But I guess this thread has given me a little hope. I think specifying and dividing up necessary tasks might really work for us, because I feel like one of the big obstacles is that he just wants me to instinctively “see” the things he wants done and how, and I am not able to at all on my own. And I would really like him to be able to point out this stuff in a way that doesn’t feel judgey or blame-y and make me feel bad. And maybe just getting him to neutrally describe what he does when he cleans certain things will help with that?

    I don’t know, but I am a little hopeful. If anyone else has any suggestions for my situation I would really love to hear them. I am definitely not one of those people who is OK with making my partner unhappy with my messiness.

    • JenniferP said:

      It is possible both that you are not great at cleaning AND that your partner is being a jerk when he comes home and immediately gives the house the white glove treatment. Super not okay.

    • Esti said:

      The fact that you are even worrying about not doing your share makes you not at all in the same category as the LWs’ partners, if that helps at all.

      And while I can understand your SO’s frustration if he feels like he is doing more than his share of the work, it does not sound like he is handling things ideally either. In particular, if there are things he wants done in a very specific way, it does no one any good to insist you do some of them and then get mad that you didn’t do them the way he wants them done.

      I think there’s a relatively easy fix, though: sit down and divide up the chores in what you both think is a relatively equal way, but give him the ones that he really wants done a particular way and you the ones that aren’t so specific. Taking out garbage and recycling, loading and unloading the dishwasher/doing dishes, picking up the mail and sorting it, taking care of joint pets, possibly laundry or vacuuming — these are all things that you basically do or not do, and thus are good tasks for you. Cleaning the bathroom or kitchen, dusting, cleaning hardwood/tile floors — these are things where people may have very different standards about whether they are “done” or not (I am absolutely terrible at floors, I don’t know why, they’re always still dirty afterwards no matter how long I spend on them). I don’t know which of your lists cooking would go into, but even if it’s his you could do the shopping. I think you trying to learn to do things “his way” is unlikely to be fun for either of you, so why not avoid that entirely if you can?

      If he is so particular that every single task has to be done in a very specific way, then having the dividing-things-up conversation may be a good way for you guys to talk about how you know you need to do more, but he also needs to compromise about HOW you do more. Unless you are literally trailing trash through the house as you take it out to the curb or leaving food stuck to plates after you’re done washing them, there’s no way you shouldn’t be able to do your share of household tasks without him thinking you’ve done them “wrong.”

      And lastly: just hire a cleaner before he comes back at the end of the summer. It’s once a year, you can find relatively inexpensive local (non-giant-corporation) cleaners virtually anywhere, and it will be worth skipping a couple of dinners out or movies over the course of the year if you both know that the result is not having that giant fight.

      • Solestria said:

        “And lastly: just hire a cleaner before he comes back at the end of the summer. It’s once a year, you can find relatively inexpensive local (non-giant-corporation) cleaners virtually anywhere, and it will be worth skipping a couple of dinners out or movies over the course of the year if you both know that the result is not having that giant fight.”

        This. The rest of it, too, but if the issues is mostly when he gets back? Even if you’re just paying for an hour of cleaning where someone fine-tunes your work, that might make a massive difference for both of you.

        It is also acceptable to tell your partner that you’ve done the best you can and that you need him to be patient with you as you learn to do better, or to delegate certain tasks that you are not good at, etc. Perfectionism can be abusive to a partner when handled poorly (this is not a statement of his intent, but of how it seems to be impacting you).

        Kudos to. Your for putting in the effort that you are, and I hope you can both learn to work this out in a way that works for both of you.

        • Agnes said:

          Yes! Hire the cleaner, and then when he comes back and does the same guilt trip, wait until he’s done and show him the receipt. (I really think it’s more that he’s acting like a jerk than that you’re bad at cleaning, in case that wasn’t clear.)

    • staranise said:

      I mentioned taking pictures of what “clean” looks like in the comments above. I really do recommend it. My extended family all shares a cabin, and we have very different standards of housework, so recently we’ve taken to documenting what “clean” looks like. That means that the permanently-at-the-cabin reference book includes pictures of what things should look like, a log of maintenance and repair on occasional items, and a checklist of chores to do before you lock up and leave.

      With this we’ve been able to sit down and SEE that when Aunt A leaves the cabin at the end of the weekend, the bedrooms are vacuumed, and dusted, the beds are made with the tops of the comforters turned down, sheets tucked in at the foot of the bed, the pillows fluffed, while Aunt B just picks up her stuff, spreads the comforter over the bed like a picnic blanket, throws pillows at the head, and walks away. Aunt B has always hated Aunt A’s harping about her housekeeping because hey, she DOES clean! So now we have pictures and checklists. Did you do everything on the list? Does it look like the picture? Okay, good. And Aunt B may never vacuum under the furniture and into corners, but hey, it’s better than it was before.

      With that said, I agree that your partner’s being a jerk, if his entire criteria for “Do you love me?” is “Did you clean the house.” Maybe it’s a special 12-hour-flight jerk thing where he’s tired and pissy and it just happens then and you can just hire someone to come in for that specific day at the end of summer, but if it’s any more than that? He needs to realize that he’s treating you in a way that’s also harsh and disrespectful.

      • I think this is a great idea. I’ve thought of checklists programmed into my phone before to help maintain cleanliness, but photographs were something I only thought of as a way to brag about my home (and if it’s clean, it looks bigger).

    • VA said:

      Regardless of how messy you are, I think it’s unfair for your partner to expect you to maintain a spotlessly, perfectly clean house while he goes away for the summer. The chores don’t magically reduce by half when he’s not there – the floors still need mopping, dust still collects, etc. – and yet you’re stuck with the whole burden for that very long period of time.

      Could the two of you split the cost of one professional cleaning per year, and schedule it to take place the day before he gets home from his trip?

    • Mary said:

      That conversation sounds incredibly disempowering. The starting point for the discussion is that his standards are the right ones, and you can measure up or fail. You solution is still based on the assumption that his standards are right, and that your job is to learn how to reproduce them.

      I think you need to change the dynamic of that conversation to, “You have Standards A. I have Standards B. It is OK that we have different standards, but we need to find a way of co-existing in our shared living space that makes both people feel loved and valued.” If there is a mismatch, there needs to be a compromise somewhere in the middle with *both* of you recognising each other’s compromise. Your end of summer cleaning bout might not meet up to his standards, but you should still be getting recognition for the effort that you *have* put in over and above what you’d normally do for yourself. And it might mean that even though he’s itching to put on the gloves, he puts that aside for one evening and cuddles you on the sofa and you talk about what you’ve both been up to for the last two months, and you thank *him* for what is to him a sacrifice.

      If your boyfriend has got any cognitive, mental or physical reasons that make it impossible for him to drop his standards to meet you in the middle – whether its asthma or allergies, or a cognitive or mental disorder that means it’s incredibly uncomfortable for him to spend a few hours in a house that’s not at his standard of clean and tidy – that’s a thing you can talk about. Even if he has a real-life medical diagnosis, that doesn’t oblige you to treat his standards as the “right” ones – again, you live in the house too, and you get a say in how much you engage with and support his management of his mental or physical health. As someone’s partner, you’re more likely than not to be engaged in some way, but even health problems don’t mean that it’s OK for someone to dictate what their partner has to do. If compromise isn’t possible, then you need to look at other solutions, like a professional cleaner, or even you go away the night that he gets back, he comes home and cleans, and you have your reunion the next day.

      But like, the cleanest person doesn’t *win*. He isn’t more right than you or more entitled just because he’s cleaner. You count too!

    • Commander Banana said:

      I’m sorry. :( That’s so demoralizing. I’m making this suggestion kind of tongue-in-cheek, but maybe book yourself a nice hotel room for his first night back and let him work it out of his system before you go home?

  52. #506, I would just like to say that in my experience, any statement that contains a variation on “But I won’t feel loved if you don’t/do X” or “But I feel so loved when you do X” is tap dancing on the line between making one’s needs known and gas-lighty style verbal abuse.

    Horror story time – I was once married to a man who claimed it would be a huge violation of the sanctity of our marriage if I discussed any of our problems with anyone, at all, anywhere. Counseling was out. So was going to any kind of spiritual or religious gathering. Talking to friends was similarly forbidden.

    Now and then I would try to bring up the idea that maybe I wasn’t feeling very well, and maybe it wouldn’t be too awful if I saw a social worker now and then? And it always came back to “But I thought you LOVED me! I don’t feel LOVED! Why are you punishing me by not acting LOVING? LOVE LOVE LOVE!”

    The long and gruesome story contains suicide attempts, hospitalizations, and eventually, and happily, a divorce and me living happily ever after. The aftermath, among other things, is that phrases like the ones above set off my spidey-senses something FIERCE.

    Here there be Dragons, I guess is what I’m getting at.

    • How is that even possible? Not talking to ANYBODY EVER? It’s so mind-blowing I actually cannot articulate what I want to say.

      • No no, I was allowed to talk, but only about approved topics to approved people. See how that’s totally different and not abuse at all? (where is the damn sarcasm font on this thing …)

        • Jenna said:

          The worst ongoing problem in my marriage was the fight that we had, that I was not allowed to talk to anyone about. It was not a housekeeping thing, but, every time something reminded me even tangentially of the FIGHT, I tensed up and got upset again. I do not reccomend this to anyone.

    • ThatHat said:

      Holy cats. I’m so sorry you had to go through that and you must be an amazingly strong person to break through all of those chains he kept trying to put on you and get out to your happily ever after. Good on you!

      Yeah, I…I got chills for that part of the letter. Divisions of housework discussions aside, what really jumped out at me was:
      “Can I do *very reasonable option for a defined, finite length of time*?”
      “No.”

      Which just blows my mind. How can you demand for your spouse to parent you (“It makes me feel loved”) and then treat them like a child? Did we stumble into an Ibson play?

      “It makes me feel loved” shouldn’t be such an icky phrase, but wowser, is it (in both those contexts, anyway). What a horrible, manipulative, and childish way to control ones spouse.

      • Commander Banana said:

        Same. I can’t even imagine what I would do if I told a partner “I need you to X” and they just said no. I don’t often ask for things and when I do it’s because I really, really need the thing.

        Actually, I broke up with my partner of eight years because I needed X and they couldn’t X (totally unrelated to cleaning, more of an emotional need, but still). I know separating isn’t something that everyone sees as an option and obviously kids make it harder, but..I kind of look at it as if I really need the X, and you can’t the X, I can’t stay in that relationship. If you ask for X and they say no and you’re still there, my fear would be that their mindset would be, ‘you didn’t really need the X.’

      • doodleoo said:

        For serious! I do most of the cooking (and Spouse does most of the dishwasher-loading) but if I can’t or don’t want to for whatever reason, either he steps up and feeds us both or we cheerfully agree to fend for ourselves. If I say “Spouse, is it OK if I don’t cook on Thursday?”, let’s be real, I am not actually asking his permission, because being fed by me is not a service he is contractually entitled to expect. I’m inviting him to bring up any issues, like maybe he’s got to work late that night and won’t have time to make dinner as well, in which case we’ll come up with something else – which might be giving me a different night off, planning to make extra on Wednesday so we can eat leftovers, or budgeting for a takeaway.

        I am sure as hell NOT inviting him to tell me, “No, you can’t, because I like it when you do the cooking.” Seriously, that’s not how a partnership is supposed to work. Not. at. all.

  53. MamaCheshire said:

    Ugh, yeah. Spouse and I sort of have this worked out but when it breaks it really breaks. It doesn’t help that both of us grew up with at least one parent with hoarding tendencies and thus this is one of those “but how do we adult???” things that gives us trouble. UFYH has been a godsend for us.

    I ended up coining a term for the most irritating way in which housework stuff used to break down for us – “passive-aggressive laundry” – and the therapist I said it to in a joint counseling session was practically falling out of chair laughing while totally seeing where I was coming from.

    Spouse has this weird mental block when it comes to dealing with female clothes. Three out of four of the humans living here are female. So usually what happens is that clothing and other textiles get washed, dried, and haphazardly thrown in baskets with the whole, “I don’t understand how to put the outfits together, so YOU put them away plz!” thing. And sometimes with a nice side of, “But you mean I need to Clean Moar when I did ALL THIS LAUNDRY??? And I made you dinner, too! That doesn’t seem fair!” And on the one hand I feel like if this is the worst thing we have to fight about we’re doing pretty good, but on the other hand it was annoying. We’ve come to a compromise where if he’s going to do laundry that way, the laundry at least gets sorted by person when it comes out of the dryer. It helps. It also helps that this is the only chore he has that mental block about, and most of the time our division of labor is otherwise decent-to-good. AND it helps SO MUCH that if one of us absolutely runs out of cope and needs kid-free time, or has a paper due etc, the other will step up and deal with kids as a matter of course.

  54. wondering said:

    I HAVE SO MANY STORIES, YOU GUYS

    When my mom tried to teach my little brother how to sew: “I don’t have to learn how to sew. You’ll do it for me.” When mom asked him what he would do when he grew up, he said: “My wife will do it for me.” And mom didn’t make him learn.

    We grew up on a farm. Both boys and girls had outside chores (and they were the same chores), but when we came into the house, the boys got to sit down and the girls had to keep working.

    Dad used to say: “Girls can do everything boys can do (except plowing). But boys can’t do everything girls can do.” Could be empowering on the face of it, but it was just used as an excuse for the boys not to do housework.

    When mom went back to work, she worked a variety of shifts (a nurse). When mom wasn’t there, eldest daughter had to do the cooking and housework organizing (and often just do the housework too). If the baby woke up at night and mom was at work, dad would give the baby to eldest daughter to look after so he could sleep. Eldest daughter made all the school lunches and made sure all the kids got breakfast and off to school on time when mom worked mornings. Eldest daughter reviewed homework and signed off on it when mom worked evenings. (Yes, it was me. And people wonder why I don’t have kids of my own because I am good with them.)

    Shared a house with 5 other people. 2 women, 4 men. Guess who got stuck doing all the housework. We couldn’t even get them to mow the lawn regularly.

    It took ten years and him being laid off from work (we both worked, me more than him) before my partner started to do more around the house without being nagged. He still requires constant reminders for cleaning stuff unless he knows company is coming, but he does all the laundry without being asked, cooks frequently, and makes sure I always have tea to drink. That last one has probably saved his life a couple of times, lol

    Partner had to threaten his mom to get her to teach him to cook when he was 18: “Mom, if you don’t teach me how to cook, I’m going to marry the first woman who will have me and you will hate her.”
    Same deal with the laundry: “Mom, I am going to mail my clothes home every week if you don’t teach me how to do laundry. I’m not even going to visit, I’ll just mail it home.”

    At Thanksgiving (we host), partner’s mom starts to make noises about doing dishes together in some kind of touching, “bonding” moment. I respond: “I don’t agree with forcing the women into the kitchen to do all the dishes while the men sit around and talk. The food is put away; it’s fine. [Partner] will wash the dishes tomorrow.” “Oh,” she says, “I don’t think he’ll like that.” I was flabbergasted. I replied something like “I don’t care whether he likes it! I cooked the dinner, he’ll wash the dishes.” This is one of partner’s favourite stories.

    I have more! But this is already a lovely teal deer so I’ll shut up now.

    • staranise said:

      I love that last story especially, and also your teal deer.

    • Muddie Mae said:

      “When my mom tried to teach my little brother how to sew: “I don’t have to learn how to sew. You’ll do it for me.” When mom asked him what he would do when he grew up, he said: “My wife will do it for me.” And mom didn’t make him learn.”

      Ha ha, I should send my mom flowers for raising me completely differently. When I decided to be a vegetarian, my grandmother was all put out that I didn’t want to learn to cook meat. In truth, I found raw meat really disgusting to touch but I didn’t want to tell her that, so I said “why would I learn to cook it if I’m not going to eat it?” She suggested I might marry a man who ate meat, and I suggested that, in that case, he could cook it himself.

      • Guava said:

        A long time after I married my husband, his aunt told me this terrible thing: “Grandmother used to tell us not to teach any of our boys how to cook, clean, do laundry or help out around the house, because she was afraid that if they learned, they’d never get married.”

        • wondering said:

          THAT EXPLAINS SO MUCH

          • staranise said:

            AND CHILLS MY BLOOD.

        • Guava said:

          Yeah, it gave me total context as to why getting my husband to split household tasks 50/50 has been so…excruciating. And don’t get me started on the rest of the men in that family.

      • V said:

        I’m a vegetarian who used to be married to a meat eater, and one of his many good qualities was that he never got pissy about me not eating meat, or demanded that I cook it for him. I did sometimes make him a steak or some chicken as a special token of love, but most of the time he either ate what I ate, hit up the drive-through at a burger place, or (more rarely) cheerfully cooked meat for himself on his George Foreman grill. He told everyone who asked about my eating habits that living with a vegetarian was great because no meat in the house=no flies. Which is true, but also super gross if you think about it.

  55. The Grouchybeast said:

    My husband doesn’t cook. He hates doing it, and he’s never needed to learn – he went from his mother cooking, to eating in college, to me doing all the cooking. And I don’t mind. I actually quite like cooking.

    But. If I don’t feel like cooking in the evening, he’s perfectly able (and happy) to pick up a takeaway menu, or get stuff out of the fridge that doesn’t need to be cooked and feed himself. Spreading hummus on bread and peeling a couple of carrots to eat with it is not rocket surgery, and it’s not an unreasonable thing to request another independent adult human being to do from time to time.

  56. wondering said:

    Aw… :-( I got spam trapped. Probably because I included a pretty teal deer link at the end of my tl;dr comment. Oops.

  57. aprilhl said:

    I haven’t read all the comments (though I skimmed many of them) so I don’t know if this has been brought up, BUT…someone consistently refusing to help do their part of the work no matter how many times asked/explained/agreed to is emotional abuse/manipulation. it is consistently saying, “I know these things make you feel devalued and unappreciated and shows that I think my time is more valuable than your time, but I just don’t care enough to do *my part* of the work.”

    it is steeped in misogyny and cultural norms and frankly I just won’t fucking tolerate it any more. it’s one thing to have different ideas of what “clean” means (which is workable), or realizing you have other issues with cleaning (time, money, energy, etc), which you can also find solutions for … but flat out refusing to compromise, knowing that it is exhausting and demeaning for the other person to consistently be babying you? manipulative ickyness all the way.

    • staranise said:

      At the end of the day, the couple just might never be able to agree on how much work to do. But if it’s really important, it’s one of those things that brings the whole relationship into question. “I am unable/unwilling to support this person in the way they say they need to be supported. Am I really the right partner for them?”

    • Mary said:

      Yeah, I have just said the same thing above. I have stopped having conversations about housework with straight female friends because to me it feels on the same scale as normalising abuse. It is NOT OK for your partner to be consistently showing their disrespect and contempt of you. It is NOT OK for that to be considered a normal part of married life, any more than it was OK when physical violence was considered a normal part of a relations between a husband and wife.

      • ystir said:

        Argh, yes, I used to be in a FB group with a small number of women from my last uni course (about thirty of us) and I would get SO frustrated with almost all of the married/partnered ones going ‘boys will be boys!’ about their sons and ‘men are just rubbish at certain bits of housework, I might as well do it myself!’ about their partners. Good lord, of course they’re going to be rubbish if you never a) give them a chance to get better and b) expect them to. My flat is a disaster area because I’m disabled and a single parent and struggling to figure out what is appropriate to ask my teenager to do and what I can manage myself, and how to hire a cleaner for the rest when I’m unable to work, but at least I don’t have some annoying man lurking around and doing none of it while I giggle indulgently at him…

  58. AnonForThis said:

    Due to how housecleaning was handled while I was growing up, I have MAJOR hangups about it; this has caused some friction in my relationship with my spouse, mostly because I have baggage.

    Baggage number one is the “passive aggressive clean”. This is when an individual begins cleaning in your vicinity, often sighing loudly or slamming things around. Eventually there will likely be yelling about how rude you are for just sitting there watching someone else clean. I have a very hard time assuming that my husband ISN’T cleaning AT me, he’s just cleaning, and genuinely doesn’t mind if I don’t immediately leap up and help him.

    Baggage number two is that my cleaning (as part of my chores) was rarely viewed as adequate, or at least that’s how I feel and remember it. So cleaning was also often fraught with “you’re doing it wrong!”, and so it is often easier for me to just not clean, rather than not clean “well”, whatever the hell that means.

    Baggage number three is the parent who told me that they would “never visit [my] house because it’s going to be disgusting and filthy,” based upon my teenage cleaning practices. Shockingly, I have MAJOR hangups when this parent comes to visit.

    I am fortunate that my spouse is laid back, not a neat freak, and very sympathetic to my bizarre emotional response to him starting a load of laundry.

    • bunny farmer said:

      Oh, lord. This is me in a nutshell – I have every single one of these hang ups. And my SO definitely *is* a neat freak (at least in my estimation). Thank you for writing this out – I don’t think I could have described some of these issues myself even though I have all of them.

    • MamaCheshire said:

      Are you, like, my long-lost twin or something? This is heartbreakingly familiar. Especially Baggage 2. Baggage 3 morphed into the even worse form of parents insisting on cleaning my house while there AND THEN REFUSING TO LEAVE and in one case screaming at Spouse and myself six hours before I had to be at work in the morning about some particular thing we’d Done Wrong.
      :(

      • Erin said:

        Ahm, wow. Wow, that is, wow.

        • MamaCheshire said:

          The parent who did that is for the time being not allowed to visit us at our house. And because of Reasons we usually go to them these days, anyway. (Roughly 6 hour driving distance, parents are caregivers for my 97 year old grandmother who still lives at home but has some health problems.)

    • Marvel said:

      This is also me in a nutshell. My mother was pretty horribly abusive a large amount of the time, and would scream at me about housework whenever she was angry. About anything–usually it was unrelated to said housework.

      She also tended to do the passive-aggressive cleaning thing a lot, again not even because she wanted me to clean, but rather because there was something ELSE she wanted me to do. Sometimes, to be honest, I got the impression that she didn’t even have anything in mind; she just didn’t want me relaxing for whatever reason. She once barged into the room where she knew I was watching the ending cutscene of a video game and started vacuuming so I couldn’t hear any of it. Unfortunately it was also one of those games where you can’t pause during cutscenes, so I ended up missed the ending. Unsurprisingly, she “just happened” to be done vacuuming as soon as the credits were rolling.

      So yeah. I have this tendency to react with a disproportionate level of upset when I am nagged to do housework. I’m not proud of it, but that’s how it is, and all I can do is work on it and hope that over time I will be able to improve.

  59. Dane said:

    Very timely post for me! I’m moving in with my partner in 2 weeks, so I am eagerly watching this comment thread.

  60. theLaplaceDemon said:

    I’m sure the Captain had a good reason for not suggesting this that I am not thinking of, but for LW#506 I wonder: What if you just go cold turkey on the cooking every day that you work? Make exactly one portion of something for yourself, and that is it. Frankly, your spouse’s behavior really frightens me, and I’m not sure one night a week makes the statement that you need to make.

  61. Totally Unfair to Men said:

    I have a really hard time with a related but different situation, and it is seriously destroying my marriage and my ability to ever relax at home. :-/ I am a woman, and a well-paid professional, and eight years ago, when my son was born, we agreed that my husband would stay home “for a while” to “watch the kids”. Eight years later, he’s still not working, is not looking very hard, and is absolutely not doing the job of “stay at home parent” the way I would expect. For instance, he doesn’t really do things with the kids very much, just lets them play and deals with their issues when they go to him. He doesn’t cook, so I have to do that when I get home from work. He does some rough cleaning, but the bathroom pretty much always stinks and the floors have food on them and the counters accumulate gross stains and bugs.

    Things have improved a lot in the last 6 months, since I told him I was starting down a path that would lead to divorce, but I’m still really discontented. And yet, I feel like I’m being kind of hypocritical, because I know he IS doing more housekeeping than I am now, but I still don’t feel like he’s pulling his weight. But then I think, if this were reversed, and I was a guy and he was the woman, how would I feel about the dynamic of “stay-at-home mom has to do EVERYTHING”? And I feel kind of gross.

    On the other hand, I don’t think it’s fair to say, “Split things 50-50″ when I’m a wage earner and he’s not, ESPECIALLY if we’re spending a significant amount of money on childcare outside of what he’s providing.

    I feel like I spend more time making lists of stuff for him to do and stressing about the gross state of the house, whether anything is getting done, and whether it’s going to be done adequately than it would take to just do things myself, but I KNOW that’s the wrong path.

    I seriously hate the screwed up gender messages and how they mess up all of our thinking. :-(

    • wondering said:

      This sounds really hard to navigate. I don’t really have any advice for you. I work fulltime+, partner works part time, but I still do the bulk of the house work. But i am glad to have him do the things that he does do, and he looks after me in other thoughtful ways that make a world of difference. But if kids were thrown into the equation I don’t think I would be satisfied with the arrangement.

      So please accept my sympathies. I hope someone has some good advice. Stupid patriarchy making everything more complicated.

    • theLaplaceDemon said:

      I think it’s reasonable for you both to be working the same number of hours, even if more of that labor is unpaid for him. While it’s true that he should, say, get a break from the kids when you get home (if he has been watching them all day), wiping down the counters is not exactly an awful task if you keep up with it, you know?

    • MamaCheshire said:

      I have no idea if this would work for anyone else. It sort of worked (imperfectly but well enough) because this is how Spouse and I roll.

      I linked him to the standards for family-based daycare providers in our state, and said that while I didn’t expect every last thing to be met to the letter, I expected most of them to be met most of the time because after all it WAS his job. It was a discussion-starter and a partial road map and we found it helpful.

      • KitaC said:

        This is actually very, very smart. Kudos.

    • Mary said:

      >>Eight years later, he’s still not working, is not looking very hard, and is absolutely not doing the job of “stay at home parent” the way I would expect. For instance, he doesn’t really do things with the kids very much, just lets them play and deals with their issues when they go to him.

      I think I’d start there, and I think I might start the conversation with a counsellor rather than just between yourselves, because you’ve dropped that in as if it was a side-issues to splitting the cleaning, and actually it sounds huge. It’s not clear whether you think your husband’s parenting is actually bad for your kids, or whether you think it’s basically fine but you want to see him make more effort just because it’ll make your working seem like a fair swap, but that’s a conversation you really need to have together, and soon. Raising kids together without having a clear understanding of what you both mean by “raising kids” and a set of agreed, joint standards, sounds like a really big, awkward mess.

      I think if you can get that cleared up, you might find the cleaning stuff gets easier. If you know how much time he spends actively parenting, and you’ve got a joint recognition of what that is, then you can start to talk about what a fair division of housework labour on top of that would look like. At the moment, it looks like you’re trying to work out “fair” whilst ignoring the fact that you have no idea what one of the values is – how much time and effort he spends on parenting – so no wonder you are finding that tricky and fraught. There are some other variables that aren’t in your message – if you have different standards of cleanliness, have you tried to agree on a mutually acceptable compromise? It’s also not clear what his attitude to any of this stuff is – you’ve said a lot about what he does, and how you feel, but nothing about how he feels. Is he aware that you’re dissatisfied, and what’s his response to it? Is he happy with how things are? I can’t tell if he’s a laidback guy who feels like this is working and has no idea that you’re unhappy, a lazy guy who knows you’re unhappy but doesn’t really care, or a depressed guy who feels like it’s all awful, he’s not coping, everyone’s angry with him and there’s just no way of changing anything. Any of the above could make a huge difference to what you do next. For me, though, the best starting point would be to make sure you’re on the same page with parenting, and then figure out where everything else fits in the time leftover.

      • Totally Unfair to Men said:

        I think it’s more complicated than either of those options, in that I don’t really have a problem with his approach to parenting, just his approach to stay-at-home parenting. I mean, I am totally guilty of being like, “Hey, kids, too much energy. Take it upstairs while I make dinner and read for a bit.” And sometimes I put on an episode of Blue’s Clues to get them quiet and stationary. But I can do that because I know they have spent a day in school and then daycare, doing organized events and playing with other kids.

        If the kids DON’T have that school-and-daycare experience, I think it IS important for them to have some structured events from home, including things like going to places where other kids can be. My husband treats it more as a “they need to be roughly supervised.”

        I didn’t go as deeply into that in the first comment because it isn’t tied into the part that really bothers me about the situation, which is the vague feminist guilt I always feel at expecting better housekeeping from my stay-at-home spouse.

        And we have gone many rounds, with individual counseling, marriage counseling, and on our own. I bring up concerns, he agrees with them… and nothing changes. Or things change in the short-term, then lapse back. It’s the same story with the cleaning, and with everything else. I’m sure there is depression playing into it for him, but I also think he’s just not very good at motivating himself.

    • 42tlh42 said:

      It sounds like there are physical health hazards there. I think that asking for *those* to be taken care of is perfectly reasonable, and not at all the same as asking that the stay-at-home parent do everything. Is re-negotiation a possibility? Good wishes to you and your family.

  62. Taketombo said:

    When my first son was five years old, and done with daycare, I knew I could afford one of two things: a baby or a divorce. I chose a baby.

    12 months later I’m wondering if I chose wrong.

    Spouse has reacted to the new baby by taking on more of the child care – or so he thinks. His idea of care is: 1 – tell the kid to do something. 2 – Go sit in front of Cracked or YouTube while mindlessly eating. 3 – Realize you’re running late, find the kid and start yelling at him because he didn’t do what you asked in 1. Repeat steps 2-3 until I step in to HELP child or keep child on task (ok, next we do sub-task xyz). Oh and then he complains abut child to me because “child doesn’t respect him” an he would never treated his not-involved-in-childcare-other-than-discipline “like that.”

    Also don’t get me started on his naps. He “needs” a three hour nap if he’s home in the afternoon because he’s “so tired.”

    When the baby was colkiy he would not wake up on his own to change the 2 or 3 watery green diarrhea diapers. If I woke him at 4 am he’d do it; but baby had to cry, and I had to wake up, and then shake him to wake him up, and then he’d grumble. Now the baby “just” nurses 3-4 times between 9pm and 4am. I’ve given up on asking for any more help than one diaper change, and dread doing that because I just don’t want to deal with his man-whine and then him thinking he has the ultimate nap trump card

    We’ve had one serious conversation about this: I said that when I was really tired (while pregnant) there were two things that helped 1) more sleep – mainly by going to bed immediately after big kid was asleep, and 2) higher quality sleep – achieved by giving up caffine and avoiding all blue light (computer, tv, and LEDs in kitchen) after 7:30 pm.

    His response: “That doesn’t sound like a good idea.”

    i got very quiet, but I’m still mad over it. It may not be a FUN idea, or an EASY idea, but if you’re always “so tired” maybe you should come to bed rather than watching another episode of Futurama. I know exercise helps him sleep so 2 nights a week I have both kids so he can go to the gym – except he’s been working late and then relaxing with more food + screen until midnight.

    I havent been to the gym in 5+ months (some of this is the endless breastfeeding, and I should be more assertive, but have I mentioned the man-whine?)

    We both work full time, and before kids the housework was equitable, but now it’s not. And I feel bad, because I know he’s struggling with depression and anxiety (we both have), but he hasn’t found a new therapist in the last five years, or had his meds re-evaluated (our GP asks him “if they work” and just keeps renewing them) – he says if I found someone for him he’d go but it’s one more thing on top of baby + big kid + man-child. I just want him to step up without nagging+whining every step of the way.

    I’ve just his a point in my head where I’m telling myself that he’s on 5 year probation. I can’t afford to run this household by myself until baby is in in Kindergarten, and I’m not going to fight with him every day until then. So I’ll get it (all) done, and probably resent him, but if he hasn’t shaped up by then I think it’s over. I feel that it’s unfair to be doing this to him – he does love me in his way – but while he’s a great friend (bullshitting over socio-political implications of 1980’s cartoons!) he’s not a great parent or partner at the moment, and I’m so tired that I have no sex drive and no need for a lover.

    I’m just tired, and I have no help :( No ideas on how to change, other than to endure. I suppose we could have a big fight, or an endless series of small ones, but I don’t see that fixing anything. He has to want to fix himself, and he doesn’t, and I can’t offer an ultimatum until I can afford it (and then I wouldn’t want to – if it gets to ultimatum time I see the relationship as too broken to be saved).

    LW507 – you’re not married. If you can make it work (logistically, economically, etc), leave now, or postpone the wedding, or something.

    LW506 – I fell like we’re in the same boat and I have no good advice. Maybe your guy is more open to change; maybe you trust him with the baby/toddler while you go out (I worry about taking significant ‘me-time’ or unloading kid-related tasks because I think that if spouse is gong to whine or yell it should be at me – and not at the kid because he’s acting like a kid) But I’d think through what your worst case scenario is – mine is the 5 year plan above – and decide if the Captain’s advice improves it in any way.

    • neverjaunty said:

      “I feel that it’s unfair to be doing this to him” – doing what do him? Being a human being who deserves to be treated as an equal partner? Expecting him to treat his children as worthy of a loving, involved father? It’s hard to be where you are – believe me, I know – but he is doing this to himself.

      • taketombo said:

        Putting him on secret probation. Perhaps if I had enough guts to have a fight things would change. Perhaps not.

        • Jake said:

          I think it’s okay to do things that are on paper unfair if you need to take care of yourself. That said, can you just express yourself honestly? Don’t mention the time limit or anything, but I’ve had success just honestly saying, “This is a situation that I am not willing to live with forever. I need it to change, and I’m willing to work together to figure out a solution, but if it doesn’t change, or if you don’t show sustained willingness to do the work of changing it, I will have to re-evaluation my life with that in mind. It may end in us breaking up.”

        • grassideas said:

          Why make it a secret probation? Tell him exactly what is going on and then go through with it. Have the conversations when you both have a bit of time and you are not already upset.

          “Guy, this division of parenting and housework and nagging is not working for me. I cannot be with a partner who does not care about me enough to help me out a little. I need us to work on making this more equitable, and if it is not fixed by the time Little Guy is in school, we need to not be together.” And probably also: “I’ve seen you also be anxious and not yourself these past few months. I’ve tried to suggest exercising, getting better sleep, and more, but you haven’t liked those suggestions. What can I do to help?”

          Ultimatums sometimes help non-motivatey people motivate themselves. And you’d be surprised how often people can convince themselves that X is not that bad and that Mrs. Guy is actually not that upset.

    • staranise said:

      OMG, I am so sorry. That really sucks. I really hope you’ve got some kind of support other than your spouse. I’m kind of responding in case it’s literally just you, this guy, and your kidlets.

      Scary paragraph below. Take a deep breath. This is not meant to freak you out. It is not meant for you to take it and brandish it at your spouse to try to scare him into parenting correctly, ’cause that will probably backfire. It is meant to say: This is not you being petty or concerned about trivialities. You deserve help and there are resources out there for you.

      The word for what your spouse is doing with your son is neglect. In a lot of jurisdictions, if you leave a five-year-old alone for extended periods of time without appropriate supervision and guidance and that kid gets hurt in a way an adult could have prevented, it is failing to meet the state’s minimum standard of childcare. It can count as an actual crime. If it comes to the attention of authorities (eg. showing up at the hospital, kid telling a teacher about what they did on the weekend when Daddy wasn’t looking) it can get your kids apprehended into care. This is not just a petty annoyance; this is the point where the system goes, “oh shit these people need help before these kids end up in really expensive trouble” and sets up funding mandates.

      If you live in the US or Canada and you’re in a 211 area, dial 211 and ask for resources around childcare, parenting support, and mental health. Anywhere, ask a local community agency, especially one aimed at children/families/parents/mothers. You can keep it at a mild, “I’m stressed and overworked with two small kids, my spouse has health problems, what resources are there?” or flat-out say, “I’d get a divorce if I could because my spouse refuses to get treatment for depression and doesn’t know how to parent, but I feel like I won’t have time or energy for anything but keeping my head above water for the next five years. I have no help.” It’s up to you and how comfortable you feel being frank.

      There are a lot of things that can really help you and your spouse. Parenting support groups; individual and group therapy; psychoeducational classes and groups on dealing with depression and anxiety, and parenting education groups that will let your spouse know more about your childrens’ developmental needs. Referrals to low- or no-cost services. If you’re lucky and depending on the area, in-home assistance, financial aid, or the resources you need to divorce right now and parent independently. Because right now it sounds like you need someone else who knows the system to hand you a stack of brochures or a list of phone numbers and say, “Go to these people on Tuesday at 10:30am.”

      • taketombo said:

        It’s an open-plan-ish house: He’s usually in the dining room with the kid in the living room. When there’s crying and/or injury (Look! I jumped off the back of the sofa and it was DANGEROUS! Howw cool is my child-self) he steps up and sorts it, but he just can’t help child get though morning steps (breakfast, tooth-brushing-clothes) because he’s zoned.

        • TR said:

          Nobody’s a perfect parent but ideally the watcher of the child would know the couch-jumping is going to happen before it does. If he’s responding to that kind of behavior more than preventing it, I would say that’s reason for concern.

        • staranise said:

          Okay, then I’m glad that the kids are safe. Sometimes I take things too literally, because I encounter situations that *are* that bad so I’ve been trained to hear the worst in what people say. (I’m a therapist. The age range of clients I see just dropped in the past month from 18-30 to 3-10, and right now I work with kids from abusive households. It infects my brain.)

          That said, you know that what he’s doing isn’t enough. You know it’s less than what your kids need. It really does hurt kids to be raised by parents who are always tired, stressed, depressed, and tuned out. I can say from a based-on-data place, that five-year-old needs a parent who’s going to be attentive and responsive. Kids tend to interpret everything around them as being about them; if a parent’s always distracted and doesn’t provide help and encouragement, it’s really likely the kid will interpret that as, “I’m not interesting and don’t deserve help.”

          You say, “Maybe if I had a fight with him it would help.” I’ll put my money down on: Not Fucking Likely. If he’s depressed and tired all the time (which might be the same thing, since always feeling lethargic and sleepy despite sleeping a lot) he’s got nothing more to give. Even if he did wake up and go, “Oh, I should be an active parent and contributor to my household!” it’s not going to make a big dent. Without things to help with his depression, show him how to parent in ways that don’t involve you doing most of the hard work, and helping him live with what’s inside his head without numbing himself via internet all the time, it’s not going to get better.

          (Numbing is generally what’s going on when people tune out from the world around them and bury themselves in the newspaper/internet/TV/a ship in a bottle/bottle of whiskey/anything but their family. It means, “Putting this down and actually being present with my family makes me somehow feel unhappy, agitated, ashamed, or unsafe, so I’m going to retreat to safety and try not to feel these things.”)

          If you’re going to try to pitch a fit, it won’t work as the general, “Shape up or I’m going to leave you five years from now.” That’s just a motivator to keep numbing. If you feel the need to say, “You will do this if you don’t want me to leave your ass,” it can’t be about nebulous generalities. Make it something direct and actionable that he can do. Call one of the three therapists on a list and make an appointment; spend twenty minutes childminding paying attention to nothing but the kid, with all mobile and electronic devices put away/turned off; go to this weekly parenting group; go to bed on time tonight. Which he will resist. It may take multiple fits, and it still might fail. But at least then you can say you did try.

          • taketombo said:

            Thank you (and everyone here) so much! Just hearing from you has been enough for me to finally get in touch with a respected therapist. My first appointment in 2 weeks, and I hope that it’s a good fit.

             I’ve also looked up some mixed psychiatrist/LICSW practices nearby that take our insurance. As soon as I get the gumption I’m going to encourage spouse to call. I know that when he was last seeing someone (years ago) it helped, I hope it can improve things.

        • Pterinochilus murinus said:

          Not making sure your kids are clean and fed is still neglect. It’s not immediately life-threatening like if they run into traffic, but it’s still neglect.

      • I agree. I have a friend who’s a pediatric nurse and this is when they step in. She’s contaced the authorities on a couple of families like this. Not evil people, but where the kid isn’t getting it’s need met.

      • anon said:

        This is exactly what I wanted to say, but couldn’t figre out a good way to say it. ;)

        But another thing: how much does your older kid understand about what’s going on? If you’re thinking that you’d divorce if you could, but can’t right now, because of the baby, your kid might be aware of the underlying tension going on, and it can lead to a lot of resentment (possibly of the baby, “if baby didn’t exist, mommy and daddy wouldn’t yell”) and fear (“what’s going to happen to me?”). I was pretty young when I rleaized my parents hated each other, and that the fact that they had children was the reason they were still together, so it was My Fault, and if I didn’t exist, they wouldn’t e miserable and they could be happy.

        In no way, shape, or form am I saying you owe it to your kids to get a divorce. But I think you should talk to your older kid at a level he understands. Let him know that you love him very much and that if he overhears you and your husband fighting, it’s not his fault and it’s not on him to try to fix it (I hear that a lot from other pople who grew up like me, that if their parents told them their problems, they felt like it was on them to try to fix them, but the problems were not things an elementary school student can fix), and just keep an eye on your kid for signs that the stress levels are getting to him and just keep communiticating and reassuring him that adults will handle adult things and his job is to be a kid and learn and grow.

        And talk to your husband about appropriate behavior around the kid and appreopriate standards of watching the kid. Your kid is aware if dad isn’t being a responsible adult. Your kid needs adults to rely on. If dad’s not reliable, someone who is reliable should be watching the kid. A trusted neighbor, a babysitter, anyone but someone who thinks that childcare is about discipline and not about care.

        • staranise said:

          Yeah, what an elementary-aged kid needs to know are two things: 1) They are always loveable and will be cared about, even if they make mistakes or feel bad; 2) The world is a safe place and they can deal with the problems they encounter. This means that being emotionally present for your kid is important, and not giving them problems they can’t handle is important. If the kid hears their parents fighting late at night, that kid’s job is to hug their teddy and tell themself that no matter what, their parents will love and look after them. It’s not to worry about the coming domestic apocalypse or try to make the fighting stop. (This is something that can be articulated to even very young children.)

    • Esti said:

      “I just want him to step up without nagging+whining every step of the way.”

      Taketombo, this is completely, completely fair for you to want. But it does not sound like you are going to get it. So for the sake of your own sanity, I think it’s helpful to focus on the options that ARE open to you:

      (1) You put the effort into forcing him to step up (nag him/make chore lists/schedule time when he has to watch the kids so you can go out/do chores together so he’s at least doing some/delegate responsibility for a discrete area like meals to him), probably combined with finding him a therapist and making an appointment with his GP that you also attend to say that his meds are NOT working and you need to discuss other options.

      You should NOT have to spend your very limited time and energy searching for therapists and trying to get his meds adjusted. BUT think of it as an investment that will (hopefully) pay off in the future. Cut a corner elsewhere (push off laundry for a day or two, get takeout instead of cooking, just let the bathroom be dirty, tell him you aren’t taking both kids on his “gym” night tomorrow) so that doing these things for him doesn’t require adding an extra task to your full plate.

      And while you’re waiting for his mental health issues to be addressed, I’d suggest starting by telling him that you don’t feel that your division of responsibility is balanced right now, and saying that you’d like both of you to track all of the housework and childcare you do for the next week. If seeing how much time you are spending on this stuff vs. how little he is does not motivate him even a tiny bit to improve (even if the first steps are to address his depression and anxiety), then I think you can safely assume that nothing will and just go directly to one of the other options.

      (2) You give up on the idea that he is going to step up, and just do it all yourself. It doesn’t sound like that will appreciably increase your current workload, since he is doing so little right now, but at least it would reduce the amount of time you spend trying to make him do his share.

      If you go with this, I would stop doing all tasks that are related to him alone: don’t do his laundry, don’t clean “his” space if he has one, don’t worry about his eating habits (get the kids fed and eat whatever you feel like, let him forage for himself), don’t give him two nights a week off when he is giving you zero, etc. You are in survival mode, and you do not have the spoons to worry about his comfort and well-being. You are like a person with hypothermia, and he’s the fingers and toes that get their blood supply cut off in favor of keeping the vital organs (you and your kids) alive.

      (3) You cut every household expense you can, and put that money towards paying someone else to do the work he is not doing. Do you have cable? Get rid of it. Do *you* need the internet at home? If not, get rid of it. Oh, is hubby sad that he can’t read Cracked until all hours? Then he needs to clean the bathroom and do the household’s laundry so that you don’t have to pay a cleaner to do those things. Maybe this is not feasible for you because you are already running at zero luxuries level. But if there is anything, anything at all you can get rid of to free up money for someone else to help you out, do it. He has abandoned all of his responsibilities, so he gets ZERO say in what you have to give up to survive.

      I’m really sorry you’re in this situation. Hang in there.

    • Erin said:

      I’d actually say: Think about ways you can leave this arrangement before 5 years are over, if you feel this would make you feel better. I don’t say it’s necessarily possible or feasible in less than 4 years or whatever, but: Having a way out can feel so freeing. This doesn’t have to be more than: Look up which ressources there are in your area for supporting you financially when you have kids. Or: Finding a way to put 10$ (US?) away a week. Small steps, so it doesn’t become an extra burden. Or even just daydreaming about what it would be like to live without a third person to manage. It’s okay to feel bad about how things are and your are allowed to wish for something better.

  63. I have had this debate in so many different ways! Spouse and I recently went through a knock-out, drag-down fight on the topic. I feel like since I work full time, and they are home full time, and kiddo is in school – that they should pick up more house-work. But, reality that bites is that my beloved doesn’t notice mess the way I do. Our idea’s of clean are completely off-kilter from the others. Also, I am prone to messaging them during the day with stuff to do. Helpful stuff. That would make me happy if its done…and then I passively aggressively get pissed if it’s not done.

    So, I went in search of advice, and found something that has really helped us. It recommended just trying to do 3-5 chores a day (it was advice for how to get your kids to help) and I write down on the chalkboard each day what all three (kiddo, spouse and I) of us are supposed to do each day.

    I found out that a limited number of stuff means it actually gets done. AND I realized that I was sending my beloved 10-25 “tasks” a day…and expecting them to be done. I was being a jerk, and had to eat some personal crow about it.

    But things are tentatively better. This system also means I only get to do a few chores a day so I can’t drown myself in trying to do it myself. It might help?

    • taketombo said:

      We have whiteboards with “groceries to replace” and “this weeks meals” – adding “daily chores” to it might really help. Thanks!

  64. ALL OF THIS. You have no idea how much ALL OF THIS.

    I separated from my husband of almost 9 years because we spent those 9 years arguing about ALL OF THIS.

    I have severe depression and I am not easy to live with. My two boys are both autistic and are not easy to live with. But there were times when I was working + studying + child-rearing + working through my MH issues and ALL OF THIS. I felt like because I was so hard to live with etc that all the resentment etc I felt was my fault.

    I finally realised that if he “forgot” to do something I’d asked him to do, then I wasn’t a priority for him. One of the last straws for me was when he took the door handle off his office door so the kids and I couldn’t go in while he was there. Of course he was always in there.

    In the end it was something my 8yo said that made me tell him to go.

    Now my house is still a mess, and I’m still stressed, but I’m not seething with resentment and that makes everything easier for me. Now my problems are:
    A) because of his current accommodation the boys can’t stay with him – he comes home and I stay elsewhere for the weekend. He doesn’t always feed them appropriately and thus far has never done anything like laundry or toilet cleaning when he stays with them. I don’t know how to push this because I need the time off from the kids and it pisses me off that I should even have to mention it.

    B) for almost a year now he has been displaying signs of depression and they have been progressively getting worse. He moved out in May this year and he was supposed to do something to address his depression. He has done nothing – hasn’t even been to see a GP. How long do I wait for him to start working his shit out? I’ve told him there’s no point in working on our joint shit if he’s not going to work on his own but he has still done nothing.

    There are so many issues that just writing about some of them makes me think this whole relationship is a write-off :(

    • I’m sorry. That sucks. One thing you’d hope would happen after a separation is that the slacking partner step up when he’s got the kids.

      What did your 8-year-old say that made you tell your husband to go?

      • He said, “Daddy is always angry and yells at me and I think he is bullying me. I think he should have a holiday from the family for a little while. Like two weeks.”

        • Mary said:

          Wow. That sounds awful and upsetting, and yet at the same time, you are amazing for raising a son who knows how to articulate that. And for acting on it when he does.

          • Agreed. And that he trusts you enough to tell you things like this.

        • taketombo said:

          That is what I worry my kid(s) will say about their dad.

          • 42tlh42 said:

            That is *so much* better than thinking it’s their fault! Really!

        • staranise said:

          To be honest, I kinda love your kid. At least he knew who the problem was here!

          • He had just finished a school holiday social skills program and obviously it sank in. Before telling me he had actually spoken to his grandparents and his dad – but none of them said anything to me.

            The terrible thing is he now thinks it is his fault that dad has stayed away for more than two weeks, and I struggle to explain to him that none of it is his fault without using phrases like “your dad is a loser-who-won’t-sort-his-shit-out”.

            He is really good kid (and his brother is too) and it makes me so sad that his dad isn’t around to realise it / won’t make the effort to realise it.

          • 42tlh42 said:

            This is really to Monica, but stacking ran out. Monica, perhaps you could go with a script like “Your dad is sick and can’t figure out how to get better right now.” ? And I do agree with staranise, and your child is mad brilliant!

  65. me said:

    Thanks so much for this post.

  66. Pelusa said:

    My godmother, now in her 60’s, is quite a firecracker and a badass. She never wanted to be a housewife, but ended up as one, because, hey, that was how things worked then and that’s what her husband expected. She finally got so sick of cooking with little appreciation from her family that she went on strike and stopped cooking. They ate take-out for a long time after that. In a separate incident, she got fed up with washing the dishes and in a fit of rage she broke all the dishes in the house. They ate on paper plates for years after that.

  67. Bluegirl said:

    I love this post, but I’m wondering whether the commenters have any advice for children-living-with-parents, or other people who aren’t in a head-of-the-household position of authority, who struggle with similar things. I’ve moved out of my family home, but my two siblings still live with my parents and I know my sister is struggling with our brother’s apathy towards housework. It upsets her when he doesn’t do his share because she wants to see it done, AND our parents tend to blame both of them as a unit when anything in the “kids” share of the roster isn’t done.

    Alternatively, any advice on what I should do as a well-meaning family member who doesn’t live there anymore but wants to see it resolved for everyone’s sake?

    • PIxie said:

      Ugh, THIS. I joke to my partner that my parents are the worst roommates I’ll ever have, because it’s a Sisyphean task trying to pick up after them while they constantly undo all my work, and because they have power over me, I can’t do anything about it.

    • Miranda said:

      The only suggestion I can make it to treat it like a work – based dispute – your sister documents everything she does, and then show that documentation to her “bosses” – ie your parents. But in terms of actually getting it done, I think she may just have to elt that goa dn know she’s doing the best she can.

      • Lady Commenter said:

        Yeah, exactly. If it’s an actual list of chores, try crossing off the ones she did with her name or initial next to it.

        Or maybe even just go straight for:

        “Parents, it is frustrating to me that I get blamed when Brother hasn’t done his share of the chores. Can we divide the “kids” share of the roster into My Chores and Brother’s Chores? If it’s hard to balance out, I’d be happy for the chores to rotate every week.”

        • Bluegirl said:

          Thanks for the advice! I think more documentation sounds like the way to go. I’m in favour of talking about it upfront, but I don’t think she’s as comfortable with that option and writing everything down or initialling things on the list are good alternatives.

  68. Melospiza said:

    I have cohabited with the same man for 40 years. He’s a slob. He doesn’t expect me to do the housework, he just doesn’t care if it’s done or not. I have contained, expressed, and let go of a lot of anger over the years, but I have also learned he is not going to change. I am the Field Marshal of the household, the boss, the CEO. He only does household chores with very specific instructions and limited time frames, and even then not reliably. I love the crap out of him, though.

    We have worked out a separation. I am not responsible for feeding him. He is welcome to share food I cook, but he has to ask if I don’t offer (I might want it for lunch the next day) and vice versa. We each do our own laundry, clean our own cat’s litter box, buy our own food, wash our own pots. He has his own room and I don’t clean it. It’s pretty gross. We will help each other out (anything you want at the grocery?) but this is the only way I can maintain my mental health. I set limits and lower my own standards because I am responsible for my own anger and I’d rather live with him than without him.

    He’s tolerable because he doesn’t expect me to take care of him, not a single “What’s for dinner?” In 40 years. The other night it was late and I was emptying the dishwasher (god I love dishwashers) and he just joined in to help. He noticed!! And he put stuff in the right place. Maybe he’s catching on…

    It is so hard to speak up. To break out of old gendered habits. To not nag, not yell, but simply behave differently: this is the way it’s going to be now. No adult, especially one with a job, is responsible for feeding someone else all the time, or washing some man’s goddamn socks, as my mother once eloquently put it.

  69. neverjaunty said:

    An explanation that I have found of some value in communicating with the gamer variety of partner:

    You can pay to do your share of the household business in TIME, MONEY or FACTION.

    Time means you get up off your ass and do your stuff. Money means you pay somebody else to do it – hire a cleaning service or a yard worker or a babysitter. Faction means that because you are dumping your share on me, you are burning up my goodwill and regard for you. Also, just as in a game, faction doesn’t grow back on its own, has to be earned, and when it gets down to a certain point it’s stuck at Hostile forever.

    • manybellsdown said:

      I love it and I am so doing this.

    • espritdecorps said:

      Seconding the love! I actually considered making an RPG to express this concept, but I could never pin down the variables. This is perfect.

  70. So much sympathy. Ugh.

    #506:
    “It makes me feel loved” is heartbreaking. When do you get to feel loved?

    This has already been said by CA and so many others, but I have to repeat it. You don’t need to ask his permission to stop doing 100% of the work. You can stop because you choose to. He cannot make you start again.

    If that strategy is too difficult, if you find yourself unable to resist his manipulation, then I second the idea of getting counseling for yourself, whether or not you get couples counseling. A good therapist can help you work through the unreasonable guilt.

    #507
    Your situation is even harder because of the kids. Yeah, you can cancel your marriage plans, but the kids are obviously here to stay. What will happen if you take days off for yourself, delegating childcare to your partner during those times? Can you count on him to keep the offspring alive? To make it through the day without CPS getting involved? If yes, I’d suggest doing that. If no, I’d suggest leaving. Not what you want to hear, I’m sure — he must have other good qualities or you would have left already — but this isn’t a workable situation.

  71. As I have a Holmesian sense of detail this “not seeing dirty things” doesn’t compute. Like, how does that even work? I’m really asking, I can’t wrap my head around it. It’s right there!

    Would love some insight. You who suffer from this affliction, are you slow to notice other things as well? :P

    • If you recall, Holmes is written as an eccentric, messy character who KEEPS HIS TOBACCO IN AN OLD SHOE and ORGANIZES HIS LETTERS BY STABBING THEM WITH A KNIFE INTO THE MANTLEPIECE and that the TABLE THEY EAT OFF OF IS COVERED IN CHEMICAL STAINS and the walls are STILL FULL OF BULLET HOLES, a room full of newspapers and snowdrift piles of manuscripts in every corner which nobody was allowed to touch, move or burn.

      I have a “Holmesian sense of detail” myself when it comes to observation, but like Holmes, the issue is that my threshold for caring about dirty things/eccentric placements is much lower than my husband’s. Like, the acid-charred table is totally hygenic – why is that a problem? And the snowdrift piles are my SYSTEM. The bullet holes add character. And it’s *my* mantelpiece, why can’t I stab my letters into it? What do you mean, it looks crappy and terrifying? I think it looks great. I never knew it bothered you, honey, I’m sorry. Could we get a stuffed crow or raven and have him hold the mail instead? It would be atmopsheric. The cobwebs are also atmospheric. Those piles of strange dread things are my dear friends. You’re hard to live with, honey, you really are.

      • Actually recalling even further, when my husband first met me, I had a studio apartment about the size of a shoebox that I lived in with a cat and a collection of unusual carnivorous fishes, and there was a bullet hole in the window above my bed because I’d shot it with my air rifle and then broken the window with the butt of the rifle because I thought it looked less like a bullet hole that way and so I could pretend that I had put my elbow through the window while having really wild sex.

        His face was like D:

        and I was like “welcome! you’re just in time to see me feed my bichir! I feed him guppies. His name is Moriarty. I have run out of room to keep the guppies, so they are in the lab glassware, which is stolen.”

        He was like “I really need a cup of tea.”

        But the milk had turned into cheese.

        so the metaphor is startlingly apt

        • Amy said:

          If it were possible to ‘like’ comments on WordPress, I would be liking the hell out of this.

          • espritdecorps said:

            Indeed!

      • ystir said:

        I love you.

      • helenhuntingdon said:

        Exactly. I am capable of pretty much acting pretty much like Holmes in this regard — amazing capacity for detailed observation combined with absolute obliviousness to anything not currently judged as relevant to whatever problem my mind is spinning on. When I fall into an engineering vortex, it can lead to some pretty colorful results in my living environment. But then, I live alone, so I can do that.

        The thing to realize with the person who “doesn’t see mess” or “forgets” is: Do they manage to remember to do their tasks at their paid job? Do they manage to keep acceptably clean in the paid workplace? If so, they’re lying their heads off about not being “able” to see mess or make the connection to do something about it or remember their responsibilities. Because they do those things just find in the workplace where they choose to do so.

        I am allowed to carpet my entire apartment in pages of scribbled equations, but I don’t do it at work. And I wouldn’t do it in shared living space either.

        • ystir said:

          I dunno, I find it easier to be somewhat tidy in the workplace (well, when I was well enough to work, before I got to the stage where I was just barely managing to get there every day and stay awake) because it is so much more specific/finite. Not that I live in a sprawling mansion or anything like that, but keeping one small area clear is a lot more manageable than an entire flat with a hundred different strands of things to remember, types of tasks, types of items to put away, etc. I’ve only ever worked at a desk in an open plan office, and my desk was rarely… let’s say it was generally no more untidy than anyone else’s. There were items of mail, items to be processed, items to be dealt with at a later date, a few personal nick nacks, and a cup and maybe a plate which would be dealt with straight away or the caretaker would clear them up at the end of the day. That’s a great deal more manageable than dishes, kitchen stuff, clean laundry, dirty laundry, food waste, books, computer stuff, glasses cases, notebooks, hair products, remote controls, knitting needles, personal mail, junk mail, bills, catalogues, pills, christmas decorations, sweet wrappers, clothes that are too small for me now, loo roll and on and on all the different types of things that exist in my home and need to be kept track of and even just typing that list has made my brain hurt.

          Now, as my health deteriorated, I found it harder, and I always struggled to keep on top of tasks, filing etc. But superficially, my desk was generally not unusually untidy*, and that didn’t present a huge challenge, but that didn’t mean my difficulty with seeing messes is any less genuine outside the workplace.

          I’m sure some people are probably lying about this stuff, but not everyone is, and I don’t think it’s helpful to say that.

          *certainly, not compared to the CEO of either organisation, both of whom had blatant, undiagnosed ADD and one of whom had literally a foot-wide path to his desk from his office door

          • ystir said:

            Oh, also, in many cases, people are using all their fucking mental spoons on trying to keep things vaguely acceptable in one or two areas (workplace is usually a pretty major one of these because if you lose your job, you are fucked) and so it becomes harder to manage the other areas, because stress exacerbates brain fog in a lot of cases.

          • helenhuntingdon said:

            I hear you, ystir, because I struggle with a spoon-limiting disability and it really rules my life a lot of the time.

            But I still stand by what I said. If someone says they “don’t see mess” or are unable to remember to do petty tasks, but do these in the paid workplace, then it’s that they can’t — they’re just telling you where their priorities are. Sometimes I can’t do it all either, but I’m not going to be so dishonest as to try to convince someone that it’s something I can’t do at all when that’s not accurate.

          • ystir said:

            I still disagree, because I know my own experience. I can keep a very limited area in a passable state (now I’m not working it’s the sink/kitchen counter, and my bathroom is almost always pretty okay) but beyond that my brain just zones out, and I have to concentrate very hard to actually notice stuff. I’m getting better, because I’ve spent the last ten or fifteen years training myself to notice it (unfortunately, I’m now at the stage where I notice most of it most of the time, but don’t actually have the physical capacity to DO anything about it.)

            Some people may well be making excuses, but not everyone. And there is a big difference between a very small space, in a place where there are other people around to jog your memory about the fact that mess needs to be dealt with, and where most of the things around you are being used RIGHT NOW or can be put away for a few months, as compared to an entire household with all the space and things and jobs and ongoing. overlapping wossnames that involves.

            Unless you have ADD, or something else which causes actual neurologically atypical responses to visual input and suchlike, I imagine it is very difficult to understand, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. It’s also pretty upsetting to constantly hear ‘well, you managed THAT, why can’t you manage THIS’. When I was at school, I would hyperfocus on some little craft project and then be utterly bewildered as to why I hadn’t done the homework that I had earnestly intended to get done as soon as I got home, it was never a conscious decision, but because I didn’t know I had ADD, everyone told me I must be lying, and I was lazy, and I was SO CLEVER why didn’t I just TRY HARDER and I did, I did, and it made me suicidal because I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just DO IT like everyone else. So, basically, no, it’s not that fucking simple.

          • helenhuntingdon said:

            Yes, ystir, I understand. You’re not telling me anything outside of my lived experience.

            I still stand by what I said.

            What is much more frustrating and upsetting from my perspective is a truly massive cultural phenomenon in which able men appropriate the language of the differently abled as part of a system of lies to justify exploitation of women they claim to love.

        • manybellsdown said:

          At work, when I have a job that has a desk and I have a defined “area”, I am A Piler. My organization technique is Piles of the Things. That document regarding the Banner house? Pile #3 on the desk, about 1/3 of the way from the top. The letter we got Tuesday? In this pile in the box, about 6 papers down.

          It doesn’t LOOK neat, but I am actually organized and know where things are. Fortunately, my last desk job was for a boss who was ALSO A Piler, so he was cool with the state of my desk as long as I had all the stuff done. And in 5 years at that job, I never lost or misplaced a document – a real estate job, handling million-dollar-plus properties.

          So I guess that’s a roundabout answer to your question about “not seeing mess”. I saw it. I just didn’t see it as mess because it wasn’t mess to me, it was filing. It was acceptably clean to that boss, but it probably wouldn’t have been remotely acceptable if my boss hadn’t been the same kind of person as me.

    • Chicken said:

      It’s not about being generally unobservant. Rather it is a combination of expectations and habit. I’ll give you an example.

      Spider webs. Sounds gross already right? I grew up in a pretty messy house and there were webs around. I see a spider web and and go ‘huh. There’s a web’. I literally do not make the see web = remove web connection. Next time, I’m probably not going to even consciously notice it’s there. So I had been living with my partner for FIVE YEARS when he went ‘soooo, I’m kinda sick of getting rid of all these webs.’ For context I should probably add that we have little harmless web building spiders. We’re not talking Mirkwood here.

      Now, I’m prioritising with maintaining a orderly habitat and things are improving. But that connection between seeing mess and then actually doing something about it is *really* hard for me. It makes my brain feel the same way as long division.

      • ystir said:

        Yes and no. I’m pretty observant, but I have ADD and I really struggle to see mess. Not just in the passive sense of not really noticing that six empty glasses and water bottles have built up in the limited empty space on my desk until one of them falls off when I move my mouse too enthusiastically, but in the even more frustrating sense that, when I realise that, between us, the person I share my living space with and I have let various bits of (clean) rubbish (you know, empty envelopes, water bottles, thankfully we’re pretty good at getting rid of anything sticky, these days) pile up around the living room, as well as various discarded T-shirts and things… I’ll grab a laundry basket and then a bin bag, go around the room and be absolutely 100% CERTAIN that I’ve picked up all the rubbish and all the laundry, take it into the kitchen, come back in, sit down, think, ‘phew!’ for about five minutes and then notice… probably at least three or four pieces of rubbish, a T-shirt and one sock in fairly obvious, un-hidden places that I just did. not. see.

        So, for me, it’s literally I don’t process those items as ‘mess’/’rubbish’/’existing on this plane’ or something. It’s not even that I see them, process them as ‘oh, yeah, a piece of rubbish’ and fail to get round to doing something about them, or to making the connection that ‘rubbish needs to go into the bin’. It’s that I can be in the act of going around, picking up rubbish and dealing with it and *still not see some of it*.

        It’s a fucking pain. I do what I can to work against it, obv, but as I also have fibromyalgia, it takes up extra processing spoons that I don’t have, on top of the actually dealing with the physical stuff spoons which, again, I don’t have.

    • Ruth said:

      Personally, I usually see things, but don’t see them as a problem – e.g. I know my bedroom bin is overflowing, but it isn’t in the way and it doesn’t smell, so I’ll deal with it some time in the next week, before the big bin goes out for collection. Luckily I live on my own and can deal with things in my own time.

      As it happens, there is a thing called inattentional blindness, or selective attention – basically, if you’re paying attention to something else, you can look straight past something you’d think would be obvious, like a gorilla on a basketball court (well, a man in a gorilla costume)(seriously, proper science!)

      But I think, generally speaking, it is more likely to be “I don’t see it as a problem” or “I don’t see it as something I need to do anything about” or “I am feeling too lazy to do anything about it so I pretend I don’t see it”.

    • Baytree said:

      You’re really asking? The way it works is that some of us have different bars for what counts as “messy.” So it’s not that we don’t see crumbs on the table, it’s that they don’t mentally register as Mess.

      Reason 2 is more complex, but essentially you’re correct: some people simply do not notice things, or forget about them so quickly they might as well have never noticed. For me it’s an issue of focus – I get hyper focused on whatever I’m doing to the exclusion of all else. In that mode I literally do not see the crumbs or stains or what have you. Other people may have different reasons producing a similar effect.

      At least in my case, reason 1 is a personality/upbringing thing and reason 2 is an ADHD thing. Standard disclaimer that everybody’s different.

    • Suzy said:

      For me, if I’m staring at something day in day out, for example a mess, I stop noticing it and my brain processes it as “that over there.” And I forget about it when I’m not looking at it, It’s like the Silence from Dr Who, that’s the best way to describe it, but like the Silence, constant exposure gradually MAKES ME CRAZY.

      I’m sitting here quietly cringing about it though…

      • Kitrose said:

        Oh, so very much this.

        Another way it manifests for me is that a new organizational system works for me! …For about a fortnight. And then it’s just another Thing That’s There. Charts, to-do lists, pictures, timer challenges… everything works just about long enough to almost but not quite get the house actully clean. Add in the amazing no-term memory (I can look at a CD on my desk from across the room, think “I need to give that back”, get distracted by something else on my way to the desk, and forget the CD by the time I’m next to it) and and my house gets so supremely messed up I want to hide. Therapy yes, medications yes, but still needs tuning, apparently. If I could magic wand any part of my personality that would be it. In a heartbeat.

    • Some things I notice, I vaguely think I should do something about, and then I add them to my (seemingly infinite) mental to-do list. Usually near the bottom. It takes a lot of mess for me to be motivated enough to actually take care of it. Except the kitchen. I refuse to cook in an even moderately gross kitchen.

      But a lot of the occasional dispute between me and my husband is that our clutter thresholds are very disparate. Right now, looking around, I have two soda cans, two bags of chips, four notebooks, and some tissues on my desk. I’m fine with this. Maybe I’ll clean them off later, since I think it looks slightly better that way/I’m less likely to knock over a soda onto my keyboard. But it doesn’t register as a Problem, or even particularly messy, to me. I’m totally fine with it. My husband, on the other hand, hates it. (So really, I’ll probably clear it off soon just so he doesn’t have to look at it.) To him, it’s a Mess and it needs to be cleaned.

      Mostly this is only an issue if we’re having company over and doing the customary “Oh god people are coming why are we such slobs?!!?!?” race around the apartment. Because, starting from the kinda messy but not disgusting place our apartment is usually at, I can get it totally cleaned to my standards within about an hour. Surfaces done, bathrooms scrubbed, dishes done, kitchen cleaned, etc. And then it’s done, and he’s still finding weird things that I didn’t even realize were out of place (broken Christmas ornaments piled in the corner, etc.) sometimes because they don’t have a real place to go, so I’ve mentally declared that they can’t be straightened up/they’re already in their home. And he gets annoyed cos I’m just standing there, because I literally have no idea what else needs to be done. He’ll even say “Go clean off the table”, but… the table’s done! I already did that part! (Except no, the mail needs to be sorted/shredded/hidden somewhere more discrete.) Et cetera.

    • Sarah said:

      For me, I see it but if I ignore it for a day or two, I just…stop seeing it. I see it, I recognize it, but my brain has started thinking “That’s just how this room looks,” instead of “Hmm, that’s messy.”

      For example: I have a messy bedroom. Clothes are generally deposited in a variety of places which are not the closet or hamper. A while back, my back was killing me – I’d pinched a nerve or something. My boyfriend suggested that a massage and sleeping on the floor for a bit had helped his dad, so I tried it. So I heaped the clothes from the floor onto the bed and slept on the floor. It worked! I felt great! But then a ton of shit was on the bed, so I just kept sleeping on the floor. For 3 weeks. I was literally right next to the bed, but it had clothes on it, so clearly I couldn’t sleep there.

      Lather, rinse, repeat for all other rooms in the house. I honestly basically don’t notice until things smell (and even then, give me a day or two and I’ll start to think that’s just how houses smell).

      I’m moving into a new place in a week and a half where boyfriend (who is a Very Clean Person as I mentioned upthread) will be able to come visit more often and we hope to be able to move in together in about a year, so I’m taking this year to teach myself to be better. But it’s going to include him holding me accountable and some very, very humbling moments.

      • manybellsdown said:

        Yes, this is what I do. It turns invisible after a few days. I found that UFYH’s suggestion of photographing a room really helps. I see the mess in the picture that I walk past in real life. Oh hey, there’s a missing stair there! I should fix that!

    • Jake said:

      For me it’s not about having lower standards. There are three things

      1) Inattentional blindness, as mentioned above. My mind is on something else, so my eyes slide past the pile o’ crap without my brain registering it.

      2) My brain registers the dirty/messy thing, but doesn’t make a conclusion about what should be done about it. If you brought it to my attention, “hey Jake, that dish on the table, does it need to be washed?” I would say yes, but since no one did, it’s just there, being a dirty dish.

      3) My brain registers the object, comes to a conclusion about action that needs to be taken, but I choose not to take that action right now because I’m busy/in a hurry/don’t feel like it and then once I’m no longer looking at the object, poof, it’s gone from my mind. And I don’t think about it again until the next time I see it, at which point lather, rinse, repeat.

      That’s why I need a _system_. I will almost never be like “I have nothing to do right now, I’ll wash the dishes I just noticed” so I have to be like “My plan for stuff says that now is dishes time… oh look, there’s dishes to do! Fancy that!”

    • MsM said:

      See, I have the reverse question. My mother needs glasses and contacts, but somehow she can spot a speck of dirt on a dark countertop from fifty paces, and I won’t know it’s dusty unless I put my hand down and it comes away with a layer of fuzz.

      Like the others, I’ve decided people just have different thresholds. For some of us, it takes a lot before the “whoa, this is kind of getting to be a problem; I should clean it up” response gets triggered. (Sometimes so much that it turns into, “Whoa, this is too much of a problem; I don’t know how to start cleaning it up.”)

      • staranise said:

        Secret trick of the trade: Watch how the light reflects off a surface as you walk through the room. That will tell you a lot about how clean the surface is.

    • Ellen Fremedon said:

      I see actual dirt, and I take steps to clean it, but I don’t see clutter. Instead of clutter, I see individual objects: I see them, they’re intact, they’re clean, I know where they are, I remember where they are and know where to find them– ergo, no problem!

      I consider cleaning and decluttering to be two completely different tasks, and I can perform the first without doing the second– if I haven’t yet decided where some object’s permanent home is– some place where I will be able to find it even when it’s out of sight and I haven’t seen it for a while– I will just pick it up to dust or sweep under it and set it back on the table/floor/counter. Ta-da! Cleaning is done!

      This used to drive my ex-roommate crazy. She had the opposite problem– she couldn’t see clutter as a collection of individual objects; as soon as there were hrair objects on a surface, that surface was Cluttered, and she had the hardest time mentally separating the uniform mass of Clutter into individual objects to be put away, but also couldn’t see a clean-but-cluttered surface as clean.

      Eventually, we did manage to come up with cleaning methods and schedules that worked for both of us, but there was a lot of squalor and some fights before we got there.

    • Thanks for all the responses! I don’t wanna crowd the thread by thanking everyone individually but seriously: thank you. I don’t fully understand it but you’ve made it that much easier.

      • helenhuntingdon said:

        I wonder if there is also a difference that comes in when some things get mentally filed as “temporary” versus “permanent”.

        I had a roommate once where I was baffled by a particular difference in perception between us. She didn’t like the look of putting up shelves on a wall and putting things neatly away there because it made the room look smaller and more crowded to her, but she was absolutely fine with piling stuff on every table, desk, chair, and patch of floor and never clearing those spaces off, to the point where there was no place to sit or walk and evidently meals were to be eaten standing in one tiny corner or something.

        My eventual guess was that she mentally filed the endless piles of mess as only temporary and to be removed shortly (though this was never true), but the shelves looked like permanent “clutter” to her, therefore worse somehow.

    • 42tlh42 said:

      ::sigh:: Not seeing clutter? That’s me. When I first put it there, it was because! (my hands were full; I had to pee on the way; etc.) Then that became the place it was, and it wasn’t in the way right now, and I can put this other thing on it/right next to it, and I *will* eventually put both of them/all of them (it grew?) away, and then it’s been there, so it’s supposed to be there, right? So it’s invisible…
      As far as I can track the thought processes, that’s what they are/have been. These days, especially in the common areas, I can come into a room and turn on “spouse-vision” and realize “Aaahh! There’s a pile of magazines/books/DVDs there! They’re not supposed to be there! And it looks like they’re mine! How awful! I did that! I must now fix it!” and the whole pile usually gets put away right then, even if I have to put down something else to do it. ::sigh::

  72. GOD YES THIS POST.

    My roommate is a guy, and thus far I have not told him about my trans status, so he only knows me as a girl. Naturally, this means that I am the one responsible for cleaning out the litterbox (I have a cat, as does he, so I think it’d be fair if I did it half the time but no!), doing laundry, helping with dishes and cooking if anyone does. It was the same with my ex-boyfriend, who I used to live with, while we were in his condo, which is now a total horrendous mess that stinks to high heaven because of all the plates of old food left out to rot and dirty laundry lying around. I’m so glad I don’t live there anymore, I think I’d suffocate in the BO and rotten food stink.

    Anyway, roommate’s mom usually takes care of the cooking and laundry, since she still babies her kids a lot, especially him, but if she doesn’t then he won’t himself, so it falls to me. I also have cleaned his room several times, a monumental task since it’s full of comic books, regular books, game stuff and dvd’s since he’s a big gamer and collects a lot going to conventions and such, but has very limited space to put them which has already run out, but he still buys more, including fragile figurines that have to be kept just so (including meticulously clean and free of dust, but he’s never touched a duster in his life) and overall trying to cram too much stuff into too little space, which seems to be a problem with a lot of my friends, including two who have children of their own who I have helped do complete overhauls of their apartment when CPS is about to come for a check. After eating he just leaves food plates sitting out, along with coffee mugs and milk, so I have to grab them, rinse them and put them in the washer before I head to work. It doesn’t help that he snores so loud I can hear him rooms away, doesn’t stop playing really loud video games until well past three in the morning regardless of when anyone else has to be up, and refuses to turn off lights or use headphones to listen to loud music or for his video games, along with leaving the tv on constantly when he doesn’t watch it. I’ve tried talking to him, but he usually tells me to ‘shove a tampon in it and shut up’ (Yes, he is a raging asshole when it comes to anyone giving him criticism, especially women) and does nothing about it.

    This is why I’m saving up for an RV…the sooner I have my own place, the better. I’m tired of always picking up after everyone else because they won’t do it themselves. It’s not can’t, it’s won’t. Most of them are grown-ass men and fully capable of taking care of themselves if they’d just put down the game controller and pick up a duster. However, they’re men, having been raised with someone else doing everything for them, got used to it and now refuse to change, even if the alternative is living in a disgusting hovel, like my ex-boyfriend now is since I’m not around to throw away rotting food and cl