#813: Labor & Leisure

Dear Captain,

My husband is serially unemployed. Over the 8 or so years we’ve been together, it’s been a cycle: 12 months employed, six months unemployed, 18 months employed, 1 year unemployed, six months underemployed freelance, on and on.

I have been fortunate to find well-paid work in my field and have no trouble staying employed full-time. In the past decade, I’ve never been away from work for more than 10 days straight.

Now, on the one hand, I am so glad I can cover the bills every time he gets laid off or fired. I think we have an above-average marriage. He’s my best friend. Of course I’m going to support him through the hard times.

On the other hand, what about me?

There are days during his unemployed periods when I really resent that he can sleep in, work on his side-dream of being a writer, play his xbox, collect unemployment and apply for jobs. He’s basically having a six-month vacation, except for an hour a day of job applications.

Even as I type that, I know it is unfair to him. He isn’t choosing to be unemployed. But my jerkbrain keeps reminding me that he has had more free time in the past two months than I have had in the past 15 years.

But I can also acknowledge that it is probably depressing as hell to keep being let go by companies.

I tell myself that I don’t want him to feel like I am punishing him for getting laid off, nor do I want him to feel like he needs to “pay” for his unemployed periods by being my personal slave when it comes to household chores. But, OK, on some level, that kind of is what I want.

I just… Would it be wrong to ask that since I do at least 8 hours of paid work a day and he does 0, maybe he could put in some extra hours of unpaid work around the house during this time to take a little stress off me? Or something else to balance the load? I feel like he owes me. He has said he feels like he owes me too. But it feels wrong on some level to want to collect on that debt.

Can you suggest some self-talk to help me stop feeling like a victim of my own success? And is there a way to bring up couples counseling to talk this through that won’t feel like I’m attacking/judging his work history?

Someone else’s safety net

Dear Someone Else’s Safety Net,

Digging into all of this with a couples counselor sounds like a good idea, so I’m going to focus this post on generating questions for those discussions.

The biggest thing that jumps out at me from your letter is that the periods of unemployment aren’t a matter of “supporting your husband through hard times.” They have started that way, and whether it’s his industry or the economy or his particular cocktail of skills and attitudes and working environments, after eight years I don’t think it’s unfair to assume that full-time employment is going to be an on-again, off-again thing for him possibly forever. If he does find success as a writer, that too will have periods of intensely working and periods of being fallow. So what happens if you both decide/admit together, without judgment, that unemployment is less a temporary crisis to be managed than a regular, repeating, predictable cycle in his professional life and in your household?

When you operate in “Crisis Mode” there’s a tendency to table big discussions or planning for the future – i.e. “Let’s just get through this and save big discussions for when things are more stable.” That can be really helpful in the short term, and really stressful over the long term when you don’t know how long things will stay the way they are and it becomes impossible to do long-term planning. Is there something you are putting off until he is working? Some professional or creative step for yourself? Any way you could work some piece of it in now?

Other questions I had when reading your letter:

  • How is your savings cushion/retirement savings? Are you happy with it? Do you have a strategy for socking away money when he is employed to plan for future gaps?
  • Are you able to take regular vacations or is that something you put off because of money/employment issues? For instance, would you be able to buy a plane ticket to go see some friends for a week right now, or is that not in the budget until your husband is working again? (You sound like you REALLY need a break).
  • How much leisure time do you get in a week? Time to yourself and time to spend with your husband or with other friends and family? Do you get to play video games or pursue creative projects sometimes? Do you get to exercise and read and watch TV and veg out? Are your weekends hectic because they are taken up with household chores and errands? Do you ever really get a break, or are you always “on” – picking up the house, cooking, planning meals – and then going back to work?
  • Does your husband write on a regular schedule and make progress towards completed, sale-able project or projects? Writing and other creative pursuits certainly don’t have to make money in order to be important, but when your husband talks about his writing dream how does he talk about it? Is he diligent and realistic about what he wants to do with writing? Does he see it as a replacement/alternative for his on-again, off-again profession? Does he finish things and send them out? Is he part of a group or class or online community?
  • What are your relative social habits & connections like? It can be stressful to be “on” all day with people at work and then come home to someone who hasn’t had much human interaction who has saved up Many! Thoughts! to tell you about. Do you ever get your house to yourself for a few hours?
  • Are you keeping a harmonious joint schedule of sleep & mealtimes, or is his lack of schedule throwing off your mojo right now and contributing to some of the resentment you feel? Sleeping in is nice, but maybe getting on a consistent joint schedule where you eat breakfast together every morning would be good for your partnership?

One way to figure this out, over time, is to work together to make a big list of things that have to be done routinely to keep your household running and to plot those things on a weekly or monthly grid along with time estimates (“Work & commuting back and forth to work = 50 hours/week, Cleaning bathrooms = 1.5 hours/week, Meal planning, shopping, and prep = 6-10 hours/week, “Job searching = 5 hours/week” etc.) Include prep time, planning time, getting ready time in your estimates. Label who does each thing and what is shared between you. Also include leisure time – reading, video games, napping, date night – and see how much you each get. Revise and revisit periodically. Then, instead of splitting hairs over equal economic contributions and equal household chores, try aiming for equality and fairness in giving both partners comparable amounts of leisure time. 

One way this could help is that when you are both working full time, you end up dividing household tasks more equally between you (or outsourcing some household tasks if you can afford it). When you are going to work every day and he is staying home, there will still be time to write and to play video games, but he can ensure that a work break for him (even an involuntary one) is also a break for you. Together, you can decide explicitly what the culture & routine of your house will be when you switch between Everyone At Work Mode and One Person Home A Lot Mode, and you can decide that both modes have value. One thing I love about France is that many museums are free for unemployed people on the principle that when you finally have time to really enjoy them money shouldn’t be an obstacle. If he could take on some more household stuff during these breaks from working outside the home, you could have a more pleasant life during those times, too. I don’t think that is an unreasonable thing at all for you to want.

This stuff is so fraught because: gender, money, capitalism, how different kinds of labor are valued (take your pick). Not easy. Go slow, be nice to yourself and each other, don’t try to solve it all in one day.

Good luck sorting it out and happy New Year.



421 thoughts on “#813: Labor & Leisure

  1. What has helped me is realizing that I do so many things that are not even on my husband’s radar that he isn’t even aware that they are Things that Need to Get Done. (And vice versa, of course). Try approaching the conversation about helping out using language that clues him into certain tasks that aren’t on his radar. Some good conversation starters I’ve used are:
    “It would really help me out if you did X”
    “Hey, I need to do Final Task but the job would be easier if you help with Preliminary Task”
    “Since I worked late 2 nights this week, I didn’t have time for Z….could you tackle that today?”

    I think it helps if you ask by giving a brief hint as to WHY you need help. It has also helped me to build in language that enables him to choose when it would work best for him to do the task as opposed language that sounds like nagging. So “when you have time,” “at some point today,” “sometime before the weekend” as opposed to “right now when you’re clearly in the middle of something else”.

    Another thing that helps it not feel like nagging for my husband is that on Saturday morning I just make up chore lists – His and Hers- and post them side by side. It’s a gentle way of showing him what I need him to do & giving him the whole weekend to do them – while also showing that I’m doing just as many chores that weekend as he – it’s an equal effort, in other words. Good luck!

    1. But then we’re back to that gendered thing where household tasks are LW’s job that her husband “helps” her with, it’s her job to do the emotional and mental labor of figuring out what needs to be done and making lists, and reminding somebody they need to do their damn work is “nagging” when the woman does it.

      1. Yeah, I get that vibe, too. It shouldn’t be a woman’s job to follow a man around and remind him those dishes he just walked past need washing.

        1. Which, I hasten to add, is NOT meant as a criticism of JIII’s marriage – if they’re both happy and it works for them, awesome – just that given all the gender and power issues that swirl around housework and paid work and so on, I am apt to massively side-eye suggestions that household stuff is something men ‘help’ with and have to be gently reminded, never ‘nagged’, to follow through on, and that the mental work of knowing what needs to be done when isn’t their problem.

          (And of course LW could be a man, as well, but I’m betting not, from the dynamic.)

          1. ” I am apt to massively side-eye suggestions that household stuff is something men ‘help’ with and have to be gently reminded, never ‘nagged’, to follow through on, and that the mental work of knowing what needs to be done when isn’t their problem.”

            Problem is more on the end of that men aren’t brought up to think about what needs to be done. For some reason women are taught to look around and perceive what needs to be done to make things clean, but men don’t seem to be? I have a small sample size, but that’s the theme I’m working with lately.

          2. So, this is all true, but when you live with a person, you live with their current skillset and habits.

            If a person you live with doesn’t have great executive function, or has never learned how to keep a space uncluttered, or has no idea how to keep track of what’s in the fridge and cupboards, what needs thrown away and what needs to go on the list, well, that’s where you’re starting.

            At that point, you have choices, the desirability of each being modified by the specifics of their situations (though I’m not big on numbers 5 and 6 under any circs.)

            1) Become wealthy enough to hire help, or make sacrifices to do it. (Pay and treat them extremely well.)
            2) Get them to agree that they will teach themselves, and provide tech support as needed. Eat some slightly dodgy things, off of questionable plates, and stop buying light-coloured socks until they get better about sorting laundry.
            3) Teach them things, holding them accountable for making a serious effort to get and stay taught.
            4) Accept that they’re basically willing but left to themselves won’t quite make the grade and arrange to remind them of things, in person or via a list or chore wheel.
            5) Do it all yourself and resent it.
            6) Decide that if they don’t care you don’t either. Live in unromantic squalor and find yourself ranting drunkenly to the fruit flies at midnight like an Arthur Miller character.
            7) Leave. Vow never again to move in with someone whose bathroom floors aren’t sparkly.

            It is true in my experience that many men still make it to adulthood without either the expectations OR the skills that make a decent housekeeper. Some women, too, but the numbers skew heavily, heavily male.

            Speaking as quite a good housekeeper, cook, handywoman and laundress, the expectation situation can often be corrected quickly, but the skillsets take years. I started at 5; someone who starts at 25 is going to be appreciably worse than I am at many things for a long time.

            So I agree with you, but by itself it doesn’t HELP.

          3. Comments can’t nest any further, but this is a reply to SJ.

            It sounds like by your comment you either meant “here is a thing that I have identified as a factor” or “but they can’t help it, the poor things, it’s just not how they were raised.” And on the off-chance that it’s the latter, I just really have to say:

            If the LW’s husband is an adult, he’s had time to learn how to be considerate and contribute to keeping his shared living space clean. If a twelve-year-old doesn’t quite get it yet, I’m likelier to judge the parents; but when someone who’s been living away from his parents for several years still hasn’t realized that he should pick up after himself, that’s on him.

            Try this: picture an adult saying, with no hint of shame or apology, “It just doesn’t really ever occur to me to clean up after myself or do housework. I never seem to notice what needs to get done. I guess it’s just not how I was raised. I mean, I do it when I’m asked, but no one ever taught me to look around and take the initiative on stuff like that.” Can you hear how ridiculous that sounds?

            (Not that the LW’s husband has said that, or at least I hope not. I just really hope you don’t feel that “no one ever taught me how to be considerate” is a legit excuse for behaving the way the LW’s husband is behaving.)

            If I have totally misread you, then sorry! If you were only pointing out that poor parenting may be a factor, and you didn’t mean to suggest that it excuses anything in an adult, then never mind.

          4. This could be not entirely a gendered thing, and partly a neat person/messy person thing. Years ago, I accepted the fact that I am a slob. A total slob. If I did not want to slip into squalor, I realized, I would have to hire a once-a-week cleaning person. That is no small chunk out of my limited budget, but I pay it, because that’s the price of not living like a raccoon with furnishings. All the speeches I gave myself about how I *ought* to take care of things on my own never worked, because my slob brain doesn’t even acknowledge a problem until it’s already chaos. I *just don’t perceive the problem* until it’s titanic.

            That said, I realize that fairly few people react that way, and nothing in either of these letters indicates their husbands have this particular slobby frame of mind. The gendered concept of housekeeping as women’s work taken on by men only as a favor is widespread and pernicious. But I can attest that some of us, regardless of gender, just Do Not Get It when it comes to housecleaning.

          5. It’s very easy not to look around and notice something needs to be done, if you know that somebody else will eventually do those things for you, no?

            And speaking as someone who wasn’t brought up to do housecleaning, that doesn’t explain the expectations that a female partner will handle the management/planning/listmaking/reminding, that it’s ultimately her responsibility and what the male partner does is “help her out”, or that her reminding him that he’s not carrying his share of the load is “nagging”.

          6. All I can recall is an argument with my Ex where he was adamant that ovens did not need to be cleaned, ever, because he never saw his mom clean theirs.

            I’ll just let the absolute horrorbeauty of that statement sink in.

            This was before self-cleaning ovens, and the oven in question had tons of burned food seared to the bottom and causing tons of smoke anytime it was turned on (all done by him). By some miracle, both of his sisters were born with the ability to clean ovens fully formed, it seems.

            Gosh there are a lot of reasons why he is my Ex, but I think not just the refusing-to-clean-or-do-his-agreed-upon-chores-EVER but his demand that I acknowledge he was RIGHT not to do them, that I was BEING UNREASONABLE in asking that he do them/the frequency they needed to be done/that things like floors and sticky counters could not be cleaned by just running a dry piece of paper towel over them, or that his INTENTIONS to do them were just as good as… doing them…

            Pardon me, I need to go maul something.

          7. I generally agree with the fact that this dynamic seems to be very gendered, but in my personal life I’ve encountered several female roommates that behave *exactly* like this, i.e. need to be constantly reminded to do their fair share, not initiating any household purchases until asked, not refilling stuff that needs refilling, not putting stuff back in their places etc. So maybe it’s also a habit/ how you were brought up thing.

          8. You know, I’m cool with helping people learn how to do tasks when they first encounter them. In fact I actively enjoy teaching people things! One time I even had a young dude about to move out approach me to teach him some basic cooking and housekeeping skills because he’d been raised by his grandparents who followed traditional gendered roles and he didn’t know how to do anything. I was delighted to help, and flattered to be asked! But, also, I have lived with dudes who’ve used their lack of knowledge and experience with knowing when stuff needs to be done as an excuse long, loooooong past it’s used by date. After a certain amount of time and repetition you expect people to get the hang of stuff, and we live in a world of calendar alerts on our phones if there’s a task that needs doing regularly that we just “don’t see” and let’s just say that the amount of time I give as reasonable to get the hang of stuff is a lot less than *8 years*. Bonus points for the dudes who play ignorant and forgetful but are also annoyed and offended when you remind them of stuff or show them how to do things.

            I think that young dude who asked me to show him how to do stuff is a clue – people who actually care go out of their way to learn how to do things, and then show progress pretty much immediately. They ask other people for help. Perhaps they google stuff. When I first moved out of home there were all sorts of things I didn’t realise needed doing either and I figured it out, because it needed to be done. As someone else said up thread it’s amazing how easy it is to fail to learn stuff or see stuff when you know someone else will take care of it.

            My grandfather once told me that whenever he was asked to handle the washing by my grandmother he would deliberately mix the whites and coloured clothes (and this is back when doing that would actually completely ruin the whites) so that she wouldn’t ask him to do it again (and knowing her, she was probably only asking when she was in hospital levels of sick and similar emergencies). Dudes playing inept to get out of household chores is a Grand Olde manipulation tactic that makes me want to set things on fire with the burning heat of my wrath.

          9. Agree – I had this conversation with a (woman, married to a man) coworker about how her husband is great because he’s willing to pitch in…as long as she tells him what to do. So on top of working a stressful job and wrangling a household and 2 young children, she’s also the one using a pretty big chunk of her time and energy organizing what needs to be done when and by whom.

            That is also work. It is great that someone is willing to help out, but I feel like what I see over and over is that being the Fieldmaster of the House and Organizer of Schedules and Tasks seems to always default to women. If I’m spending 45 minutes planning out tasks and figuring out who needs to do them and when they need to be done, it’s great that someone else will help….BUT THAT IS STILL 45 MINUTES MORE WORK/BRAINPOWER/TIME I COULD DO SOMETHING ELSE I just spent.

            A lot of men I know who cohabitate with women seem to feel that as long as they’re willing to pitch in when asked to do a specific task, they’re doing just A-OK.

          10. @Ariane, I’m the same way. I’d add that it’s not really that I Don’t Get It, I just honestly don’t care about living in a messy apartment (until I go on a huge cleaning spree once every few months, which can actually be recreational). The only time I was regularly cleanly was when I lived with someone else who was more naturally tidy and we were already close friends. I think both of us made more of an effort that we usually do on our own, just because having another person always there was a little bit like having relaxed guests over, so it provided a bit of consistent motivation. But on my own? Nope.

            But the fact that I could and did step it up when someone else had higher standards speaks well not specifically of me, but of our roommate relationship, which was very balanced and accommodating for a lot of years. I don’t mind cooperating on chores if I know we’re both making an effort and it’s not just me trying to make up for some perceived deep character flaw (which, for many people, sloppiness can sometimes represent). I think if I were in LW’s partner’s situation and there was a stress-generating difference between what was expected of me and what I reasonably thought I could do while staying happy and content in the relationship, I would totally get a temp job FOR THE PURPOSE of paying someone else to clean the house. That’s a better use of my time than housework–for lots of reasons, not least that it would get me out of the house and give the wage-earning an actual purpose–and it would probably satisfy the LW’s partner even more thoroughly by giving them leisure time as well.

          11. @Chessie
            “It just doesn’t really ever occur to me to clean up after myself or do housework. I never seem to notice what needs to get done. I guess it’s just not how I was raised. I mean, I do it when I’m asked, but no one ever taught me to look around and take the initiative on stuff like that.”

            I have said those exact same words, because they are completely true. I was not taught how to keep a neat space. I have a hard time determining when something “needs” to be cleaned or picked up. Unless it gets in my way, smells bad, or is similarly inconvenient, I will probably not notice. (Except dishes. Dishes get done every night because bugs, and in between when I want to cook and they’re in my way.)

            So yes, I have to be asked. And I’ve accepted, intellectually anyway, that a schedule of some sort keeps my wolf from having conniptions because the bathroom wasn’t cleaned this week. (I seriously can’t tell the difference between a bathroom cleaned weekly and one cleaned every two weeks even when I’m the one who cleaned it, but he can.) I don’t see the point in sweeping the floor every day because it’s just going to collect more dirt and hair tomorrow, but he would rather not collect dog gerbils on his boots. And it’s worth it to me to believe him when he says “I would be happier if this were cleaned,” so I clean it. (For the record, I am not the only one who cleans. Although as I have considerably more time at home right now, I’ve taken on some extra tasks. But it’s divided between him and me and the two kids.)

            My point is that it’s not as uncommon as you would think for a grown adult to actually not notice those things or take the initiative.

          12. @Hannahbelle: That should be, “it would satisfy the LW more.” I meant that hiring someone to do (some of) the housework, if at all feasible, would give both people more satisfaction–not just the sloppier partner.

          13. @Anisoptera and @CommanderBanana, just, yes, all of this.

            I did plenty of chores growing up but I didn’t do a lot of housework (it was more on the farm machinery/maintenance end of things). When I started living apart from my folks, it took me a while to figure out how to do things. My version of “clean enough for me” has changed over the years. When I really sat down and decided I wanted to stop doing marathon weekend cleans and there had to be a better way, I hit the internet, found stuff like Unfuck Your Habitat, and started doing them, using the tools they provided, figuring out how to set myself up for success when it comes to anything from maintenance cleaning to “how the hell do I get a stain involving brine shrimp and diet coke out of this”.

            My Ex is the same age I am, has been living independently for the same amount of time, has been a homeowner twice over. He’s a programmer — which means he knows Google’s a really good solution, and how to look for answers. He taught himself how to cook using the internet and loves to find new recipes there. He’ll use it to learn to replace a fan belt or washer belt. Instead of ever touching a key or search for stuff, he just wanted me to “show him how” and “help him do it” for all of his chores for over three years of living together.

            He was “willing to pitch in”… on his schedule, and if I asked too often I was nagging, and if I left it alone then clearly I didn’t care THAT much to have let it go on so long, or there were a hundred other reasons why I was MORE wrong than him for not doing what he’d promised to over and over again. “I’ll do better” was his refrain for two years, but SAYING it is not the same as… doing it.

            (The third year he stopped even bothering to pretend he’d try)

          14. @trundlebear: “…if I asked too often I was nagging, and if I left it alone then clearly I didn’t care THAT much to have let it go on so long, or there were a hundred other reasons why I was MORE wrong than him for not doing what he’d promised to over and over again.”

            Ew. I don’t care what the issue is, that’s just manipulative and wrong.

          15. “Dudes playing inept to get out of household chores”

            This is known as strategic incompetence, for those who like knowing terms. 🙂

          16. @CommanderBanana- We split cleaning chores almost in half, but the planning thing is still an issue. I have become the Planner of my house, but I try to approach it more like being the actual manager. As in….I set the agenda, but everything that can be delegated IS delegated. It helps that Mr. Celette is very goal-oriented and will do anything if you point him at the task and that we are both full-time employed but his job allows for more during-the-day flexibility (he has downtime where he can make phone calls, for example, or putz around on the internet doing research, whereas i’m on the go the entire time I’m at work). I don’t mind being the one who has to think “oh hey, someone needs to get birthday present for X” or “gee, we should figure out if our retirement strategy makes sense” as long as Mr. Celette will do the leg work and basically present a report for us both to decide. I’m all foresight, he’s all follow-through. But I get why that is in and of itself a job! Because it is. Managers have more important roles at work, even if they aren’t the ones carrying out the tasks. (I also do more managery things like keeping big-picture-financials in order, though I’m trying to at least make sure Mr. Celette is looped in on things like passwords, I’m always afraid that something will happen to me and he won’t know how to access our money)

          17. the mental work of knowing what needs to be done when isn’t their problem.

            I was thinking about this as I asked our 17-years-old sweet, sweet male catsitter why the cheapmadeinChinapieceofcrap dishwasher thingy was broken. “How on earth did the cats do that?”

            He blushed and said, “I broke it when I was washing the water dish.”

            Me: You were washing their water dish?
            Catsitter: Well, it can get kind of gross after a day or two.
            Me [thinking]: Whoever marries this man will be the luckiest person on earth.

            (He came over to our house once just to play with the cats.)

        2. Adding myself to the anecdata about female slobs: it’s not just a guy thing. (Though I do think guys get a free pass more readily than girls do–as in, in a cluttered household maintained by more than one slob, the female partner/s are the ones more likely to get grief.) I find my sloppiness is less pronounced when I share a space with someone neat, but left to my own devices I always revert to not seeing or caring about mess because it really doesn’t bother me as much as cleaning up does.

          That’s portly because I was raised by someone who would walk into her children’s rooms and cheerfully cry out, “Pigpen!!!” by way of guilting us into keeping what she considered an appropriate level of neatness. So yeah, I feel you on, “How do I bring this up without making him feel nagged?” Some of us who were raised by neat but rude people have a reactionary “Finally, I’m an adult and don’t have to clean or think about cleaning ever again!!!” thing going on and really don’t like having it assumed that the cleanlier partner’s neatness level is automatically The Mature Way or the Way It Should Be and they are the parent and we are the child, etc. (No offense to children, who get burdened far too often with their own negative stereotypes and don’t need “and they’re slobs too!” added to the pile.)

          That said, if one person is sensitive to clutter and the other one isn’t, IMO the polite and appropriate thing is to lean toward the standards of the more sensitive person while giving the other one, if possible, some private space to relax in inoffensive squalor. Good luck working out the balance, but don’t feel like you have to pick up raising this guy where his mother left off. That’s his job now, and he may be completely fine with himself exactly as he is. Which they say, counterintuitively, is actually the first step to positive change. 🙂

          1. Female slob here, too. Not proud of it, just not denying it. My parents weren’t neat freaks, but looking back on it… I was often nagged to clean my room or help with chores and that was the first notice I got that there was a problem I was expected to do something about. There was never an effort to teach me, from a young age, how to put things away or how to help clean the house. It was like I was expected to just know how it was supposed to be done. And there was no routine to make cleaning up a normal part of household life. Household chores were always presented as undesirable work by both my parents (they’d do them, but grumble), so even now, when I can feel a sense of satisfaction during and after cleaning, say, the bathroom, I still have this mindset beforehand that it will be a miserable experience.

          2. I’m a little weirded out to see “but women do it too!!!!!” on this subject, because 1) that’s usually the cry of the MRA whenever a gendered issue, like harassment, comes up, to shut down discussion of how it’s a gendered issue and 2) nobody is claiming that only men are slobs or uninterested in housework. Kind of the entire point is that housework is not a magical fun thing that most women love to do other than a handful of badly-raised or slobby ladies. There is, absolutely, a strongly gendered component to housework and emotional labor and family management, from the expectation that it’s “women’s work” to women being more likely than men to have been raised to do those skills to making excuses for men (he “doesn’t see dirt”) who avoid it.

          3. Ok, I see your point. Although, seriously? Comparing me to an MRA the first time you reply to one of my comments? Don’t do that. In fact, don’t do it ever. To be fair, I did acknowledge that it’s a gendered thing and I agree that it’s a gendered thing, but the reason I commented was that we seemed to be hearing from a lot of women who prefer neatness and not many women who don’t. And the ones who don’t, like myself, may not be particularly happy to see “lack of neatness” repeatedly glossed as “that thing that lazy, entitled guys do in an exploitative way because good, kind, normal people who respect their partners make a point of maintaining a clean house.” Which was kind of the gist I was getting after only reading this far, although I found that it got more nuanced farther below.

            So let me revise to reflect that. (1) Some people prefer neatness and some don’t, regardless of gender; presumably we’re all in agreement there. (2) It’s incorrect to assume that keeping a clean house is something everyone should automatically do, or that anyone who doesn’t is somehow failing at humanity. Probably we all know that, too. (3) That said, when women who prefer neatness are partnered with slobs (especially guys), they shouldn’t have to choose among being the lone housekeeper, living in squalor, and nagging their partner to do their fair share. Not because “their fair share” is some objectively-defined thing, but because when two people differ on their standards, it’s appropriate to compromise in the more sensitive person’s favor–especially when that person is female. Because, unfortunately, you’re right: when someone is female, her preferences regarding neatness level are less likely to be respected; at best, they’re “indulged.” In fact, I’d say that that’s true regardless of the direction (neat or sloppy) in which those preferences tend. Sound better?

          4. @AndTheRest: I’m not proud, necessarily, but I’m working on not being ashamed. That’s part of my personal de-gendering process surrounding housework…dismantling the assumption that women who aren’t tidy are somehow not ok. I spent a lot of time thinking cleanliness was next to, if not godliness, than a strong and mature character. Which is not actually true.

          5. @Hannahbelle: I wasn’t comparing you to an MRA, and I honestly don’t keep a spreadsheet of which commenters I’m referring to for the first time.

          6. @neverjaunty: I guess we have different commenter-spreadsheet-creating standards, too, then. To each her own. 😉

          7. Oh no, Hannabelle, I did not mean to imply you were proud of it! Maybe it goes along with housework being gendered, and that women are taught that 1) it’s their responsibility, and 2) the should feel ashamed for not keeping things tidy every moment of every day. I think that internalized shame is why I wrote “not proud of it” — because I’ve been taught to be ashamed of it, to the point where I should deny it. Does that make any sense? Ugh, now I’m horrified how much I’ve internalized that nonsense, too!

          8. @AndTheRest: No no no, I didn’t take it that way; just adding my own contrasting viewpoint. I totally agree with what you just said. Sorry, no defensiveness or criticism intended!

            I do think for a lot of people, both cleanliness and “willingness to help” are charged–and gendered!–values/expectations, so it can be hard to tease out an actual personal preference (I am really, really bugged by mess) from an internalized judgment (if I don’t keep a clean house, I’m not an acceptable person). This isn’t to say that those who are bugged by mess should just relax and keep quiet, any more than those who don’t keep a clean house are immature or oblivious. It’s actually kind of the opposite: the mess-sensitive have to speak up for their preferences as preferences (and not assume their standards are universal), while the less-sensitive have to be empathetic enough to realize this actually matters to others and isn’t just a power play or an insult (because if *we* asked someone to be neater, it would totally be either a power play or an insult).

          9. Thank you for your comment, Hannahbelle! I too am a female who was raised by a rude neat freak. I did learn how to clean, but chores in my dad’s house were incredibly thankless because no matter how much effort I put in my stepmom would come home and yell at me that it wasn’t good enough, get down here now and do it right! I don’t care if you’re doing homework or reading a book, get down here right now and I will stand over you and disparage you and tell your little sister who came to ask, “what did Lilithgothica do wrong?” that she is good because she is good at chores whereas you have no work ethic and will be fired from your job because you don’t work hard enough, I can always tell the people who are slovenly at home are also sloppy at work. So I feel you on the “Finally, I’m an adult and don’t have to clean or think about cleaning ever again!!!” Chores in my mind were that horrible thing my stepmom made me do which I now can escape. I try to be tidier because I live with my boyfriend, who learned to clean on his own because he grew up in a family of all boys and didn’t do many chores growing up. He doesn’t resent them like I do, and he tends to be the one who has to remind/ask me to help. I try to preempt his asking , but I’m hindered by the fact that I would rather do anything else than clean.
            But, like the LW’s husband, I am an adult and it’s not my partner’s job to do all the emotional labor.

          10. Augh, thanks for this, guys. I am a woman who is messy. I feel shame about this. There are probably multiple reasons for it but one of them is definitely that I have strong unpleasant memories of being screamed at about household chores.

            DAD: It’s a mess in here!! put your toys away!!

            ME: But I don’t know where to put them.

            DAD: Put them where they go.

            ME: They go in the toybox but it is full. Where should I put them?

            DAD: JUST FIND A PLACE!!!!

            I wasn’t being deliberately obtuse or trying to refuse to do chores, I was just a six-year-old and I didn’t yet have the skill to figure out a new organizational scheme when the one I had been taught failed to work. Christ. Anyway, yeah, to this day picking up my house feels like being screamed at by my dad. 😦

            I understand the people who ask why people are raising the “women do this too” point. I think it’s important, or anyway it felt important to me, precisely because of the shame issue. Because being clean/neat is so strongly associated with being good/moral, especially for women. Those of us who are, well, slobs, have our inferiority communicated to us clearly and often. And I’m not talking about by people who live with us and have the right to say something, but people whose business it is none of.

            Anyway. Sometimes people who don’t clean are being dicks. Sometimes there are other reasons. And you know, if I live with someone who communicates to me that the status quo is really too messy for them… I figure out a way to make it work. The best way for me to feel better about cleaning is to have someone with me, whether they clean or not. So we would have scheduled roommate cleaning parties where we cleaned together. Or I might invite a friend over to sit and visit with me while I clean. I make it work because I’m not a dick.

            But I also suck at cleaning and probably always will.

          11. @human I have similar memories of being given incomplete instructions as a child to young to intuit the missing pieces, and then being criticized for the results. It took me 5 years after moving out to finally break the mindset that specific types of cleaning were “giving in” to my parents and proving them right, rather then me making conscious choices to make my own space comfortable on my terms.

            +1 to the communal clean sessions with music, they tend to make everything a little less painful. I also use a “later box” system, wherein if I’m cleaning and I can’t make a decision about an object within an hour, I put it in the box for a month and see if I miss it. Missed: remove from box and find a home, Not Noticed: toss out.

        3. When younger I handled the expectation that I, the woman in the house, would organize the cleaning by explicitly opting out.

          (Except for the bathroom which I cleaned, and laundry)

          I did not comment on the state of the house, and more. When my then partner would mention the mess or squalor, I’d agree it was awful and promise to help when he organized a clean up.

          My first live in relationship was horrifically filthy.

          My second somewhat better.

          It’s not fun

          1. That never works with me.

            I’m fine being the lesser human who disgusts clean people with my bad habits. All of the ovens I’ve left unclean literally don’t register on my radar at all. In my life, I have cleaned to a level I’m comfortable with, and it’s fine. The world spins on without the oven being clean. Somehow Keats will survive without the clean oven. My yogurt of getting stuff done is never the yogurt of having cleaned the oven.

            I think it’s because my family was too busy trying to have food to eat when I was a kid. Or maybe it was that we didn’t really find time to clean with mom being repeatedly institutionalized for suicide attempts and self harm and eating disorders. Priorities, huh?

            Somehow, I have grown into a well adjusted adult who cares less about the oven than some of you do. And I am completely okay with this. So passive-aggressively not cleaning the oven AT me is pointless. I won’t notice, because you didn’t use your words. And, moreover, I will think it faintly ridiculous that you have attached such a moral dimension to how clean the oven is.

            How about this? How about the idea that living with other people means people are bringing in a bunch of expectations of what they want for their home, cleanliness included. And that means saying “I want x, y, and z to happen on a regular basis.”

            And how about we treat people who don’t care about x, y, or z as people who have different priorities. And maybe, just maybe, talking about x, y, and z are part of what it means to move in with another person who may have different expectations and priorities than you, and not some unfair emotional labor visited upon you by dirty gremlins with no consideration for your OVENFEELINGS. Because talking about the chores you want done? That’s you taking responsibility of your own needs and expressing them to other people. And expecting other people to psychically figure out the importance of the oven in your life? That’s making them manage your needs for you.

            Of course this is different if you’re repeating yourself. Having to remind somebody constantly that you agreed that x, y, and z would be done is not expressing your needs – it’s picking up slack from somebody who should have been considerate of what you wanted and what you all agreed upon when you moved in together. That’s not cool. But first time “Hey, the oven is filthy, could you clean it” is not an unreasonable request, for the requester or the requestee. While I’ve done just fine without cleaning ovens in my life, and not having them cleaned by another person, if a roommate says “Hey, I really need the oven to be clean.” I will respect that as the arbitrary personal request that it is, and respond with respect and consideration and most likely just do it if it’s that important to them.

            There is definitely a gendered aspect to house labor. Women are expected to do it, or to plan to do it, or to “nag” or “remind-without-ever-nagging” people of expectations that they’ve already laid out. This is oppression. If we don’t discuss that when housework comes up, the patriarchy wins.

            But my mother, the woman working through a bunch of emotional trauma and doing an incredible amount of labor every day to just be there, in that space, with us four kids? The fact that she literally cried and was negatively emotionally affected by our messy house and felt like a personal failure because she didn’t do the dishes enough while taking care of 4 kids under 6? She was affected that way because of the same patriarchy that says people who don’t clean ovens aren’t real adults, because the oven labor is so standard, so easy, and so everyday precisely BECAUSE women have done it in this country historically. The gendered division of household labor is real, and it oppresses women. But the notion that people who don’t clean in a certain way are morally failing their loved ones also oppresses women. Maybe we can discuss them both, instead of buying in so hard with the second? I really respect this comment community, but those of you who are expressing this moral outrage about the state of the house, rather than acknowledging these ideals as a cultural expectation are really messing up, I feel.

          2. @tehgay,

            I may have been unclear. What I hoped to have conveyed is that I did explicitly verbally opt out of organizing the household, and I accepted that the consequences were whatever they were (filth when in my first live in relationship, mess in my second, cleanliness to my standards when alone, sometimes mess most recently).

            The moral judgement I make is that I think it is wrong to leave the emotional work of maintenance on women’s shoulders because Womanly.

            I regret anything I’ve posted that implies cleaning to my standard equates to virtue.

            Your childhood sounds difficult. Your mother’s experiences sound very painful and I’m sorry you and your family experienced such rough times.

      2. I’ve been having allergic reactions to the idea of my husband ‘helping’ me with things recently, even while I do feel that we both do our share of chores and contribute roughly equally. He’s taken to asking me, when I have started a task for both of us before he is ready to start (such as cooking supper), what needs doing next. Or what I had in mind for him to do. Or what part of it would be useful for him to work on. I’m afraid it means the same thing in the end, but it means he’s not asking me how he can ‘help’ with a shared chore, and it makes my brain happier.
        It also helps that we have assigned chores to each of us, and if he doesn’t do the laundry when I think he should, I still don’t say anything unless I’m actually out of clean pants.

        1. My (male) housemate does that when I’m cleaning in advance of a party we’re both throwing, and to be honest if feels only very slightly better. He asks me if there’s anything he can do to help. Sometimes I give him a direct task (e.g. cleaning the floor, which is the only time he ever does clean the floor). Sometimes I just tell him he’ll find something to do if he looks around. I wouldn’t really mind if it were established in our household that I’m the person who knows how to clean and accepts a managerial role, but actually he thinks of himself as the clean one. He just works on his own space, not so much the shared space.

          1. That was unclear and looks like I didn’t get what you wrote! Sometimes he says help, sometimes he asks me what needs doing. Either way it’s baaasically the same to me.

        2. I have issues with the idea of my husband “helping” too. Recently I had a slightly older than me (but not by much) co-worker tell me how lucky I was to have a husband who helped with the household chores and who was willing to babysit the kids. As if the words she chose weren’t irritating enough, she actually expressed confusion when I explained “well, no he’s not actually ‘helping’ me. He’s doing what needs to be done. If he lived alone he would need clean clothes, clean dishes, cooked meals etc. He’d have to figure out how to get those things. The fact that he’s married and does those things does not automatically make him ‘helpful’. Additionally, a man (or woman) does not ‘babysit’ children that they had a hand in creating/fostering/adopting. It’s called parenting and it’s what you should do. My husband is a great father and I will shout that from the rooftop, but staying home with his kids occasionally while I do other things isn’t the thing that makes him a good dad.”

      3. This. A marriage that is a partnership doesn’t have one person doing all the ‘women’s work’ and supporting the household. When my husband was laid off he took on nearly all of the cooking and much of the other household work; when he retired a couple of years before me, same deal. When I was a SAHM and finishing my degree, I carried more of the household work. It is horrifying that a woman like the OP who is doing most of the heavy lifting to support the household financially has a husband who doesn’t step up and do the majority of the household work. He damn well should have dinner ready when she gets home, just as she should if he is the one putting in long days at work.

        One principle to begin the discussion is ‘how much personal time does each partner have each day’ — and the chore division should be based on that. Everyone should have some time to themselves. He has 8 hours of it apparently. And she has pretty much none. That is the first thing to focus on. What has to get done every day, every week and how much time each day does each partner have to themselves?

        Probably he ought to be doing all the housework ad cooking in a two person situation if he isn’t working and she is.

        And maybe if that is the way this household ran he wouldn’t be enjoying extended vacations quite so often. Or if he can’t hold a job at least it wouldn’t all be a misery for the worker bee of the family. I know households where the wife is the major breadwinner and the husband does much of the heavy lifting at home — that can work just fine and fits particularly well around free lance work where the mix can be adjusted when he has deadlines or big projects. The key though is that each partner is investing roughly the same time in the marriage and in the workplace and one doesn’t expect the other to do double duty while they sit around playing video games.

        1. He damn well should have dinner ready when she gets home, just as she should if he is the one putting in long days at work.


          When I was the one staying at home while my husband worked, he did not lift a finger to do household chores. I figured if I had the privilege of not having to go to an office every day and spend most of my day doing what I wanted (we do not have children), then it was my job to clean, cook, shop, cut the grass, and shovel the snow.

          Now that he is the one not working while I leave every day to deal with The Man, he is in charge of everything. I come home to a clean house with the shopping and laundry done (that is, when he has not been in Florida dealing with the mess his recently-deceased parents left for him) and that seems fair to me.

          (And I am so willing to do all the housework after I get home from work in exchange for never hearing his mom threaten suicide to him again or never having his dad bitch at him again about how I eat bacon or how my sister in law ate all the pickled herring six years ago and I didn’t offer oatmeal eight years ago.)

      4. Yep. I mean, I’m glad that Jill has a system that seems to work for her and no judgment upon her, but when I shared a household I really resented having to be the “task master” meaning the one who knew about and scheduled and delegated all the tasks. That’s a TASK in and of itself, but the one getting the assignments never seems to realize it.

    2. I would do this with middle-school children. In most places its illegal to be married to children.

    3. That can help when you’re talking about a 1-time project, but it seems like the LW is having a more general problem, that needs more general advance planning. It looks like part of the problem is LW feeling overwhelmed and needing to ask the husband to interrupt leisure and do chores…planning further ahead and more collaboratively really helps with that.

      1. I would be enraged that when hard pressed at work and home the issue even came up of ‘interrupting his leisure time’ to do chores. Being a partner means seeing what needs done — or sitting down with the partner and planning what needs done. Not being asked by Mommy to hellp her with her work. I would probably DTMFA if I were living as the OP is. How can he year in and year out behave like a child and except maid service and someone to earn his living?

        1. I agree with you, his actions scream Entitlement. I spent a lot of time in what would have been a nice career being an under-employed new hire, or un-employed; in three very different locations, and whether married or living alone. Clearly, the pattern was within Me and required I change my ideas of how one should operate in the world and negotiate work relationships.

        2. “What needs to be done” can be different between partners.

          When my now-husband and I moved in together, I told him “your dirty laundry in the corner is piling up and ~needs to get done!~” But he never actually asked or expected me to do it for him! He helped me relax about my standards of cleanliness and we are both much happier.

          Sometimes whoever has the higher standard for cleanliness (almost always women) would be better served with really looking at why certain things just “need to get done!”

  2. LW I have a spidey-sense tingling re housework right now. I have certainly taken on most housework when my partner was employed and I was not. And I’ve also watched an unemployed partner (the same dude) do the absolute bare minimum while I was employed and he wasn’t, and that only if I stood over him and demanded it, constantly “nagged” about it etc. That was not a fun time, especially because he was unemployed for very long periods and often not even looking for work. Anyway – I suppose I’m writing to say that it’s entirely reasonable for the person who’s home all day to pick up more than half of the chores (especially when there isn’t a young child in the mix – that’s a whole other ball game). I would think my resentment would have been far lower if I’d felt that my partner was exerting himself in benefit of our shared living arrangement in *some* way even if it wasn’t financial right then.

    I’m also wondering about how you specified that he was both laid off sometimes and *fired* sometimes. Evil bosses who fire people for no reason (or for reasons they themselves caused by bullying their staff into incompetence) do exist. But are you feeling like maybe he brought some of his unemployment on himself with his behaviour? I’ve certainly also been in that position, with a partner who was having the exact same problems at work over and over until he quit or was fired. Anyway. Think carefully about if you feel that way, and keep it in mind when you think about the future. After 8 years it’s likely there’s a pattern you can detect and if you blame your partner for his unemployment this resentment will only grow. :-/

    1. Depending on his industry, Laid Off and Fired are two different things, so I wouldn’t read too much into using precise terminology. I’m in an industry where I know several people who have undergone both. 🙂

      1. Yeah, being laid off is a perpetual hazard in my industry. If you are laid off, you get EI benefits; if you’re fired, you don’t.

        1. Oh absolutely there are entirely inescapable situations where one is laid off. I’ve been made redundant at work before, I know how it goes! And there are even reasons one might be fired without it being your fault (some bosses are terrible). I think I just noticed the LW specified both and it *can* be a source of resentment and one that’s hard to pin down because it’s not usually clear if someone was to blame for being fired, or if the circumstances were just terrible and outside their control. When you live with someone for 8 years though you’ll start to spot patterns. And if this is the case for the LW it’s worth considering that this won’t change and isn’t a temporary state of affairs. And it’s also worth thinking honestly about whether they blame their partner for their unemployment and thinking about what that means for their relationship.

          1. In some industries it really is normal to work for a while and then not, repeatedly. Construction is one. Being laid off is very normal and we learn to plan for it by saving up while we are working and budgeting so that we can live on unemployment. In other industries it would point to possible problems ranging from being a poor match for that kind of work to character flaws of some kind. But not every industry is that way. So it really isn’t necessarily something that points to a huge problem about him. That said, he should totally step up more and I love the Captain’s suggestion of leisure time as the metric to be negotiated.

    2. I just wanted to second what Anisoptera said. I think it’s 100% reasonable to expect the person you are financially supporting to do the majority (if not all) of the chores. Your husband needs to recognize that you are not required to pay for everything, and that doing work at home is the very least he could do to thank you for what you do for him.

      1. That and he lives there too, and adults who are able to do chores to maintain their environments do them.

        1. THIS. Making it about who supports who will blow up in a lot of women’s faces thanks to the pay gap. It’s not about money, it’s about taking care of the goddamn house like a grown up.

      2. I think it isn’t just “you are financially supporting”. Because if there is an imbalance where people in a relationship make different amounts of money for similar time at work (ie tech industry versus school teacher), then that falls apart. One job is doing most of the supporting of the household, but they both spend similar time at work. In that case, I really like the Captain’s advice about making sure each partner has similar amounts of leisure time.

        Of course that isn’t the case here where LW is supporting the household financially. Just felt the need to add the caveat. And it is why I really liked the advice about balancing leisure time instead of balancing financial numbers.

        1. Yes I love the leisure-time metric. Someone might be studying for example too, which I still view as an agreed upon contribution to your shared future. Or someone might be ill and of reduced capacity. Or chasing a couple toddlers around. Or working hard at trying to start up a business or pursue a creative career that might not pay off for a while. The leisure time metric cuts through all of that. It’s even great for cutting through that creative-career question of how serious is the other person and how hard are they working at it. If they’re slaving over their craft 10 hours a day and running around trying to sell pieces in their remaining time that’s a little different to someone who in theory wants to be a writer but hasn’t touched their keyboard for a month.

          1. Yup, the leisure time metric is awesome. My husband and I do something similar, since I started my masters. We both work full time and make roughly the same, and my masters is not now (and probably won’t ever) make us MORE money. But when I decided to start classes, we discussed that he would have to take on more of the housework and sacrifice some of his own previous leisure time to accommodate my additional workload. On some weeknights I go do homework while he cooks and cleans up after dinner. And some weekends when I have a lot of work to do, I go into my office for 7-8 hours a day, and he does pretty much all the chores for that week by himself. But its not like I’m hanging out on the couch while he vacuums, so it feels fair.

        2. Yeah. Best Boyfriend and I are going to move in together this summer, and I (older, more education, etc) make a bit more than him now and am about, if all goes well, to make a bit more than that. I like the idea of the leisure time metric for household duties, and am going to talk about it with him. We’ve already discussed splitting expenses. I, as someone who, when a young woman with a partner who made about 4x what she did and still was expected to split the household expenses half and half AND do all the household labour, was very adamant that we will sit down, figure out the ratio of our incomes, and then split all those expenses according to that, so that nobody is spending basically all of their income on household expenses with none left over for discretionary purchases, savings, etc.

      3. I don’t like the framing of ‘financially supporting’ in a situation where both partners are contributing to a shared household even if there’s a financial imbalance. I also feel strongly about ‘chores’ being something you both do to make your living space better for both of you, so handing off the responsibility completely should be a temporary and reluctant thing. (In our household, it would flip: when I’m working, I earn more than my partner; but my work is patchy and unpredictable.)

        I think it’s reasonable that the person with the higher amount of time, spoons, mental health, physical ability, flexibility, and energy picks up the work; but who this is in any given equation may differ from day to day and it’s up to both to negotiate this.

        1. Yeah, leisure time metric + shared commitment to maintaining a household will carry you through most life situations. My partner and I have some ‘things I always do’, some ‘things they always do’, and some things that fluctuate depending on schedules and commitments. I work full-time and have a chronic illness that is energy-limiting; they’re a full-time student with 2 jobs adding up to half-time. In general, I handle more of the ‘big’ stuff and they do more of the day-to-day grind stuff. But when they’re on school holidays, they pick up more slack. When they’re working double-shifts or in finals, I pick up more of the slack. We actually rarely even have to talk about it; we both just make an effort to do our part and trust it’s okay to lean on each other when one of us needs extra support. (Although we certainly talked about it when they moved in.)

          I make significantly more money, so I pay about 75% of household expenses.But they work hard to contribute the 25% they do contribute financially. So I’m definitely the primary breadwinner, but between the *effort* they make to be a financial contributer, their domestic contributions, and their constant emotional support, I absolutely feel like they are an equal partner and equal contributer to our shared household overall.

          It sounds like the LW’s household is out of wack on multiple fronts. Good luck sorting it out, hon.

  3. I don’t have a lot to add and the Captain’s questions are wonderful, but I wanted to say to the LW: these feelings you’re having are normal and don’t make you a bad person. I can read the guilt you’re going through and I empathize so much. Feeling wrung-out and over-worked does not mean you love your spouse any less and doesn’t make you a bad person.

    Good luck, and I really hope you can find some much-deserved relaxation.

    1. Thirded! It’s easier for me to relate to the sloppy partner in this story, but that doesn’t mean I think the LW is unjustified in wanting things to change or unusual in not knowing what to say. So often the worst aspect of these situations (when one person is bothered by something the other doesn’t notice) is when we don’t feel “correct” in being bothered or safe in speaking up. If that’s the case here, LW, then as someone who is both sloppy and apprehensive about setting boundaries, I completely sympathize. I hope your partner does, too, and that things get easier from here. Good luck!

  4. I went through a similar thing with my now-husband. I worked full time and he either wasn’t working or only worked 20hrs a week. I paid for 90% of stuff. It was….uncomfortable for both of us. It happened off and on over the course of a few years.

    We sat down and I feelings’d all over him. “I need help, and I’m frustrated and I want to not be frustrated.” And then we talked. At length. We discussed all the things that needed to be done around the house on a semi-regular and regular basis and who did them and why. It won’t surprise you to find out that I did more of the housework than he did, even with working more. So I asked him to choose some chores to take off my plate and take ownership over. Letting him choose was a big part of it. It wasn’t me giving him shit to do, it was him choosing ownership over tasks to make life easier for both of us.

    I wanted to come home and be able to spend time with him, not come home and do chores. He understood that after talking about it. I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with asking your “At home more” partner to take some things off your plate. I think /how/ you approach it is important though. And I think the Captain’s advice on how to approach it is pretty spot on.

    Good luck, LW.

    1. I’m glad this was an approach that worked for you, but if I were in that situation I would not feel that giving him the choice of tasks was a necessary step. I can’t see why he would reasonably have the privilege of choosing the tasks he likes best, potentially leaving you with the tasks you like least, when you are the one that’s working plus doing some tasks. It doesn’t have to be a situation where the working person dictates everything, but I think it’s fairer if it’s a negotiation.

      1. Yes. The whole point is that chores aren’t some kind of favour one person is generously doing for the other. It’s both your job, and you need to negotiate together so you both have your fair share of jobs you like better.

        You pick yout favourite thing and do that sounds like something you tell a child, not an adult.

        1. If it was his favourite thing, he’d already be doing in.

          I think keeping people’s preferences in mind can be really critical when dividing up chores (and there have been some really really loud discussions about chore divisions in our household). And in the absence of more details (on which chores alexcansmile offered up, on whether they actually HAVE personal chore preferences to speak of – I only have one that I dislike even a bit compared to the others, on whether or nor the husband is a reasonable human being), it seems like they found a way to divide chores that worked out.

      2. It depends. If you have a shared sense of caring and fairness, this can be a very fair and awesome way to divide up chores. If one partner is trying to ‘get away’ with doing as little as possible, this won’t work, but then, you probably have bigger problems.

        My partner and I divided up chores on “I’d most like to do it this” and “I most hate this don’t make me” and it works perfectly for us. Actually, we both end up feeling like the other person does more and has harder jobs and respectively both feel a bit slack, and our place is consistently much cleaner than our past separate places. It’s the best.

        1. This is why I clean the cat litter and the toilets most frequently in my household. I’m the only person in the household right now who can do it without feeling nauseous!

        2. Yep. This is why I cook and he cleans (and we both do laundry). Fairly equitable, and we both focus on things we enjoy.

        3. Yes. Fortunately for my wife and I, our “I am totally fine doing this chore” and “I definitely loathe doing this chore” were basically opposite. I like doing laundry; she hates it. She likes doing dishes; I hate doing dishes. There are a few that we are both kind of “wwaaaaaah” about, but we just take turns on those ones.

          1. Yeah, this happened to us too. It’s the best! He feels like he barely contributes because he never has to touch a toilet brush, and I feel like such a slacker because I haven’t vacuumed once since he moved in. Out house is clean, no one feels overburdened. The best!

    2. Seconding the advice to make a list of chores that need doing around the house. The best way to do this (for several reasons) is to spend a week or so adding to that list every time you do a chore. This will make it clear a) who’s currently doing what, b) what each of you considers a chore (if your definitions don’t match up, you may have to come to an agreement about what constitutes a chore and then repeat the list-making exercise), and c) what the labor is that needs to be divided.

      What I mean by “definitions don’t match up”: if one of you puts “Every day I refolded all the bathroom towels once everyone had showered” on the list and the other is like “…that’s a thing?”, then there’s an important discussion to be had before you get into “WOULD IT KILL YOU TO REFOLD THE GODDAMN TOWELS EVEN ONCE JUST ONCE IS ALL I ASK” territory. Anything that goes on the eventual master list of household chores should be a thing that you both agree is important to do–in the agreed-upon manner and with the agreed-upon frequency–for your household to run smoothly, which makes it much easier for you to hand it off to each other based on who’s got the most time and energy and ability for doing chores on a given day or week. Towel-folding may go on there or it may go on a separate list of “things the more fussy person does for their own satisfaction that don’t count toward chore-doing quotas”; that’s for you to decide.

      Usually I’m the fussy “WOULD IT KILL YOU TO etc.” person who does things that other household members aren’t even aware are things, but my household once ended up in the peculiar situation where only I was allowed to clean the bathroom sink, because when I got depressed it was a thing I would do to cheer myself up, and if someone else had already done it then I would feel even worse. But I didn’t always get depressed, and the sink always eventually needed cleaning, so then my partners would politely ask for my permission to clean the sink (or nudge me to do it, but we’d all rather do things ourselves than ask other people to do them, for various reasons). Chores can be really personal and people can be really weird around them. That’s okay! Just work with each other as best you can.

      1. I agree with this – but also think it’s fair for some *chores* to be teased out as hobbies vs. chores. Not that someone needs to absolutely hate a task for it to be a chore – but rather if someone’s passion is gardening or cooking then saying “it takes me 3 hours to cook dinner” may not be a fair comparison when the reason why is that part of the recipes chosen are based on interest rather than “this is the way we can eat food”.

        My uncle is definitely the latter in life part version of this story and one of his household contributions while unemployed was to do all the cooking. However, this would take him hours because he was preparing very elaborate meals that then also resulted in massive amounts of washing up (which as much fun as some people have cooking, that does not always correlate with a love of cleaning up the kitchen). So while dinners need to be made, a yard needs to be cared for – I do think it’s far for one partner to say “this is a mix of a chore and a hobby – ergo a mix of leisure time and household work”.

        Because of all the issues that can collide around gender and money and work, I do think a counselor can be a great mediator for this.

        1. Right! The key thing is that if you’re looking at trading off labor, you have to figure out what constitutes the kind of labor that can be traded off.

          Ability can also factor in a whole lot, whether it’s physical/mental disability or lack of skills.

        2. A word on hobby/ chores: if both people in the relationship really like cooking/ gardening/ chasing the doxy infection out of the parlor, please make sure that both partners get a turn at both that and the support activities. Personal example: it made me sad that I was never allowed to cook because that was my unemployed future son-in law’s “job” and that he would never eat my (excellent, unless you’re talking to me under major brainweasel siege) cooking, just leaving it to rot because it wasn’t what he had in mind that day and daughter didn’t want to snub him when she came home and he’d made another elaborate meal while the chili and corn muffins I’d made quietly got shunted off for lunch duty for me only. Likewise, because the kitchen would magically clean itself when he was in bed, or after I had made something, he had no clue how much time and spoons the cleaning would take until after he moved out, and his productions would use every dish in the house and every surface in the kitchen… it made for some uncomfortable tension between us for a while, with zero malice on his part (so how could I have been mad? ARG.)

    3. “Ownership” is a good word. It’s one that gets used a lot in my various work places, and it’s one of the few pieces of corporate speak that I like. Owning something means that you do it from head to toe without being asked. You see what needs to be done, you see what is left unfinished, and you take care of it. Own it. Very different from “helping out.”

  5. Oh… this question. (sigh). I’m so sorry this is happening to you.

    I could have written this 2 years ago because if I wrote it today, it would be filled with contempt and resentment. Please take CA’s advice and address this NOW, because my husband and I didn’t… and it’s leading to a divorce. I’ve had it.

    My condensed version: DH lost *two* jobs in two years and refused to collect unemployment both times. I had no choice but to cover every single household expense – not doing so would have an even greater impact on me and my children, and we had just purchased a new house before he lost the 1st job. So, he sat on his (duff) for about 6 months the first time, and a year and 1/2 the second time… and pissed through about $60,000 he had recently inherited (which, btw was supposed to be used as an investment for our family). Setting aside the inability to function at even a basic level most days, he would barely take care of simple household chores let alone pick up any “slack” from me while I worked 10 hour days and handled the entire family’s emotional labor, scheduling, running around, etc. I was angry that he’d spend hundreds of dollars each month while I was on austerity – no coffee, no quick lunches purchased at work, no new shoes that I needed… none of that. I was spending even more time than usual in the kitchen making everything from scratch so I could save money on the basics: canning, freezing homemade stock, the works. I was exhausted. Frankly, I went into debt for about $11k and still haven’t been able to add anything to savings for 2 years. He finally just started working again. But it’s really too late to undo the damage.

    Please, if nothing else… talk to a counselor about an equitable division of labor and how to handle “down time” like the Captain suggests. Your situation doesn’t really sound like the lack of DESIRE to work, but rather how to manage a fluctuating and unpredictable income stream. Good luck!

      1. I don’t know about this particular situation, but when my ex lost his job he refused to take unemployment because “they would make me get another job”. That’s when I realized he needed to by my EX. As a note, he refused to help with keeping the house up, because if he ever got a job, he had the ability to make more than I did.

        1. he refused to help with keeping the house up, because if he ever got a job, he had the ability to make more than I did.

          What even is that. I’m trying so hard to imagine someone saying something like this with a straight face. “I’m a brilliant computer programmer, so I’m far too important to do laundry. You can do it because you’re only a lowly line cook.” Even if he had been actually employed and earning those high wages at the time when he pulled this crap, there is just no world in which that kind of bullshit makes any amount of sense to me. Ugh, I am *so glad* you’re no longer with this asshole, just hearing about this makes me want to slap him.

        2. I’ve only ever lurked, and never commented, but I just had to jump in here to say that my ex DID EXACTLY THIS. He was an engineer … several years ago … so if he ever got another engineering job he’d be making bank and would totally make up for never ever doing any housework by hiring us a housekeeper or something. He also at one point equated doing the dishes as “paying for sex with housework”. Yes. He actually said that.

          Spoiler: when he got the engineering job we still couldn’t afford the housekeeper and divorced less than a year later.

      2. This may differ from location to location but some unemployment is means-tested, so sometimes if you have inherited a large chunk of money you’d still get to jump through all the bureaucratic loops but not get paid. And if you have a mental health problem, dealing with a system that degrades you and humiliates you for peanuts each week can be extremely draining.

        What I don’t get is how one partner can blow through money and the other is turning over every penny thrice at the same time.

        1. There’s a difference between “was denied unemployment” and “refused to collect unemployment.” I read that comment as meaning the commenter’s partner refused to go through the process to apply/claim benefits that he was entitled to.

          1. You are exactly right – he refused to even submit the claims for EITHER lost job. He was eligible to collect UI for both. Left over $19k on the table for one, and over $12k for the other. His excuse was that “there was a glitch”. No, I can see that you never submitted claims, thanks.

            The only reduction in benefits in our state would be if he had other active employment (windfalls or inheritance/other assets do not come into play).

          2. In many people’s brains, things like unemployment or other benefits such as pensions, disability, scholarships, or even insurance payouts/ reimbursements counts as Taking Money You Haven’t Earned and Therefore Theft, especially if you don’t “need” it because your family can support you. Yes, it’s stupid, especially when you count that you’re “stealing” from your family (and possibly committing fraud/ marital arson) thereby, but it’s a surprisingly hard-to-root thing, especially when you don’t realize or address it, and many agencies in charge of handing out those payouts are not above exploiting this attitude.

      3. “refused to collect unemployment both times”…What in the hell?

        Yes. At first I thought it was a calculated ploy to purposefully reduce his income so that he 1) didn’t have to pay child support (for his son/prev. marriage) and 2) hedging his bets for when we divorce, that he could demonstrably show that he had no income for X amount of time. But after all the fights and my (honestly) questioning, “what sort of person does that to their spouse?” [that is, watch their partner struggle to take care of everything and to put our family in a precarious financial position]… his actual response?

        —->>>>>> “I’m lazy.”

        Not “too lazy to get another job” but “too lazy to click a button on a computer screen each week” so that we could have some supplemental income. I swear to [sky cake], I nearly unleashed The Fury(TM). It was really the beginning of the end. I’m lucky that I have a really, really well paying job (that I hate, btw/completely dysfunctional management) so it was killing me every day I walked into that office. Still is.

        Reading some of the responses to my post, it’s actually helpful to know that I’m not the only one w/this issue – and that I’m doing the right thing to sever things w/this infantilized manbaby. It’s sad because I don’t hate him or anything… I just can’t share a home or finances with him.

    1. My ex-husband went through this kind of underemployed-unemployed cycle the entire time I knew him. He did collect unemployment, but he refused to have them take taxes out of it and then was always shocked at the end of the year that he had to pay them. I saved his financial ass on many occasions. Then when I went back to school and worked in the evenings, suddenly the fact that his temp minimum wage factory job was higher-paying than my part time retail job meant that i was using him and I was ungrateful and needed to drop out of school and work full time so I could pay off *his* student loans. *That* was the last straw for that marriage.

      1. Yup.

        I have had two relationships – one long, one short – end because of money. In both cases with men pulling very similar bullshittery. In one case, I should pay for everything because even though I was a full-time student and worked retail part time, I had “more money” because I lived in the dorms and didn’t pay rent. Therefore, I should have to leap in with cash when my boyfriend couldn’t make rent or a utility payment when he’d blown all of his money on alcohol and Fun Timez with friends. And, when I saved up enough to get a large tattoo I had wanted for years, I should then have to pay an equal amount so *he* could also get a big tattoo because he couldn’t save up enough for it, because he had to blow his paycheck on alcohol the minute he got it.

        And also I should commute 100% of the time to his city and pay 100% of THAT, too, because, you know, it’s so unfair that he has to blow all his money on booze.

        The second one, thankfully much shorter, was TERRRRRIBLE with money, but that shouldn’t matter because baby I love you and relationships take work!(tm) so I should be okay with paying for everything/loaning money because it’s a Partnership, and that means it’s cool to blow all my money on expensive micro-brew and gifts for my ex-girlfriend, and you’ll pick up the slack because that’s How Partnerships Work, amrite??

        In both cases there was such a mind-boggling and, IMHO gendered, sense of entitlement.

        1. I think we’ve all been married to the same guy, Commander, Slyth, Brigitha, Percy, Spinach. Mine was chronically unemployed/underemployed our entire marriage. At one point, about ten years in, we bought my dream house. I was deliriously happy. Of course we promptly got behind on the mortgage payments because he was blowing all of our money on Stereo Equipment and Partying with his Friendz. I would go to my full-time job, leave there and go to relieve him at our pet store that he insisted we open and, in order to catch up the payments, took a weekend job in a department store. It took three months but I finally managed to save up the four mortgage payments we were behind. How stupid was I to give him the money when he said he would take it to the bank IN PERSON so I could continue to work 18 hours a day? Here I am assuming he made the payment when I came home one day to a brand new $1200 stereo and a VCR (this was back when they were brand new and cost thousands.) Well, I called a realtor to put the house on the market, packed up my clothes, my cat and our toddler (who by now didn’t even know me because I hadn’t seen her while she was awake for three months!), quit two of my jobs and moved in with my brother. Best thing I ever did! I hated that ba$tard, I really did.

          1. OMFG. My first husband and I worked different shifts. Our earnings were roughly the same when we first got together, but through a couple of well-timed job hops and a couple of significant raises, after a year or so, I was earning about double what he was. This apparently freaked him out, but instead of talking about his feelings, he dealt with them by sabotaging our finances so that we were still living paycheck to paycheck no matter how much more I earned. Since he was home when the mail arrived, he was always the first one to see the bills. Instead of collecting them and going over them together, he would pay them by check as soon as they came in. Sounds great, right? Read on. The weekend would arrive, and he would suggest going out to the movies and dinner with friends, going to brunch together, doing all sorts of assorted fun that cost money, which I was paying for out of my account, since I had the bigger paycheck. At the end of the weekend, after I had spent all this money, he would hit me with, “Oh, I wrote checks for ABC bills, but there’s not enough in my account to cover it. I need $X.” And if I complained about this dynamic, I’d get, “I spent the money on BILLS!!! I’m not being frivolous–should we not pay our bills?” Even though, what I wanted was communication about where we stood financially before we blew a bunch of money on fun stuff over the weekend.

          2. Never married him, thank ye gods, but I lived with that guy for about 6 years. He spent 6ish months unemployed and a year doing a job for a stipend without ever pulling his weight on chores.Though I was paying for the majority of our living expenses because he made so little, he was somehow able to blow a lot of money on extra stuff (his particular kryptonite was bikes).

            The final straw was a new job, with a Real Adult salary (not a ton, but at least more than the sub-minimum wage stipend he was making) – he asked for 3 months to enjoy being flush and then he would shoulder the bulk of the bills so I could pay down some debt and save. Did it happen? Of course not. A year later we were broken up, he Promised to pay me the amount we had agreed upon which he promptly did not do, and of course I’ve never seen a dime. The only plus is that I can sometimes negotiate free labor in exchange for forgiving a portion of the debt – he repainted my old apartment so I could get my full security deposit back, and I took the value of it off the tab.

        2. Totally gendered. I would they’d teach in sex ed that if your boyfriend won’t chip in for birth control because it’s to protect you from pregnancy and that’s not faaaaiiiir when he doesn’t like condoms anyway, this is what one should expect from him down the road. Might not have saved me heartache or money, because I was an exceptionally stubborn young person, but might have saved me some surprise.


            With partner #1 from the above scenario, I didn’t have health insurance and was on birth control and it ranged from $35-$70 a month depending on what I was on/if they randomly jacked the price up. He refused to contribute. I shelled out for it because even at the tender age of 19 I knew this guy would have been a shitbag parent and there was no way I wanted to rely on condoms. If I’d gotten pregnant I’m sure I would have been on my own in paying for/arranging an abortion.

          2. Oh god. I dated a guy who was on the road to being all of these guys. He insisted that we split the cost of condoms, but wouldn’t split the cost of birth control pills. He was a total nickle and dimer, and he did try to claim that I had more spare money on my grad student salary than he did on his engineer salary bc he lived in CA and I lived in TX. So. Glad. I never married him.

        3. This. As a new RN I was working 60+ hours a week at the hospital when salaries were quite low, paying all rent and bills for the both of us. My partner was **supposed** to be finishing his degree and working part time in order to pay for his University courses. He never did anything in the house for housework, not a single dish, but asked when I was going to do it…
          When April rolled around and I was doing the taxes, asked him for the W2 form, no form… because… he had not worked for over a year… so asked how he had paid for College…. he hadn’t…. because… he had dropped out over a year ago.
          When I raised my voice to say “WHAT?!!?” he picked up a carving knife and threatened me with it.
          So this full grown 27 year old man’s jerkbrain had decided he could coast on my naivety and good will forever, but the old taxes tripped him up. He had been going off to “Work” in a Uniform 5 days a week and carrying books back and forth!!! But as soon as I was gone he was sloping off to hang with friends and wander the streets all day FOR a FRICKIN YEAR! And didn’t even try to help out in our apartment because that was Woman’s work…
          I left the apartment, called my StepDad, who was terrific and immediately came over with a van. grabbed my few belongings, left the jerk.
          Since he had no means to pay the rent was booted out shortly thereafter, leaving the furniture which was all poor quality stuff anyway, so no great loss.

          What is it with these Lazy, Entitled, Gendered ideas that some guys have that they can use a person to work for them, pay all their bills.. because he lurves ya, ya know…… Then do FUCK ALL to help out in their mutual living household? I mean not even take out the trash or put their damn towel in a laundry basket, but just drop it on the floor unawares like a monkey tossing something from a tree?

          Chalked it up to experience, maintained radio silence and he never found, saw or heard from me again.

          1. Wow. While I did once date someone who lied for a whole semester about going to class when he was actually hanging out with his friends (he was intentionally flunking out), at least I didn’t have any financial obligations to him. That is awful.

  6. My boyfriend is disabled, and, due to the nature of his disability and the field he’s pursued, he has just about zero chance of ever working. I am a teacher, so I work 12 hours a day and weekends until summer. We live with my best friend, who works and commutes for 10 hours out of the day and does all the cooking. We all pool our money together and buy everything jointly and our financial situation is pretty good.

    But I have to tell you that there are times when I am really jealous of my boyfriend. I have to tell myself not to be. See, he looks perfectly fine and his life seems to be totally normal but he’s got congestive heart failure and will die decades before I do. On a day to day basis, though, he gets to stay at home, secure and comfortable, while my best friend and I are working our asses off. And we don’t even get to insist that he do all the housework because his disability will not let him do any hard physical labor.

    This makes him feel like shit because he wants to contribute more and he hates feeling like he’s a drain on income or resources, but he contributes 98% of his disability check to me and my best friend (we pay about the same out of our incomes) and he does dishes 5 days a week and takes out the garbage, and that’s about all he can do. He gives all his spoons to us and we know it and he knows it and there are still on occasion bad feelings.

    Something I learned is that ‘equal’ is not always fair, and the only way to determine what ‘fair’ is is to be totally open and honest, both about what a person *can* do or pay and what a person *is willing* to do or pay. Also, about what sort of state you can accept in terms of your home’s cleanliness, and who’s willing to do what chores. When we moved in together we made a list of chores and instead of saying “I’ll do this chore” we came at it from an “I really don’t want to do this” chore. It turns out that I really don’t care about cleaning toilets, but neither my best friend nor my BF like doing so. That made toilet cleaning my job. People are more likely to do housework if they’re not doing something they despise.

    So what we have now is a situation where I clean the toilets AND I get to determine how often the toilet gets cleaned. We accept a certain amount of dirt in the house. My boyfriend can’t clean it and my best friend and I don’t have the time to do so. If we buy a house together we all agreed that we would factor in the cost of monthly cleaning in the mortgage payment, but while we rent we clean on a haphazard schedule. We all wish we lived in a cleaner home, but honestly a clean home is less valuable to us than having that bit of free time at the end of the day. (Our home is hella dusty and rather cluttered but nothing stinks.)

    So, OP, maybe you and your husband can discuss the redistribution of chores. Factor in what chores would look like if he were employed and what they would look like if he weren’t, because it’s reasonable to expect a change in the amount of chores that get done in both cases. And like CA said, are there periods where the two of you are spending quality time together? That’s more important than at least half of the chores society expects us to keep up with. But I think the most important thing is to negotiate expectations that don’t make either you or your husband feel like you’re sacrificing bits of your soul for a net loss in terms of quality of life. And don’t expect there to never be bad feelings. Even when the work arrangements are totally fair and equitable, there will on occasions be bad feelings simply because you’re tired or his recent writing was rejected or something like that. The important thing is to have done your best to set things up so that when you do have bad feelings (or when he does) everyone knows that things are still fair and that you are still in a marriage that works.

    1. What you mention about “the cost of monthly cleaning” reminds me to mention: One of the very best things my partner and I did for our marriage in dealing with this sort of issue was hiring a housecleaner for every other week. Just having the worst of the mess dealt with made a tremendous difference.

      In my case, I was feeling that I was doing more than my share of the work and feeling resentful, and it really helped that resentment that my partner took responsibility for finding a cleaner and hiring them and all the scheduling.

      1. I totally agree with this solution (and have employed it in the past), but I also find it super interesting that one of the common solutions to resolve a conflict about housework is to pay another person–typically a woman–to do it.

    2. You might find that making the effort to clean or paying for it to be done now might actually help improve your bf’s health in the long run. CHF is very picky about its environment. Daily grime, mildew spores and the dust flying from old couch cushions and rugs can have a long-term detrimental effect for people with long-term diseases. The positive mental and emotional lift of living in a well-ordered and clean home also helps improve health in the long run.

      Not to disparage the ‘its good enough’ way of life, which offers its own positive spin.

      1. Also, if you look around, do be sure to compare both services and independant people. Around here, people do cleaning not related to any agency or whatnot, and can be a fair amount cheaper.

        1. Plus cleaning services that use their own sponges, for example, will use sponges on toilets and bathrooms and then use them on the rest of the house. And all the houses they clean. Provide your own sponges with room designations if you use a service; you can write on a sponge using a sharpie.

          1. I have to tell my Peace Corps cleaning lady toilet brush story.

            Yes, I had a cleaning lady when I was a Peace Corps volunteer – she would wash my clothes by hand and sort of clean the house and it was cheaper (even though I paid her four times the market rate and gave her paid vacation) than taking my clothes to the laundry service in town.

            I was home from work one day that she came. I had never watched her work before. I saw her scrubbing the toilet with a hand brush, not with the toilet brush behind the toilet.

            “Marisol,” I said, “I didn’t know you brought your own cleaning equipment with you!”

            She looked confused. “What do you mean?”

            “That brush you’re using – that’s not the toilet cleaning brush.”

            “Oh!” she said. “No, that’s not mine.”

            I was confused. “Then where did you get it?”

            “It’s the one you keep below the kitchen sink!”

            “Oh. Oh. Yes. That’s the brush I use to scrub vegetables.”

            “OK! I will put it back!” she said cheerfully.

            I shook my head. “That’s OK. I won’t be using it any more.”

            One a bright note, I almost never get sick.

  7. LW, married over 20 years here in a relationship like yours, and a few things about how this dynamic does and doesn’t work well:

    – You are in a partnership, which has to be fair over time. That doesn’t mean an exact 50/50 split in housework or paid work every single day, but it does mean that over weeks and months, you are doing about the same amount of stuff from the “work basket” – relationship/house/daily maintenance work – and getting about the same amount of leisure. If he has had more time off in the last few months than you have in 15 years, things are not in balance and you absolutely get to fix that.

    – Over and over again, in your letter, you start to talk about how this feels unfair and then you quickly sabotage yourself before it gets very far. Your “jerkbrain”? “Attacking” him? “Personal slave”? No, none of that is true, and I would strongly suggest you take a very hard look at why you are uncomfortable saying “I have had almost no personal time to myself, and I want some, and it bothers me that you get that but I do not.

    – If your husband is a good dude, then he is not going to act like he is attacked or put-upon if you say ‘honey, I need a vacation too’ or ‘look, since you’re home full time, it’s easier and more fair for you to pick up a bigger share of the housework.’ He may not realize you need these things, or he may be totally unaware that you are beating yourself up about wanting him to do more and your own need for free time.

    – If your husband would respond to even a tentative request for time off by acting as though you’re criticizing his unemployed status, “attacking” him, sabotaging his writing career, or otherwise making it All About Him and Why Are You So Mean and derailing, then he’s not being a good dude. (I am wondering if this is why you are so hesitant and self-critical in your letter.)

    TL;DR, it doesn’t matter why he’s at home or who’s paying the bills; you are just as entitled to leisure time as he is, he is just as obligated to pick up more of the unpaid work because his time is not occupied with a paid job. Period. Anything else is, bluntly, him stealing your life so that he gets more of it. And it will destroy your marriage over time.

    1. My divorce is almost as old as your marriage and I picked up on the hesitance and self-criticism, too. When I was saying the same things, it was almost certainly triggered because I suspected he’d react poorly. And I was right. He was Working Full Time (40h/wk) and I was Only Working Part Time (30h/wk, plus full-time school, plus every single household chore, plus protecting our adventurous toddler from death by misadventure) and he was TIRED at the end of the day and didn’t I understand that? And why was I so mean? And couldn’t I just let him sit down for a minute when he got home?

      If he is a good dude, he will not do those things. I hope he is a good dude and that the self-flagellation comes from some other societal programming and not from a reasonable expectation of his reaction.

      1. I am super glad to see comments like this because even after being divorced from this dude for three years, I still have thoughts of “maybe that was unreasonable of me” / “maybe I really *wasn’t* doing my share”.

          1. BB, if the Germans fail us on this subject, maybe the Japanese can step up to the plate. My understanding is that they, too, are masters of cramming a lot of human emotional experience into a single perfectly descriptive word. 🙂

          2. This maybe? (I’m a huge fan of Japanese idioms.)

            一蓮托生 (いちれんたくしょう) [ichirentakushou]
            (n) casting one’s lot with another; sharing the same fate with others; being in the same boat; sinking or swimming with the company

          3. I couldn’t find a single German word, but here are two translations:
            Elend liebt Gesellschaft (Google translate)
            Mit seinem Schmerz ist keiner gern allein (Phrasen)

          4. I am so grateful my perpetually unemployed ex broke up with me, because this would have been me and I was probably too desperate to have someone to have broken up with him. I used to point out that I’m a clerical worker and thus I can never support someone 100% financially, but…yeah, he hated working (or school) and really just wanted to be a stay at home gamer, but I sure as hell couldn’t just float him along forever.

          5. In Finnish it’s “kohtalotoveri” – “companion in fate”.
            Translation site tells me the German equivalent is Schicksalsgenosse, but I can’t separate the components there.

          6. It’s “Schicksal” (fate) and “Genosse” (literally “comrade”, in this case more like “partner”)

          7. This is amazing and I’m seriously so pleased, I’ve learned so many great phrases. I swear, I miss so much the language play from French wording and my enjoyment thereof since moving to an English-speaking city, that I forget how linguistic joy can be part of everyday life until I catch an ad/road sign/magazine cover in French and am delighted.

        1. If I am any indication, that feeling will eventually evolve through the doubt/rage cycle and get to a sort of peace combined with oh-young-padawan-let-me-be-your-cautionary-tale place.

      2. I have had the “BUT I’M TOO TIRED” to do anything ex, we worked the same hours, him as a receptionist, me with rescued farm animals so very heavy manual labour. I also did a combined Masters and professional qualification “full-time” and had my rescued horse to care for. Often getting up at 5am to do my work and do horse stuff, as it wouldn’t get done after work as I would be exhausted. He worked half days, starting at 12pm or 2pm.

        He got very stroppy when I told him to shit the f**k up about being tired. “Wahwah I had to deal with stroppy people alll day” 1. Not ALL day, you started work at 2. 2. I had to deal with a cow with horns that wanted to kill me, and we had to have one of the Old Boys (horses) put to sleep today, and I’m the only one that could catch him, one of my favourite sheep is on her last legs, and we had a 30 bales of hay delivered that I had to unload MYSELF. Cue stunned silence – but did he stop. Nah of course not. His needs/wants always were so important to make mine irrelevant.

        Same guy wanted a cookie and a pat on the head when his mum was on holiday and he did his own washing, having previously asked me how to work his mum’s wahsing machine (because I am I woman I magically know?). Also insisted that because he had worked all week (see above – half day for 5 days) that he *needed* Saturday morning as his time to watch rugby, so ignored my requests to sort directions to my friends new house, find my sleeping bag for me (I told him where it was likely to be) while I again got up at 5am to do my work for the weekend before we left, so I could have a nice weekend.

        One of the many many reasons he is now my ex and I run screaming from any sign of this behaviour – as it comes from a gendered sense of entitlement, IMO, and that there are certain *duties* female partners are expected to do (Ughughughugh – I know how vile that sounds, but can’t think of how else to put it across) such as listening to their day (without reciprication) and doing cooking/cleaning. Luckily, I never lived with this person, as due to his laziness we couldn’t afford to move out. Said dude also actually said “as you’ll be better qualified than me and earn more, when you get a good job I can just stop working!” ARGHRAGE.

        One of my current partners has chronic pain, but when he stays he offers to do his bit – to the best of his abilities that day, which sometimes is nothing. I live alone, so am happy to do all, but it is the willingness to chip in that I find important.

        There are people who don’t see mess – I have been one, but I have made the effort to try. It can be reason, but it is not an excuse, same as not being taught stuff.

        Similarly, I find tidying a trial when I am low on spoons. As I live alone the level of tidy is what I can deal with which ranges from super organised, to a bomb site. But that is just me, if I stay at friends, or if I eventually live with a partner, the level of tidyness gets recalibrated depending on what everyone is happy with. The level of clean should be a level which all people in the household are happy with, rather than the selfish ” doesn’t bother me and its my house” – which is only valid when you live alone.

        Sorry, rant over.
        TL;DR – I have that ex, came from a pervasive gendered sense of entitlement and general asshattery. Level of clean and amount of chores should be calibrated to a level that all parties in the household can live with, and I like the Captain’s lesiure time metric. Recognises that fair is not an objective 50/50 split – but has to take into account the spoons, time etc. of all concerned.

    2. I completely agree with this, though I would also add that it is possible to be an overall Good Dude (or non-gendered equivalent) and still have your *first* reaction to criticism, even of the very mildest, very assertively framed kind, be defensive, derailing, hurt, angry, etc.

      Plus, LW, you *are* hurt and upset by this, and juggling lots of feelings about whether you’re allowed to ask this and resentment that it’s gone on so long and guilt for being resentful and so on. Being aware of all that emotion and able to acknowledge it can help you put your best foot forward in a calm, cooperative, productive discussion, but it’s very likely that your husband will sense the emotion underneath and react by claiming he feels judged and criticised and you will react emotionally and it’ll be a big mess of upsetting the first couple of times you discuss it. That would be entirely normal, and it doesn’t mean that you won’t get to the productive, calm and cooperative part pretty soon. Sometimes you really need to get the messy emotional stuff in front of each other before you can get on to the dealing. Don’t be too discouraged if your husband’s first reaction is Not Good Dude, as long as you get to Good Dude pretty soon.

    3. Having gone through an employment situation similar to the husband’s (about three and a half years of cycling between temp work and unemployment, which was hard enough–I can’t even imagine dealing with it for eight!), I read the letter fairly differently.

      First off, let me be clear that her needs are valid, and it’s not unfair of her to want more leisure time, and to ask her husband to do more housework to make that possible. But if her husband’s experience is anything like mine, it *is* unfair to compare his unemployment to a vacation, and it’s completely reasonable to want to find a way to approach this conversation without attacking him for a work situation that’s likely beyond his control.

      When I was unemployed, sure, I had more free time than when I was working. But it wasn’t a vacation. It was stressful and exhausting in a way that was disproportionate to the actual number of hours spent job-hunting, because of the constant uncertainty, and because I had to keep putting myself out there and getting rejected over and over again. Because when I worked temp jobs, they rarely had defined end dates, so I’d work for months not knowing how long my job would last, not being able to make any kind of long-term plans, and then be let go with only a few days’ notice. Because I could never take vacations since I didn’t know when I’d get called in for an interview or another temp job, and I never got vacation time at my temp jobs anyway. Because I did the same work as the permanent employees, but for half the pay and no benefits. Because I was treated as disposable over, and over, and over again.

      The LW says, “But I can also acknowledge that it is probably depressing as hell to keep being let go by companies,” but has she ever actually *asked him* what it feels like? It’s hard for me to understand how he’s been going through this cycle for eight years, but she doesn’t even know how he feels about it and has to make guesses about what it’s “probably” like.

      For me, yes, it was depressing as hell. It was really fucking hard.

      Again, her husband’s situation may be different from mine. And even if it’s similar, that doesn’t change the fact that her need for leisure time is real, and he needs to find a way to make that happen. But I think her hesitance could be coming less from a place of dealing with a Not Good Dude, and more from a place of having compassion for a partner who’s dealing with a long-term shitty situation, and wanting to find a way to get her needs met without making him feel even worse.

      1. “Again, her husband’s situation may be different from mine. And even if it’s similar, that doesn’t change the fact that her need for leisure time is real, and he needs to find a way to make that happen. But I think her hesitance could be coming less from a place of dealing with a Not Good Dude, and more from a place of having compassion for a partner who’s dealing with a long-term shitty situation, and wanting to find a way to get her needs met without making him feel even worse.”

        You put in one paragraph what I put in something like 10.

      2. It’s very clear that LW has compassion for her husband’s unemployment, as LW explicitly said that it’s not fair to treat his unemployment as a vacation. And I really don’t understand the scolding about whether she’s “actually asked him” what his feelings are – as if it’s her job to be his emotional manager and draw out his emotions without him saying so – while he, on the other hand, apparently has zero reciprocal obligation to ask what her feelings are about having had virtually no time off in years.

        Of course she could be dealing with a Good Dude, and having hesitancy for all kinds of reasons, including her entirely appropriate compassion for him. That’s why talking to him clearly and openly about the problem is the correct move. If he is a Good Dude, he will be able to talk about his own feelings about unemployment (which may not be, as yours were, being upset and stressed out about it) as well as recognizing hers, and trying to find a better balance for both of them.

        1. “And I really don’t understand the scolding about whether she’s “actually asked him” what his feelings are – as if it’s her job to be his emotional manager and draw out his emotions without him saying so – while he, on the other hand, apparently has zero reciprocal obligation to ask what her feelings are about having had virtually no time off in years.”

          …I did not catch the bit about him not asking.

          That said, while it is not fair, it is sometimes worth checking. I recently had a small kafuffle where I was trying to get an answer to “how much of a practical problem is this” and before I could get an answer I needed to get through a layer of advice because the person I was asking thought I was a lot more upset over a different aspect of the situation than I actually was, and was trying to support/help/soothe me over that. (It was very thoughtful, but I did not need the damn support. I needed the answer.)

          I read the “wait, have you checked” in response to “I can also acknowledge that it is probably depressing as hell to keep being let go by companies” to be advice that that is absolutely worth checking, which I think it is. I’ve worked temp jobs for over a decade, and while there was one I was very sorry to leave and bad experiences at individual workplaces, the temping thing was overall comfortable and never actually depressing.

          If LW’s husband feels that way about it, a question (and it would be nice if she didn’t have to ask! I’m not saying I’m not a little shocked it hasn’t been made clear!) could save her so much anxiety and needing to tiptoe around.

  8. Speaking from my couples-therapy experience with similar issues (though ours were rather more symmetrical), I’d suggest bringing it up by focusing your statements on what’s internal to you. “I notice that I’m starting to feel resentful, and I don’t think it’s entirely fair to you and I want to feel that way. I’m having trouble with telling what parts of that are reasonable expectations and what parts are me being unreasonable, so I’d like to go to a couples counselor with you to help me sort that out and help me find ways to stop feeling that way before it becomes a serious problem.”

    In particular, the key thing there is to be clear that it’s about “I want to stop feeling resentful, and I don’t think that’s entirely you” rather than being about “I want you to shape up and I want a counselor to help me cajole you into that.” And to be clear that you’re expecting to do a lot of the work of being counseled too.

    Hope it goes well! Our counselor was certainly a very big help for us.

    1. I really don’t like this. LW’s problems aren’t unreasonable, and for her/him to frame them to their husband as though they might be is just to assist him in being able to dismiss her legitimate needs.

      LW’s resentful feelings come from things that it’s entirely legitimate to be pissed off about. The problem isn’t that s/he needs to pacify his/her emotions to stop feeling resentful – the problem is their relationship is unequal and unfair and that needs to change. LW shouldn’t bring husband into counselling on the false pretence that it’s about LW’s internal problems when it is very clearly about husband’s behaviour. That’s not fair to him, and it’ll just continue to reinforce (to LW & husband both) that the current situation is okay and the problem is LW’s feelings about it.

      1. The impression that I got, from the LW’s letter and filling in the gaps with my own experiences, is that it was a case of a mixture of both reasonable and unreasonable emotions. In my own experience, when things like this drag on this long, I tend to have emotions that are not only about the thing in front of me but about all the other things that it feels connected to — and it’s not a reasonable reaction for me to be completely infuriated by a jar of mayonnaise left out on the counter, even though it’s entirely reasonable to be unhappy about it.

        Also, in my experience, even though there were some serious problems with legitimate needs around chores, there were also serious problems that we’d gotten so mired in expectations and emotional baggage that we couldn’t usefully talk about them with each other. And, once we fixed the problems of talking about them, the actual issues around chores got much easier to work through on our own.

        You make a good point about false pretenses, though, and I strongly agree with that. That wasn’t what I intended to convey, so I thank you for the correction.

        1. I really loved your suggestions for opening the counselling conversation, because I feel like that was the one part of the letter writer’s question the Captain didn’t really address.

          I agree with you that the LW is looking for help with reasonable AND unreasonable feelings. She (probably-she) devotes a couple of sentences to the chores discrepancy, and equal words to free-time discrepancy and financial-contribution discrepancy. If LW is anything like me, that means that even if partner were doing ALL the chores, she would still have days of, “I am locked into this job because we can’t afford for me to quit because YOU don’t contribute financially!” or, “I have had a crappy day and resent that you had any fun AT ALL!” Which means that looking at counselling as a way to address those feelings of resentment is, to my mind, absolutely valid. And if the partner and relationship are as good as the LW says, the chores assignment will probably be the easiest piece of the resentment-puzzle to resolve.

          1. Yes! And it seems like there’s also a dynamic where LW feels guilty for being lucky enough to have a stable, well-paying job (a kind of survivor’s guilt, in an economy where so many people don’t have that), and her husband feels guilty for not contributing much financially to the household (which is probably made worse by gendered expectations around work and finances, society’s conflation of self-worth with job status, and so forth). There’s a lot of stuff to untangle here, and I think a good counselor would help immensely.

    2. I agree with JoanofAnon. It’s great to say what you’re feeling and own the feelings as yours, but the idea that LW’s frustration might not be reasonable is just plain ridiculous.

      If I were in LW’s position, one of the things I think I would really need to ask my partner would be, “How do you feel about the requests I’m making? Do you think it’s reasonable of me to want you to contribute more in the ways we’ve talked about?” If this guy doesn’t think it’s reasonable of LW to want what they want, if he’s going to resent being asked to take on more housework or treat it like a special favor he’s doing for the LW, then that is important information for the LW, and it might tell them that they shouldn’t live with this person anymore.

  9. It may be helpful to think or use this as project time– that’s what my aunt and uncle do. What they have is a list of big projects, stuff that Needs To Be Done. When he’s off paid work, that’s project time. That’s “build new fences”, “Paint the spare bedroom so that it can be rented out” “take classes on basic plumbing and DIY so that we don’t have to call the plumber in every time the toilet keeps flushing.” “Dig out the old apple trees and plant new ones.” For them it means that unemployed time is classified as useful time – it’s when they collectively have sufficient free time to Get Stuff Done.

    Qualifier: My uncle’s work is pretty seasonal, so he knows when he’s off, he’s off for months. If you don’t know when you’ll be back at work, then it’s a lot harder to do it this way. And it helps that they have a house and garden, because that’s a major source of the projects (seriously, so much work). It’s a very specific solution and definitely not usable in every case.

    Other qualifier– I don’t know, but I suspect, that it works for them because projects make my uncle feel like he’s Done Stuff, in a way that doing household chores just wouldn’t. I don’t think he’d ever consciously say that doing the ironing and cleaning up every day makes him feel lesser, but I don’t think it’s something he’d take pride in, the way he does when he looks at the new fencing as Something He Made. Insert expectations of masculinity there, combined with a genuine liking for DIY.

    if you don’t have the space for that kind of project work, but maybe sitting down and making a big long list of Stuff That Needs To Be Done– all of it, regular and one-offs and nice-ifs (washing the carpets! sanding shelves! ironing! making your own sausages!) and then basically saying, “so what of this do you want to take responsibility for?”

    I’d avoid the “can you do [shared-household task] for me”, because that kind of puts [shared-household task] as something that you “should” be responsible for and he’s “helping you out” by doing it– it’s not washing your hair, it’s washing the carpet you both walk on, and until you’ve officially divided the tasks, it’s not on you just because you’re trained to care about it more.

  10. Perhaps I am being unfair but it seems to me that a six month vacation less one hour a day for job applications is not an adequate contribution to the running of a household. There’s a lot that could be done to remedy that (weekly chore list, etc.) but it seems to me that LW’s partner needs to think hard about what he would do if LW could not so conveniently cover all of his bills and then do that. For example, if work within Partner’s desired field or desired level is hard to come by, then temp work, babysitting or a variety of other possibilities are out there. Right now it doesn’t seem like Partner has much incentive to get a new job.

    1. That was my reaction. I know it’s more difficult for some people to find/keep jobs, and some industries are less stable and some geographic areas have higher rates of unemployment. But if it’s been eight years of repeated long periods of unemployment, then perhaps LW’s partner needs to look at whether there are other lines of work that (even if they don’t pay as much) would provide steadier employment, or if there are skills upgrades he could acquire to make himself more employable, or some other avenue to getting out of this cycle.

      1. I had to do this twice. I got my MA in Interactive Design and Game Development (I was just ID, the degrees were bundled) and the bottom dropped out of the market and my skills withered and died on the vine before being put to good use. Cue multiple years of struggling at terribly underpaid office jobs and getting paid insultingly low amounts to “do up my webpage.” So I got a fourth degree in legal studies and got work as a paralegal and legal assistant. So far, so good, but my area is definitely light on jobs and is also in a right-to-work state so your boss can literally tell you one week that you are doing great and are due a year-end raise and holiday bonus and employer matching on a 401(k) and an employer contribution towards health insurance, and the very next, apropos of nothing, lay you off to hire a friend of the family and you have little to no recourse and just have to hope that enough time has lapsed since your last bout of unemployment to draw extremely miserly benefits which you need to buy food to eat. Then, six months later, that same boss will contact you on LinkedIn when you finally get a new job to praise you extravagantly and offer to write you a reference. (What is this I cannot even)

        If LW’s spouse works in a field where employers feel they can churn and burn/fire better-paid experienced employees in favor of newbies who will accept lower pay, or book employees to just under 35 hours a week to avoid paying benefits, or a creative field where non-creatives don’t care about how perfect you are for a job, or whatever, especially in a right-to-work state, there may be some job stress-related PTSD going on as well. If you do a good job and get laid off anyway, how secure do you feel, and how eager are you to leap back into the fray? You lose trust in your abilities and second-guess yourself, wondering if you smell or wore a color someone didn’t like or failed to express enough appreciation for someone’s non-work anecdote or whatever. That’s an extreme example and probably not applicable, but I’ve lived it.

        1. Oh god. Thank you for this comment. I am dealing with this same situation as a chronic temp worker, with a nice helping of social anxiety on top. In addition to wondering if I smell, etc, I found out in my current job the reason I haven’t been given more challenging work despite repeatedly asking for more (and her admitting I do my current tasks well) is that my boss interpreted my anxiety over pleasing her and not getting randomly let go with no feedback (as has happened before) as me getting too flustered to handle it. It’s a huge relief to hear about others feeling the same way.
          So I also do have some theoretical sympathy for the husband if this is the case with him and this is coloring his job hunt, but it also makes me say that yes, he might feel bad when you bring this up, but the situation the LW describes is unacceptable, and he is going to have to deal with unpleasantness while he adjusts to something that can allow the LW to actually breathe.

  11. In my household, both me and my other half have taken turns at unemployment, insecure temporary, part-time or zero-hours employment, and sole-breadwinner stress over the years. Whichever one of us has fewer work hours or less work stress, does more of the household duties. Sometimes we’re sharing equally, other times one of us is a dedicated house-spouse for a few months, and most often we wobble somewhere in between. It’s not a matter of “cashing in on a debt” or making him your “personal slave”. It’s about balance. It’s about the simple fact that it makes no sense for one partner to potentially run themselves ragged trying to find time for their commute, their job, housework, childcare and studies while the other has a large amount of free time.

    Both of you have 24 hours in each day. 8-ish of those are required for sleep. Let’s say 2 are required for eating, 1/2 an hour for essential daily hygiene and 1/2 an hour for exercise. That leaves 14 hours left for…

    Daily commute, if such is required
    Daily employment, if such is taking place
    Daily job-searching, if such is required
    Daily household chores, as they need to be done
    Leisure time.

    If I assume you’re working a 40 hour week, comprising 8 hours of work per day (I’m not counting the lunch break as that is covered in the eating time), and a 1 hour each-way commute, then you’re spending 10 of your 14 hours on employment-related activity. Leaving you a total of 4 hours per day for household chores and, crucially, leisure time. If your partner is actively seeking work, and I’m going to assume they’re spending more than an hour a day on job-hunting since I generally found I needed an hour to search and select likely vacancies, an hour for research and an hour for writing and sending applications, then they’re spending 3 of their 14 hours on employment-related activity. Leaving them 11 hours for household chores and leisure time.

    It is not unreasonable, or selfish, or unfair, for you to ask that your spouse allot more of their spare hours to chores than you do.

  12. “Would it be wrong to ask that since I do at least 8 hours of paid work a day and he does 0, maybe he could put in some extra hours of unpaid work around the house during this time to take a little stress off me? Or something else to balance the load?”

    No, LW. That doesn’t sound wrong to me at all, and I frowned to myself when I read that you were still doing any of the household chores, to be honest.
    I would have thought that the most equitable way of doing things would have been to agree that he does all chores while he’s unemployed. That’s what I agreed with my partner when I was out of work, and it just made sense to both of us that I should put myself to “work” for our common benefit while he gets up every morning and works an 8-14 hour shift each day. (I still got to lie in and amuse myself during the day, because chores don’t take very long in a small flat).

    Don’t feel guilty about asking him to do things that will make you feel less stressed. If he wants you to be happy, then he won’t mind it.

    If he’s more content to let you fester in resentment while he sleeps in and plays X-box, then your relationship has trouble beyond his financial situation. You have a lot to talk about, either way, and maybe some of it with a counsellor of some kind, depending on how easy you find it to have a constructive conversation with Husband about this issue.

    If he’s demotivated, or directionless, or uncertain, or whatever, yes, it’s likely to be hard for him and there’s no such thing as “just” getting a job, but if it’s putting strain on your relationship and sabotaging things like your joint lifestyle, your financial security, or your ability to plan for the future, then self-preservation ought to trump self-pity and he needs to outline a very clear plan (with deadlines) of what to do.

    Whether it’s taking steps towards getting back in employment, or re-training, or making a real career out of writing, or jut doing more housework, he needs to change something about his habits to make this fair, and the two of you need to communicate and agree upon exactly what form that will take.

    Be assertive about your needs, and don’t worry about sounding unreasonable – what you’re asking for would sound like common sense to a lot of people, I’m sure.
    If he’s going to make a go of something, then be encouraging, but if not, then… I guess you’ll have some decisions to make.

    I wish you and Husband the best of luck, LW. I hope he’s receptive to your input, whatever you two decide needs to happen.

  13. LW, how’s your husband’s mental health during these periods of unemployement? Sleeping in and playing Xbox all day could be a fun vacation or it could be major depression–I know when I was laid off for pretty much all of 2014, I slept in a lot and played a lot of video games, because I did not have the spoons to do anything else.

    Not that depression excuses your husband from his responsibility to contribute to the household, but if that is a factor here, it should change how you frame the discussion.

      1. Yep. If partner’s not mentally or physically unwell, that’s Situation One. Working out a New Deal and sticking to it will help resolve the problem. If they’re mentally or physically unwell but undiagnosed, that’s Situation Two. Working out a New Deal and trying to stick to it may well be what makes the unwellness manifest and visible, and then we add “seek information and treatment” to “Work out New Deal, Stick To It.” If they’re already diagnosed with a phyical or mental illness, it may be irrelevant or else something may be Not Working right now, or intermittently, based on what LW says about the pattern – which sounds as though things have been more equitable at other times. It may or may not be possible to eliminate or reduce the periods of something Not Working, but meanwhile we add “Reconsider Treatment Plan” to the list. That’s Situation Three.

        This is all assuming Partner is an oeuf what is basically bon[ne]. If they’re of active or passive bad faith or ill-will, that’s One A, Two A, and Three A.

        *waves hands* Basically, everyone who chooses to be partnered is entitled to get love and support and care from their partner[s]. Nobody is entitled to live-in unpaid staff, or to a one-way deal, or even to get everything they quite reasonably need from the exact person of their choice even if their reasonable needs result in the active damage of their partner.

        Equally, everyone with or without a mental or physical illness or disability is entitled to love and support from their intimate friends and family and lovers, but also responsible for being accountable for their actions and doing their level best to contribute to the general well-being of friends, family and lovers in return.

        But, seriously, the only people in a nyposition to truly draw those lines in any given case are the person doing the giving and the one doing the taking. LW says they love partner and are happy but have this serious issue that needs resolved, I’m inclined to take them at their word.

        1. Gosh I really like what you said and agree completely about love and support and care, and yeah — I can see why my last relationship didn’t make it through, because both people involved were not good eggs. No matter how much love and goodwill and effort someone is willing to put in, the other person being passively bad faith (OH I love that term — my best term for it was “doesn’t give a shit because it’s easier that way”) means it cannot succeed.

    1. I was going to suggest something similar, as well. I’ve…been there…with the long, dark, unemployment of the soul.

    2. I’m not sure that it does? LW’s framing of the discussion is that their lives are unbalanced, and LW has had virtually no time away from work in their entire marriage, which LW desperately needs and which is starting to create resentment.

      Certainly if Mr. LW is depressed, that is important to figuring out what is causing this situation and how to fix things – a depressed and struggling partner is very different from one who just decides he likes sitting on his ass all day – but in a partnership, long-term “I don’t have the spoons” in effect means “guess what, honey, it’s your job to pull extra spoons out of thin air.”

      1. This.

        I work full time and my wife is disabled, and physically unable to take on all the household chores. For awhile, that meant in practical terms that she did what little she was able to do and then I picked up everything else. Which worked fine, for a few months, but I’m only one person and eventually it reached the point where my mental health started to implode because there weren’t enough hours in the day for me to do everything that needed doing.

        Eventually, after much venting and feelings’ing at each other, what we did was sit down and talk about what things were most important to both of us and what could remain undone. It was important to me that there not be stuff on the floor, so she focused on picking things up as she did them. It was important to her that the bathtub be clean since showering was enough of an energy drain without being grossed out, so I made sure the tub got cleaned. It also means that sometimes clean laundry stays in the laundry basket instead of getting put away, that clean dishes live in the dishwasher instead of the cabinet, etc.

        When you have disabled partner, it’s absolutely vital to respect the reality of that disability and how it impacts your partner. But it’s also vital to respect the realistic limits of what you can do, too.

        1. After my chronic illness manifested, I went from working 50 hrs a week to working 15. Spouse picked up a more demanding, stressful, better paying job, and I continued doing about as much housework (low levels), household management (high levels), and child care (medium level) as before.
          This led to resentment on both our parts. Spouse: You’re doing 50% of what you used to, while I’m doing 150%. Me: And doing it with only 30% of the resources and energy, I’m awesome!

          What changed it for us was me pointing out that in household management and child care, I have the freedom to restructure things to suit my needs and limitations. But Spouse has strong opinions and preferences when it comes to the house that don’t work for me.
          So I agreed to take over house cleaning in proportion to my ability to modify the environment/procedures. And Spouse agreed that it was unfair to expect me to do things that were physically painful or mentally exhausting, and the price they paid for having the home set up to suit them was either doing housework or a dirty house.

          We’ve gone through a similar process of some things being modified so they can be done by me, some things done his way by him, and some things being let go entirely because spoons.

          1. I’m a live in aid for my roommate/close friend and its stressful sometimes because I pay nearly all of the expenses and do a lot of the chores, in addition to working 50 hrs a week. Its a good trade off because we live nearly rent free in one of the most expensive cities in our state but sometimes it really wears on me to come home from work and immediately start cleaning (when I don’t get a lot of time to myself). We settled on a trade off, so she takes out the recycling because its mostly empty bottles and usually very light. She can do dusting and light things and when I have a big project like cleaning the bathroom she can clean off the sink and the toilet bowl while I do the shower since that requires bending and getting on your knees. It works for now, but we had to talk about it. And that’s the most important part, talking.

        2. This is pretty much how my current partner and I divide up the jobs — who does it matter the most to?

          He is Aspie and has sensory issues, so it’s really important to him that the bed be smooth, but instead of griping to me about making the bed to his standards, he makes the bed. Meticulously. Beautifully. Similarly, he likes folding laundry and does a gorgeous job and has even received the Mystical Secret of Folding Fitted Sheets. Either one of us might throw a load in; during the summer, I like hanging it out so I handle that, but in the winter either of us might throw it in the dryer.

          I like planning meals and doing grocery shopping and cooking, and he doesn’t mind cooking, so I probably do 2/3 of the cooking and most of the meal planning — that is, I’ll get the ingredients for the meals he likes to cook and at some point we’ll discuss which meals each of us will cook over the next few days. The person who doesn’t cook cleans up after dinner. Whoever loads the dishwasher gets to load it their way. He takes out the trash to the garbage can; typically I take the garbage can out because I’m up in the morning.

          He doesn’t like yardwork and would have preferred a townhouse with no yard at all. When we bought a house with a yard and garden, the agreement was that I would take care of it. And I do. When I’m gardening, if I need a hole dug, I point and he will dig me a hole, but beyond that, lawn mowing and gardening is up to me, and I’m fine with that. He’s also indicated he’s willing to hire out the job should it become too much for me.

          My daughter is 15 and I’m trying to do a better job teaching her how to do these things than my mom did (she was a meticulous housekeeper but I don’t feel like I got taught how to do it very well). She’s done her own laundry since she was 10. She has the job once a week of running the vacuum and sweeping the hard floors, and I mop every couple of weeks or so. She also empties the dishwasher and cleans the litter box. I keep thinking I need to do a better job of teaching her cooking and meal planning and such.

          And between the three of us, that’s enough to keep the household running adequately.

          Now, when we’re having company or decorating for Christmas or cleaning the garage or something, I take the lead on planning for that, and my partner has indicated that he has enough spoons for about an hour a day for that. Which is great. If we each put in an hour a day on a Thing, it makes a heck of a dent in the Thing.

          1. Although ‘who cares the most’ can be a trap in the context of gendered expectations and chores. I’m not saying it’s a bad way to divide chores – and it’s way better than “you have to do X chore and I will always criticize how you do it” – but I’ve seen waaaay too many times that one person ‘cares’ about a chore because the consequences of the chore not being done fall on them most heavily, or that ‘cares less’ really means ‘I know if we play chore chicken that you’ll eventually give in and it will get done anyway’.

          2. Yes. As with any system, this is predicated on both parties participating in good faith looking for ways to share things.

          3. Agree, and it’s waaaay better than “Do this chore that only I care about, and I’ll constantly complain that it’s not done exactly the way I would do it.”

          4. You’ve got a great plan for turning out a woman who knows the labor part of a household. I hope she’s getting the props she deserves! I hope she does as well on the intellectual part of running a household – learning to budget, and pay bills, and decipher insurance corporation small print. How to get a bad teacher removed, and document trade or domestic abuse and hire an attorney. 🙂

            The modern keys-to-the-household that no woman should be without.

          5. I think “who cares the most” has to be set on a base of “we agree on the list of chores that need doing” and “we are committed to dividing them up fairly”.

            But I also think sometimes in a partnership, if you want to not do All the Work, you have to decide to just Not Care how certain tasks are done.

    3. Yes. This is important. (Or indeed does his mental health contribute to periods of unemployment?)

      Like. Depression = a disability, and sometimes what that means is that housework is just… not a thing that can happen, because every single piece of energy goes on the absolute baseline maintenance of “eating enough food”, e.g.

      And people *absolutely* get to decide they don’t have the capacity to be in a relationship with someone that ill or disabled (context: I am mentally and physically chronically ill), but… that doesn’t actually mean that the person who is ill is wrong, or bad, or cruel, because they’re ill.

      1. Well, if the husband is depressed, they STILL need to talk about re-balancing household responsibilities, and when something has been a cycle for eight years it’s time to get out of a “this is just a temporary crisis that will pass” way of managing together. Some routine “household work” that goes on the joint list might be “book (& go to) medical appointments/fill prescriptions/do stuff to manage depression.”

        I’ve been the ill person who can’t even and I’ve been the person holding everything together (sort of) for the ill person who can’t work and in all of those situations the trash still had to go out and bills had to be paid and dishes had to be washed (eventually). The possibility of the husband’s depression or other executive function issues doesn’t invalidate the Letter Writer’s feelings of overload and resentment. Also, when I’m in a depressive cycle or the ADHD is raging, having someone tell me, specifically, “I need you to take care of X, Y, and Z today to the maximum extent that you can” or “I can tell you are not okay right now, and I want to help, but the conversation we’re having this minute is about chore x, y, and z and how we can get it done” is helpful, not oppressive, because when my Prioritizer is broken and days all feel the same it’s a gift to have someone point me gently towards a thing I can do. Boundaries/clear expectations help when everything else is breaking down.

        Generating reasons why “He probably can’t help it” does NOT help the Letter Writer, in my opinion.

        1. Especially since having been in the position of “the person holding everything together (sort of)” (and how much I love that bit in brackets, which acknowledges SO MUCH), I’m painfully aware that being in that position in and of itself is going to trigger every mental vulnerability that person has. I’ve noticed (and I do think it’s a gendered issue) that while many people in this thread have posed the “what if the husband is depressed?” question, no-one seems to have asked the same question about the Letter Writer.

          1. Oh man, that is such a good point. One of the things I think often gets lost in these discussions is that it’s not necessarily one person with a disability or illness and one or more able-bodied people working out how to make accommodations.

            Sometimes it’s a houseful of variously ill or disabled people people trying to work out whether on this particular day “doing the thing fills me with paralyzing anxiety” or “doing the thing is going to wreck my hip for two days” or “I can’t do the thing until Friday and it really needs to get handled by Wednesday” is going to “win” (not that I’m quoting from my life or anything).

            Actually I think it’s possible that that’s MORE common. People who have had to adapt to physical or mental limitations do tend to find that that experience gives us a common ground for liking and loving each other…

          2. “I’ve noticed (and I do think it’s a gendered issue) that while many people in this thread have posed the “what if the husband is depressed?” question, no-one seems to have asked the same question about the Letter Writer.”

            Wow! I hadn’t noticed that at all, and now that it’s been pointed out, it’s rather glaring.
            After 8 years of being the stable one, yeah, she darn well might be depressed. In which case it’s in both their interests for Husband to back burner some of his issues and spend some time focusing on her needs, while she recharges.

            Handling a larger portion of the emotional labor is a traditional job of the stay-at-home spouse, and not an unreasonable ask in this situation.

          3. “…while many people in this thread have posed the “what if the husband is depressed?” question, no-one seems to have asked the same question about the Letter Writer.”

            I’ll… I’ll just be over here re-examining my preconceptions.

            Thank you. ❤

          4. Oh holy moly, the last part of your comment! I managed my depression by being chronically enraged and with workaholic behavior, to the point of exhaustion.Yet the actual quality of my work suffered (so did my paychecks) and I never took real vacations. Can’t now, as everything eventually broke, my health and financially too. The lifestyle is unsustainable. Let me be the cautionary tale you might need, to ask yourself the hard questions, LW.

          1. I want to clarify that this doesn’t mean it’s okay to try to force people to do what they just plain can’t or shouldn’t. I mean the PATTERN of “it’s okay, dear, you can’t help it”, not occasionally saying, as my spouse just did to me, “If you want to shovel that would be awesome, but if the snowplow berm has frozen hard leave it for me, you remember what happened last time.”

        2. Yes. And ESPECIALLY because depression can co-exist with other things, like a sense of entitlement, male privilege, or just plain being clueless or immature, that would have contributed to the problem even without the depression. If a dude is depressed and is doodling around on the Xbox all day because the laundry fairies magically make sure he has clean underwear, “but he’s depressed!!!!!” is the opposite of helpful advice.

          1. Yes, but ignoring it when it’s a factor can also be counterproductive, especially if LW is getting subconsciously picking up on it and therefore berates herself even more, just like treating depression like total paralysis and turning LW’s husband into Aunt Ada Doom can be bad. Knowing may not be half the battle, but the battle is lost without it.

          2. I didn’t see anybody say “if it turns out your husband might be depressed, ignore it”.

  14. Oh, man, does this sound familiar.

    DH was a musician, and I thought this was great. I was totally fine with supporting his musician career. When we met he had a not-well-paying job, and when that job went away DH had the idea to have a recording mastering studio, which I funded. I didn’t want him to get a job — I wasn’t one of those cliche’ girlfriends who wanted him to quit music. I just wanted him to treat it like a business, not just happening to perform or do mastering work when he got gigs or rehearse when everyone in the band felt like it and otherwise just sitting around, sleeping late, watching tv, and hanging out with his friends.

    Meanwhile, I was still doing the majority of the chores, including raising our child, and as others have mentioned, living on a shoestring myself and giving up a lot of things I liked doing so that we could pay our bills and fund his business. And while he claimed he was willing to help out, the burden was always on me — I needed to tell him what needed to be done (which didn’t get done), I needed to make a list for him (which he didn’t look at) and so on.

    Yes, he was considered partially disabled with back problems, but the stuff still has to get done, you know? We had housecleaners, but you still have to pick up for them, and they finally fired us because our house was so unkempt.

    When we saw a counselor, I said, look, all I want is for you to take *responsibility* for something. One thing. The counselor suggested taking out the trash. Okay, DH said, but I’d have to remind him when trash day was. I said, then I’d still have responsibility. The counselor then suggested mowing the lawn, because that was something that could simply be done when it needed to be and didn’t require a schedule — and it was a chore where DH was always criticizing the way I mowed the lawn. He disgruntedly agreed — and then the lawn didn’t get mowed again the rest of the summer, until we started getting complaints from the landlord, and I did it.

    Meanwhile, he was spending money hand over fist, and not being able to account for it. We’re talking hundreds of dollars per month.

    We’re divorced now, and I’m on much better terms with him, because I don’t have to deal with this.

    1. High five for being free of that… been there, done that, bought the T-shirt… I think a lot of people use this idea that they don’t think of things or need help or need a list as a distraction tactic, as an answer to make the uncomfortable conversation stop, to make you stop complaining and go away. It also offers hope that the problem can be fixed (he’ll help me if only I can find the exact right way to ask, and also remind him, and draw up this chart, and explain everything perfectly, and…). I suppose the proof is in the pudding. If someone was really sincere about this stuff they would actually move themselves to listen, to learn, to read the list and follow the instructions. It’s easy to get trapped in this cycle of working to fix something with someone else who’s just pretending to cooperate while really being entirely happy to just carry on as they have been…

      Also, I’m actually rather sad that past dudes have abused my willingness to support them while they pursued non-traditional dreams. Young me was fine with the idea of supporting someone while they studied or wrote or whatever, and I’m slightly sad that she’s turned into bitter middle aged me who sees dudes without jobs who claim to be writers or students or artists or whatever and reacts with weird jaw tension and a total loss of romatic interest. I suppose dedicated artists genuinely pursuing their dreams and working hard to do what they love do exist, I’ve just never dated one. :-/

      1. I shouldn’t say I suppose hard working artists exist I know for a fact they do… I’ve just encountered so many dudes who use it as a smokescreen for laziness that I’m ridiculously cynical about it. :-/

        1. One of my wives is one. Sometimes terrifyingly hard-working – I still have vivid memories of standing in a basement at 3 am with a drill in my hand (upcoming show, installation piece, she’s the artist but I’m the better carpenter, long story), for the third 3am in a row, drinking coffee and plotting the brutal murder of Art, when we caught up with him.

          (Not Art, an actual person. Art as in “we’re doing this for ART”).

          I’m a not very hard-working writer, but at least I’ve taught myself to do the pondering and angsting bits while cleaning. Honestly, it is amazing how much thinking you can get done while doing the dishes.

          1. I, too, have had the sudden realization at 2 AM that I am about to use or am using power tools, and then wondering what life choices have brought me to this state of being.

          2. Haha yes I only realised after I’d written my comment that I was sort of implying that all artists are slackers which is clearly not true *at all*. If nothing else, we are surrounded by all this awesome creative stuff which is created by hard working people and not elves. :-/

            I think though that the nature of creative work lends itself well to being used as a smokescreen by people who don’t want to contribute, just because it seems to involve all this unstructured hard to quantify working from home stuff. And it starts with rejecting the 9-5 job expectations of society, so people who don’t want to do that can grab it as an excuse… Even that’s not really true of course – no matter how unstructured you can still see the quantity of output and hours spent actually at the coal face of the project and not on the Xbox and time spent trying to make contacts for selling things etc etc. you know, the 3am drilling is a clue that it’s for real. 🙂

            Just because it might not involve going out of the house and getting a specific qualification and then putting in time in a job in an office with a steady pay check doesn’t mean you can’t detect the evidence of effort. Someone should be teaching kids that in highschool…

          3. Yes, actual working artists usually work as hard as anyone with a 9-5 if not harder, because we’re also running our own businesses and struggling to get decent feedback. I am a full time novelist and it took me a long time to get to the point of making money. I work really, really hard, 40-60hr a week when I’m on and then less or none for a week or two in between projects.

          4. According to my mom, who does a ton of reading about the brain and how it works, two things that stimulate the brain are 1) running water, and 2) crossing your hands over your body, so that your left hand is on the right side or your right hand is on the left. Hence the prevalence of brilliant ideas while doing the dishes or–the classic–taking a shower.

      2. It makes me sad, too, because he really is a brilliant musician and I think he could have been very successful if he’d applied himself better. And there’s ways I would have been happy to help contribute to that. But oh well.

        1. My brother is a brilliant musician. I don’t think he’s exploiting his wife the way yours exploited you; he does all the cooking and he does now have a day job. But I also watch him doing lots of activity that to me seem quite plainly destined to NOT push his musical career an inch further forward, and I watch him get distracted from possibilities that could, and I listen to him explain that he can’t send those songs to that producer now because *reasons*… and think, unfortunately, that creativity is one talent and the confidence and focus to keep pushing and applying yourself is another, and if you end up with one talent and not the other you’re kind of screwed, especially with the industry in such a tough state. I mean, not that “applying yourself” is unlearnable, but I do count myself lucky that it wasn’t one I had to work at learning.

        2. Yes that’s yet another sad ingredient in the sad sandwich. Of course he was actually quite talented. So were mine. I’ve known a hell of a musician and an excellent and promising writer, both of whom never really did either in the end. Although one looks like he might actually be doing something now, but this is a decade after we broke up and honestly it’s wonderful having whether or not he follows through being just a fact about a friend’s life and not a financial factor in my own. If he succeeds I will cheer for him and if he drops the ball again *it won’t tangibly effect me*. It is sad though, watching people fail because they didn’t even try. A thousand times more sad if you’re dating them.

      3. largely those people are busy working their butts off on their art and so they aren’t moping about talking about pursuing their dreams and how they won’t be tied down to a desk-slave job blah blah.

        as a result they are less noticeable than the shiftless sort…except for the fact that they keep turning out interesting art.

        1. Yes actually come to think of it the cultural stereotype of the artist moping about on the couch is doing no favours to anyone. It does no favours to partners and spouses who get sucked in by it and no favours to artists who actually need to understand that any creative endeavour requires work and doesn’t just come naturally with zero effort. :-/

          1. true!

            all the real artists i know are hard workers. I like to write poetry now and then but my poet friends are writing and submitting and teaching and workshopping all the time. that’s not me. i’m a hobbyist! which is ok! but fibbing about it to get away with doing nothing would NOT be ok!

          2. To be fair I suspect the people who do this are also often lying to themselves. They see themselves as artists because that’s what they *intend* to be, they just haven’t worked out how to pull it off yet. I even understand all too well how that happens – I have my own creative projects I’d like to complete but haven’t because I just haven’t worked at them enough. I suppose the difference is that I’m not relying on my intentions to pay the rent (heh or vacuum the floor). But I’m guessing to some people that going out and getting a day job feels like admitting failure. Add that emotional stew to a manipulative person who perhaps has gendered assumptions about division of household labour and you arrive at an “artist” who does nothing but sit in front of the TV/computer all day while responding to requests to help out with lectures on bourgeois vs bohemian lifestyles…

  15. Another way to think of “equal doesn’t mean exactly 50-50” is to think if there are some chores you really hate more than others. My husband spent many years as a stay at home dad, and we also went through stressful times when I was resentful of the time he had at home while I felt like I was doing everything. One thing that really helped me was that I had been doing the bills/finances since I was making the money, but I hate hate hate dealing with bills. It stresses me out. Like, serious anxiety just about doing it. I asked him to please start taking care of it, and I couldn’t believe how much stress that took away from me that I didn’t even realize was always in the background of my mind. It didn’t take up a huge amount of his time, but the benefit it gave me for him to do it was worth so much in that it made everything easier. So when you’re talking about what you each do, keep the mental cost in mind as well as the time cost.

    1. I think this is a really good point. Spouse and I have sort of the opposite problem as LW – I’m the stay-at-home parent, which is a life-consuming job and he earns all the money, but I struggle with feeling resentful of the sheer amount of work I do, plus never being “off”. One thing that has really helped is that spouse does fewer chores, but he does all my least favorite ones. So he takes out the trash, cleaned the cat box when we had a cat, cleans the bathrooms, etc. In a weighing of the chores, those ones are a much bigger deal to me than, say, laundry, which is much more time-consuming, but I don’t find it disgusting. It feels fair, even if it isn’t 50-50.

  16. Great advice from the Captain, and good advice above. I think what hit home most was the suggestion that you make it about your feelings, and that you don’t like feeling this way, etc, etc. That would really, really appeal to me personally, whereas “Do you think you could maybe DO THE GODDAMN DISHES ONCE IN A WHILE” (not that you would do that, hah) might make me defensive and resentful.

    Because I guarantee that, unless he’s pretty much the worst, he isn’t deliberately not doing stuff. He’s filling his day, and to him it may feel like he did put in a full day at writing, etc. Trying to show him how your feeling is a great way to ease into getting him to look at the whole picture, rather than make him feel attacked (whether you mean to or not). Do this now, while you’re still sympathetic, and not later, when your own resentment bubbles up and leads to a loud and completely unproductive fight.

    Also, for the love of god, don’t be passive aggressive about it. That’s another surefire way to make a situation that is primarily about miscommunication and different viewpoints/expectations into an adversarial thing

      1. So leave him? Start a fight? What’s the alternative? It’s easy to tell someone else to potentially destroy a relationship, but the fact that she is entirely justified in her mental exhaustion doesn’t necessarily warrant the big red button.

        Because being confrontational (that is to say, hostile/blaming; direct is a different story) is almost NEVER a way to actually fix something in a relationship. All I’m saying is that she should be aware that the cycle of job loss is going to be psychologically stressful on him as well, and that he, like most of us, may be too focused on his own problems to perceive the hurt his actions are causing her. I’m not saying she should let him walk all over her forever. But what’s the harm in approaching it gently to begin with? Why not at least begin with a bit of the benefit of the doubt? If he’s a dick, and reacts irrationally or unacceptably, than DTMFA. And to be clear, I never said she should lie to him, or take him to therapy under false pretenses, or anything. She should say, here’s how I feel, I don’t like feeling this way, here’s why I feel this way, what can we do to fix it? His reaction there will determine the next course of action, which may indeed be radical, that will be her choice. But if her goal is the preservation of the relationship, which it seems to be, why not at least initially try to have a real conversation? Framing it differently doesn’t mean she has to be the strawman wimp you’ve constructed.

        1. I’ve had dishes pile up for… bad periods of time. BAD periods of time.

          I also stopped several hobbies I had for several months, and had a hard time even getting out of bed.

          If I was in a really bad place, the “do the dishes once in a while” thing? Well, let’s say don’t expect me to do them for several days because jerkbrain says why should I bother if I’ve failed to do them for so long anyways? Jerkbrain is, indeed, a jerk.

          Like, presumably you LIKE the person you’re married to, right, and maybe don’t want to tear at their self-esteem about something you don’t really know how they’re actually feeling?

          1. Sure.

            For context: I have chronic severe depression and a bunch of physical illnesses, and that’s the place I’m talking from. I’d find “do you think you could maybe DO THE GODDAMN DISHES ONCE IN A WHILE” difficult for exactly the reasons you give, and also the fact that it’s a super unclear expectation so I’ve got no idea whether I’m meeting it or whether the goalposts have shifted while I wasn’t looking. I don’t think (as detailed in a separate reply) that that’s a constructive approach — but I also don’t think that it’s the only alternative to desperately hoping that if you just perform distress elaborately and clearly enough, the other party will be induced to care about you and how you’re feeling.

            So, like, “I’d like the kitchen counters to be wiped down thoroughly about once a week” is a clear neutral statement, with timescales, that enables me to set up weekly reminders to do it (and keep a record of when I last did). The approximation lets me know that the world doesn’t end if I screw up occasionally (or even repeatedly) provided that, in the medium to long term, on average, the counters get wiped down about once a week. “You hate unblocking the toilet, so I’ll do it when it needs to happen [about once a fortnight in my current flat]; I hate cleaning the bath [because it means I have to lie down for 90 minutes afterwards], so can you do that once every 2-3 weeks?” likewise, which creates space to negotiate without dragging in the disproportionate emotional reactions to minor symptoms of a potentially major problem.

            If the responses to those questions and statements are always something of the variety “I can’t do that because…” (passive refusal) rather than something more like “why is this important to you/difficult for you/might X [that doesn’t involve the person raising the subject taking on disproportionately more work] be a solution?” (active engagement) then that’s indicative.

            I just really don’t think that the only viable approach to preserving a relationship with someone you like is, as I say, convincing yourself that they will actually care about you and how you’re feeling (in meaningful i.e. action-taking ways) if you only manage to explain it to them right, and therefore their not caring is that you haven’t Tried Hard Enough Yet.

            The thing is, the “meaningful action-taking” forms of caring can in fact be “I’m sorry, that’s not something I can do (or do reliably), because of (pain/fatigue/executive dysfunction/whatever). I can give [setting myself reminders, e.g.] a go but I don’t think that’s likely to work/can we try X for a month and then check in about how it’s working/what else could we trade off?” It could mean “leaving the cardboard from finished toilet rolls on the side rather than putting them in general waste, so they’re easier to move through to recycling” (rather than “put them in recycling the moment they become finished”). It could mean “please leave my enamel pan on the side rather than putting it away once I’ve washed it up; you have difficulty finding somewhere to put it that won’t damage it, and I’m willing to put it away somewhere it won’t get damaged”. These are conversations it’s possible to have without getting into the sucking terror I feel any time it looks like my enamel pans might get damaged and why I feel it, or how forgetting/ignoring my repeated requests to not damage my enamel pans sets off my PTSD about how it’s not that it’s assumed my needs and preferences don’t matter, it’s assumed that I don’t have needs and preferences. My disproportionate crazy is the reason it’s important to me, sure, but “this is important to me” can be enough for the straight-up practical issue of Where Do The Dishes Live.

          2. I think what you`re saying is true, but at the same time, well, there seem to be a lot of women whose unemployed husbands don`t contribute to household chores and don`t seem to be aware of the imbalanced workload, and I don`t see so many cases of the reverse. (And yes, there is of course the possibility that LW is not a woman, but I rather suspect not)

            And, my wife has severe depression and has had periods where she is unable to work and struggles a lot to do things, but in those periods she’s been very much aware of the existence of the extra work I`m picking up, and always, always does what she CAN do, because she considers it important that I get time to do the things I enjoy. I (also female) am currently physically disabled and am not employed and pretty limited in what chores I can do – but I do the ones I can! (l`m definitely not as good as she is about it, but I try)

            Sometimes a relationship just can`t be equal in work done, in leisure time, in mental energy contributed to the household`s functioning. But if one of us is working hard at things that take away from their free time while the other has lots of free time, we both know that it is our job, as an equal member of the household and as someone who loves and has chosen to share our life with the other, to do what we are able to towards the other getting a fair share of the leisure time and mental space available to us as a household. That`s the part I tend to see missing in a lot of these situations, and I do think there`s a pretty significant gendered component in who considers the other`s leisure time and energy and who is so focused on their own difficulties that they regularly lets the other pick up the slack. (And I can’t find it offhand, but I’m reasonably sure I’ve seen respectable studies that confirm that)

            So I agree, yes, LW should talk to him with kindness and the understanding that he may have difficulties doing some tasks, as everyone should in a relationship – but given that LW seems to be worried that it`s unreasonable to even request a move to a more balanced division of labour/free time/energy, I think it`s a lot more important to tell the LW that yes, that’s an okay thing to want, and a partner who respects you and cares about you doesn’t WANT to take advantage of your labour, and tries to make things more equitable even if their ability to do so is limited. Maybe he’s just unaware, and that’s understandable given our society, but there is nothing wrong with her making him aware and expecting him to treat that as important.

          3. Doesn’t that go both ways, though?

            I mean, if you LIKE the person you’re married to, you don’t WANT to be a jerk to them, and you don’t want to punish them for asking you do to your share with stuff like ‘well then I guess I’ll let them rot for several days’? And maybe you don’t want to tear at *their* self esteem by Jerkbraining at them?

            I get that depression is a real thing and jerkbrain is a real thing, but so is the fact that your partner is another human being who may also be dealing with their own mental and emotional issues, and it’s not fair to play the If You Really Loved Me You’d Fuck Off And Do All The Work card on a long-term basis.

          4. It has been pointed out to me that I have some baseline assumptions that do not apply to most people; specifically, I have a whole bunch of nasty PTSD around whether I’m allowed to have preferences and what it means if I have to express the preference more than once and what Doing Housework Correctly means. Apparently “it upsets me when you stack metal inside my enamel pans, please don’t” is actually genuinely all there is to it in most cases; I’m coming from the perspective of the detail being “because it was a gift from people who meted out Consequences if there was the slightest suggestion that their enamel pans were going to be damaged” (et fucking cetera), and so giving any more detail than “it upsets me, please don’t” (a) runs the risk of triggering me in and of itself, (b) runs the risk of making the other person feel like I’m pulling some kind of power trip, and (c) runs the risk of making everything vastly worse (in terms of reinforcing PTSD about Not Getting To Want Things, Not Mattering, dissociating, etc) if having expressed the reasons the distress then gets dismissed as irrational or hysterical or what-have-you.

            — and I’m autistic, so my affect when saying “I am upset by this, please don’t” is (I am told) often read as reserved/neutral by allistics, i.e. suggesting I’m not actually experiencing severe distress over whatever the thing is. So when I talk about it not being okay to demand “performative distress”, I don’t mean that people should just get to say “do this” if they’re upset, I am expecting people to say “I’m upset about $thing, can you do this to mitigate that”, and I do understand that (assuming good faith) people don’t want to hurt each other and knowing that a partner is upset is a powerful motivator to sort things out. What I got stuck on was the idea that people should have to work out how to perform distress beyond saying “I’m upset” (e.g. explaining why, putting lots of effort into making sure the other party doesn’t take umbrage at your being upset, etc), because working out how to do that in a way that might generally be considered appropriate (in quality and quantity) is super hard work for me as baseline, and on top of that interacts badly with the trauma per the above.

            I apologise for being curt and unclear, and I’ll do another round of recalibration of my baseline assumptions!

        2. Why are you assuming that LW hasn’t *tried* the gently-gently approach? That they’re talking about being concerned about being a “nag” rather suggests to me that they have.

          There’s a huge gap between “the problem is my feelings about you not doing the work” and “do you think you could maybe DO THE GODDAMN DISHES ONCE IN A WHILE” (including but not limited to e.g. “I would like to make sure dishes don’t sit around for more than, say, 48 hours after eating”), and I’m allergic to the idea that this necessarily has to be couched as the problem being *LW’s feelings* not the thing they’re in response to.

          I absolutely think that it’s a good idea not to go into potentially fraught conversations with the attitude of “oh my FUCKING god would it KILL YOU to put the lid back on the butter dish/rinse out, drain and squash your juice cartons before putting them in the recycling/put the cardboard from loo rolls in the recycling?!”, because that’s clearly a disproportionate response to a minor issue (and all of these are drawn from my own reactions to living situations various). That’s definitely hostile and unconstructive and is not how I approach these conversations. But the thing *is*, my *feeling* that way isn’t (as I say) actually the problem, and my unreasonable feelings are something that I want to keep away from being the other party’s problem as much as possible. Ergo rather than work out how to oh-so-gently couch my disproportionate emotional reactions to minor symptoms of a larger problem in a way that frames them as our problem for us to work on, I’d really much rather handle that side of shit myself and *spend time addressing the issue of unequitable division of labour*. “I’m finding it very frustrating that you keep damaging my cookware in [this specific way]; I’ve asked you not to do [the thing] at least three times, once in writing with suggestions of ways to avoid it; what needs to happen for you to stop doing [the thing]?” is about as much discussion of emotion as I’m willing to do, under these circumstances. “I don’t want to feel frustrated” and “you are giving me the very strong impression that you don’t care enough about me to comply with my request that you not [do the thing]” are actually distractions from the issue of housework. (Might they be productively discussed? Sure. I think they’re a separate conversation to the one about chores.)

          It’s fine and well to say that I’ve constructed a strawman, but you seem to be defining anything that doesn’t involve elaborately performing distress (and desperately hoping it’ll be enough to make the other party actually care) as something other than a “real conversation”, and I don’t think that’s useful.

      2. This is not about any tentativeness. It’s about being very clear about asking him to pay attention to the fact that LW is exhausted, miserable, and stressed, and asking him to help work on finding a solution, by using words to directly say “I am exhausted, miserable, and stressed and would like a solution” rather than only venting at him in ways that require him to extrapolate and fill in the gaps and which shut down conversation.

        Now, I know that it would be rather more fair to say, “You find a solution; it’s your problem and so you should do all the emotional labor.” But … well, I’ve been in a relationship where my partner pretty much implied that (by the equivalent of “do you think you could DO THE DISHES SOMETIMES,” but about other issues). And, because I am not a complete bozo and I did care about her, I tried really really hard to find a solution without asking her to do any emotional labor which she clearly wasn’t in a place to do. I tried hard for years, with no success. Once we finally managed to communicate, I found out that I WAS DOING THE WRONG THINGS. What I was doing was only barely addressing her real problems, and then only by chance — but, with no information and misunderstandings and poor skills at asking for clarification, what I did was to work harder on doing the same things. And she was upset because she felt like I was doing nothing.

        To make that concrete, consider the dishes. I get frustrated at my wife about cleaning in the kitchen sometimes. I could quite reasonably complain at her about doing the dishes, because often they are not done and that is a trigger of my unhappiness. But, if she did the dishes like she usually does, it would not help me much because the dry rack would then be overflowing with clean dishes that need putting away, and that annoys me almost as much as the dirty dishes.

        So, in practice, doing the emotional labor to clearly communicate one’s state and needs is much more practical at getting results, regardless of fairness.

        (And then one follows this up by working on addressing that emotional-labor imbalance, so that for future problems it’s more balanced. Because it _is_ a problem that the LW has to be responsible for this by themselves in order to get the problem solved.)

      3. kaberett, thank you thank you thank you for those links. Thank you. THANK YOU! Ehem. All those comments have articulated the root of all my issues with my current partner, who essentially abdicated from chore-related emotional labour by deciding to move out. I now realise that this could be in response to my ‘nagging’ (see: asserting that he take responsibility for half the emotional labour of running our home) because he thought it would improve our relationship to not ‘upset’ me all the time. It has improved our relationship in-so-far as he no longer gets ‘nagged’ because the household chores are now 100% my responsibility, versus before when they were 50% mine but I was doing 75%, not to mention other forms of emotional labour I do in our relationship. I couldn’t put my finger on why him moving out was pretty upsetting, reading the links I now see that it was his way of retreating from the responsibility of having to do his fair share of emotional labour.

        LW, Jedi hugs, if you’d like them. I hope things improve.

        Also, long-time lurker, first-time poster, Captain and Army, you’re good people and I cannot quantify how much you’ve all helped me over the last few years with all the kindness and sageness. Sageosity? I thank you.

        1. I come back to this community so much for sanity checks, and I’ve recommended it to SO many of my friends. This year I sent a PayPay donation to Jennifer and I hope the readers on here consider doing the same.

          1. Yes! I’ve learned so much from CA and the community here, and I also recently donated to the Captain as a small thank-you for all the work she puts in to make this such an awesome space.

      4. That article set my teeth on edge. I remembered the time my father and one of my brothers had a conversation about how the only measure of success was how much money you made and how worthless work that didn’t earn money was.

        While my mother was cooking dinner and one of my sisters setting the table while my father and brother sat on their asses and drank wine.

        I lost it and started screaming at them about how DARE they think that RAISING CHILDREN and FEEDING THEM HEALTHY DELICIOUS MEALS and KEEPING ENTIRE SOCIAL NETWORKS GOING and WHERE EXACTLY DID MY FATHER THINK HE WOULD BE WITHOUT MY MOTHER’S UNPAID LABOR and eventually one of my other sisters literally dragged me out of the room and shoved me out the front door and took me for a walk until I calmed down.

        1. Disappointing that your sister didn’t drag them out of the room and shove them out the front door, so you and your mom and your other sister could relax and drink wine!

      5. LW says they feel like their husband is their best friend and they have an above-average marriage.

        I love that MF thread–very very hard–but LW came here asking for reassurance that it was okay to ask their husband to help with the chores, and possibly a script. One of the things that thread did was point out that second shift stuff–which is what the LW is doing–is not 100% the same as emotional labour.

        We have the LW asserting that the husband has already said he feels like he owes the LW (which is an acknowledgment of the effort they are putting in!), and the LW saying they feel the same but not being able to accept that it’s okay to take that offer. That`s… a self-effacement which is a problem, yeah, but fixing it is not more work. It’s differently directed.

      6. I specifically scrolled through this whole thread to make sure this was linked somewhere. Thank you!

  17. Oh, LW…you sound like you’re trying very, very hard not to come across as “nagging” or “bitchy” or any of the words people use to describe women who expect men to get off their arses and act like adults.

    Housework is *work*. It always has been work and that fact has always been ignored because it always fell to women to complete. (The same is true of caring responsibilities, whether for children or older family members). Your husband is working 0 hours a week and you are working 40 hours a week. Why should you, in an equal partnership with this man, do additional hours to your 40 while he remains on 0? The situation you are in is not remotely fair. I think you should look at how many hours a week he is working – so, writing, making job applications, doing the limited amount of household chores and compare that to how many hours a week *you* work – at work, and in completing household chores. Then show him the comparison.

    Honestly, in my opinion, stop worrying about hurting his feelings. He is living this reality already; it’s not going to come as a shock to him that he is unemployed or that you are doing more housework than him and if he does feel bad? Maybe he damn well should. Not because he’s unemployed but because he’s taking advantage of the frankly ridiculous and outdated idea that housework isn’t work, and if you’re a woman he’s taking advantage of the fact that your gender means you are the default for all this extra work to fall upon. He needs to cut this shit out.

    You’re right; he didn’t choose to be unemployed. But now that he is, he is making a choice to leave the majority of household chores to his tired, stressed, busy partner. He is choosing to take support from you (both financial & the practical completion of chores) and isn’t giving you anything in return when he so easily could.

    Try to see your feelings as equally valid to his. Right now, you’re worried that describing reality to him will hurt his feelings. But aren’t your feelings being hurt, day in day out, by your partner being consistently inconsiderate and not supporting you? Why is it more important to protect his feelings than your own?

  18. Ok OK gotta weigh in to say, um, I am your husband.

    But I stay single.

    It sounds like you don’t have kids. Can we assume there are no kids, because I don’t know the answer, if there are kids.

    Now, see your fella has this thing, called Lazy Unemployed Dood Syndrome. Not all men (#!) get it. I have a mate who is an AMAZING unemployed man. He has made a CAREER at being an amazing, handy new man to have in his SO’s life. In twenty years I’ve seen him non-officially employed, but in the meantime, has built a deck, fixed a roof, added value to their world, hustled gigs and cooked and cleaned and been a Fairy Godfather. The kind of guy who visits friends of his parents, and instead of lazing around in their furniture, helps them launch their yacht, re-fence their yard, and look after their kids while leaving without a trace…

    But I am not like that. I am like your husband.

    See, I am a writer, and illustrator and independent lone-wolf kinda a guy who wants to have his cake and also the icing on top.

    And the problem is we are faced with “bourgeois” values while operating on a “bohemian” frequency. This is NOT A BAD THING, but it involves *sacrifice*.

    What is that sacrifice?

    First off, knowing that EVERY male artistic genius out there, known to the world, had a woman doing all the work that we never hear about. They didn’t “SELF-MAKE” themselves. It never happened. They had once-in-a-lifetime opportunities (such as having a woman willing to do emotional and household labour and look the other way while they made up rhymes) that came along like–say a publishing deal, but in the meantime, they had an amazing backer.

    Now, those days are gone!

    It can’t be done anymore. So the sacrifice you have to make (LW’s Husband, I’m talking to you) is… Do you want to be bourgeois or bohemian?

    See, I don’t mean this in negative-positive ways. I just mean it in the polarities.

    I have HAD to get straight jobs (against my inner will and spirit) just to survive. I know what it’s like to slog in the corporate ad world for two years and then have that REALLY REALLY VALUABLE THING come along called “TIME TO WRITE/ILLUSTRATE/MAKE SHIT.”

    This time, for artists–is like GOLD!

    We want TIME, more than we want MONEY.

    This also requires another sacrifice: relationships with people who have “bourgeois values.” By bourgeois I mean, rent paid on time without finagling the landlord, laundry done, fridge and household economics sustainable and consistent, haircuts maintained, social calendars kept running without lack-of-funds preventing “outside fun” or “discretionary pursuits of healthy leisure”, conversations with each other that enrich our lives, plentiful bedtime time…

    So! I spent my 20s and early 30s convincing myself I could maintain a relationship (which is essentially bourgeois in value, since it often requires commitment to home furnishings and accoutrements travelling wayfarers find stuffy) and a bohemian pursuit: that of creating speculative works of expression with no PROVEN MARKET.

    Unfortunately many get the sequence wrong. You have to become bourgeois, and then delve into your “bohemian” side… you cannot extend “bohemianism” beyond it’s own pursuit of self-expression– there is no add-on socket to plug in the “bourgeois” side, if you haven’t started gaining reliable income from your production. It will never happen.

    So I would go through the cycle of meeting somebody who adores me, specially my art, my moderate success, my moderate “potential” to be an amazing new boyfriend…

    And we would get to where you are at the say, two year mark.

    The two long term relationships I have been in, lasted past that because they were like you. They allowed me to do what I did.

    But the deal is: I worked. I produced a body of work. In ten years since, that body of work is now paying off… But while it was being done, it was a constant struggle between trying to “tap into my awareness” and do the daily grind of what a relationship needs.

    I believe there is a success story out there of a man like me, inter-relating with a woman who adores me, and can sustain it.

    But she is not paying my bills, and she is not sharing my chores, and she is not doing my laundry. It will never happen.

    So? Unless your hubby is churning out eight to ten hours of amazing “ART” everyday, he is wasting all of our time.

    He is wasting our time to. Art is for all of us, not just for him to wank with. IF it is really art, it should be bursting out of him, not “some dream.”

    He has a choice, to burst out with his art– and see it’s impact… and earn a living doing it, THEN get a SO.

    But until then, you have to boot him out. Sorry. It doesn’t get any better. I wanna see his writing, to be otherwise convinced.

    1. I strongly disagree with the idea that art making exists in some separate realm where it somehow remains untouched by the rest of life.

      For one, it’s patriarchal as hell, this vision of some male artist (because, let’s face it, it’s always a male artist) who gets to hang out in his ivory tower Making Serious Art and Rebelling Against the Establishment all day long while his long suffering (and almost definitely female) partner gets to deal with the *trivial* stuff, you know, the children and the laundry and the dishes and the How the Fuck the Rent is Going to be Paid this Month stuff. Women have been making art for centuries without some Interruption Free Phallic Ivory Tower of Serious Male Artistness to make it in. (Before I stopped to check the internet and write this comment, I was writing my novel actually, by hand, in a notebook balanced on top of my breastfeeding baby, in the brief snatch of time before he wakes up 🙂 )

      Secondly, it seems pretty damn impractical. I don’t care how amazing your art is. At some point, you’re going to need to eat food and clean the toilet. That’s not bourgeois. That’s being a human being.

      The struggle to find time to make art is real, yes. But it doesn’t get you out of treating your romantic partners like equal human beings rather than resources to be exploited, and unless your *art which has no “proven market”* somehow becomes enough of a commercial success to pay for a cleaner, it doesn’t get you out of the housework.

      1. Yeah, this.

        It’s not about “being an artist” – it’s about “wanting to have my cake and the icing on the top”. i.e., being selfish, and refusing to balance the needs of art and the requirements of life.

        Also, p.s., some of us here (like CA, for starters) ARE ARTISTS.

      2. Goodness, seriously. The authors I love to read (who generally identify as women) all talk about how they snatch time around work and kids and family and home to write, even the ones who make a fair income doing it.

        The authors who are men are all able to quit their day jobs and just write… and their wives take on everything else. It frustrates the hell out of me reading those cheerful little bios and acknowledgements.

        Knowing, going in to a relationship that you’re going to ultimately use and hurt the other person? Why would you do that? Is it just wishful thinking that magically this time it’ll turn out better without having to expend any effort in making it so?

      3. I read this as the dude saying “I know my lifestyle is fundamentally selfish, so I’m opting out of dating until I can be a grown-ass adult about it.” No?

        Because I think that’s actually great, if that’s what he’s doing. It’s fine to decide, for yourself, that you’ve got other priorities right now.

        1. Eh, I got “I had a selfish lifestyle living off of girlfriends because I couldn’t help myself. Other people do this too. LW’s boyfriend is probably doing it. Leave because we cannot help ourselves, but maybe someday we will be partially successful because of things we created while being selfish.”

          I’d be fine with “opting out of dating until I can be a grown-ass adult about it” (even with a (very small) helping of “I’m now going to tell you how the world works”) but that’s not what I got out of the comment and his pretentious ideas and impractical comments on other posts don’t make me inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

          1. Yes. I am talking about opting out until I can be a grown ass adult about it.

            I was using simple terms like bohemian and bourgeois to create the polarity this man faces.

            He has a responsibility to being in a couple. He is not living up to his responsibilities that fall on the side of *order and prosperity* nor does he live up to his responsibilities as an artist.

            And the case for being selfish is the entire problem when juggling time between relationship labour and creative labour.

            We need time, to do this stuff. And it looks like we are *playing* while mess is still to be cleaned up.

            This is a source of conflict.

            So LWs husband gets this by being unemployed but we don’t see any work come out of him.

            He displays tendencies that I labeled as Bourgeois in humour, read what I said as toungue in cheek to the guy. He wants the trappings of a sustainable lifestyle without supplying either end of his mandate.

            Sorry if that sounds pretentious but I do agree it doesn’t really advise the LW, who truly wants to stay with her husband.

            And my *pretentious* ideas are pronounced *pretentieux* where I live, but seem pretty real to me.

            So I’m not sure what to pretend means… That I don’t want to help?

            I think this guy has a proven track record of not pulling his weight. He wants to be an artist while at the same time consume entertainment and doss about the house. That isn’t sustainable and contributes nothing to the couple.

            The quest I am personally on, has been 25 years in the making, and the paradigm has changed as I have aged. Is it pretending of me to say what I looked for and hoped (romantically) for as a younger self is incompatible with my general priorities as they stand now?

            Of course there are lots of clean living productive artists who share household chores.

            I think LW husband needs to prioritize this need to consume entertainment and *dabbling creatively* with the sacrifice that comes from that: his wife leaving him and no sustainable market for his art.

            Sorry if I’ve offended or been unhelpful.

            Consider me vilified.

            I will not be back

    2. I live the bohemian life. I’m a lousy writer, but its my Thing. My Thing sometimes comes with one meal every three days, and it always looks like rice. Bohemian comes with four sets of mended clothes and very cold winters. It comes without kids, because I couldn’t afford them. It comes with bad, poorly paying jobs and social mockery. Third hand computers that crash. Satisfaction with your work, such as it is. Not a lot of partners, because busy *working*. A shortened lifespan after bad health. Boho doesn’t come with the entitlement to live on someone else’s dime because hey, I’M BOHEMIAN AND FEH TO BORGIE STANDARD!. Standards that apparently exist to give a “Bohemian” a comfy life by burning their partner for fuel. So to the No.

    3. Oh Lawdy, I have lived with you. No longer *counts lucky stars*. I am an artist (writer and musician) and I do not find it necessary to live in squalor in order to work at my art. Granted, you could not eat your dinner off my bathroom floor right now, but it is frankly bull that cleaning/laundry/haircuts are bourgeois. People who make statements like that are often the most bourgeois of all, in my experience; they’ve been wealthy and/or spoiled enough not to have to concern themselves with such things. My Mum had us cooking and cleaning from our early teens because my parents were divorced and she was working. How’s that for bourgeois? And…’bedtime time’ and relationships are bourgeois?! Sex is bourgeois?! Where to even start. In fact, maybe I’ll just go and wash my bathroom floor while dreaming up song lyrics instead…

    4. I got about halfway through this pretentious ramble about bourgeois vs bohemian before I burst out laughing and scrolled past.

      1. It makes me think of the Flaubert quote:

        Soyez réglé dans votre vie et ordinaire comme un bourgeois, afin d’être violent et original dans vos œuvres.

        Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.

        1. I love this quote and am going to have a secret affair with it.

          The original comment sounds to me like the artiste-hipster version of that guy who didn’t bother to clean up broken glass.

          1. ^yes!

            I didn’t even really know where to start replying to it so I made some choking noises and scrolled on… >_<

        1. I knew someone whose parents didn’t replace the dishes as they broke, or at all, yet they were prone to breaking dishes. She moved out and went home for a visit and her parents were down to two mugs, one salad plate and one bowl. She offered to go buy dishes for them or with them; they declined, but treated her like a guest, so she go the best dish for each meal. Like, if they had cereal, she got the bowl, if they had pork chops she got the plate. He left and visited later, they were down to one mug and just the plate. They took turns with the mug and plate. So she dragged them out and bought two sets of dishes for them, they were ok with this. There were problems with untreated/unacknowledged mental illness with her parents. They didn’t use the good china, or paper plates or napkins. They just kept adapting as their situation changed and the number of dishes decreased. I was just fascinated with what two or three people would do with just one one plate.

      2. *nods* Seeing as I’m 20+ years into a marriage just like the LW, am a creative professional, work you don’t even want to know how many hours at it in order to buy the house, pay the bills, provide for the family, and pay taxes – because that is what you do when you have responsibilities to take care of. It doesn’t matter how you dress it up, if you aren’t capable of supporting your lifestyle with your creative work, you need some other source of revenue to do that.

      3. That’s a bit harsh. Gotgingham was trying to help and he makes a lot of valid points about borgeois versus bohemian values and specified this wasn’t a value judgement.

        This issue has been an issue for the various groups that constitute Bohemianism and for creative artists for centuries. I doubt it’s the crux of the OP’s issue but I read it as valid.

        And as a creative artist I’ve seen this tension first hand. Yes, some people do see doing the dishes as selling out. Or worrying about the rent as ‘being small’.

        What I wonder is, dies the OP’s husband believe he’s saving his efforts for a real job, or working hard on his art or dismissing the effort of housework. Or is he tinkering and playing during his unemployment – or hiding away from a sense of failure.

        We don’t know. Maybe gotgingham’s explanation will ring true to the OP. It’s an honest effort to understand ‘selfishness’.

        1. “Yes, some people do see doing the dishes as selling out.”

          What exactly do these people eat off then?

          1. As we learned from the Great Housework Thread of 2013, they eat cereal out of a Frisbee.

          2. The dishes that someone else, probably a woman, washed for them, while muttering under her breath.

          3. I know people who eat off paper plates, and while I loathe dishes but not quite enough to see that as a viable alternative, it’s working for them.

          4. Disposable plates and bowls are awesome! The nice thick kind.
            If it’s just a sandwich or a poptart we eat it off a paper towel. Snacky things are single-serving or portioned in small ziploc bags. Everyone has their own differently colored sippy drink bottle that gets used all day.

            I have no shame around minimizing dishes. Lots of crock pot, casserole, and one skillet meals in our home. 🙂
            Everything fits into the dishwasher with room to spare at the end of the day because if you leave extra room (and have a newer model and clean the filter monthly) you don’t have to pre-wash them.

          5. @espritdecorps, for sure! If I didn’t have access to a dishwasher I’d be eating over the sink, that’s how much I hate doing dishes.

            I’ve also decided that I am adult enough to decide whether or not a dishwasher is a luxury or a necessity in my life, and for me it is a necessity. I also don’t have kids (although I babysit the niblings often enough) and that right there is a whole new ball of mess. Paper towels are plate AND napkin AND cleanup at that point. Plus if I’m babysitting at my brother’s house they have a Specific Way To Load The Dishwasher and if you do not remember to do it that way it is the End Of The World and I swear I try but I can never remember if they want spoons up or down and they like their glasses in the BOTTOM and to me that is JUST NOT DONE and…

    5. I just want to say, as respectfully as possible, that this is complete and utter bullsh!t.

      You don’t have to be a “bohemian” who never cleans and contributes zero to a household to make great art – my spouse is an award-winning independent filmmaker, who also maintains a reasonably profitable monetized YouTube channel, and he does that while also working a, to use your term, “bourgeois” job that takes up 40+ hours a week. He also does housework (more than I do, actually, because he has a higher standard of cleanliness that is not super-compatible with my ADD, although I make up for it by taking on more of the non-cleaning-related stuff in our shared life). “BUT ART!!!!!!!” is not an excuse for not doing your share of the work of maintaining a life, and if every artist waited until their art paid their rent to get an SO, there’d be a lot more single artists in the world. YOU don’t like housework, and YOU can’t balance your art with regular employment, and YOU can’t balance your art with a relationship – cloaking your particular set of dislikes/inabilities into some grand theory about being “bohemian” may make it sound prettier then saying “I don’t like cleaning and I’m not able to both make art and work a full-time job, so I choose not to clean my house and also I mostly don’t bother with stable employment,” but it’s not some universal truth, and allowing Mr. LW to hide his lack of contribution to his household under the “But I’m MAKING ART” rug is not only unfair to LW, it’s also unfair to artists like my H who work hard, every day, to be both a good partner and a good artist.

      Dude (you’re a dude, yes? yes), you are not a magical bohemian, you are someone who doesn’t like doing stuff that isn’t exactly the precise thing you want to do. You can totally spend the rest of your life being that dude, and as long as you are not making your lack of caring about basic household maintenance someone else’s problem, it’s fine, but please let’s not pretend your lack of interest in timely paying your rent and occasionally cleaning your bathroom is somehow ennobled by the fact that you also make art.

      1. Yeah, the artist = [pick a shitty behavior pattern or character trait] fallacy is really bad for everyone. It leads artists to think of themselves even more poorly than we’re already conditioned to do, AND it encourages people who have bad social habits to become Artists so nobody will call them on it. I personally went through a long period of thinking I had to choose between “becoming a good/responsible person” and “becoming an artist.” I’m not actually sure I’ve stopped thinking that way, deep down. That’s not ok.

      2. A friend of mine has a LiveJournal with the subtitle “Reading, Writing, and What’s for Dinner.” She’s a good writer, and a successful one (as we know, the first doesn’t always imply the second.) But no matter how good or successful her books are, cooking and laundry and such remain necessary, and she does some of the household chores and her spouse does some, and that doesn’t just happen magically, they sat down and agreed on what needed doing, and who would do what.

      3. Totally agree — it’s not about “bohemian vs. bourgeois,” and it’s not about making art — it’s making personal choices that do not conform to very common social expectations, while disparaging others for choices that happen to align with social expectations. I’ve met people before with attitudes like this (usually they weren’t artists), and in every case, they put other people down to puff themselves up because they could never fully take responsibility for the negative consequences that came from their choices. Rather than acknowledging that things might have been better for them if they had chosen differently — even while owning their choices and making peace with the results — they declare the opposite of their choice to be “bourgeois” or otherwise shallow, petty, meaningless, and the sort of choice made by people with small minds and no souls. Yeah, I’ve heard all that before, and it is so much BS.

        For a lot of people, paying rent on time isn’t small or bourgeois; it’s about avoiding negative consequences like eviction, or even doing what one feels is the right thing by meetings one’s obligations. If one’s values are different, then so be it, but it’s small people who disparage others for wanting to consistently meet their basic needs for food and shelter.

    6. Sylvia Plath produced incredible work that far surpassed that of her husband, Ted Hughes, whilst simultaneously shouldering the burden of ALL the emotional labour in their relationship.

      If you think mundane household maintenance like doing the washing up is somehow beneath you just because you chose a creative career, then you are missing out on a fundamental aspect of the human condition.

      It’s fair enough to make room in your division of chores in order for one partner to focus on their art career, but it’s something else entirely to just dump all the “bourgeois” stuff (I think you actually mean, fundamental working-class WORK) to someone else.

      Seriously, it’s not hip to just be in a relationship with someone just so they can do stuff for you; it’s called being a parasite.

      1. “bourgeois” stuff (I think you actually mean, fundamental working-class WORK)


        1. This reminds me of all the critiques of Rent when people realize it’s about, literally, spoiled brats who think exchanging money for goods and services (like shelter from the cold) is optional. 😀

          Team Joanne!

          1. Yeah. I love the music for that show, but the plot always bugged me. I was pretty clear that I would have been the one picking up the slack.

      2. Seriously, it’s not hip to just be in a relationship with someone just so they can do stuff for you; it’s called being a parasite.

        But if someone doesn’t DO STUFF for him, it will take so long for the art to ever get made! A partner who doesn’t support an artist like that is basically denying the world that art, because no artist (male artist, real artist, genius) ever managed to handle a household and turn out art at the same time. That is factual, because I read it on the internet and saying it makes me feel right.

        …uhm, yeah. Sorry. >.>

        1. Well, uhm, doing the dishes for half an hour will probably mean the art won’t be finished for another half-hour?

          Though, no matter how important that art is, I doubt the world will be seriously disadvantaged by being denied it for another half-hour.

          1. If it’s a good dishwashing session, honestly, I find it only means the art will be delayed by another ten minutes.

            (Or, as happened once but is still cherished, a brilliant bolt of inspiration will strike while the egg yolk is being gotten off the spatula and the thing which has been blocking me for five straight months will be resolved.)

            Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water

    7. I wouldn’t say this is a universal thing, but for you, in your system, you sound hella self-aware. That’s really good!

    8. I’m not sure if I find it more… striking… that
      (1) your definition of “bourgeois” basically means “human being who takes others into consideration”, or that
      (2) when you talk about artists you only talk about male artists, and how hard art (art created by men! because of course that is what’s worth talking about!) is now that they no longer have a silent suffering female helpmeet.

      Carry on.

  19. “I just… Would it be wrong to ask that since I do at least 8 hours of paid work a day and he does 0, maybe he could put in some extra hours of unpaid work around the house during this time to take a little stress off me? Or something else to balance the load? I feel like he owes me. He has said he feels like he owes me too. But it feels wrong on some level to want to collect on that debt.”

    I don’t know that thinking of it as “owed” is healthy, but yes, it’s completely reasonable to think that if he’s got a bunch more extra time, he can use some of it to do more around the house.

    When my boyfriend got laid off (for a couple months), after a few days or so of processing it, he straight up said “well, since I’m free during the day, I’ll take care of the chores and cooking”. So for those months, he applied for jobs on the regular, played video games, but also did the laundry, the dishes, and cooked dinner. It wasn’t a matter of owing me anything, but a matter of fairness. It probably helped that prior to that point, we were splitting the chores pretty much evenly, and not by task so much as who had the energy to do a given thing when it needed doing, so he was already in the habit of doing any of those things regularly. Depending on how housework has been dealt with for the two of you, you might need to go through the chores that you actually do regularly to remind him that they exist. I’ve been that roommate who doesn’t really realize that, say, someone has been scrubbing the shower weekly because they cleaned it before it got to the point where I noticed it was dirty, so it never occurred to me to do it myself.

    I’d focus on it being a matter of him having the free time, and so it’s only fair that he use at least some of it on communal work, rather than something he owes you for supporting him during this time. That view is completely neutral about his work history, as well. It would apply if, say, he was a teacher with the summer off or a seasonal worker. If you think it’s more a matter of him not thinking to do it, you could try starting with “Hey, I’ve been pretty tired lately. Since you have some extra time, can you deal with the dishes/laundry/vacuuming/whatever this week?” and maybe that would be enough to start the pattern. If you don’t think that would work, I’d definitely go with the Captain’s suggestion of writing out what needs to be done for the week, and work out a schedule that gives you if not equal leisure time then at least some down time every night and enough sharing of the load to lift the resentment that’s clearly settling in.

    1. Ooh, yes, this is a good point! “Owed” is a pretty icky way to frame it, so I can understand why LW is feeling demanding and uncomfortable looking at it from that angle. But it doesn’t sound at all like it’s about power and debts and controlling to her, which I think is what “owed” is about. It’s about “we’re both responsible for The Things, I’m using a lot more of my time for them than you are, let’s try and make this more fair.”

  20. Of course he should be doing most of the chores. Your household has a bunch of needs, including tasks that need to be done directly and outside work that needs to be done to pay for things you can’t or don’t wish to do yourself (growing your food, making your clothes), and two adults to do it. All that work – the various bits of work to more directly get things done plus work for money – needs to be divided up more or less equally. It so happens that you are out of necessity doing all the outside work for large stretches of the time, ergo the rest would reasonably fall primarily to him. That doesn’t mean you should necessarily never help, but it seems kind of common sense to think that he would be taking the lead on that and doing the largest share of it. Unless he’s sick or something, I don’t know.

    1. If there are kids it’s a bit more complicated, but none are mentioned so it’s a much more simple and concrete calculation.

  21. I feel like he owes me. He has said he feels like he owes me too.

    And yet, he does nothing.

    I am so sorry, LW, but you have a marvelous time with him, at the price of him doing what he does now, and no more. He is actively avoiding doing anything around the house that would contribute to its care and maintenance. You are now realizing that the current situation is unsustainable. It is always sucky to realize that, but take control of the change that is being forced upon you.

    It is far better to be proactive and decide how things will change.

  22. Dear LW,

    I am for various reasons the member of my household who is not in, or seeking, steady paid work. For various other reasons, mine is not a household that runs well without one person who is mainly at home.

    So we’ve done a lot of processing around making that work out without resentment or feelings of dependancy resulting.

    The thing I think we’ve found most helpful, as a broad concept, is this: total hours of household labour, considered over months or years rather than days. We try to pay attention to how many hours of work the household needs to run well, and how many hours each person puts in, balanced against differences in health, outside demands (frex: my Mom, as I’ve mentioned before, is both unwell and a long way away), and skillsets, along with how taxing various forms of labour are.

    What we do not typically consider in these conversations is how much money each person brings in. Whether or not we are collectively bringing in enough, yes, but not the ratios.

    Wage labour – generating money- is a form of household labour. Grocery shopping, laundry, keeping the books, cleaning, laundry, dealing with the logistics of the wage work, like making sure the shirts are clean and the tank is full or the transit pass gets bought, are household labour.

    Emotional labour is a form of household labour. Jobhunting and studying and working on something like writing intended to generate income are forms of household labour. So are self-care, partner care, and everything else that keeps the household running.

    And household labour can be tracked by the hour and divided equitably – not necessarily ‘fairly’ or ‘evenly’ – based on hours put in, and redivided as things change.

    It’s a good way to talk about the subject for us, that lets us set aside a lot of the built-in emotional and social weight of these issues – not forever, but long enough to negotiate a division and schedule that works.

    If you think about the situation that way, does it help clarify what you want partner to take on, and how you can make things work as their job situation changes and they’re dedicating more or fewer hours to making money? Is that maybe a way you could frame it with them?

    Good luck, to both of you.

    1. I really like the framing of work-for-money as part of work-for-the-household, where so often it’s assumed that WFM is the *important* work (and how do we know it’s important? Because it’s paid!) and WFTH is just support.

      1. It has been literally revolutionary for us. My husband is “worth” a dollar amount per hour the rest of us are never going to hit. OTOH, the nature of the beast is such that considered as effort, those hours are pleasanter than most people’s work for money hours, because he has a Good Job.

        So capitalism says that his hour setting up a website for someone is “worth more” than my hour making the bathroom clean or handwashing the sweaters or making the supper. Agreeing with capitalism was … very bad for us.

    2. Marna, that is such an interesting way of looking at it.

      I mostly look at it as – the home-spouse does the home-work, because they are there to do it.
      If they are not doing it, why not?
      But the one working 40-50 hours/week does not to most of the home-work, because they are not there to do it.

  23. LW, I feel your pain. Our situation was less cyclical but similar – years of low / zero income while he was studying (which was hard work but not exactly paid) followed by a long period (>a year) of unemployment. During this time I worked full time, paid the bills, took on all the emotional work – even trying to maintain his friendships when he didn’t have time / energy to see them, and pretty much all the chores AND the household projects. Then we had a baby and I was primary carer whilst still being responsible for income and chores. Eventually it became too much and I had to leave to look after myself.
    As soon as I moved out I had more time, more money, and a lot more spoons left to look after myself and my child.
    Now in our case my husband took me leaving as a kick up the bum and got a job, learnt to cook, started cleaning and hired a cleaner to help him, started taking responsibility for his own friendships and a good father on his days with our child. Basically, when I stopped doing everything for him, he stepped up and started doing it himself. As a result, we’re now close to being able to move back together rather than divorcing.
    It sounds like you guys are in a much better space than we were by the time I left, but it also sounds like there is a lot of resentment building, and I feel like it didn’t take much for me to go from there to “bitch eating crackers” stage. If I could go back to the stage before I left, I would have tried a lot harder to actually communicate my needs and give him the chance to meet them better. I also really strongly second the counseling recommendations. We went through 2 unsuccessful counselors before finding one that worked well for us, but now that we’ve found her, she’s fantastic. With her help we’ve worked through a bunch of issues that in retrospect it would have been helpful to know about years ago, particularly our different communication styles.
    What you are asking for is not unreasonable – your current arrangement is unbalanced and unfair, so if you can’t get buy in from your SO to make some changes, then it does seem like he’s taking advantage. You shouldn’t feel afraid of asking for it, but a good counsellor can definitely help with making the communication work.

    1. BeccaCat I think good communication is important, but I wary of thinking better communication is the answer to people who’ve completely abdicated their responsibilities in a relationship. I’ve been there and spent *years* trying to find the exact right way to communicate my needs. I would think I needed to be more direct, more explicit, more detailed, more focused on the exact current incident, more supportive in tone, less judgemental, calmer, nicer, give more positive feedback and use the criticism sandwich etc etc etc.

      In hindsight, he knew. He knew what I wanted. I’d communicated it. He was just ignoring it. That I was not explicit or direct enough was an excuse. Then if I was more direct I was too demanding or aggressive and he felt attacked and became defensive. If I referenced past events to contextualise the problem I was never letting it go. If I didn’t I was making a huge fuss over a tiny thing. If I got angry and said “you never do X!” the discussion was about how unfair I was because he did do it *sometimes* and “never” was untrue and unfair. If I was super calm it wasn’t important. If I showed emotion I wasn’t being logical.

      Obviously people can’t read your mind and some people really are a bit oblivious to hints and it’s a great idea to explicitly say what you need. But by the time there’s a child and one person doing 100% of the money earning, chores and child rearing I doubt that it was a mystery why you were upset. I agree that a counsellor is a great idea, but at the same time I’ve also see the exact same guy who wouldn’t listen to me act as if he 100% got it when a third party was mediating our discussion, but he would very quickly go back to the way things were once that third party was out of the picture. I hope your dude has had a real wake up call and will step up for your family! But I want to discourage people from spending too much time struggling to find the exact right way to ask for what they need. If you’ve said the words “I need you to help more with chores, specifically these chores” and “I find our current division of labour unfair and need you to do more” you’ve communicated. Assuming there aren’t health or ability issues at play everything after that is a fog of manipulation designed to keep you focused on meticulously assessing and tweaking your own behaviour and ignoring theirs. If nothing else these people have eyes and brains and assuming they just don’t realise how unfair everything is is already being extremely charitable about the thought process.

      1. Gosh, yes, all of this.

        If two people are trying to communicate in good faith, then they’ll figure it out. It might take a certain framing to get the “Ah ha!” moment of understanding, but they’ll get it.

        If one of the people involved is not communicating in good faith then it doesn’t matter how many magic words you speak or how far backwards you bend, they still just won’t understand.

        Bonus points to my Ex for making it MY fault he couldn’t understand things/figure out how to do things/do things that needed to be done in general. ESPECIALLY because he did not have this issue at work or with other friends, but when I was involved all he heard was the Charlie Brown trombone noises.

        It’s so hard because when someone says they love you, you generally believe them. When you love them, and you’re communicating in good faith, you believe they are as well. There were a whole bunch of signs that he was not, but I didn’t know how to read them at the time.

  24. I’m divorced from that guy myself. I do think if you’re going to remain married, you need to preserve the agreement that you have a joint problem to be solved by both of you. There are probably a few marital problems to which this doesn’t apply, and I am not advocating pretending it is just a teensy little wavelet in a serene marital pond that barely merits the name of inequality. But I don’t think you can solve most marital problems without calling on the spirit of helping one another and having each other’s ultimate best interests in mind, even as you say “I am having trouble controlling my constant low-level resentment, because I rarely get time off and you rarely lighten my burden at home.” You have to at least open the door to hearing his perspective and coming up with a solution that will save some face for the other person and get you some or most of what you want, because no one is motivated by hearing “you’re deadweight and you have begun to disgust me,” however deserved. You can’t really risk going all out with the contempt if you want the marriage. Even when the other person is behaving contemptibly. You can’t in most cases say “sorry, all your problem” and expect to collect back pay in reciprocity because you’ve incurred damages.

    If it fails, the approach Captain Awkward is talking about, and your reasonable efforts are not met with help, maybe you’ll want to reconsider the risk analysis.

    I sometimes think marriage is a system of shared stories about how you make it work together. It’s when the stories diverge and you can’t come up with a shared narrative that it begins to fall apart.

    1. I am so glad to see someone else saying the thing about narratives. One of the huge reliefs of divorce (all the sadnesses acknowledged) is that you can stop having That Argument about the narrative, ie “what is the story of our story” (aka who is right and who is wrong, who is at fault and who is not). You each walk away with full unshared custody of your own version of the story and are free to tell it how you want to whoever will listen. This used to make me kind of anxious about my ex (he’s out there Telling It Wrong, How Like Him) until I started thinking about what a blessing it was that it wasn’t my problem anymore to persuade him to agree with my version. He could tell his version and I could tell mine and their non- jiving didn’t matter at all actually! Crikey!

  25. Well, I’m 38 female and im like your husband, except I’m not married. You are an angel btw. I have the utmost respect for those who can keep the same job for a very long time. Does your husband have add too? If I were him and I read your post I would for sure start helping out around the house and I wouldn’t be upset at all by anything you just said. Guys can’t read our minds and there’s nothing wrong with having a talk with him. Maybe one of us should send him your post to read it 😉

    1. I think they must have had some talks. OP says that “he says that he feels like he owes me, too.” He must have said that during a talk.

  26. It’s really starting to freak me out how often we see this same dynamic in letters–not just the “woman trying to figure out how to get a man to do a fair share of the unpaid work of running a household.” The thing that is making me want to scream and rip my hair out is just how often I see women questioning whether this desire to have an equitable division of labor is reasonable and whether their feelings of resentment over the inequitable division is reasonable. There is so much cultural gaslighting on this issue that we end up undermining ourselves before the DO SOME FUCKING HOUSEWORK conversation even happens.

    It is going to be 2016 by the end of the week. If your partner is able to do a fair share of household chores but isn’t, you are justified in being angry/resentful/frustrated/whatever you are feeling. Regardless of whether or not expressing your feelings will be effective in getting your partner to change, your feelings ARE JUSTIFIED.

    1. Speaking from the male side of that dynamic, AMEN.

      I’m not always good at doing my share of the housework, and I’m working on it — and, speaking entirely selfishly, it makes it an awful lot harder to do better when that cultural gaslighting means that when I start falling short my wife often does not tell me until she’s stressing out. (So I’m working on being better at noticing, and asking. This is a complaint at culture, not a claim of no-responsibility!)

      And, heck yes, LW, your feelings are justified here. And beyond that, you are justified in asking to have your feelings addressed regardless of whether they’re justified, because addressing one’s partner’s feelings is part of being in a marriage.

      1. “When I start falling short my wife often does not tell me until she’s stressing out.”

        Well. There’s a basic fallacy of some sort going on here, and I might have spelled that wrong. I can see that you really feel close to having this equality thing handled, with just a few adjustments left to make, but the situation sounds very unequal. Your wife is currently responsible for holding you to standards, and guilty of failing to speak up at the appropriate moment (not before she’s stressed, but certainly before she needs to mention being stressed) and of course, she allows herself to be upset by your failures to meet standards you’ve agreed to meet without supervision. Which is her fault for not speaking up, which she just did.

        It really doesn’t sound as if there’s a win available to anyone in in this situation. Perhaps a little more effort towards autonomy on your part might help?

        1. I appreciate your perspective, but this isn’t really an accurate picture of what’s happening in several ways.

          (I feel rather defensive about this because, more often than not, I’m the one covering her slack. But me being defensive isn’t a productive conversation, so I would just ask that you please assume I’m a competent human actually doing the things I’ve agreed to do and doing my part of keeping the house clean both to my standards and to hers as best I can understand them, and let’s leave it at that.)

        2. Brooks did specifically say that he is working on addressing that by trying to be better at noticing.

          1. True. And hopefully he notices that he just threw his wife under the bus, hard.
            Brooks, I think that ‘you being defensive’ just might be the most productive conversation you could have. You brought your situation to the table, and its not exactly cricket to declare the subject closed “and let’s leave it at that” when someone takes an interest in discussing your POV.

          2. @oregonbird (run out of nesting): I don’t think he threw his wife under the bus at all? Also, it seems perfectly understandable to me that he brought up his personal experience as it related to the gendered house-cleaning dynamics being discussed here, and then didn’t want to talk about it further after you pretty much attacked him and accused him of doing things he isn’t actually doing.

          3. @oregonbird, I don’t think that’s a fair assessment of what he said. He was speaking specifically to the cultural phenomenon that prevents women from ever criticizing their husbands’ housekeeping skills until it’s just too much to bear, not blaming his wife for not speaking up earlier. I think you’re reading in a lot of things that haven’t actually been said, and the fact that he feels defensive over your response does not necessarily mean that he’s in the wrong.

          4. “. … keeping the house clean both to my standards and to hers **as best I can understand them**…”

            I worked as a housekeeper for over 20 years. I’ve had standards set for me by literally hundreds of people, and never had problems understanding them. The only reason I’ve ever found for someone consistently failing to understand a basic concept was that they didn’t want to to, and not understanding meant they didn’t have to do the work. Yes, I could be misinterpreting this, but I’m fairly confident in my ability to read passive-aggression.

            If “more often than not I’m the one covering her slack” isn’t throwing a woman under the bus, then, I suppose it isn’t. I’ll have to just take my side-eye and go eat crackers. 🙂

            But I would recommend, Brooks, that you take another look at the situation you’ve described, and maybe do consider how much effort your wife is expected to put in on meeting your expectations to be guided in daily work.

          5. I don’t know, I think that cleaning houses for work and keeping one’s own house clean are pretty different things. And I think that understanding another person’s standards can be an issue, especially if the two people involved are operating under different assumptions about how, and how often, to do a particular task. Especially when one person is having trouble speaking up about her needs, as Brooks has said is the case for his wife (and he makes it clear that he blames cultural expectations, not her, for that).

            For example, if Brooks’ wife asks him to fold the towels, but she doesn’t think to specify “fold them into thirds” (or whatever) because she assumes that’s the obvious way to do it, and then he folds them in a different way, and she gets frustrated. I can think of all sorts of other examples. Different people have different ways of doing various household tasks, and if there isn’t clear communication on both parts, it *can* be hard to understand what the other person wants.

          6. I’m still not sure how this is useful to anyone else to continue, and I feel awkward about talking about myself in comments on a post that’s very much not about me, but I can explain further.

            One of the occasions where this came up was where we had clear expectations and agreements, and part of that was that we were doing a weekend of extra cleaning, and she had offered to clean the bathroom while I was cleaning other things (it’s been long enough that I don’t remember what it was exactly, but probably the kitchen). I came home at one point that weekend to find that my wife had made herself sick to the point of vomiting by being in an enclosed space with cleaning chemicals cleaning the shower, because it turns out that she’s particularly susceptible to that — and, rather than saying, hey, let’s renegotiate this thing we negotiated, she just pressed on.

            Other cases where it comes up tend to be around her depression. We both are busy and exhausted with being coparents of a three-year-old that lives in another household, and so we aren’t often home with the child to do little bits of cleaning around caring for them, and the times we are home are mostly only the times in late evenings when we’re recovering from childcare. We are mostly okay with living in a cluttered house that doesn’t get decluttered as often as either of us would really like because our energy goes to other priorities, and we have discussed this to a considerable extent. However, sometimes when my wife gets particularly depressed, she starts feeling very guilty about the fact that the house is messy, and deals with this by exhausting herself decluttering to the point of a depressive spiral, rather than saying that it’s bothering her more than usual and asking me for help. Or, for that matter, just asking me for reassurance that I’m okay; the depression and cultural programming usually makes this come out as her feeling guilty that she’s not keeping the house clean _for me_.

            (Also, note that me doing the cleaning does not actually help with that particular depressive guilt! The issue is not that the house is not clean, the issue is that she feels she isn’t doing enough cleaning.)

            The times when I cover my wife’s slack are the times when her depression comes out as a combination of exhaustion and difficulty with motivation. She’s running fairly near her capacity with work and taking care of the preschooler, because she does (by negotiated choice) do more of the childcare than I do, and me doing more of the housework (and working longer hours at paid work) is our balance for that. When the depression starts eating into things, she ends up over-capacity with work and preschooler, and there’s simply nothing left for housework here. But I do get frustrated at frequently putting up the left-out ingredients after she cooks dinner and a few things like that that happen to be hot-button issues for me, and I’m honestly not aware of any specific small hot-button issues in the other direction because she hasn’t told me of any. I will explicitly ask, though.

          7. Also, I think you’re reading way different things into “as best I understand them” than I meant. I partly meant that — well, to circle back to my original point, I’m not assuming that absence of complaint means everything is perfectly okay. And I partly meant that sometimes her depressive spirals mean that she gets upset about something that was previously acceptable, because the upset is far more about what she feels that she hasn’t been doing than about actual state of the house, and often I simply don’t have the data to see what’s going on there. I certainly did not mean to say that she had ever complained to me that I didn’t understand her expectations, or that I was having any trouble understanding her communication about them!

          8. So I just had a very clearcut example happen here of what I’m talking about. Maybe the raw data is useful.

            My wife has been sick for a couple of weeks with a lingering cold on top of seasonal clinical depression; she has had very little energy to speak of. Today, she felt well enough to go out for a walk, and did so.

            While she was out, I started laundry (including extracting her dirty socks from the pile of dirty clothes next to her side of the bed, a pile that also included a couple of old “empty” dirty food containers and some more inert clutter), swept the floor, fixed a door that wasn’t latching, took out the trash, and spent an hour on hold with financial people trying to straighten out a thing that involved both of us. And I scooped the cat litter because, even though we agreed that because she was the one of us who wanted cats she would take care of them so I would not get resentful, and we’ve repeatedly reaffirmed that she agrees to be responsible for them, the litter hadn’t been scooped in days and the cats were starting to poop in my office instead.

            When she got home, she said that she shouldn’t have gone on the walk — because now she was feeling guilty that the house was dirty. I asked if the walk had helped her feel better emotionally, and she said it had, so I pointed out (truthfully) that it was clearly a good thing that she went because if she hadn’t gone she’d still be feeling guilty about the state of the house.

            Now she’s curled up under a blanket on the couch, watching movies and feeling sick, and I’m continuing the laundry.

            I am a bit sad that she isn’t able to do much to help keep the house clean, and that I have to do chores that she’d explicitly agreed are her responsibility. I’m a bit annoyed that she didn’t ask me to do the cat-litter scooping for her, rather than just not doing it, and that she’s left dirty food containers in her pile of dirty clothes. But those are part of being a partner to someone who is sometimes depressed, and I chose that long ago. C’est la vie, and I am not saying this to complain about that choice.

            However, I am exceedingly angry at the cultural gaslighting (to borrow Hannahbelle’s apt term) that so convincingly tells her that she should feel guilty about prioritizing her own self-care over the housecleaning.

    2. Also can I just point out that ITS HIS HOUSE TOO and he has a responsibility to help keep it clean.

    3. It’s also true that some people, both men and women, honestly do not care about housework and would in many cases prefer to have a partner who didn’t care either (because then the differing standards wouldn’t be an issue). It’s not always a case of one long-suffering martyr who’s doing all the “necessary” work–sometimes it’s one person who sees said work as necessary (and thinks the world understands this by default) while the other one just doesn’t.

      So I completely agree that the real problem is cultural gaslighting around women thinking they have no right to their own preferences, triggers, and priorities. Because that means whenever one of these normal differences arises, it becomes a huge festering problem of betrayed expectations and silent triggering.

      1. This, yup.

        I’m a messy lady.

        I married a neat guy. Not intolerably neat, but neater than me.

        I had a dear friend in college who was intolerably neat. We recognized, early on, that we could never live together, and while we were never attracted to one another, we would have simply been a bad match.

        Which doesn’t make us bad people – just different.

        1. It’s not just about whether or not the house is “neat”, and people agreeing on a set level of “mess”. Yes, there is cultural gaslighting about how women are SUPPOSED to want their home to be a certain level of cleanliness and there’s something WRONG if it isn’t, or God forbid if they just don’t care–

          But. The flip side of that cultural gaslighting is that if doing household work is merely a ‘preference’ or ‘mess tolerance’, then a guy who is totally cool with never cleaning is always in the right, because hey, isn’t he entitled to leave broken glass on the floor if that’s his preference? And if she cares so much about making sure that the shower isn’t overgrown with mildew, then clearly it’s her job to scrub it since after all she’s the one who makes such a big deal about it.

          Also, household tasks aren’t just about maintaining a certain level of neatness. Who’s monitoring how much food there is in the house, or when you’re down to the last clean towel? Which of you brings in the mail and makes sure the electric bill gets paid? When something breaks, who fixes it or makes sure a repair person is called? If one of you handles X chore (say, cooking) that depends on Y chore being done (say, washing the cooking implements), how do you coordinate those two?

          1. The flip side of that cultural gaslighting is that if doing household work is merely a ‘preference’ or ‘mess tolerance’, then a guy who is totally cool with never cleaning is always in the right, because hey, isn’t he entitled to leave broken glass on the floor if that’s his preference?

            I think you’re right that this is another version of the same problem. Culturally, we think that if something is “just a matter of preference”–especially if it’s a woman’s preference–then it’s not enough to justify change. Obviously we know that isn’t true: there’s a whole thread about it on CA happening right now. And yet, so often, that’s how it plays out in real life.

            So then it feels like the only way for women to set any boundaries at all is to frame them not as preferences, but as Justifiable Standards. That way, anyone who doesn’t respect them is clearly “in the wrong”–and that gives us the moral courage to stand our ground and push for what we want. Ideally, we wouldn’t need that extra justification at all…but experience has taught us that it’s dangerous to ask for anything without it. It’s like, “asking for what I want” makes me feel selfish, weak, and futile; but “standing up for what is right” makes me feel ethical, strong, and capable. Except that’s just the same old gaslighting that says our preferences aren’t important enough to stand on their own…or, if they are, the most selfish person’s preferences always win. (Another reason winning=losing when our preferences are involved.)

            I think in your example above, even if the messy guy’s “preference” is ethically neutral per se, it’s still not “right” for him to do whatever he wants if it’s having a concrete negative effect on his partner. If he’s a good partner himself and understands that it bothers her, then hopefully he’ll overcome the “oh, those fussy little women” gaslighting and they can work out a better balance. But this can be tricky if she either (a) never says anything, or (b) wants him to be neater not because mess bothers her, but because she thinks it’s the Right Thing To Do. That sets up a dynamic where he’s been screwing up this whole time and she now has to correct him…which, for a lot of people, is actually a more comfortable role than “I want something but am afraid to ask for it because what if he says no/gets offended/thinks I’m unreasonable/passive-aggressively gets back at me later, etc.” Which totally happens all the time, so we have reason to worry about it.

            Obviously not all of this will be true in every situation. But as a rule, we shouldn’t have to worry that just because something is a “preference” and not a justifiable standard, it somehow doesn’t matter at all (or, if it does, the guy’s preference always wins).

  27. A long, long time ago, when I was fresh out of college, I was living with a friend. Said friend worked 12 hours a day, 4 days a week, and had an hour commute each day. But after those four days of work, they would have four days off in a row. My work was for five hours a day with a ten-minute commute, but I worked seven days a week and got exactly one weekend off each month.

    Our arrangement was this: when we sat down to discuss living together, we each made a list of three things that, if they were not done when we got home from work, we would be so bothered by it that we would immediately do it, regardless of how tired we were. These jobs were the ‘annoying jobs’, labeled as such because of how absolutely annoying we found them, and if said jobs were not done they would build resentment between us. Then we agreed that whoever had more ‘free time’ on any particular day would be the one to check and make sure those 6 jobs (3 from each of us) were done.

    All other chores were done on a “okay those six important chores are done, let’s get something else done now” basis. In practice, this meant that on days we were both working, sometimes the not-important chores didn’t get done. Vacuuming was not on the ‘annoying jobs’ list, for example, and sometimes we would go for weeks without getting that thing out. But it was tolerable, because the important things were taken care of first. This arrangement went a looooong way towards making our living together a very positive experience.

    Maybe try talking with your husband that way? Phrase it not as ‘you have so much free time, so do this’, but as “let’s each pick a couple things we absolutely hate to see go undone, and make sure they get done each day”, and that might get him on a regular chore schedule.

  28. I swear this stuff turns me into a giant burning ball of rage having lived through it, trying to be the most perfectest most understandingest partner ever and cramming myself and my wants and my needs into smaller and smaller boxes while having the same conversations, week after week after week, about why yes it WAS important and necessary to do x, y, and z, and after a lot of therapy and a lot of hashing and re-hashing here and elsewhere, YES THEY WERE REASONABLE.

    I’ve been on both sides of the employed/unemployed and supporting/being supported by cycle, but there’s a major difference: I did what I could, and because I was 100% aware that in several cases it was due to really severe mental or physical health issues, and working to fix/manage/cope with those was counted as “work time”. Healing is work. But healing for me involves seeing professionals, being compliant with meds, finding strategies to make sure I can do these things and sewing up some of the holes in my safety net whenever possible. It means actively working on whatever is tripping me up and finding ways to live, even if it means my life is smaller for a while.

    When I took my first leave of absence from work, I took on the rest of the household chores. I cooked (although my Ex would not always eat it) and did laundry and got groceries and went to doc appointments as often as every day of the week. He was paying for most things.

    When I went back to work… if I wasn’t doing it, it wasn’t getting done. We were working the exact same hours, to the extent that we walked TO work together, worked in the same office, walked HOME together, and then he’d flop down to watch TV and expect dinner to appear and the cats to be fed and the dishes to be clean and his trail of discarded clothing to be picked up and laundered and then he’d go to the gym for an hour and drop his sweaty gym clothes on the floor and declare he was done for the night (or more often, just get up and go to bed without saying anything).

    So I was working full-time, doing all the household chores because magically his intentions to do them made him a Good Person and that was all that was required, AND handling my mental and physical issues which mean really frequent physiotherapy and such. A lot of his not-doing-things was related to his own mental illness, which he not only refused to get help for, but refused to discuss or acknowledge, even though it was severely impacting our lives. Instead he blamed mine, made up stuff about it (did you know people with PTSD eat their young? He says so, so it’s a fact!), lied to our co-workers, lied to my face constantly, and… yeah.

    One of us gave a shit, and not in the bathtub.

    I swear, if I could go back in time? I’d look him in the eye, tell him to grow up, and go on with my badass life, because even when he was supporting me, it was his CHOICE, and the only reason I needed support was because he had us move from my tiny but inexpensive apartment to a place we could sort of afford, if you squinted at it right, but assured me he’d take on the majority of the expenses. Like he assured me that if he couldn’t keep up with his division of chores he’d hire cleaners as his contribution. That was actually a requirement of me agreeing for him to live with me. It never, ever, ever happened. But he had INTENTIONS for all of that!

    Ugh. So many feels. And y’know, I’m spending a lot of time focused on my health right now, and I finally have people around me who GET that, who understand how much work is involved with healing (partly because my therapist came and hit them over the heads with it, partly because they can see me physically go into energy conservation mode or dissociate at the dinner table or walk into walls or struggle through brain-molasses to put together a coherent sentence) and it’s like… oh. I’m not being a lazy bear. I should do more, but I am at least doing SOMETHING, and that’s… really the difference.

    1. ” It means actively working on whatever is tripping me up and finding ways to live, even if it means my life is smaller for a while.”

      OT, but I really like the way you said that. I’m in a demanding PhD program and trying to cope with an unsupportive department, and I find myself needing lots and lots of time alone at home with my cats in my lap (as they are right now). I’m adapting as best I can and making a point to keep up with my mental health, but I also realize that this program is going to suck till I’m done with it, no matter what. So I’m just kind of… living smaller. That is a much kinder way of putting it than the un-generous things I occasionally say to myself about it. Thanks – I’ll keep this one in mind!

      1. That sounds super rough and I wish you all the best luck and TONS of kitty snuggles (which are crucial to my self-care as well). It’s funny, ever since I started really taking to heart that my health really IS important, I have trouble buying in to the rest of the world’s “it’s secondary to CAREER/JOB/DEGREE” and didn’t realize part of my misery was exactly that. I’m also super fortunate that my work gets this and would rather have head-heart-body-healthy people who occasionally need accommodations than people who are unhappy and burn out and quit.

        Fistbumps for small lives, because they can be just as fulfilling as large ones, and no one says that either is a permanent condition or one is better than the other! Figuring out how to love the life you live is waaaay more important than figuring out how to live the life you love (although also important).

  29. Hi LW, I’m a boring government worker and my partner is a freelancer, so while we don’t have the getting jobs/getting fired cycle but we do have months where he does 80 hours weeks, and months where he does 20 hour weeks, where as I have 40-60 hour weeks (including grad school) with nice consistant pay.

    Damn right our housework reflects that, I pick up most of the household work when he has big deadlines, and he picks up most of the work when my work is going full on, or my grad school work is due. It doesn’t make sense to me to not do this, when he has more time than me of course he does most of the household stuff. When he is working 80 hour weeks of course laundry/cooking/dishes are on me. Similarly with money if he has a dry month then I am picking up most of the costs, but when he has big projects pay off then he can cover most of the costs. We are lucky that we are rich enough that those weeks when we are both super busy get covered by takeaway and laundry piling up.

    I wouldn’t want to be in a live in relationship with someone who didn’t if they where able-bodied (including mental health) and had less work/more time than me contribute to household in some other way.

  30. It sucks that while equitable division of household labour is a no brainer, talking about it is still such a fraught experience. I really like that you own your feelings and consider his. Of course something here is unbalanced and you recognise it needs to changet and you want to find a kind way to state that. That’s insightful and generous given how hard you work and that this entire talk is extra work. However frustrated you are, it sounds like you think your partner is worth this extra work to discuss it.

    My partner is physically disabled. He is a tidy, pets nicety Virgo who lived alone for years and alternates between fastidious tidiness and all out ‘no spoons’ crap hoarding mess. I am mentally unwell and while he will never work and his disability will deteriorate, I can work and am doing that on a voluntary basis till I can get us off welfare for good. Ridiculous welfare bureaucracy means my money is paid into his account. Our daily life is a terrifying blend of gender roles, financial insecurity and disability.

    It was worth having some really honest and vulnerable talks about what we both needed to live harmoniously and how to make it happen. My partner is not lazy or sexist or entitled. He is a good guy who has varying spoons. He likes the cutlery put away just so but he roll forget to buy toilet paper. Some night he runs me a bath and cooks dinner. Some days he cannot get out bed. Some days I try to save the day via doing too much housework. Some days I leave my books and bellydance gear everywhere. Mess is made. Words are exchanged.

    We worked out what worked for us. It will change again when I get part time work. It will change again when we come off welfare and as he becomes less mobile and more in pain, our roles will change too. He is worth loving and living with and I feel lucky to have an awesome man like him. He is my best friend. He makes me feel cherished.

    It can work if your roles and your capabilities differ. What matters is agreeing on the culture of your home and loving your partner via what you can do.

  31. I feel for you LW, I really do. I was in a similar situation a few years ago. I was working full time, teaching, while supporting a partner who was technically ‘self-employed’ but actually mooching on the internet all day. But the bit of your letter I want to focus on is ‘he’s my best friend’ because that was certainly true for me. It is possible to love and benefit from a relationship with someone who is capable of behaving like this.

    Mind you, that didn’t mean I wasn’t unhappy, resentful and perpetually furious.

    I tried to follow all the good advice most people here have given. Long, sensible talks to try to resolve the problem, list of jobs to be done, explaining how I felt and how my temper would be so much improved by a little more support and so on. None of this worked, for two main reasons. Firstly, my partner regards conversations about how to deal with personal and practical matters as a form of mental torture I inflict upon him as a punishment for his shortcomings. Secondly, he believes that anything you are putting up with, can’t be that unbearable. (I wonder if any of this sounds familiar?)

    So I stopped putting up with it. What follows isn’t really advice, I am well aware that I was very fortunate in my circumstances, it is just my story for you to consider. My college needed to lay off staff and was looking for volunteers. I live in the UK where this is a thing and comes with a financial package that, in my case, would keep us for six months. So I took the redundancy and told my partner he had six months to find a job or else!

    So for us, three years and a lot of other issues later it has worked out. We live very frugally, he is employed part time, I’m not. I do the house work, write, mind the grandkids, volunteer in the community and mooch about on the internet. I’m very lucky, old enough, financially secure enough to have made this work. I took a big risk, not just financially but emotionally. I could have found out that my partner didn’t care enough make the change or simply wasn’t capable of it. But whatever had happened I think it would have been better than continuing as we were.

    Maybe your husband needs that loud a wake-up call. Maybe you just need to get out of there. Maybe one will lead to the other. But if talking won’t improve things you may need to move on to the next stage. Festering resentment is no state to live in, as I know well.

  32. Reading the letter (I haven’t read the comments yet) it sounds like the big issue is the housework more than anything else.
    There are definitely a few letters in the archives about that!

    LW, it’s not calling a favour to have your partner do work in your SHARED living space.
    I know it can feel that way, but that’s the toxic culture talking. There is no reason this stuff is automatically your job, and if it became your job by initial agreement YOU CAN RENEGOTIATE!!

    You have the permission of this random bird on the internet to tell your partner to get off the Xbox and vacuum/run the laundry/get groceries etc. and have it be completely reasonable.

  33. I wonder if LW’s husband would find it easier to find and keep paying work outside the house if he really got that his free ride was over? If LW let him know what all needed to be done, and which part of the list was his to get done when he wasn’t working, forever, not just for a short time until he could sort of trail off to doing pretty much nothing to maintain their house. If he really got that he was going to be taking care of a fair amount of housework (whatever fair means), if he’d manage to find and keep a job. Or, would he leave the LW, his “best friend”, and find someone else to support him?

    1. (Waves hand in the air) OOOO! I know the answer to that one! Pick me!

      Heck yeah, he’ll suddenly be able to find work if LW stops his free ride. The only question is how far LW will have to go to get both of them off the merry-go-round.

      Case in point: My very ex- boyfriend.

      He was a truck driver. I owned my own home outright and was living off of an inheritance. I was in the middle of rehabbing the house (basically rebuilding it over our heads), setting up a working farm (CSAs, heritage poultry), and homeschooling my two daughters. I paid the majority of the bills and did all the housework because, ya know, I wasn’t really *working*.

      He lost his job with Company #1 not long after he moved in with me. Sat around, doing nothing. I beat the bushes for him and got him another job. Seriously. I asked around, read the job ads, stood over him while he made the phone call, and drove him to the interview.

      That job lasted about 3-4 months before they fired him. Again, he sat around, doing nothing. No housework, no farm work, no cooking. Lots of video games, though. Because, he was upset about being fired.

      Once again, I beat the bushes and found him a job. This one lasted barely one month before he wrecked the truck and lost the job. Back to him sitting up all night, playing video games and watching porn, and sleeping all day. I was paying ALL the bills by now and exhausted from all the farm/house/parenting/homeschooling work…but, I wasn’t reeeaaallly *working*, and he was too tired to help, and I was doing SUCH a good job myself, and he didn’t know how to do any of it, and, and, and.

      Found him another job. LNG tanker truck. Two months, rolled the tanker and basically made himself unemployable as a trucker. Back to porn/video games/sleeping in. I demanded he go back to school and train as something, anything else. He got a certificate in surveying. Back to sitting/videos/porn/sleeping. Filled out two applications and figured that was good enough. He had two years of unemployment bennies, and he was “contributing”, and I wasn’t really *working*, and women’s work(!).

      By this time, my inheritance was running out, so in addition to keeping all the home/farm work up, I went back to school to train to do taxes. Found a job immediately. Sat him down with a counselor, asking for him to contribute SOMETHING to the relationship. He’d agree to divide the chores, etc. in front of the counselor, but refuse to follow through at home.

      Gave up, packed his crap, moved him out. He actually showed up, at my job(!), asking me what he should do! “Cause he didn’t have much *money* and his unemployment was running out and how was he going to pay his rent and couldn’t I just take him back and things would change, and, and, and. I told him to get a job or starve.

      He had a job within two days. I didn’t take him back.

  34. Oh LW, I feel you so hard! I could have written this myself! One thing that has helped us (a lot) was to set up a joint Google doc of the not-professional tasks that need to get done and jointly reassign them whenever we have a change in employment time commitments. It took us a while to figure this out, but oh bay has it made a difference. We broke out tasks into dailies, weeklies, monthlies, one-offs, etc. and then put his name or my name against each. It’s taken a huge load off of my mind (even in our recent bout of him being very well-employed albeit temporarily) just because I didn’t feel as if I had to keep track of all the shit that needed doing around the house. During that period he was working outside the house a lot, so I picked up a few more household chores. Now that that job has ended they’re back on his docket.

    The Good Captain is also making excellent points about savings for retirement and other financial and leisure goals. My DH brought in a lot more money during this recent temp job, which allowed us to pay off a significant chunk of debt (yay!) but it also really burned him out (lesson: corporate ain’t his bag, even though he was good at it). So, now he’s cobbling together a bunch of creative and community-based part-time jobs which is making him lots happier. However, that doesn’t come with benefits. We’re fortunate that my job provides excellent health insurance, and we’ve been talking with a financial advisor to figure out how to save for his retirement because I don’t want to work forever just because we haven’t been saving some of his income. But it is harder when he’s making less (and doesn’t have employer matching). I’m still working through my emotional responses to this – it’s an adjustment but I think it’s one we can make. We’ll be sitting down again soon to redistribute the household chores again and consider how to adjust our mutual financial goals. This is our new normal. Of course, I’d love more financial stability and certainty, but not at the expense of my spouse’s happiness, so we have to figure out how to meet both of those needs. I wish you luck with the same!

    1. I really like the idea of writing it all out! Taking care of a household is a lot of work, and it’s work that isn’t valued nearly enough. Writing it out — plus making adjustments as necessary — not only makes it clear who needs to take care of what, but it’s a reminder of all the ways both people are contributing. Kind of “we’re both in this together” in a very clear way.

      It sounds like both you and your husband are both committed to balancing emotional happiness and financial stability — best of luck on new adjustments to the balance!

      1. Thank you for the well wishes – much appreciated! (As well as your affirmation of our attempts to do this balanced and shared life thing well – it’s a slippery fish.)

        The lesson I keep (re)learning in all of this, especially with respect to the balancing of emotional happiness and financial stability is that it will never just be DONE. Remember when you were a kid and believed that at some magical point in the future you would become an adult and you would have it all figured out? Yeah, for some reason I still cling to that belief in this one small area of my life on some level. I’ve come to peace (even enjoyment!) with the fact that there is no “The One” when it comes to career paths, but am still subconsciously hung up on the finances thing – like, if we could both find The One True Source of income, we could magically pay off the student loans and afford the house and the retirement account that represent financial security (and thus safety) and the awesome vacations (that are just fun) and eventually retirement and most importantly NEVER HAVE TO THINK ABOUT $ AGAIN, check the box, collect Adulting Certificate, move on. But let’s face it, that’s a fantasy unless I win the lottery (which ain’t happenin’ because I don’t buy tickets). But you know, I was able to get there with other stuff so I suppose I will get there with this one too eventually. Practice makes awesome.

        1. Oh man, I know what you mean about it never being done! I, too, had that idea that at some point it would all be figured out and put into place… LOL! After dealing with a lot of things that haven’t worked out like I thought they would, I’ve accepted that it’s never just DONE. I’ve also accepted that unless I won the lottery, I’ll never have the financial stability and material benefits that I thought I’d have one day. Still, I’ve had some pretty amazing experiences, figured out that a lot of the milestones for the Adulting Certificate are bogus, and right now I am happier than I have been in years despite having much less financial stability than I once did. Don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that the balancing doesn’t end!

          1. ” I’ve also accepted that unless I won the lottery, I’ll never have the financial stability and material benefits that I thought I’d have one day. Still, I’ve had some pretty amazing experiences, figured out that a lot of the milestones for the Adulting Certificate are bogus, and right now I am happier than I have been in years despite having much less financial stability than I once did. Don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that the balancing doesn’t end!”

            Repeated for Truth!!!

  35. My apologies if this came up elsewhere in the comment thread, but has this guy considered temp work? I’ve been in his position — lay offs, long and frustrating job searches — but I eventually found ways of getting a paycheck in the interim even if they weren’t in my preferred field or for the pay I wanted.

    1. I agree that he should definitely consider temp if he hasn’t yet. If he actually gets a temp job is another story entirely….

      Years ago in one town, I signed up with a good temp agency, and as a good worker, I was able to work regularly in clerical assignments for ~3 years as a temp. A few years ago (during high unemployment) in the town I’m in now: very few temp agencies (most specialized in fields I didn’t have skills for), and very few opportunities for assignments, despite the fact I’d done temp work before and was willing to work on short notice (like, same day notice). I even had the recruiter tell me how they’d be able to find lots of assignments for me — same recruiter gave me the run around on completing skills assessments and ultimately stopped returning my emails and calls.

      So… yeah, it depends a lot on where you live, the nature of the local economy, and the agencies available.

      1. Yeah…I’ve done a lot of temp work while job-hunting, but even though I signed up with multiple agencies, I often went weeks or even months between assignments. And temping itself added all sorts of extra stress on top of the stresses of job-hunting: the uncertainty of never knowing how long an assignment would last, or when I would get another one; having to constantly get used to new commutes, environments, routines, and people, and then leave just when I had finally adjusted to it all; the frustration of doing the same work as the permanent employees but for less pay and no benefits or job security; and often coming home from work too tired to do much job-applying. Plus the time and energy that it takes to interview for temp jobs, whether in person or by phone. (This may vary by location/field, but in my experience, you have to interview with a temp agency and then interview separately for each assignment, unless it’s something really short-term.)

        So I do recommend looking into temping for the LW’s husband if he hasn’t yet, but with the caveats that 1.) temp work can be hard to find, depending on location and 2.) temp work itself can be really stressful, especially for people like me who don’t deal well with change.

    2. This is for LW’s spouse, but I’ll say “you” rather than type that out repeatedly, if that is OK.

      Temp work got me my current job with decent pay and benefits. If you have a Snelling or Trace (no idea if these are national or regional) near you, they worked the hardest on my behalf. Warning: You will probably have to provide them with your actual Social Security card so they can photocopy it. Mine was lost years ago when my purse was stolen (this is why you’re not supposed to carry them around with you, lesson learned), so this required four hours of my life wasted in the appropriate government office, but I got my replacement card. If you have a current Passport, that is also handy for their required ID needs.

      If they don’t place you immediately, you will still get some feedback on your resume and suggestions. Another thing you’ll have to do is take skills tests in Microsoft Office programs. I hadn’t used Excel in years and aced it, and I had never used MS Office’s database program and passed that, too. A high score makes you easier to place, even if the job you want won’t have you using Excel or a database very often. Practice improving your typing speed, too, as they’ll have you do a speed and accuracy test. But then you’ll be done with that stuff and can start being recommended to the agency’s clients, many of whom DO NOT ADVERTISE OPEN POSITIONS AT ALL, and do all their staffing from agencies, as people who don’t work out have cost them nothing but temp employee wages.

      If there is a professional association or group locally, and you are a member, go to meetings and network. Some careers also have job sites specifically for people looking to work in that field. If you’re lucky enough to have that, take advantage!

      This is not the primary issue LW is justifiably upset about, but on the off chance that it may relieve some financial burden, I’m sharing.

  36. I have a small practical suggestion to reduce the number of spoons needed for laundry. There is a thing called ‘color catcher’ (in the US, it’s branded under the Shout logo, but it might also have a generic counterpart), and it’s a wee sheet that goes into the wash with your stuff. It absorbs dyes cast off in the laundry process and prevents them from invading lights or whites. I haven’t sorted my whites from coloreds in twenty years, no lie. Saves water usage, saves time, saves spoons.

    Which is barely relevant to the discussion here, but I thought I’d toss it out there.

    1. Or, I think it’s called “all” detergent? That’s a thing that lets you just throw everything in together. At least, that’s how I’ve always done it and no clothes have been ruined yet!

      1. Alternately, you can get laundry bins with compartments, or keep multiple baskets going. Since I do the handwash and another spouse does the machine wash, plus we do some things on hot to kill the dust mites, this has proved very useful.

        1. Unless there’s a new red thing in there, I don’t generally worry about darks/lights any more. There’s “should be washed on hot, because yuck” and there’s “wash on warm” and there’s “handwash”, and beyond that, I don’t care.

          I remember one cartoon (Sylvia, maybe?) with a woman cheerily shoving everything into the washer together while crowing, “Everybody in! Survival of the fittest!” and that’s governed my laundry philosophy ever since. So I rarely buy things that are delicate or require special treatment, and am glad about the work it saves me.

          1. My attitude towards laundry is also colored by my memories of how my mother handled the expectation that she, as the non-working or part-time working mother and wife, would handle the laundry. She encouraged my father to build up a large collection of work shirts, which she took to the dry cleaners once a month to wash and press. Since it was such a large amount, she got a discount rate, and only had to think about them every few weeks or so. (The rest of our laundry was handled on a weekly basis.)

          2. Survival of the fittest, zomg. I’m going to use that while doing laundry from now on. YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN, UNDERPANTS.

            I have several undershirts that have either a bluish or greyish tinge to them and it bugs me, but the worst was a new cream sweater that is now Cream Of Mushroom, sigh. Ever since then it’s two baskets, whites and EVERYTHING ELSE.

          3. I have reduced my laundry down to one load (cold wash) by the simple expedient of not owning any whites or delicates.

            Of course, this only works if you have a more-or-less Gothy-leaning fashion sense like I do.

          4. The only time I worry about darks/lights is when I have enough laundry built up that I’m going to have to do at least two loads anyways, and often not even then. These days I rarely even pay attention to washing instructions unless I’m buying yarn or something’s stained. With the exception of a pen winding up in the wash–which is not coming out easily, dammit–it hasn’t caused any issues.

        2. My mom had two laundry sacks, I have graduated to four: bleach, boiling water, cold water, everything else. Even the four year old knows how to sort his laundry (on the nights when “on the floor” is not the most obvious choice)

    2. Spoon-saving solutions are ALWAYS relevant! As someone who separates their whites (multiple baskets are how I roll) and STILL manages to dye them on a regular basis, I am totally going to find this.

      1. I use the “survival of the fittest” approach as well, coupled with a ban on purchasing white clothing (there has to be a VERY good reason if I do…). I don’t know how important wearing white is to you, but…it makes ALL the difference in my life, A+ Highly Recommend.

    3. Am I the only person who just doesn’t wear that much white?

      I wash reds separately, but everything else goes in one load.

      1. The only white garments I wear are socks, but I still have white and light-colored sheets, light gray shirts and pants, etc. Anything white or light-colored goes in the same load.

        1. I have brown sheets. I don’t buy light sheets because my last pair of white sheets ended up covered in blood.

          I have a couple pairs of white undies that mostly end up covered in blood at some point, no white socks and one white tank top that I only put underneath stuff as a layering thing.

          Grey stuff goes in with everything else.

      2. White is my best option for some of my work clothes, but since I do 2 loads a week (on the weekends) I just make sure that lighter stuff ends up with the whites and anything darker is in the other load and it’s okay.

  37. As the person who has BEEN the serially unemployed spouse, talk to your partner. It’s better to lay out expectations and to negotiate it as you go rather than let it fester into a huge fight later. As long as you and he set out reasonable expectations on both sides (he shouldn’t have to do everything 50’s style out of a sense of guilt and obligation just because you’re working full time – not that it sounds like you want that), and check in, I think you can work it out.

    I think that negotiations over housework are fraught because it takes mental energy, physical energy, if you’re in an opposite-gender relationship, there’s so many gendered connotations, and no one wants to do them. It’s easy to see how much you’re doing and how little the other person is doing. Cut yourself a break, cut him a break, use your words, think about therapy to work out some of your brain kinks, and I think you’ll be okay.

    You’re awesome! Good job trying to think things through and be a responsible partner rather than just snapping at him and letting the resentment build up! I’m rooting for you, LW!

  38. Adding yet another “wow, I’ve kind of been there” comment. Spouse has a stable, well-paid full-time job, I’m a freelancer who generally only has enough work to add up to part time (and I often worry about whether I’m pulling my own weight, including whether I’m doing enough of the household chores to “make up” for the fact that my income is much smaller). Like everyone else here, I hate the fact that this sort of thing has to be so gendered – because he’s a dude and I’m a lady, it doesn’t feel so fraught for us as it maybe would if the genders were switched.

    I want to echo the Captain’s suggestion that simply getting on the same daily schedule, where you get up at the same time even though only one of you is actually headed off to the office first thing in the morning, could be a huge help. I always get up when my husband does (even though I generally wouldn’t NEED to just to have enough time to get my work done). I make coffee while he showers and do other little things to help him get out the door, and then I have a little me-time after he leaves before I dive into my own routine of chores and my freelance stuff. I wouldn’t feel right if I slept in while he was off to work first thing in the morning.

  39. OK, I have to chime in here. I have a lot of sympathy for you, LW, and I have sympathy for your husband (as long as he doesn’t get pissy when you talk to him about this).

    First, if he’s not doing more around the house now that he’s there more than you, that has to change. It’s not difficult to throw in a load of laundry while you’re submitting your resume online. It’s not that hard to fold laundry or get the kitchen cleaned up or run out to the supermarket to pick up the groceries. It’s not difficult to start dinner or (if he has a meeting or interview in the late afternoon) do the dishes after. It’s not difficult to sweep the floor, schedule appointments like home repairs, or mow the lawn. This isn’t a matter of who makes more, this is a matter of being a goddamn grownup and doing your share. If he was not married, he’d have to do these things. These expectations are absolutely gendered and it’s bullshit. I don’t have cleaning gene or a laundry gene or a cooking gene. It’s ridiculous to expect the woman to do the housework and the emotional labor, and to beg pretty please and think of creative ways to have the guy pull his weight when it comes to running the household. FUCK NO.

    Second, I’m not sure if there is resentment about him being unemployed, having “free time” or if there is a common denominator in his job losses that is contributing to this. Some fields have a lot of layoffs, for sure. Some people have a run of bad luck. And some people create their own misery. I don’t know where your husband places in any of these, but if it’s the “creates his own misery” there may be more to work on.

    I agree with the Captain to proceed as if this is a thing that will keep happening. There has been enough of a trend that you know it’s likely the way things will be, for whatever reason. If you’re otherwise happy with your husband, and if he’s a good guy, then I’d figure out with him what the division of labor will be in the house. It’s more than fair to expect him to do more stuff around the house when he’s not working (but not everything–my breadwinner father still did stuff around the house, for example). Does he push back on stuff like this? Does he expect you to remind him? I’m not of the school that you need to tell him what needs to be done because FFS, if there are dirty dishes in the sink you fucking wash them and if the floor hasn’t been swept you fucking sweep it. You’re not his boss or his parent, you’re his partner.

    Have you asked him about what he’s doing to find a job? I’m wondering if you’re both making assumptions about the other person, what they know, and what they’re doing. What does he need to do to get employed in his field (every field is a little different). When I was unemployed, it could look like I was doing nothing all day to people who didn’t know any better (which was a demoralizing assumption). But I had interviews, both in person and on the phone. I had meetings with old colleagues to learn about opening/orgs with openings/keep my name in their heads if anything came up. I had appointments with employment agencies. I followed up with places I had interviews with or places that I applied to for jobs. To get unemployment, I had to sign up for seminars at the unemployment office (which was as helpful as standing on my head, but whatever, them’s the rules). There were days where I was not home at all. The thing is, if I had a spouse, he’d probably think I wasn’t doing that much. Certainly I heard a lot of snark from people about how I could just waste my time by going out to lunch everyday. Which isn’t what I was doing and it was a horrifically unfair assumption to make.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is that your letter could be read several different ways. I’d learn more about what your husband’s doing and work with him on devising a plan to split the housework/lifework more fairly.

    1. The legendary Sheelzebub Principle is extremely applicable here. Good to see you chiming in on this one.

    2. “I heard a lot of snark from people about how I could just waste my time by going out to lunch everyday.”

      Right after the 2008 crash, I had a period of unemployment that lasted for several months. I ended up going out a lot during the day whether it was for interviews or unemployment-collection hoops or not. I had several lunches with friends (who invited me out and paid for my lunch), plus a few outings of the “accompany a SAHM friend to the park with her kid” variety. I made sure to GTFO of the house at least once every other day, preferably every day. If I didn’t, it negatively affected my mood, which made it harder to research and apply for jobs, and even messed me up on one of my early interviews.

    3. Oh golly yes, the seminars at the unemployment office. You so nailed it. They are so demoralizing. Everyone has to attend, even if you have been working white collar jobs for 25 years, even if you have hired and fired people, and even if you already know not to wear shorts, curlers or house slippers and to eat and arrange child (and pet) care beforehand when you have a job interview. Even if you have made approximately 265 resumes in your life, they will tell you how to put together a resume (using examples from a book published in the mid-1970s). But you must attend, or the government will not give you the pitifully small unemployment insurance check that you and your former boss already contributed funds for. Being treated like a callow youth hunting for his or her first after-school part-time job at McD’s or Spencer’s Gifts, especially when you knew better than to show up like a ragamuffin to any kind of interview already, really makes you feel powerless and angry and frustrated. You could send out dozens of job feelers in the time it takes to commute to and from the DOL office and sit in those seminars.

      You also get to fill out stuff like Myer’s Briggs tests (INTJs represent) and the Holland Code (ACE) even if you already know your results, because they might have changed since the last tests you took a week or so ago at a staffing agency. You may also have to take a very basic English spelling and grammar test, even if you have an English degree and have worked as a teacher, writer, proofreader, journalist, etc.

      Eventually you get so beaten down by all the hoops you have to jump you just shrug and roll with it. That’s probably the best way to power through it, just to shrug and jump those hoops, and you can tell your buddies about it afterwards.

      1. My favorite unemployment seminar was the one where halfway through they had us take a survey and when they checked my answers they told me I was ineligible for the seminar I’d just had to spend 4 hours in.

        …you made me come here and you couldn’t administer that survey first thing, or online beforehand, or…whatever? ARRRR.

    4. Bravo.
      The Captain nailed it when she said they have to stop thinking about his unemployment in crisis mode. Unless something significant happens, they need to readjust their thinking and their roles to where he is the “homemaker”, except for occasional interludes of work.
      It’s hard to imagine a man writing in to say I work my ass off all day and still have to do the grocery shopping, and cooking, and housecleaning, and how can I gently ask her to help me without nagging?

      What it comes down to, I think, is that although housework is called “women’s work” it’s often not really seen as *work.* That is, it’s something women just do. I doubt LW’s husband realizes that housekeeping is a *job.*

      LW and her husband need to figure out what his job will be: homemaker or wage earner, and if the latter, until he gets a job, his job is job hunting.

    5. I used to live in a house where you could not do dishes after dinner because there wouldn’t be enough hot water for the person who showered at night every day to shower without freezing, which is honestly kind of inconiderate when that person is the breadwinner and also has a predictable shower schedule.

      You also could not do dishes at certain times of the day because the water just wouldn’t be hot (not because it was used up, but just because the water heater was being finnicky). Around 11am was bad, around 2pm it was bad, around 5pm it was bad, around 9pm was bad. But not always the same time on the same days, so you have to go and hope you’ll get hot enough water to do dishes and not be washing them in lukewarm water which let’s be real, kind of gross.

      Add in that that if I don’t eat lunch right, I’ll faint from doing dishes, and it was waaaaaaay too much finangling to do a load of dishes.

      So glad we moved, and now, when I turn on the hot water, I actually GET hot water. What an idea, right?

      1. I’ve had a similar situation and kept water in a thermos every time I made tea so I could do a load of dishes, usually while I was cooking.

  40. Captain, thank you for answering this letter! LW, my husband and I have had a similar imbalance in employment and we have also been together for just about 8 years the difference is that he has had a steady, well-paid job while I have gone through several permutations of FT, PT, PT with school/internship, post-grad internship, etc. I think the good Captain hit the nail on the head re: leisure time vs. focusing on a strict 50/50 chore split or whatever. Adding my voice to the call for finding a couple’s counselor, because these things are difficult for many people and really, life is too short to spend the next however many years feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. I also think your husband may be more appreciative than you think if you decide to bring this up with him; I’ve personally struggled with feeling guilty for not making as much money as my spouse/being sometimes underemployed or unemployed, and I know that feeling guilty doesn’t exactly make me want to fix the thing so much as avoid it. Cheers to you for seeking some positive change 🙂

  41. I don’t think anyone has mentioned this already (apologies if I missed it if so, I did go through all the comments but not carefully). I think one of the things you should do in the new year is see a divorce lawyer. I don’t mean “AND GET A DIVORCE”, that is none of my beeswax. But just to find out what your legal obligations might be to this person whom you have supported for so many years should you not be able to work things out. I think it would clarify for you many things — what kinds of savings you want to be building up and how. It might be okay if you all don’t have a lot of savings, since you’d have to split them with him. And the value of your shared house, if you own it. After you see the divorce lawyer, think about how you feel about what you find out there, which kind of puts everything in dispassionate perspective. How do you feel about the asset split that was described? It might tell you a lot about how much you want to put your foot down about your partner’s level of effort and contribution to your shared deal (it might also tell you you want to cut your losses and start putting your future earnings into your own savings account).

    Were it about a wife, this might sound like an MRA rant — but one thing that divorce makes clear is, do you respect your partner or have you come to think of them, really, as a parasite? It turns out a lot of ex-husbands think of their ex-wives as parasites and are resentful as hell they have to share anything with them. That is bad, but also indicates just how much the two are better off apart. If what you feel about what a divorce lawyer describes to you is mostly anger rather than sadness and regret and “dang, that is how the cookie crumbles” … then cut your losses and move on. If instead you feel sort of sad and anxious and like “oh god, that would be so hard, I hope it doesn’t come to that”, I’d guess there is a lot more hope for you all to work things out; you think of your partner as a contributor in the big picture even if you have some bugs to work out.

    1. Excellent suggestion. LW’s situation looks completely different when the roles are reversed.

    2. Speaking from experience, seeing a divorce lawyer crosses a VERY big line in some peoples heads. Either you keep it secret – secrets in a marriage are never a good thing in my book – or you tell husband and he reads it as “you want a divorce”. I strongly recommend thinking through those two outcomes fully prior to seeing that lawyer. Since LW didn’t seem to be saying that divorce was imminent, I’d be hesitant about going down the legal route.

      1. I think it’s the phrase “divorce lawyer” that sounds so momentous, but if you say, “I consulted with a specialist in family law to get an idea of how our finances look” that might be a lot less scary, and even more accurate.

        1. I am a lawyer (though not a divorce lawyer) and I have to say even in straightforward commercial dispute issues with relatively little personal investment the act of involving a lawyer is a massive step change in the dynamics of the issue, and causes enormous (and often irretrievable) ructions to ensue.

    3. I just wanted to say that I spoke to a divorce lawyer on the advice from neverjaunty on these boards, and they were not only super nice but didn’t charge me for my consult because there was nothing to proceed on (and already had told me they worked on a sliding scale as I’m on disability and asked about that in my initial email). That doesn’t mean that it didn’t take the full 30 minutes to check everything and I didn’t have homework to bring in, and it was such a relief to have someone who does it for a living say “You’re good! Go on with your life!”.

  42. My partner and I are both women, and I’ve been the unemployed one (though I am also studying for the bar exam) for a while now. I do about 2/3 of the household work, and most daily tasks (all dishes, and we don’t have a dishwasher, keeping the cats from fighting or eating the other’s food, cleaning communal surfaces, vacuuming once a week with more as needed, cleaning out the kitchen sink (because no garbage disposal, ergh), taking the trash out down from our third-floor walkup, and starting dinner once or twice a week). We do own personal laundry, and every Saturday or Sunday my wife vacuums, cleans the bathroom (replace scrubby auto-thing in toilet, wipe down sink and mirror, put cleaner in the tub and run the shower), and does her laundry and linens if needed. I can’t carry her giant laundry baskets down 4 flights of stairs to the basement, but I often carry a smaller one and change the laundry over from washer to dryer.

    I understand I have more at-home time, but I also study and have been sick a lot lately (allergic skin reactions, and now a STAPH infection in my FACE- I have no idea how, either, trust me), so I am struggling with resentment from the other side of things. I can hardly get it together to study for my licensing exam, how am I supposed to remember and do every daily chore?

    1. Just because a person has more at-home time doesn’t mean they have more free time. A student’s *job* is studying. Moreover, housework isn’t “free time” work. It’s a *job*, and the fact of our modern economy is that many families are three job families: two outside the home plus the home.
      So maybe you and your wife can evaluate the demands of the three jobs and figure out how best to allocate the home job based on the demands of your student? Once you pass the bar (congrats!) you’ll have to reallocate.

      I can relate to having a hard time remembering all the chores: I’m so overwhelmed I am simply forgetting things that used to be automatic. Like I forget the cat box. I made myself a little chart of days of the week against chores and I check them off. It’s combined job list, calendar, and shopping list.

      I hope your health improves, and good luck with the studying!

  43. Previous commenters are right that this dynamic tends to be gendered, but it also has a lot to do with mental (or physical, or emotional) health. When I look for new rental places, I deliberately look for one with a lot of storage so I can hide the clutter of my many projects-in-progress and art supplies and unseasonal clothes, a quiet but not isolated place to put a refrigerator-sized ferret condo so humans don’t have to see it but my animals don’t feel ignored (or deal with too much heat or cold or noise or darkness or ever-burning light fixtures), and floor coverings that are easy for me to keep clean with a bad back. Vacuuming or mopping a lot isn’t something I can do, and sweeping has to be done in fits and starts. I acknowledge my limitations as a frequently not-100%-able-bodied person who also deals with bouts of insomnia that cause me to be a fatigued mess the next day, and mental health issues (life-long severe depression requiring meds). I have a lot of media, so I have to plan ahead and factor in a BIG living room or a spare bedroom to use as a combo library/office/studio/storage/guest bedroom/pet playroom/catch-all. I hate open-plan-style places, as I like to be able to shut doors if something appears to have exploded in the guest bedroom/office/kitchen.

    Whether I live alone or with a roommate, I try to pick up after myself as I go. I prefer to leave dishes to soak if they are especially grotty, but if I live with someone, I know I have to rinse it off the next time I am in the kitchen. I can pick up the common areas so that we aren’t embarrassed if company drops in if I have a roommate, but if I live by myself, I may stash containers with my current projects and in-progress reading material all over the house and consider it good enough if surfaces are mostly clean.

    But mostly I have to plan ahead when I relocate, making sure I will be able to keep visible areas tidy, and when I live with others, I have to recognize that just because I am so nearsighted and busy (and occasionally dealing with a severe depression spasm that makes it hard to even get out of bed every day) that I may not see dust and clutter other people probably notice right off, I need to make a special effort to write up a chore list for myself, where I wash my own clothes, make sure the bathroom (if shared) is tidy, wash my own dishes, pick up my own books and yarn and pets’ toys, etc., etc., etc., and I tend to do pretty well keeping my mark on the shared parts of a house or apartment minimal most of the time, but I also have a bedroom door I can close!

    Best success has been living either 100% alone or with other folks who have similar mental (or emotional or physical) health challenges who aren’t dirty but who may be a bit untidy sometimes, and dividing up chores so that whoever hates a chore the least that is hard to split into parts, can’t be put off or is deeply unpleasant is the roommate who does it, and everyone cleans up after themselves most of the time, and if there’s going to be guests, then everyone pitches in to do a deep-clean.

    I will say, as someone who has been unemployed much more recently (and for far longer than my skills and resume and recommendations and efforts to not be unemployed would have you believe) that the “funemployment” period lasts only about 2-3 weeks, max, and that’s only if you have enough money and confidence in your future employability to have any fun, and then it just sucks, and depending on what kind of jobs you are hunting for, it can take much longer than just five hours a week. Jobs where you have to submit a portfolio or work samples, teaching jobs, and big companies who have online forms that demand you re-enter your resume in all take a long time to apply to, there are a lot of scams (especially on Craig’s) and not-really-a-job adverts that jobseekers have to deal with, and you feel like shit the whole time. So there’s that. It isn’t an excuse not to do a lick of housework or to assume the employed person won’t have feelings about working full-time and still not getting a break on the chores while covering all the bills, but jobseekers will feel like crap and then be told no (or nothing at all) multiple times a day, and it does wear on one after a bit. LW deserves some help in that department.

    1. I am so looking forward to my Fortress of Solitude, because while my previous one was 300sqft and sure it made it hard to have more than two people over at any given time, it also meant my space was REALLY fast to tidy or clean. Combine it with tremendous amounts of ikea storage/a storage locker/plastic tote bins and a cat litter that actually makes people say “Huh, I wouldn’t have known you had cats but for the cat trees and toys and the cat currently headbutting my shin” and yes yes yes, it’s like a beautiful picture, not a cramped shoebox.

      I do really well with bins or baskets (my current favourites are bright recycled-plastic boxes you can chuck in the dishwasher, microwave, or freezer without hurting them) for projects, as it means I can pull out my embroidery when I want to do it, but then it goes AWAY afterwards. My desk is really just two bookshelves stacked together and my baskets all fit in the little cubbies and hold everything from “stuff that was on the desk and eventually needs a home” to “stuff that goes by the desk because it is work-related”. Between that and stacking laundry baskets my life looks terribly organized.

      I also just really, REALLY like containers and organizational/office supplies.

      1. My solution was to buy photo boxes from A.C.Moore and stash craft things in those. If the project was too big to fit in a photo box, then I had to be actively working on it or it had to be put away somewhere. This actually works pretty well for me, but my crafts are pretty small- embroidery and such. I also use the boxes for things like candles and essential oils, stuff that gets used pretty regularly but without the box I end up finding the eucalyptus oil in the living room and the peppermint oil under the bed. Neither of those really works as a stashing place, it drives my dad bazoo, and the dogs might get at them. Boxes are safer.

  44. One thing I haven’t seen directly addressed is that if the total average household spoons < the total average household work … it's time to reduce the total housework required, anyway you can. Even if you have to a) get rid of some stuff b) rent a storage locker c) get a smaller place or d) designate a room as storage, put everything in labelled, dust-proof containers, and keep the door shut.

    It's not fun, and us geeky types are particularly protective of our collections of craft supplies and tools and toys and books and so forth, especially if we've struggled through low-income periods when if a thing is lost or damaged you can't replace it easily, but at some point something has to give. I love my yarn stash, but I love my spouses more and it's a dustparty in there. So I'm destashing and what remains is going into ziplocs and staying there until I want to use it.

    I love carpets in winter, but I have two cats and we all have allergies. We have no carpets.

    Fresh vegetables are lovely. Frozen vegetables are easy. And so forth.

    If you can't afford a regular cleaner, maybe you can afford someone to help with the Big Clean. Or barter time with a friend.

    1. That rather depends. Depending on the dynamics in the household, it can easily turn into realising that all the furniture and artifacts one party brought to the marriage have suddenly been “decluttered” out of it (with the predictable impacts on personal worth and self-esteem.) I’ve had to fight hard for the rug by my bed (relic of a particularly joyous pre-relationship short holiday in Istanbul) which doesn’t fit the dominant aesthetic of the flat, and establishing that my things have meaning and need to stay has been an important part of relationship negotiations over recent months. It’s too easy for one party to be pressured into admitting they have vulgar tastes which need to be eliminated, and for resentments to be set up later on.

      1. Oh, absolutely, we’ve had that one. It took us a really long time to work out how to do it, and it absolutely has to be a group effort. That’s one reason I leaned so hard on storage options – for a lot of our stuff, the answer was ‘put it in something easy to clean’.
        But once we got on the same page, there was a lot of stuff we were keeping because we all thought someone else wanted it.

        Or just, you know, we need a can opener, and a backup can opener, but we really didn’t need four, one broken.

        1. Also, it doesn’t HAVE to be the stuff. It was for us, which makes me tend to lean on that bit, but for many people it isn’t.

          Let me sing you the song of the glories of Find Your Own Food Friday, let me tell you what. 🙂

          1. Yeah, some nights my husband and I have “fend for yourself” dinners. Sometimes it means we’re both too tired to do more than shove something easy (like a bowl of cereal) into our faces, let alone cook food for another person. Sometimes it’s about wanting to eat $Food that the other person doesn’t care for. Either way, it’s an important category of meal to have.

          2. Also the joys of “I don’t need to have a meal, I need to have food.” This came up more when my spouse was commuting to an office job and I was unemployed: sometimes I make lunch, sometimes I buy a sandwich or go out for pho, and sometimes I’ll have a banana and then an hour later some leftover curry or pizza and maybe in mid-afternoon a few raw carrots. They all work in terms of me being fed.

      2. Aesthetics have to be compromised on and the melding of two distinct styles is part of what makes a home.

        Physical and logistical issues can’t always be perfectly fair.
        If your beloved mid-century Scandinavian couch is too low for them to get up from, or your silver age comics collection takes up three quarters of the pantry because everywhere else is ‘too humid’, or your cosplay has taken up all the closet space and their clothes are in hampers that you pile around the bed in the morning and haul into the living room at night, then that’s not reasonable living conditions, and those things are going to have to go somewhere else.

        My personal style in dress and furnishing has a lot to do with my physical limitations.
        I wanted to re-home three beautiful pieces of furniture that had been passed down to us because they were raised just high enough off of the ground to trap every favorite toy and half eaten doughnut the children dropped, but not raised enough to clean under without getting on your hands and knees, which I just can’t do.

        Spouse argued hard for keeping them, and part of that bargain was taking ownership of those items. He is the one who makes sure there aren’t ant buffets down there and looks for lost things.

  45. I’ve been unemployed, although without a partner — family helped me out during that time. I was depressed, but not eligible for any kind of healthcare assistance (pre-Obamacare USA) to deal with that. Got no work from the temp agency I interviewed with and couldn’t even get a temporary seasonal retail job. Really depressing. I did spend a lot of time watching TV and playing games, but I also made an effort to regularly get out to free writing workshops and critique groups, and joined hiking meetup groups to get some physical activity and social interaction. LW, is your husband doing any of these things? If he is suffering from depression, things like these could help a lot.

    I’ve also been the partner with the steady income supporting a boyfriend who was unemployed most of the time we were together. (He had an attitude that the world owed him the job he wanted to have.) He did the cooking and minimal housework, but for me, it wasn’t worth the cost of supporting him. It was a miserable relationship for many reasons, but I still resent him for the money I could have saved if he’d just paid his part of grocery and bills.

    LW, I get the feeling from your letter that you and your husband have different, unspoken expectations of what your partnership is supposed to be like. And the Captain is right — after 8 years, it makes sense to expect that your husband being unemployed will be a regularly occurring thing. I strongly recommend that you do what I did not: sit down with your husband and discuss what kind of life you each want to have together over the long term and what each of you is willing to do for the good of the partnership. Are you both on the same page? Do you have similar expectations of your life together? Finances? Careers? Who’s career takes priority? Retirement? Healthcare? Vacations?

    This discussion needs to be about practical things about living together, not about emotions. I also needs to be realistic about things as they are and where they can go from here (no fantasy promises). Maybe you had a discussion like this before you married, but it seems like it’s time to check in with each other and re-evaluate. There’s nothing wrong with either party officially being a house spouse while the other makes the money, but both parties need to be on the same page regarding household duties, financial planning, etc, and it needs to be something both agree that works best for their partnership.

    Before this, though, get clear on what YOU want! LW, would your husband as the house spouse be something you could live with (if he did do a good job on cleaning & managing the household), or do you really want him to have a job and financially contribute? What do you want money for in the future and how much will you need: school, vacations, home improvements, an automobile, retirement? Which of those are most important to you? Here’s one more — and be honest with yourself on this! — what does husband contribute to the marriage that is worth you continuing to financially support both of you?

    Emotionally, you may have a very good relationship, and perhaps his emotional support of you is worth it. (If he is not emotionally supportive — huge red flag! Huge! Red! Flag!) However, marriage is about more than just love, and love usually isn’t enough, over the long term. A friend told me once about a conversation she had with her daughter regarding the hubby that daughter felt passionately about for many years:
    Mother: “You’re getting divorced? But I thought you two were soulmates ?”
    Daughter: “Soulmate-shmolemate, Mom. He won’t get a job.”

    1. I also made an effort to regularly get out to free writing workshops and critique groups, and joined hiking meetup groups to get some physical activity and social interaction. LW, is your husband doing any of these things? If he is suffering from depression, things like these could help a lot.

      This. This is a gripe I have with my parents a lot because my older brother, who has been unemployed for years and lives with/off of them, refuses to do anything other than sit on his ass and play video games.

      I have no doubt that some untreated mental illness is a huge part of the problem, and it’s a whole other story re: him not taking advantage of the fact that he has the time, transportation, and money to see a therapist and doesn’t/won’t do it, but my point is, it is not as though life has two settings: Unemployed, Pantsless, Video Games on the Couch and Employed.

      There are a lot of things you can be doing while unemployed, including volunteering in your field, interning in your field, free lecture nights at local libraries/universities, etc. When I was unemployed I threw myself into volunteering at events in my field so I could network. I still do a fair amount of volunteer work. At the very least, it keeps you on a schedule and forces you to get up, get dressed, and get out of the house. If there is a community – arts, theater, whatever – that you enjoy being a part of, attending events as a volunteer is a good way to stay connected to something that is important to you even if you don’t work in that field.

      1. It is my firm belief that even generic volunteering outside your field is a solid investment of your time, especially if you’re not making much headway in the job search. I was unemployed for about a month and a half after I moved home last year, and I spent a lot of that time walking dogs and cleaning litter boxes at the shelter. I had something to talk about, had a reason to get out of the house, and in general felt less crappy about myself than I did otherwise. (Also puppies and kitties are soothing to the soul: true story.)

        1. Yup. I mean, at the very very least it lets you tell yourself “ok, I have to get up, put pants on, and be out of the house at X time on X day.”

          Sometimes that has been enough of a handhold for me to swing from day to day when my depression is really bad. And the idea that someone is counting on me to be there makes me do it. If committing to a regular volunteering thing is too daunting, OneBrick.org is a website that lets users find one-off volunteer opportunities in their city.

          1. Habitat for Humanity is one that is always doing stuff locally for me, and getting to play with power tools and wear a hard hat for a few hours a week is something I really look forward to.

            “I’m using the circular saw tomorrow, better go to bed early!”

        2. I took a job as a companion to an elderly woman on impulse after seeing the ad. For three hours we go to appointments, shopping, seeing friends, she schedules something for every morning M-F. If she’s having a bad day, she makes batters and doughs for me to put into the oven. Or she showers and puts on lounging clothes and we watch something together.

          The loss of my health and career shattered my sense of self, left me feeling felt useless and broken. It helps a lot to help someone else. There’s inherent value in it. I’m starting to put together an idea of what my life could be instead of floating adrift.

          It’s cliche, but it worked.

        3. Yesss, puppies and kitties. In the way-back days when I worked in a pet store in a mall, we had mall employees coming to us on their breaks because we’d give them a puppy or kitten to hug, no questions asked. I also had a store policy that anyone making eyes at a puppy got to hold or at least pet them no matter what their age or purchasing status was.

          (Yeah, I know, pet stores and puppies and puppy mills — it was the most ethical place I’ve worked, there was a LOT of money and time and work to remain diligent about where and who we bought from, etc etc disclaimers, pro adoption, all animals went home spayed or neutered, and all the kittens were either drop-offs or shelter adoptees and the money paid for their adoption went 100% to the shelter and we paid for all the supplies).

      2. This is getting a little off topic, but I wanted to throw it in. I’m glad volunteering in your field worked for you. It can provide an opportunity to network, BUT be careful that you’re not sending the message that you don’t need to be paid. There are people who will see you volunteering and conclude that neither you nor your time is worth much. So yes to volunteering at the animal shelter since it’s unlikely that a veterinarian will see you there and decide you should clean up at a private veterinary practice for free, and yes to other activities that get you up and dressed and keeping to a schedule, but no to cheerfully doing work when unemployed when you’d rather be getting paid for it. If it is necessary, be upfront with the folks you’re volunteering for by saying “I’m doing this because I hope to learn xyz and gain experience which I will put on my resume, and I’m counting on my volunteer supervisor writing me a recommendation. I know I had an experience where I volunteered for a congregation in a capacity I had considerable expertise and experience in. I modestly shrugged off thanks thinking that it was all in the way of doing my part and helping out. The folks I volunteered for kept no part of the bargain we struck, did none of the advertising they’d agreed to, none of the needed set-up, nothing. Someone from outside the organization waltzed in, did very much the same I had, got paid, and got terrific respect and response. Later when I went over in my head what I’d done wrong, it dawned on me that they’d valued me, my experience, and my expertise exactly as I’d valued them myself. I thought I was being agreeable, but all I’d communicated was that I could be safely ignored because I wasn’t worth anything.

        1. This sounds like you are bringing a specific personal experience to this thread.

          I in no way advocated for sending a message that you don’t need to be paid.

        2. Good reminder, Clarry. A friend of mine experienced something similar — she volunteered a lot of hours working on religious education materials (hours that she could have been paid for), other people didn’t do their parts, and due to changes of the board and the views of the founder, it got to where all the work my friend did may not ever be used. Work that she could have been paid for if it had been done for someone else. It’s a pity that work isn’t valued when it’s not paid for.

          I guess a tip for volunteering might be to volunteer for something you’d never regularly do as a job? I don’t know, but it’s probably a good idea to set some limits in how much time and energy will go into volunteering.

          1. @Clarry and @AndTheRest, I’m sorry that you and your friend had a bad experience(s). I’m going to reply to this once and leave this thread because I feel like it’s becoming a derail that isn’t really relevant to the LW’s question.

            When I was unemployed, volunteering a few times a month was really helpful because it gave my day some structure and made me get dressed and get out of the house. It was easier to talk myself into running needed errands when I was already up and out. And it made me feel useful and gave me something respond to when I got asked the dreaded “what do you do?” question at parties.

            I have had good experiences and bad experiences as a volunteer. In this, as in all things, YMMV.

            One of my degrees is a creative one and I used to work in that field. I don’t anymore and I don’t know if I ever will again. However, I volunteer a few times a year at events in this field because it’s a way to stay tapped into a community of people who care about the same things that I do – and volunteering for a 4-hour shift at an annual convention and getting free admission in exchange is a pretty nice deal, IMHO.

            I also get to meet people with similar interests and have a chance to geek out about stuff that a lot of other people in my life aren’t that into. And, it’s a good way to sort of keep an eye on who is working where and develop contacts in case I decide to start looking for jobs in that field again – an email starting off with “Hi So and So, we met while working at the check-in desk at That Random Convention!” probably has a better chance of getting answered.

            I’m not advocating the LW’s husband spend 40 hours a week doing free labor (and I have very strong feelings about unpaid internships and offices that run off of intern labor with no intention or ability to hire said interns).

            If you are having a bad experience as a volunteer, stop volunteering for that organization.

            There are other things that can help give your days structure and purpose other than volunteering – if the LW’s husband is a SME, maybe go talk about their field at a Career Day? Do a guest lecture somewhere on a topic they’re interested in? If you are into a particular sport, coach a team? If you’re a gym-goer, maybe teach a class or two? The LW doesn’t explicitly say it but their mention of the Xbox and sleeping in makes me think their husband might be the type of person who doesn’t do well with lots of unstructured time (like me. I am that person.).

            Again, YMMV! Volunteer, or don’t.

        3. Volunteering in your field doesn’t have to mean doing unpaid work in your field. One could help out at professional events, as CB mentioned she did, or do work within your professional society (if there is one), or contribute to a newsletter (or start a newsletter), or spend time at a pro bono clinic of some sort …

  46. I’m going to be honest…. He is taking advantage of his wife. I’ve seen people do this. They work just enough to qualify for unemployment benefits if they get fired or laid off. Then they do something to get fired. Afterwards, they get to sit at home and collect unemployment. He obviously does not want to work.

    Couples counseling may help, but I think she needs to give him an ultimatum. Find steady work or leave. Eight years is way to long to put up with this. Yes, your feelings are justified.

    1. Wow. That’s certainly a possibility, but there’s not enough info in the letter to tell for sure, and there are plenty of other potential explanations.

      As someone who graduated in 2007, spent years struggling through unemployment and temp work, and has watched many of my friends do the same, I find it pretty offensive to assume that the LW’s husband is taking advantage of her.

      LW has the right to set whatever relationship boundaries she wants, including leaving her husband if she decides that his job situation is a deal-breaker. But in this economy, it seems pretty heartless to suggest that her first step should be an ultimatum of “find work or leave.” I just….wow.

  47. Wow. That would be a spectacularly unhelpful response even if that HAD been LW’s question. Which it wasn’t.

    One “I’m going to be honest”, one “he obviously”, one “she needs to” . That’s kind of the Bad Advice hat-trick right there.

  48. I’ve been in a similar situation when I had to shoulder the burden of all the bills while my husband dealt with layoffs/jobs that didn’t pan out/short term employment. It’s very easy, especially if your own job doesn’t thrill you very much any more, to become resentful of the person who “gets to stay at home all day doing whatever they want”. Remembering that they probably resent YOUR ability to leave the house and do something meaningful each day can help keep a sense of proportion.

    Personally, I’m a firm believer that whoever stays at home more does more housework, regardless of gender or reason for being at home (outside of newborns, sick family members to take care of, etc.) Either this helps keep a healthy balance of responsibilities in the relationship, or it makes the person staying at home pick up the pace on their job hunt so they’re not “stuck” doing two much housework! Either way, it seems to pan out for the best.

  49. One question I have is if he’s doing the same amount of housework/chores etc when he’s working as when he’s not? If he does less over all when he’s not working, it may be worth getting him his own therapist on top of a couples counseling. Being unemployed can wreak havoc with your mental health. If it’s the same, then I hope it’s simply that it hasn’t occurred to him that these things should shift and he will smack his forehead and apologize when you approach the subject. Good luck LW!

  50. Cap, please feel free to delete if this bit of self promotion is over the line. But I think this might be helpful.

    LW, I wrote a piece about a year and a half ago, about living on 1 income below the poverty line. At the time, my fiance (now spouse) was unemployed, and we thought he would stay unemployed forever for a combination of health issues. I was working in satisfying but low paying jobs. And we made it work, with a minimum of resentment, for over a year, with an eye on the future. We were actively planning our wedding, with the expectation that my now-spouse might never work.

    I hope that you can have a frank conversation about X Y and Z things needing to be done in A B C time frame. And I hope, if that doesn’t work, that a few sessions with a couples counselor can hammer out these issues. I’m honestly worried that your husband is taking advantage of you, while you conveniently beat yourself up about how much help you can ask him for.

    Maybe read my piece? Maybe it will be a jumping off point for productive conversations! If so, yay! http://offbeathome.com/2014/06/one-income-relationship

    1. I thought that was very helpful in terms of balance, even for people who aren’t currently living below the poverty line. Thank you for sharing.

  51. My sense is that the LW should at least entertain the possibility that she doesn’t want to be with someone who is going to be serially unemployed, and wants to be with someone who is mostly employed. As the Captain has pointed out many times, we are entitled to our preferences when it comes to relationships. And LW has no duty to stay with someone who isn’t suitable for her just because it isn’t his “fault” that he isn’t suitable. I am hearing a lot about what LW needs to do to make this work, but not much about whether she really wcants to make work.

      1. Yeeeaaaahhh, but I also feel like when we really probe it, a lot of women who say they have an “above average” marriage really mean something like “he doesn’t hit me and he washed the dishes once last month!” i.e. standards for boyfriends/husbands are LOW. How many letters do we see here at Captain Awkward that follow the basic formula of: “My boyfriend/husband is WONDERFUL but he keeps doing [really truly awful thing/series of things]” (like that “awesome feminist boyfriend” who wouldn’t let his girlfriend USE THE TOILET? augh that letter haunts my dreams)?

        This letter pings that sense for me. “My marriage is good! …But my husband spends months to years at a time being unemployed, doesn’t do any housework, and I haven’t had a vacation in 8+ years” actually translates to “a really shitty-sounding marriage” in my language. Maybe the LW’s perspective is different. But she sounds like she’s at the end of her rope, and I’m only surprised it took her this long to get there.

        1. For what it’s worth, the LW never said that her husband doesn’t do any housework, only that she wants him to do more because he has more spare time. For all we know, he may already be doing about half the housework, and she wants him to do more like 3/4 when he isn’t working (which would be entirely fair and reasonable).

          As someone who’s struggled with finding a stable job (luckily I have one now, but it took a while to get there), this letter pings something different for me, which is: our economic system really sucks, and it screws over everyone, both the people who can’t find work and the people who can. I’m also reeeaaally wary of conflating “has a hard time finding stable, well-paying work” with “is a bad partner.”

          I mean, it’s possible that LW’s marriage is shitty, but I’m not comfortable drawing that conclusion from the fact that her husband struggles with unemployment and does less housework than the LW wants.

        2. I find it really hard to judge someone’s marriage based on one letter. And your second paragraph really bothers me as you know nothing of what drove her to write the letter aside from what she’s told us. You’re reading more into it than she’s given. FWIW: the reason your second paragraph bothers me is that I was unemployed for nearly half of my marriage. Some of that time was by choice – to be a SAHM to our two kids – and some of that was not by choice. My husband was stressed. I was stressed. As the jobless partner I struggled with feelings of being inadequate, boredom of being home all the damn time, and knowing that there was little I could do beyond getting a job to change the situation. My husband stressed because he was the sole provider, the one on whom all the pressures of staying afloat suddenly fell onto. We didn’t vacation for 10 years. Housework didn’t always get done. There was fighting. My marriage was never shitty. Our situation was shitty, but our marriage was strong.

          It is entirely possible to be frustrated as hell with your partner, to seek advice on how to handle it, and to know that your marriage is still a good one.

        3. Granted, but … That’s not the place LW asked to have probed. I feel like if they can’t sort this problem out, then maybe that’s the next question, but right now it feels to me like “if we can sort the household labour bit out I’ll be happy with my situation.”

          I feel like a lot of commentors are sort of going “hmm, that certainly is a badly sprained ankle … maybe just chop the foot off?”

  52. The Captain covered this briefly, but I’ll ad my two cents as a once aspiring now working writer. My now husband supported me through many years of underemployment while I focused on my writing. For most of those years, I worked very hard and improved my craft, but I did not always work very smart. There is awesome, skillfully, beautiful writing and there is writing which has the potential to make you money or earn you a freelance gig. Sometimes the two combine and sometimes they do not. It is totally possible that letter writer’s husband is working very hard on his writing and that there is almost no chance he will ever earn a living on his writing. I write fiction for a living and it’s awesome. But it’s very much a JOB. I spent three or four years writing what moved me without worrying about what sells (everyone told me to follow my heart) but that never felt right to me. It felt like I was spinning my wheels. Switching from screenwriting to selfpubbing helped some, because then I had a product and I actually saw a path of getting it to customers in theory, but I didn’t come close to making writing a career until I got serious about the business side. I did research, learned about the market, learned about marketing, covers, and editors, and I made a point of writing stuff that was what readers wanted rather than what happened to float into my head. I keep to strict deadlines, put out quality work, and invest a lot of energy into the marketing and business side of things. This isn’t the only way to write, but it is the way that 99% of self supporting fiction writers work. We’re totally midlist and you’ve never heard of us, but that’s okay because we’re doing awesome work and we work for ourselves (indie publishing is the way most people go now which requires both more effort and more upfront cash).

    Don’t get me wrong– I love my job and I love my books, even if they are a bit heavy on the tropes. Who doesn’t love a good trope? I always give 100%. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone. But it’s a job and I work 40-50 hr a week (plus a lot of time thinking about work) and I hit my weekly word count whether I feel inspired or not.

    It’s totally possible that this is achievable for letter writer’s husband, but he needs to be self directed and serious about making it work. I had to give myself a deadline to get over my stubbornness of not taking advice to write to market. It sucks that there is not a lot of demand for literary fiction, poetry, or genre fiction that asks questions/ makes people think, but there’s no sense in fighting that.

    It’s totally cool to keep writing as a hobby/passion, but after eight years letter writer’s husband needs to get real about where his writing lies. There’s no right or wrong answer, but deciding if it’s a hobby or a potential business will help him figure out how to prioritize.

    1. SO much truth here, must note for all aspiring artists.

      I kept almost making it past the finish line with my fiction. I had a top-notch agent, first editors loved my work, second editors enthused… and the marketing department would whine “We don’t know how to market this.” Then my agent retired and life events interfered and I was working full time all through this. My aspirations were shelved.

      In my case, what started me up again was non-fiction. I had an area with deep expertise, the current books were missing a lot, and while my book kept getting rejected, the blog I started to support it went like gangbusters. So now that book will be self-published this spring, I have an established fan base for a string of future books, and I’m a working writer again.

      I think we get a metric ton of rotten memes fed to us as we grow up, and the ones about artists are some of the most pernicious. On the one hand, they are “different” and have no common sense and are supposed to slave away in a garret away from all commercial intentions… but this is supposed to lead to fame and fortune eventually. When the actual facts are that there is nothing wrong with using one’s talent to produce things that people want (aside from, say, propaganda or works with bad intent.)

      Now that I have an audience for my non-fiction, I look forward to trying fiction again. Starting with works that have clear marketing hooks 🙂

      All that slaving away in a garret snarling at what other people want leads to… slaving away in a garret. Until the end of time.

    2. This is really well said. I’ll also add that as someone who produces writing for both personal and professional reasons, having to get up and go to my full-time job every weekday helps me understand the value of my personal writing time and energy. When I was unemployed, I had most of the day free but the hours always seemed to slip away because I didn’t have deadlines to keep me on track.

      My word count shot up dramatically when I had less free time, and I started thinking more strategically about what I wanted my future career to look like and how I was going to get there.

  53. First time commenter, and recently discovered and fell in love with this blog. I apparently have a touch of OCD, as I’m attempting to read through the archive before I get to the current stuff, but just happened to see this one, and needed to respond, even though I’m not nearly as eloquent as most of you. (waving at everybody!)

    LW said: It’s been a cycle: 12 months employed, six months unemployed, 18 months employed, 1 year unemployed, six months underemployed freelance, on and on.

    That resonated with me. My ex husband had a similar cycle.

    I know that this wasn’t the LWs main question, but from my experience, it’s a really important consideration, that is: Why is your husband in the constant unemployment loop?

    The LW already has information about what he’s like in a partnership…their marriage. The husband is not pulling his fair share. Could he be doing this at work? Are all 8 years of layoffs really purely economic “lay offs” or where some (or all) of them a disguised firing based on your husband’s work ethic?

    In the 16 years we were married, my ex husband didn’t keep any particular job for more than a year and a half (often less). At first I thought, what spectacular bad timing that he is getting jobs at companies that hire and layoff so matter-of-factly, or a field that lays off people regularly. But, once I realized the pattern, I realized that it was more than that. Why was my husband ALWAYS the one in the laid-off group? Some people who started after him managed to keep their jobs, why couldn’t he? Of course, some times it truly was a case of a bunch of people being let go, but other times, it was an opportunity to get rid of someone who wasn’t a good fit. If his field is prone to this type of cycling, maybe he’d be better off switching fields. If it really is *him*, he’ll need a lot of work on himself to learn what it takes to stay employed.

    (Esti said it better: That was my reaction. I know it’s more difficult for some people to find/keep jobs, and some industries are less stable and some geographic areas have higher rates of unemployment. But if it’s been eight years of repeated long periods of unemployment, then perhaps LW’s partner needs to look at whether there are other lines of work that (even if they don’t pay as much) would provide steadier employment, or if there are skills upgrades he could acquire to make himself more employable, or some other avenue to getting out of this cycle.)

    As for how the LW’s husband spends his day…one hour a day is a really short amount of time to spend on a job search. One can really treat looking for a job AS a full time job. There are so many ways to look for work and network. There are meetup groups for networking. There are professional associations in many fields. People can often go back to their alma mater to get career services. Sometimes provide placement services to those they lay off. There are headhunters in various fields. A potential employee (P.O.) can call up someone in a field or company they want to work at and ask for an informational interview (even busy people like to talk about themselves), and if the P.O. make a good impression, they may call the P.O. when there is a job opening. Is your husband casting his net far and wide? Does absolutely everyone he knows have the information that he is looking for work? You never know where a lead can come from. Has he gone back to former companies who laid him off in the past who may be more solvent now and talked to a former boss who liked his work who might try to figure out how to squeeze one more salary into her budget? And, there are the more traditional ways as well…help wanted ads, monster, etc.

    Is the LW’s husband willing to take on part time work or temp work to help with money? How about volunteer work? Volunteer work, even though it won’t bring in money could be helpful in: keeping something on a resume to cover up a gap, possibly keep current in skills, can be good for networking, can be a springboard for a new career direction, or can be a stepping stone for a job.

    kaberett said: Or indeed does his mental health contribute to periods of unemployment?

    That said, when my ex was employed (and making lots of money), and I was a stay at home mom I did all the child care (of our disabled child…a full-time job if ever there was one) and all of the housework. When the kid got older and healthier, I went back to work full time, he point blank refused to take on any of the childcare or housekeeping activities, so I did everything I did before, in the addition to working 40 hours a week, with a 1 ½ hour commute each way. I was seething with resentment. (and of course, he would shortly get laid off again, but continue to not help out with housework and childcare, because his job was to land another job, and anything I asked him to do was somehow at the expense of that).

    After I was divorced, I continued to do all the childcare and housekeeping activities 100% myself, but I felt so much less resentful (plus, I actually had less work, because I didn’t have to pick up after him).

    Anyway, my point is: maybe there are bigger problems than just the unequal division of labor in the LW’s household.

  54. First, I think LW should take a look at a previous couple of letters to CA- https://captainawkward.com/2013/08/22/506-507-it-is-2fucking0fucking1fucking3-so-why-is-it-so-hard-to-divide-up-household-chores/

    Second, you are not being unreasonable or silly or mean to feel like household work needs to be shared better.

    Third, I agree with the Cap that looking at his unemployment as cyclical would be helpful for both of you. Since this is A Thing That Happens, knowing how to work with it will help balance things better instead of going into crisis mode.

  55. Dear LW,

    I have been your other half. (I have been you too.)

    What I hear is that you’re tired. Tired. Tired.

    What I hear is that it is hard to even tell him how tired you are.

    You aren’t unreasonable. You need more time off.

    I think if you say that directly it might work. Something like:

    Husband, I need more leisure. I need to not cook at least three nights during the week, and also to not clean up.

    That means for the foreseeable future you are in charge of all things food related during the week: cooking, shopping, meal planning, cleaning.

    Or maybe, something like:

    Husband, I need time off, I’m exhausted. No I know you are too, but right now I/we must talk about what I need.

    What I need is for you to take responsibility for more of the housework.

    I can’t do it. I can’t come home, cook, clean, and then spend weekends on housework.

    This weekend/tonight/Wednesday I want us to sit down, and you’ll tell me which household tasks you’ll take care of during the week.

  56. I only read part of the comments so I’m not 100% on whether this came up, but:

    LW, your spouse is at no point doing house chores “for you”. Not as a favor, not as a debt payment, nothing. House chores aren’t to benefit one partner or another. They are work we do to maintain our shared household, so that we can live in a pleasant, supportive and healthy environment. He is not “your slave” if he washes the dishes, because he eats off those dishes too. Just like he uses the same toilet that he unclogged, if he does so, which is a type of household labor more commonly gendered male.

    The point is, cleaning things, fixing things, and all forms of household maintenance are things which everyone in the household benefits from. They can feel like servitude if one person consistently does more, and goes unappreciated. I… don’t think that’s the case here.

  57. Some people have started probing into your marriage, LW. Now, I don’t believe I’m in a place to comment on whether your relationship is a good one- we’re seeing only one aspect of it, portrayed as thoroughly as can be in under 450 words. But I do feel that looking deeper at your husband’s employment history might be helpful, here, too. I’m going to assume he isn’t losing jobs out of bad work ethics, because that is an issue I don’t think anyone here could really help you solve.

    It sounds like your ideal situations would be:

    1- Both you and partner are employed full time, both you and partner share household duties more-or-less equally.
    2- Depending on who is working longer hours, the other partner takes on a greater share of the housework in proportion to their greater free time.

    In addition to talking – frankly and honestly and in an up-front manner about how this situation is neither reasonable nor sustainable – with your husband, it could be worth also looking into the unemployment thing. Some things that might be worthwhile;

    1- Expanding employment field. I know some people prefer to work in specific fields, but if your husband’s frequent unemployment is caused by him working in a field where this is a common, issue, then he needs to make some sort of preparation for this. Like keeping up a freelance profile on websites like Odesk and PeoplePerHour, so he can flip his existing skills into some form of paid work when contracts end. My mum does this – she “retired” abroad and mostly relies on seasonal catering and bar-work to make ends meet. In quiet times of year she supplements her income by doing freelance data entry, accounting and admin work. It’s not what she’d prefer to be doing, but it’s stuff she has a track record of employment, qualifications and skills in, and it ensures she always has the option of being busy. It *does* require having the discipline to put in solid work hours while in your own home though, and if your husband isn’t pulling his weight with housework then this might not work well for him.

    2- Temp Contracts. There are always agencies advertising short-term work. It isn’t glamorous, it isn’t always high-paid. But it helps pay the bills and fill a gap in the CV and it’s good, honest work. My other half has struggled to get permanent employment because his skillset and his mental health means he does best in fields that, unfortunately, are prone to hiring people on zero-hours or temporary basis. But as a result, he’s become someone willing to put his hand to a wide variety of work. He’s always signed up with agencies, whether he has a job or not, and whenever a current temp job is coming to a close he’ll start applying for whatever else he can find. From an 18 month job repairing mobile phones to 2 weeks cleaning a newly built shopping centre in preparation for opening. It means he rarely has long gaps in employment any more, even if he might often be working part-time rather than full-time.

    3- Volunteering. It won’t bring in pay, but it’s a good thing to do, and fills a gap in CVs that employers will look positively on.

    I feel that regardless, it should be a standing agreement that whoever is working fewer hours picks up more housework, but getting your partner to look into the above options as things he prepares for when a job comes to a close, will help.

  58. I should probably add to all this that my wife and I had a similar agreement, which went totally off the rails after only a month when we discovered that she and I had completely different ideas about how a house should be kept clean and how children should be handled in the after-school hours. I started keeping house with the best of good will, then discovered that my wife would come home and make stuff very hard for me because her model of how to live in a house was so different from mine. (I don’t want to get into who was right and who was wrong; that’s irrelevant to the point I’m trying to make.)

    So as you negotiate with your husband and work with him on this issue make sure you leave some room for him to do things differently than you do (as long as they are done effectively) and don’t be too upset when you discover that his housekeeping has a different focus and logic than yours. The important thing here is to pick your battles when you discover that “this is exactly how my mom did it” is completely different that “how his mom did it” – if the house is clean at the end of the day you probably shouldn’t even begin the process of discussing it.

  59. Count me in as someone who’s confused here. It is 2016. There are 24 hours in a day. Tasks involving the household have to be done. There are 2 adults in the household to whom these tasks can be allocated. LW is working outside of the house for n hours of the day. Mr. LW is not working outside of the home.

    An adult does the dishes before they take an XBox break. An unemployed adult maybe gets up at the same time as their employed spouse and makes some coffee to share over breakfast together, then gets to their own tasks of sending out job applications, starting a load of laundry, and working on their writing.

    Addressing this disparity in household upkeep shouldn’t be an emotional minefield.

  60. Whenever I’ve seen discussions of housework division online, there is inevitably some poster (almost always a man) who will say something to the effect of “Women are pickier than men/they’re insisting things be done that are unnecessary/men just have different standards, they simply don’t see the dirt”.
    To be fair, some women do have trouble letting go of the idea that there’s only one “right” way to do it, but I’m talking about men who don’t see any reason to do it at all.
    Men who join the military or navy don’t seem to have a problem seeing dirt and keeping order in the barracks or the bunkrooms below deck. They quickly get used to the idea that it needs to be done, so why would they lose that ability upon getting married or living with a woman?

    1. Ugh, “Men don’t see the dirt.” Men see the dirt. Men, largely, have just been conditioned to interpret the dirt in a way that requires no further action on their part. Generations of gender norms and expectations and learned behaviors have led to the difference between, “Wow, that’s a mess. I’d better clean it up soon,” and, “Wow, that’s a mess. It’ll get cleaned up soon.” Men see the dirt; they have just, through a variety of means, come to believe that dealing with it is not their problem. Which is where we run into the problem that men “help out” in their own households because all of the domestic work defaults to the woman. It’s infuriating. (Obviously, this argument is hugely heteronormative, which is a problem in an of itself.)

    2. The bitter soul in me says the ability is lost because in the military, other men will judge you for failing. At home, others will judge the woman you are living with for failing.

      …yeah, kabarett’s link to the MetaFilter piece is a solid one. ❤

  61. I’ve been in a similar situation with my husband, although things have recently reversed somewhat. The key for me – which took years – was recognising that he wasn’t going to do most of the emotional labour/planning/monitoring. So I do that, but I count it alongside the other things I do. He willingly does way more than half of physical household tasks, but I make sure they get negotiated, planned and done. Sometimes he’s proactive (because I’ve made it clear that I do not wish to replace his mother) and I’m always appreciative. Ultimately he cares about this stuff, but it still took an awful long time to establish a way of working together without resentment.

  62. I had a boyfriend who essentially had wall-to-wall aluminum soda cans as the flooring in his bedroom (there was carpet too, I know because it was visible on the narrow path from the door to the chairs and bed but I couldn’t even begin to describe what color it was – it may have been beige once.) – he was very punk rock. He did his own laundry but never managed to put any of it away, just threw it in laundry baskets that were carefully perched on the sea of soda cans, and he was so-so at cooking, but who wasn’t in their community college living at mom and dad’s house still days? (That’s a rhetorical question.) I learned to cook when I got tired of being hungry and letting myself into the parents’ house to forage would have been an exercise in futility considering how little food that didn’t involve laborious preparations to become something edible they had in their kitchen. CC-exb/f had a stay-at-home mom, and worked at the family business his dad ran after buying the uncles out, so his mom did EVERYTHING cooking and cleaning – except for the CC-exb/f’s bedroom because it was gross so she just demanded he keep the door closed so no one else had to see it. I, on the other hand, grew up with both parents employed as teachers and clearly they had worked out a fair and equitable arrangement splitting the tasks of home maintenance/cleaning and meal preparations before my brother and I were born. They’ve always been the planning, long-term-focusing, financially-boring-but-stable people, my parents. They even have the sex still, after nearly 50 years of marriage, and I will not be getting into the details of how I know this but suffice to say it freaked me out, even so, that is just one of the reasons that I know they’re still madly in love with each other in their steady, boring way. 😉 That exb/f and I were destined to break up, we were on different paths. His was surrounded by soda cans.

    My relationship now is one where I get to do the vacuuming because I like it, and the s/o does the stuff I don’t like, such as folding and/or hanging up the clean laundry – but isn’t allowed near my very expensive bras that are not to be tossed into a dryer under any circumstances. We trade off on cooking, or we go out/order in on the occasions neither of us has volunteered to cook – our kink dynamic doesn’t involve me forcing him to slave over a hot stove while I wear thigh high boots and patent leather, not even to punish him. Before we met I had learned how to do a lot of stuff around the house; I can use a pipe wrench to go underneath the bathroom sink and remove a small animal sized hairball at the p-trap, install a ceiling fan, and patch the holes that I sometimes make in the drywall with my power drill during home reno-upgrade projects. I had to learn how to do these things because I was on my own and didn’t have the money to pay someone who was a professional to do them. When the handle broke off the kitchen sink faucet, I figured out how to turn the water from the faucet off and then learned a very expensive lesson about needing a plumber – and this is even though I waited until regular business hours to avoid ’emergency plumber service’ fees. Because I did have a number of years where I was on my own and had to do everything or it wouldn’t get done (because no one else was there to do it for me) it just doesn’t occur to me that I don’t have to always do everything myself that often…So our main issue tends to be him saying “You know, I could do x-y-z and you can relax for a bit, I get the feeling you’re a little overwhelmed and I don’t mind doing x-y-z.” and me saying something like “I’m already doing x-y-z and I’m perfectly competent at doing x-y-z so what the hell, are you implying that I’m not doing x-y-z up to your standards?” because I’m a shrew like that and I’ve gotten used to having only myself to rely upon. Sometimes I have to remind myself to breathe, and graciously allow my s/o – that bastard – to do x-y-z if he’s so happy to do x-y-z while I roam the great wide open internet for a while. Surprisingly, romantic partners are pretty ok with discussions to clarify what each person can do to make the others life a little easier and not just for negotiating the terms of kink either. Perhaps LW just needs to sit down with her partner and talk about things like contributing to the care and maintenance of the house when he’s going through a period of unemployment/underemployment?

    Btw, hi! And I’m not sure how I feel about people throwing around the term “self cleaning oven”…because that’s what I call my vagina. 😉

    1. My ex-boyfriend’s bedroom was kinda like that – he had piles of stuff pretty much knee high with a path carved into it so he could actually get to his bed. Of course, his parents were very similar to him, so the rest of the house was pretty much the same. I now use that as my extreme for mess. Thankfully I have yet to meet anyone else that had/has that much clutter.

      1. Thankfully, I too haven’t run across additional b/f’s with what should be in the recycling bins piled up in their house, I mean, I tend to pile up boxes of document files but I don’t arrange them as the base for trash pyramids either. The ccexb/f may or may not have expected any g/f he started a relationship with to clean his room for him, but I was not about that, much to his disappointment. My friends used to ask me if my parents levitate or possibly walk on their hands after noticing that the white carpet in my parents house was still white and in pristine condition even 8 years after it was first installed. I try to maintain my home at a cleanliness level somewhere in the middle range – not so clean that the work required to keep it that way overwhelms, and no trash pyramid building or possibility of the dog getting lost amongst the mess either.

        Relationships are a lot of work as it is, my issue tends to be continuing to learn to avoid making more work for myself through thinking I have to do everything on my own when I’ve got a perfectly capable if just a little hesitant to start doing things that need doing if he’s not sure I’m ready for those things to get done. I’ve yelled at him for touching my stuff in the past, so it’s not as though he’s got no reason to be hesitant.

  63. Dear Net,
    #1 it is ENTIRELY REASONABLE to want/expect your partner to contribute to the joint household equally; if not in income than in other labor that benefits both parties
    #2 how to actually establish what is an equal division and adjust to changing schedules is pretty hard.

    My husband and I previously both worked full time and earned about equal income. We also established early on that my career takes precedence as far as location and such (NOT that his is LESS IMPORTANT than mine, but more flexible). Mine also eventually will earn a lot more when I’m all done with training. Anyway, recently I had to move for the next step, and he had to find a new job in a good but very competitive area; for this year I am currently working full time and he is working half time, also earning half the salary.

    There is no way for me to sustain doing half the domestic work when I am also working full time and he is not. Nope nope can’t do it won’t do it. He also agrees with this.
    Even being on the same page overall it can be rough.
    From my perspective, it’s easy to get irritated when it seems like* every time I look over he is playing video games and meanwhile there is stuff to be done and I’m trying to finish up notes from work. On the other hand, there is a strong selection bias; how easy it is to forget that he basically went apartment hunting, packed and unpacked the whole household enabling me to work in the ICU then fly over and immediately start my new job when the next week there are dishes in the sink!

    *stress is on the SEEMS, because I know that’s not actually true I just notice it more

    I don’t really have a lot of advice because we are still figuring it out; maybe couples counseling would help, but despite looking around I have yet to find any counseling options that seem more useful than burdensome.
    — I’ve thought of making an overall general list of responsibilities and when things will get done, but my husband hates this idea
    — mostly planning things out week by week seems to work best, ie, who will cook what on what day, etc

    1. If I “went apartment hunting, packed and unpacked the whole household enabling me to work in the ICU…” I’d probably crash for a couple weeks afterwards. If it’s been more than three weeks, however, its definitely a problem which needs working on.

      1. Nah it was a few weeks; in general I guess the only “issue” is that some weeks a LOT gets done and the place is really nice while some weeks not so much and stuff piles up – but again I tend to operate the same way so I can’t really complain.
        It’s a work in progress, like everything.

  64. LW?

    There’s a lot of advice on how to go about accepting your husband’s offer, and a lot of it is good advice. (I feel like a lot of it is advice that is angry about a similar situation–my brain went hard to the earlier linked CA question about housework, and then I stepped on that hard, because it doesn’t seem to quite match your situation.)

    You asked for self-talk to maybe help. I’m not sure I’m good with that, but here’s my try:

    You read CA, so I’m guessing you know the term sandwiches of love?

    It is 100% okay for your husband to make you a sandwich of delicious clean-house between two fluffy slices of free-evening.

    And is there a way to bring up couples counseling to talk this through that won’t feel like I’m attacking/judging his work history?

    I can’t tell if this means (1) you’re trying to do that thing where it’s your job to fix how everyone else feels so he won’t feel that way or (2) you do resent the work history and you don’t want to give voice to those feelings so it won’t come out that you feel that way.

    If it’s the first, you can’t do that. You can go with the standard “I feel like X when Y” to cut down on the likelihood that a reasonable person would read it that way, but that’s it. “I feel like you have a lot more free time than me, and I don’t know how we can resolve this. Can we go see someone about this?”

    I would suggest not bringing up debt. Not bringing up owing. It seems like a language tic that ties into financial matters and that is going to be likely to be linked to work history. Just “I am your spouse and we are building a life together where I feel tired all the time and resentful. Can we fix this?” That’s not debt. That’s relationship balance.

    If it’s the second, I’m not sure what to do. I think it might help to keep in mind that from what you said it’s not his work history that seems to annoy you, it’s how he spends his free time when he isn’t working.

    I mean, this isn’t about the jobs, it isn’t about the CV, it’s about the four hours of Fallout and the noodling around on the internet when the vacuum cleaner’s sitting right there and the laundry hasn’t been run let alone folded, right?

    (I write. A little. Sometimes there’s what looks like goofing off when I am actually trying to hammer out a plot, and sometimes there’s what’s actually goofing off because I was going to hammer out a plot and I got a case of the IDunWannas and it’s not like there’s an actual deadline.)

    I hope I haven’t read this wrong. Mostly it sounds like you’re being too self-effacing and self-sacrificing for your own comfort and so I’m left with the impression that it hasn’t really come up. But the mention of couples counselling makes me wonder if it did come up and there was much breast-beating and “OH I’M SO HORRIBLE I OWE YOU SO MUCH I HATE BEING OUT OF WORK” and you got stuck hand-holding and making him feel better about you being so busy and overworked.

    (If there’s a pattern of the latter happening, my advice might get a lot sharper.)

  65. I have been on the other side of this, having had two long stretches of under or unemployment (2 years and 1 year), both in the last 6 years. My husband and I both work as musicians, so job financial stability is hard to come by; in spite of this, my husband has always managed to support us. Maybe because of this, I have much less of a DTMF attitude than other people on this thread. I played video games and slept in, it’s true – but I also felt like worthless deadweight.

    I’m entering my third such period of underemployment (oh joy), and so this is a very timely moment for me to think about the tools I’ve acquired for being in this situation. There is a whole boatload of advice I wish I could give to LW’s husband that has helped keep our relationship strong during these periods. Or to myself when this first came up.

    1) The most important thing: have job finding goals and communicate them clearly to your partner (“I will send out at least x number of applications this week”, “I will set up a LinkedIn profile,” “I will cold call at least x number of businesses,” whatever). Our biggest problem was communication. I experienced intense embarrassment and shame over my inability to find employment, and so downplayed things like the number of applications I sent out or interviews I had. The result was that I was spending many emotionally draining hours every day job-hunting, sending out hundreds of resumes, but as far my partner knew I was doing nothing at all. After some tear-filled arguments in which I was accused of being lazy, we ended up setting aside times where I communicated what I was doing. It was painful – job searching is depressing as hell and I hated having to tell him about my latest stack of rejections – but the result was that my partner understood how I was spending my time and could be sympathetic instead of frustrated. Plus, he could make me feel better by focusing on the positives and reminding me that, even if it didn’t seem like I was making progress, I was still accomplishing tasks and goals.

    2) Take advantage of the extra time to be supportive of your partner’s interests and accomplishments. For example, when we are both working it is nearly impossible for me to go to his concerts, so I made sure to do as much of it as possible during the unemployment periods. He always wishes I took more of an interest in our finances, so in anticipation of newfound spare time I’ve taken some financial books he recommended out of the library.

    3) Make sure to actively pursue and have results from your creative projects that you can share with your partner! I started this during my last 6 months of unemployment – specifically by blogging about them – and it made a huge difference for both of us. He took such obvious pride in what I was doing, which made me feel more motivated and confident, and it made him feel less like he was supporting us through rough times and more like he was giving me an exciting opportunity. (Plus, it gives you a great out for that dreaded conversation starter “What do you do?”)

    4) Have things to do outside of the house as much as possible – a reason for you to get up and get going with your partner in the morning. Errands, volunteering, networking, heading to the library, to the employment centre… And if you really don’t have anything, get up and make coffee and breakfast for your partner – CA’s advice about breakfast is spot on, and it’s a nice gesture to show how much you appreciate what they are doing for you. Nothing contributes to the perception you aren’t *doing* anything more than letting your partner leave you asleep in bed every single morning on the way to a long day at work.

    5) I will disagree with most commenters and say that having to do ALL of the household chores on top of the depressing work of trying and failing to find employment would have made me beyond miserable. Maybe this is unfair of me, I don’t know, but we tried it briefly and it made me feel like I was being punished for my financial uselessness. Our compromise was that I did more, hopefully most, but not all. We also identified his least favourite chores to do, and agreed that I would focus on picking up those areas (eg; he likes cooking and so still helped out a lot with that, but I always did the dishes because he hates that).

    So, to the LW:
    These are the methods we came up with for dealing with the situation – I didn’t do all (any) of these things at first, and if my partner hadn’t challenged me over his growing resentment, we would never have come up with some of these methods of dealing with the situation. This is what worked for us, and if you think any of these things would help you, maybe suggest them. Probably they will end up being very helpful to him in the end as well. They certainly were for me.

    I think the other complicating issue here – as CA mentioned – is that you aren’t, ever, getting time off. I can only imagine the resentment that would start to fester in a situation like that: I think the best thing that both of you can do is somehow make getting that time a priority. Also, I’m assuming that your husband is in a similar place to me, going through a cycle of frustration, embarrassment, occasionally apathy, about his struggles with employment. If he is perfectly happy being unemployed and would like for it to be his natural state of being, then that is a whole different and more difficult conversation and one I have no experience with.

    This has turned into a novel… but it’s been very valuable for me to think through and write, if nothing else!

  66. My hard and firm rule-everyone is responsible for their own laundry. Sometimes inefficient, always a delightful feeling of autonomy and adulthood. Oddly there were rarely cold wrinkled clothes left in the dryer, though I was sometimes praised for his always-ironed shirts that were in fact his work. We had separate bathrooms (I recommend this highly) and I may have done the sheets, a small overall price to pay. He was good at grocery shopping and loading the dishwasher is lazier than stacking in the sink, when you think about it.

    With LW’s household, it seems appropriate that the person in the home is the best manager of it (that was how women got the job, after all) and let this person in the home decide whether they want the maintenance of it to be done by themself, or if they want to pay someone, with that expense covered from their own personal money. It’s also nice that the person at home make a breakfast in the morning. This isn’t a gendered job, after all. We all need to eat.

    I get a lot of ideas for my writing projects when my hands are busy vacuuming or folding clothes. Person at home may have the same thing happen for them.

  67. LW here, much delayed. We had guests for the holidays so I wasn’t here to see my letter posted. I wish I had, because I am so grateful for all the insightful and compassionate replies and ideas.

    I think CA’s leisure time metric is the right one for us – and where I feel the most sting. The household chore division when we were both fully employed was 55% me and 45% him. Not perfect, but equitable. The discrepancy, as everyone correctly surmised, is the planning/assigning of tasks. Husband is the youngest child of a doting single helicopter and sometimes needs to be reminded that grocery shopping is not something I do out of enjoyment.

    One comment along the way got it exactly right that what I’d like to see during these off-periods is that he jumps from 45 to 75 household OR some other productive thing. I think what I gleaned most here is that I need to just ask and see what he says. I have been subtle, apologetic and maybe a little passive-aggressive thus far. Just directly asking for what you want and telling people how you feel wasn’t modeled in the home where I grew up. Quietly seething for years and then deploying bitter sarcasm feels more natural.

    One thing several people brought up—and I have been grappling with myself—is whether I might be depressed. It’s something I always assumed would be obvious to me if it happened, but I don’t *feel* depressed? Or I don’t think I do? Not hopeless or suicidal, not sad… but tired most of the time and rapidly gaining weight, not spending much time doing social stuff with my girlfriends (my lack of leisure time def contributes to this) and just generally losing interest in being physically active at all. My job takes a lot of spoons.

    So, after writing the letter and considering the things in the paragraph above, I resolved in mid-December that I would prioritize self-care in 2016. I’m a tough broad, and I could just keep on carrying everything into an early grave, or I can channel more spoons into taking care of me. The reallocation began last week. The chore conversation is coming soon.

    Meantime, you’ve all given me a lot to ponder.

    1. Am so glad to hear you’ve begun making changes that should make you happier!

      With regards to depression, and knowing, and not knowing: you might know! Not everyone does. I am thinking you sound like a smart and caring person, and I honestly think that you will be able to be the best person to figure it out, alone or with the help you decide you need.

      (Also, on the very small chance that you’ve missed it, there’s an awesome post about coping with stress and bad moods at this guest post from 2016.)

    2. Awesome news, and so glad you are taking steps to get what you want.

      I will confirm the fact that when dealing with most males (my relationship experience,) feminine socialization patterns are not going to cut it. My relationships got so much better when I decided I would just tell them what I want.

      They appreciated it, and my hit ratio went way up.

    3. Thank you for the update, LW!! We’re all rooting for you, and I hope this year is a good one.

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