I’m tired of accepting the majority of the domestic load just because I’m technically better at it. My husband is a wonderful human, a great father and a generous and loving partner. But ever since I’ve known him, he has been almost inept at anything domestic in nature, be it chores around the home or managing life in a partnership with a family of his own. It all falls on me, and I’m tired not only from the physical load, but the mental load too. It’s this part that people talk less of – holding the knowledge and remembering, planning, executing all the things that are needed to run a household successfully.
I feel like the reason I, like many women I’m sure, carry this load is because we’ve let our men get away with the perception that “we know how” to do it better and therefore it’s easier that we take on the responsibility. My husband will only do things like chores or organising of household needs when prompted and guided.
How do I have a conversation with him without seeming petty? I really want the share to be completely equal, 50/50, because I’m drowning in the idea that this will be my burden for the rest of my life. With two kids under three, I’m feeling this pressure and dread more than I ever have.
Eleanor says: It’s well documented that women often do more of the thinking around the domestic work as well as more of the work itself. Knowing what the supplies are, what needs to be cleaned, learning what’s involved in doing something well – it’s a significant amount of work, and the fact that it gets done can mean it also self-erases. I’ve written before that housework wipes up after itself, such that the people who don’t do it can forget that anyone does – as though pantries naturally stay well-stocked or the bottom of the fridge stays clean on its own.
You asked how to have a helpful conversation about this. That depends on whether this is a problem of ignorance or motivation. If it’s ignorance – if he believes you already split the work 50/50 – perhaps all you need to do is correct that.
It can help to let someone experience not knowing something instead of just telling them they don’t. You could try keeping records: spend a few weeks noting who does what, who remembers, who plans, taking care not to skew things or be too resentful, and then ask his impressions of how you split the work. “How much time do you think I spent this week on household management?” is a question with a concrete answer, and it could stop you reaching for the easily falsifiable things we sometimes say in confrontation like “you never” and “I always”.
If, however, it’s a problem of motivation, that is a little more complicated. I had a housemate once who’d leave last night’s roast chicken carcass in the sink – “Can you clean up food the same day you cook it?” “No thanks”. It’s oddly dumbfounding when people just disagree about what’s fair. So if your husband agrees you do more work but denies that’s reason to change, perhaps you’d have more success asking in the key of kindness, than in the key of fairness. When you say “it’s unfair that I do all this”, he might think “I disagree” or “I didn’t ask you to”, but it’s a lot harder to flatly reject you if you say something like “this would make my life a lot more pleasant and I’m asking for your help”.
And two tactical notes: I’d try to make this conversation as specific as possible so you only have to have it once. It’s no good spending a lot of emotional energy securing the abstract agreement that he could do more, only to find in two weeks that you thought that meant help planning and he thought it meant help gardening. That’ll just make his efforts feel unacknowledged and your needs feel unmet. Name the things you want help with and mutually agree whether that works – small-scale specifics are the site of lasting change.
Finally, I’d take some time to figure out whether you want this conversation to correct the future or to air resentment about the past. Either is a fine goal, but decide on one and commit to it: conversations curdle quickly when one person can detect anger the other’s pretending not to have.
Households and relationships have to be mutual – the work of maintaining them should be, too.
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