Negotiating Chores with Your Husband

One of the hardest parts of marriage is figuring out who does what. Neither person wants to do more than his or her share, but if you’re always comparing yourself to your spouse, you’ll get in this downward spiral of resentment. So how do you negotiate things like who does what chore?

I wrote an article about it for Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family magazine, and it’s out now! Here’s how it begins:

Early in our marriage, our apartment often suffered from lack of attention. One morning, in frustration, I worked myself into a cleaning frenzy. Unbeknownst to me, that afternoon while I was out, my husband had the same impulse.

Over dinner we simultaneously announced, “I cleaned the whole place today!” Neither of us was amused at the other taking credit for our effort. Our misunderstanding soon became clear. To my husband, Keith, clutter mattered. To me, dirt mattered. I could walk past clutter as long as the faucets were gleaming. He, on the other hand, didn’t notice marks on the mirrors as long as the towels were neatly folded.

All of us start marriage with different ideas about what goes into running a household, and our natural tendency is to value the work we do and minimize the work our spouses do. Throughout the stages of life, our situations change and require us to renegotiate the division of chores. Each time we try to divide responsibilities, there’s potential for anger and resentment. But with the right attitude and some planning, chores don’t need to be something that drives us apart.

I invite you to read the rest here! It’s an honor to be featured there!

If you’re looking for other articles on how to split responsibilities, here are some more from this blog:

When Mr. Clean Marries Mrs. Messy

How Much is Reasonable to Expect from Your Spouse when it comes to housework?

To Love, Honor and Vacuum (the book). I deal with this at length!

And here’s some inspiration for you today:

Marriage is Like Nature: Tending it makes all the difference.

Have you found a way to split chores with your husband that works? Let me know in the comments!

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  1. My husband realized early on that if we work together to tackle the chores, they get done twice as fast (we have been married just over three years). This means we can move on to things we WANT to do more quickly. We are both minimalists and tidy people by nature, so we really do not have clutter that accumulates during the week. Every other weekend, we vacuum, dust and clean bathrooms (we do not have children yet). As for laundry, he does all the laundry and I fold. We have a lawn service take care of our yard, so we don’t have to worry about the exterior ourselves. It’s really wonderful to have a husband who understands that two can get things done a lot faster than one. We are able to spend time doing the things we WANT to do rather than the things we HAVE to do. It’s a win-win for both of us!!

  2. My husband insists that taking out the garbage is his job. But if the garbage is full and it needs to be taken out, I often don’t ask him to do it and I’ll just do it myself. The only thing I really would like for him to do is to put water in his dirty dishes so they don’t dry out and make them more difficult to wash. Otherwise, he takes care of the yard and I do the house. But then I’m also a SAHM, so that would only make sense.

  3. You pointed out in the article that one thing mattered to your husband (clutter) and another thing mattered to you (dirt).
    I’ve noticed that the things that matter to you (whether it’s laundry being done a certain way, the kitchen table being clear, the mirror being spotless, etc.) can be an indicator of the chores you should complete. (You’re more likely to do a task well if you naturally notice when it’s done well or not!) For example, my husband often notices things on the outside of the house (e.g., overgrown lawn, trashcan out of place), so he sees to these things. I notice things inside (e.g., clutter, dust) so I take care of these.
    Obviously this will not be applicable in every situation or with every chore, but it can be a place to start.
    Shannon recently posted…Using Your Husband’s Love of Sports to Strengthen Your MarriageMy Profile

  4. This is a really excellent article (I went and read the whole thing). Good job, and congrats! I love the way you suggest that couples can come to lots of different kinds of solutions for how to deal with housework, while sticking to the principle “we’re a team.” That was super refreshing and incredibly helpful!

    • Thanks, Bethany! I’m not a big believer in “one size fits all” for just about anything–even chores!

  5. I have yet to figure out some kind of system that gets my husband to help. My kids have assigned chores, so that takes some of the burden. My oldest does laundry. Start to finish, except for putting it away, each person does their own. My middle one does the dishes. Loads & unloads the dishwasher, but that’s his job. They take turns taking out the trash. My youngest keeps her room spotless. I think she’s going to be a bit of a neat freak, but she’s 4, so that could change!

    I cook. I mow the “yard” (2 acres) & do the trimming around the house. I clean the house (my room is a disaster, because I can’t get HIS clothes put away & it overflows out of the closet & keeps my from getting my clothes in there without a major event). I also work 40 hrs a week & run the kids to band, soccer, etc. We’re active in church & I teach a class Wed nights & do the nursery schedule.

    Now, to be fair, he works 50-60 hours (6 days) a week as a letter carrier. He WALKS 8-10 miles a day. He is the AV guy at church as well. But there are days, I just want to take his laptop & THROW it! Oldest will put clean clothes on the bed…they end up in a pile in the closet. It’s just frustrating!

    Any words of wisdom that don’t involve ultimatums or demands are welcome! He’s MORE than aware of my opinion, I need a solution.
    Karen Yocum recently posted…Wow!! That works!!My Profile

    • It sounds like with the lifestyle your family has, keeping your house spotless just isn’t possible. And you know what? That’s okay! You both work long hours and are involved in lots of church activities. There simply isn’t room in that schedule for lots of house cleaning. You have to decide what your priorities are. If having a really clean house is important to you, you might need to cut back on some of the other stuff you do. If the “other stuff” you do is more important to you, you might have to just accept a less than spotless house. Look to your husband to lead in this area. If he decides that all the activities your family does are worth sacrificing a little neatness, just set your mind on that a realize this is the lifestyle your family has chosen and a messy house comes with the territory.

  6. We have only a few set-in-stone chore assignments. One is that I will not clean bathrooms. I grew up with three brothers, and somehow in there it was decided that I made the biggest mess in the bathroom and should therefore be responsible for cleaning it. Um, NO, I did NOT make the biggest mess. I cleaned up some disgusting stuff. Finally one day came the mess so disgusting I refused to hold sole responsibility for the bathroom any more. To this day I can’t stand cleaning bathrooms. Fortunately I married a man who doesn’t mind cleaning the bathroom and gets it done quickly. UNfortunately, it takes a lot longer for him to notice dirt than me, and our toilet often looks like it’s growing a science experiment before he realizes it’s dirty…LOL But I don’t have to clean it so I try not to complain and just gently remind him to take thirty seconds to clean the toilet once a week.
    Melissa recently posted…Inside My BrainMy Profile

  7. This is an excellent topic and I believe the root of a lot of conflict in many households…..

    What worked for my husband and me is that we discussed this issue before we were married….we realized that the burden of household chores ultimately came down to expectations….so we talked about our expectations versus reality…and came up with this solution….if I was a stay-at-home wife…while he worked full time and many days over full time hourse (Marine Corps)….that the household was my responsibility….that way we were both ‘pulling our weight’….but if i was a working wife/mom.., we would both take care of the house.

    We’ve been married for 11 years now….for the first few months i stayed home so i took care of the house….then i started to work and we both pitched in…..the house is our shared responsibility….my husband generally mows, but i enjoy weed-eating so i do that with him….he likes the laundry folded a certain way so he does it, while I do the washing/drying so nothing gets ruined (LOL)…we don’t really have a list of he does/she does…but we both just see what needs to be done and we do it…..But i think it helped that we talked about it first and set aside expectations….

    But we also had this talk about raising children….and I’m very blessed to have a husband that wasn’t afraid to change diapers, get up in the middle of the night and thaw out some frozen breast milk and take a feeding from me….keep the kids instead of sending them to a daycare on his off days….But I think all of this begins with communication…good communication….
    I’m sorry I really don’t have any advice for those that are already married and in the thick of it….but maybe this can help anyone about to be married…please please discuss these things…it may seem minor, but it can be the root of a whole lot of arguments and resentment if not addressed early on!

    • My husband and I came up with a similar way of dividing chores. We agreed that while I am working a small part-time job, I am the one with more time and energy to take care of things around the house. If we have children in a couple of years or I start working full-time, we’ve planned to share household tasks more evenly. I’m a bit particular about my chores and I really like to cook, so this arrangement works perfectly.

  8. purplecandy says:

    Well, in our situation I just gave up on him doing anything in the house. I resented it at first and tried all the usual advices people give : nag, shout, cry, talk, go on strike, threaten, compromise… Nothing worked. I finally accepted that housechores (including finances, paperwork, fixing stuff, cleaning, planning, kids’ chauffeuring, groceries, cooking etc.) were on my shoulders only. We both work full time, though my schedule is more flexible and my job less physical than his. The first step was to find an organization that worked for me, “as if” I was alone (which is true most of the time due to our opposite work schedules). Then, and that was not the easiest, I learned to let go of resentment or “martyr feelings” and I’m even trying to consider it a blessing. It is a great opportunity I have to show love to my family : I feed everybody healthy and nutritious meals, there are snacks and drinks for any (unexpected) guest, I put my kids to bed in tidy and clean rooms, hubby and I cuddle on a comfortable – and clean – couch with nothing bugging me (such as noticing that he didn’t vacuum).
    In the near future my husband will have to travel, a lot and irregularly. This kind of organization is more or less like getting us ready for the challenges and opportunities that might come his way. It is also a way for me to bless him and show him that he can make plans for his career and focus on new projects while I “have his back” and handle the day to day life efficiently.

    That’s why I totally agree that calculating who does what and trying to be “fair” is not always the best solution. Having each other’s well being – and the kids’ well being – in mind and doing what needs to get done works much better.

  9. If its a small chore like folding clothes or doing dishes, my husband and I make it fun deciding who does it by playing Rock, Paper, Scissors (best 2 out of 3). The bigger things we have set who does them.

  10. We will help each other out with each others chores if we know the other person has a lot of other things going on. Forgot to add this to my comment above.

  11. My wife left the work force when we had children. She looked after the inside of the house including the laundry and mending. I looked after the outside plus inside repair jobs. Now I am retired she still does most of the cooking but I often prepare the vegetables and make deserts. I do most of the vacuuming, she does the dusting. I still look after the outside of the house plus inside repairs. I deal with taking out the garbage and the recycling. Loading and unloading the dishwasher is done by whoever is around when it needs doing. My wife prepares the grocery lists and I do most of the actual shopping. We rarely argue over chores. I don’t think we ever made up a to do list, we just do the jobs which need doing. My wife now has health problems so more of the work gravitates in my direction. Marriage is about loving and caring for each other and the longer we are married the more in love we become.

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