Keep Fighting With Your Partner About Chores? Here's What To Do About It
Chores are a part of life, whether we like it or not. And if you've been with your partner for one year or 30, there's a pretty good chance you've had a conversation or two about managing your household.
If chores aren't a sticking point for you and your partner, that's wonderful. If not, though, there's a reason household labor can be such a divisive topic—but it doesn't have to be. Here's what to do to stop fighting about chores (and all the emotional labor that comes with them).
The problem of household labor—and the emotional labor that comes with it
According to Regina Lark, Ph.D., organization expert and author of Emotional Labor: Why a Woman's Work Is Never Done and What To Do About It, chores can become a source of conflict in relationships for a number of reasons.
For one thing, especially if you're in a cis-het relationship, traditional gender roles around "women's work" are still incredibly pervasive, with many of us subconsciously holding a belief that it's the woman's job in the relationship to manage the household—cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids, keeping track of everyone's calendars, the list goes on...and on and on.
And not only does that list go on, but so many parts of it are effectively invisible. Sure, one could argue that it's not difficult to remember to pick up a birthday card or sweep the kitchen after dinner, for example, but the mental and emotional labor that goes into keeping track of all these "little things" adds up to one person feeling like the CEO of their own home, while the other remains largely unburdened.
As Lark explains, acknowledgment of the volume of work, then, is so important, "because unless you understand what that work entails, you'll never understand why there even needs to be a discussion." She adds that without that understanding, it's all too easy for resentment and anger to seep into your relationship.
How to get on the same page about chores
Get clear on the amount of labor needed in your home, including emotional labor
According to Lark, the most important thing couples need to do in order to stop fighting about chores is to clearly spell out all the work that needs to be done. "Couples need to think of and list all the invisible tasks associated with every single project within the realm of household management," she tells mindbodygreen, adding, "It's not only about making a grocery list; it's noticing what's missing from the pantry and refrigerator. That's the invisible part—the noticing."
The noticing tends to be where couples run into issues, where it's one person who is doing the noticing, and subsequently delegating, while the other person just does what they're told. "But we want a partner, not a 'helper,'" Lark notes—as in, both people take it upon themselves to notice what needs to be done, and then they do it without needing to be asked.
Embrace radical delegation
According to Lark, a common misconception in housework is delegating tasks to the person who does them best. But all too often, it's one person who does everything best, she explains.
"If you're somebody who was raised to notice all the work of the household, then by default, you're going to be viewed as the person best suited to the task," she says, adding that it's a privilege of the workplace to hire people best suited for a position, but it just doesn't work that way at home.
So, Lark says, embrace "radical delegation," aka delegating to get the work done regardless of who's better or worse at it. (To that end, just watch out for weaponized incompetence.)
Anticipate the emotional labor life cycle
It's one thing to have a conversation about housework and the mental/emotional labor that comes with it—but it's an entirely different ballgame to keep the conversation going. Housework never ends, after all, and as Lark says, "If people could anticipate everything that's coming up in their life, they can preemptively radically delegate."
In this way, we can avoid one person acting as more of a helper, so you can feel like you're in a true partnership. "Give ownership to those things so the person takes ownership before it even hits their sights a year or two from now," Lark says. That way, she notes, you're both looking ahead as a united front.
Work with a professional
Last but never least, it's never a bad idea to work with a professional if you and your partner are having a hard time dealing with housework. "My best advice is to get in front of a good mental health professional, a good marriage counselor, a family life coach, and put the anger and the acrimony aside. You have to be able to put that to the side and figure out what is the best thing for the health, comfort, and well-being of the family," Lark says.
How do I stop fighting about chores?
To stop fighting about chores, get clear on the physical, mental, and emotional labor necessary to keep your household running smoothly. Embrace radical delegation, think ahead, notice (and do) what needs to be done, and work with a family therapist or other professional.
Why do couples argue over chores?
Couples argue over chores because of different standards and ideas about who is responsible for what, as well as because much of domestic labor is invisible or happens internally (i.e., remembering schedules, planning ahead, noticing what needs to be done, etc.).
The biggest hurdle when it comes to arguing about chores is simply making sure both parties are fully aware of the work that needs to be done, including the mental and emotional labor that goes into managing a household. When you're on the same page there, then it's about uniting as partners so one person doesn't feel like the boss and the other, a household helper. Happy cleaning!
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.