“My wife wants to wash her blouses even if she has just used them for a few hours. I want us to share the work at home evenly, but I refuse to wash clean clothes!”
One of my lovely clients
Why do so many argue about something as mundane as household chores and how can we avoid these often “silly” conflicts?
Let me share 3 causes for these conflicts – and how we can avoid them.
Cause of conflict number 1: A (perceived) uneven share of the workload
In many societies, women once took a larger share of the household chores while men took a bigger share of working outside of the home, bringing home an income. This has changed. In some homes women have taken a large part of the work outside of the home but this has not been compensated by the partner taking a bigger share of the work in the home.
If we feel that we take a bigger share of the load than we would like and if on top of that we feel as if what we do is taken for granted, it is easy to feel frustrated and unhappy. Then a conflict will always be just around the corner.
How to avoid it
The first step to avoid the “I take a bigger share than I want around the house, and you don’t even appreciate it” conflict, is to get the facts on the table.
Create a “what we do around the house list” together and write down what each of you do.
The content on the list is not as important as how you will feel when you have done it together. The overview is likely to lead to a common understanding and more mutual appreciation.
It is possible that you will notice that your partner does more than you are aware of, just other things than you do.
Cause of conflict number 2: We think our way is the only right way
In the example about washing clean clothes, the wife found it a no-brainer to wash a blouse as soon as she had worn it, even if it was not visibly dirty or smelling. If not, the blouse would no be what she called “fresh”. For her partner it was equally obvious that washing blouses that were clean was a waste of time and effort and it would wear out the blouse sooner plus be bad for the environment, given the use of washing powder and electricity.
There is no right or wrong way to manage a home, but there are as many opinions about it as there are people. You may come from a home where vacuum-cleaning daily was the norm, while your partner may come from a home where the whole family cleaned together once a week.
How to avoid it
Take a look at your list and explain to each other why what is on there is important to you.
Just acknowledging that you have different habits and that there isn’t a right or a wrong way will make a big difference and the conflicts may flow away easily when you stop judging and start understanding each other.
Cause of conflict number 3: We focus more on being right than on being loving
If we get stuck arguing about what is right, we may end up punishing our partners by leaving their dirty cups on the table just to make a point. “I will not take care of your stuff, you never help me out”. Not even when it is easy to bring both yours and your partner's cup to the kitchen.
Another consequence of wanting to be right, is that we might grudgingly “give in” and do what is asked of us, but we will not do it well.
“Ok, I will vacuum clean every second day then!” Then, mumbling, “But I will not vacuum clean under the sofa because there is a limit to how much I will do to fulfill your neurotic need for cleanliness.”
The two exercises above have helped you understand what is important to your partner and why. Instead of focusing on principles and being right, let's look at how to reach an agreement.
How to avoid it
Let the one who cares the most about a particular task decide how that task should be handled.
If you care more about food than your partner does, suggest that you take lead on that one. If that means that you cook most of the time, or that you plan the cooking and then enlist the rest of the family, or that you decide to occasionally have food delivered doesn’t matter. It is all up to you.
Meanwhile your partner may be the one caring about the garden and will decide how to handle the work there.
This doesn’t mean you have to do everything you care about, but you get to decide how it will be done in your home since you care the most about it.
Finally, do some tasks just out of love.
You may think it is fine to put your dirty tea cup on the counter in the evening and clean it up the day after. If you know your partner feels good if the counter is clean when (s)he comes into the kitchen in the morning, just clean the cup immediately and put it away.
Not because it is the right way, but because you like doing things (also the ones you find silly) out of love.