How Do I Get My Spouse to Help Me? – Part III

In my first two posts addressing the question of how to get your spouse to help around the house, I talked about two key components to the answer. First, get rid of the mindset that you are a Volunteer Coordinator and replace it with a Partnership mindset. The second part of the answer involves being open, honest and direct when communicating what you think, feel and need from them and when understanding is achieved, ask for agreement. 

Also, a quick reminder that we are approaching this topic from the perspective of a wife who is frustrated that her husband won’t help, simply because that represents the majority of complaints I hear. If your situation is the other way around, the principles can still be applied for effective resolution. 

If your husband is willing to meet your need for equitably dividing up the responsibilities around the home and is in agreement with the final “plan” you are well on your way. Congratulations!  The next step is to periodically review the agreement to see if it is working out as you both had hoped. If it isn’t, continue to modify as appropriate and revisit again in the future. 

This last post is for those instances when you might meet up with a little resistance or opposition from your husband. In other words, he doesn’t want to see things change. 

I will list several common objections that often come up when wives attempt to partner more deliberately with their husbands when it comes to domestic responsibilities. I will list each objection along with possible responses. As you consider giving your husband “push back” on his objection(s), remember to apply the principle of seeking first to understand, then to be understood. When a person feels heard and  understood they are much more willing to reciprocate the behavior. I recommend that you read the blog, Marriage is Alive and Pretty Well, to learn an effective communication strategy to help your partner feel heard and understood.     

Common Objections: 

“I can’t do it as well as you want it done.” 

If you hear this objection it is important that you take a close look at your expectations. Sometimes husbands tell me they did what they were asked to do and then their wife followed behind them and either did the chore over again (often with a negative attitude) or she complained about how he did it.  

Now, if you are confident that your husband is carelessly rushing through a task just to say he got it done, it is okay to confront the issue and work on establishing a standard that is reasonable to both of you. Initially, I recommend that you work on accepting your partner’s effort and watch to see if it might improve over time before you confront the issue. Expressing appreciation and resisting the urge to give negative feedback up front is often the best approach. In other words, try not to say, “Thanks, honey, but you missed a spot.” Just say, “Thanks!” Most of us respond better to positive reinforcement than criticism. 

“I don’t have time to do work around the house.” 

Rather than arguing how much time your husband does or doesn’t have to take on responsibilities around the house I recommend that you begin by letting him know you understand how much he values his down time and that it is hard to give up. Then, ask him how much time he is willing to contribute to making sure responsibilities don’t fall exclusively on your shoulders because you need down time as well. When this approach is taken, husbands are more likely to cooperate. Ideally, if you both pitch in on the chores you can free up time for fun activities like date nights. 

“My dad didn’t do chores around the house and my mom didn’t complain.” 

Following an old family “tradition” may not be a viable option for a family today. If your husband is using it as an argument for relieving himself of all domestic responsibility, it will be important not to let the discussion become a question of right or wrong, and to avoid criticism of his family of origin. Your relationship is unique and does not need to be a copy of anyone else’s. Hopefully you can appreciate any good example his parents set and then steer the discussion back to your current circumstances. 

“I don’t ask you to fix the car, so don’t ask me to clean.” 

The stereotype of “woman’s work” and “man’s work” no longer holds up in today’s world. With both partners often working outside the home, with the shift to automation and computerization, roles are equalizing. Part of your discussion needs to be an honest look at each person’s schedule, interests and abilities. In some homes, everybody agrees that the husband takes care of everything outdoors and the wife takes care of everything indoors, but the key is equity in the division of labor. For example, car care may only involve monthly washes and quarterly oil changes, and fixing a roof leak may happen every five years; but laundry and dishes are daily grinds. So consider each task according to frequency, time and effort required and divide equally between both partners… and don’t give up on the discussion until you agree. 

“Making sure chores are done around the house is not a priority for me – I just don’t care.” 

Opposites attract, and it is not uncommon for a husband and wife to have very different views on the acceptable conditions in the home. If you care very much about having everything clean and orderly and he is perfectly contented with a mess, the key to agreement will be caring enough for one another to give a little extra for the sake of the relationship. You may need to practice affirming thoughts like, “I may not like his dirty socks on the floor, but I am thankful he is such a good dad to our children.” As you give him a little grace, it is appropriate for you to ask him to give a little extra effort simply because it matters to you. 

“Our kids should do the work.  Isn’t that why we had them?”

Yes, I actually know about a guy who said that! It does raise a legitimate issue in accomplishing household chores. Children should be given age-appropriate responsibilities and Mom and Dad need to function as a team to help and oversee children as they learn and carry out their part in home. When you and your husband are discussing division of labor, include supervision of the children with the other items on the list. Once you and your husband are in basic agreement about what needs to be done, include your children in talks about the importance of their roles in the family as well. 

“I would rather just hire the work out.” 

If housecleaning is taking too much valuable time away from other family activities, it may be appropriate to consider getting some paid help. As you discuss your husband’s suggestion to hire out chores, obvious issues like finding someone you trust and whether you can afford it will arise. If it is a stretch, the two of you will need to agree on what you are each willing to give up in order to be able to pay for help. But consider, also, that there is great benefit to parents setting an example of everyone doing their share. Planning, accomplishing and appreciating tasks in the home will help your kids develop character and responsibility. 

Overall, the key to a smooth-running home is a family of players who are all on the same team – husbands and wives sharing a balanced load and giving their children the opportunity to learn compromise and achieve success. 

Ladies, you can be powerful agents of change in your homes when you open discussions and work with your husband to form a winning team! 

Live, Work and Relate Well! 

Dr. Todd

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