You probably won’t be surprised to hear that most couples argue about the same things. Money, sex, family, quality time, romance, and parenting. But you might be surprised to know another major source of stress and tension in relationships. Arguing about chores.
Arguing over chores is one of the most common and nagging conflicts in a relationship, particularly when the couple lives together. Fun fact: dishes are the most heated and problematic chore of them all. While it might seem silly, the issue of chores is more complex than it seems. Arguing over chores activates all sorts of subtle and nuanced dynamics, plaguing even the sturdiest of couples.
You know it goes. The dishes have been building up since yesterday, and your partner still hasn’t made a move to do them. You glare at the sink, silently cursing the fact that you’re the only one who seems to notice. The living room needs to be vacuumed after a weekend of movies and popcorn. But you did it last time, so you refuse to do it this time. There’s one clean towel left, and you kindly ask your partner to throw a load in the laundry for the third time, before finally yelling, “Nevermind, I’ll just do it myself!”
Arguing about chores can dramatically impact the quality of a relationship. And for that reason, I encourage couples to tackle the issue early in their relationship, getting specific about who does what and when. While there are various ways to manage the issue of chores in a relationship, here’s the one I recommend most to couples. (It’s also the one my husband and I use at home!)
- Start by creating a list of all the household chores that need to be done. Get specific and detailed with your list. Wipe down kitchen counters, take out the recycling, vacuum the living room, wash the bathroom towels, clean the bathroom mirrors and counters, dust in the kitchen. Break each room and chore down into the smallest component possible, listing them out on a single sheet of paper. This should be a collaborative activity between you and your partner, both contributing chores to the list. At this point, don’t delegate or assign any tasks. Just write out and agree on what household chores need to be done in the first place.
- Now, going back and forth, have each partner select a chore they’d like to claim, choosing one chore at a time. For example, when Matt and I did this years ago, tired of arguing about chores, we had a list of about 30 chores in total. At this point in the process, he was kind enough to let me choose the first chore. I chose “clean kitchen counters” as my first chore. Then it was his turn. He chose “take out the trash.” It was now my turn again; I chose “vacuum the living room.” Then he chose “wipe down the bathroom counters.” We went back and forth like this, moving through the list of 30 chores, eventually getting to some of the least desirable chores, including “clean the toilets” and “wash the dishes.” With each turn, we wrote our name down next to the chore we’d just claimed, making it clear whose responsibility it was.
- Review the list and negotiate if needed. Look back over what you’ve just done and see if it feels balanced. Are there any chores that need flushing out to renegotiating? Now that you see the whole picture, does it make sense to do anything differently? Collaborate in this review process, before signing off at the list. Put the list somewhere visible where both of you can see it.
- Allow for exceptions. As you make the list, think about your relationship and your schedules. Are there any special circumstances or situations you want to accommodate for? Does one of you travel for work? If so, how does that change the list? Does one of you have a busy season that might require an adjustment to the schedule? Are there other exceptions you want to make room for? For example, while dishes are my chosen duty, Matt and I made an exception. If I cook a nice meal, he’s on dish duty. Same goes that if he cooks a nice meal, I’m scrubbing the pots after. Document these exceptions and adjustments, just like the rest of the list, to avoid further arguing about chores.
- Renegotiate and trade if needed, but try not to do this often or on the fly. In your first month, stick to the agreed upon plan, as is. When you adopt new practices and habits, it’s important to be consistent for the first month, as we get acclimated. Give yourself time to settle into a routine. See how it works and feels. Then, have a little dinner meeting with your partner to see how it’s going. Do the two of you want change anything? Do you want to switch any chores? Remember, any changes you make get written down. If you want to stop arguing about chores, getting detailed and descriptive is important.
It may not seem romantic to get this detailed, but arguing about chores is a real issue in relationships. And it’s impact just increases over time.
Don’t think that chores will naturally divide themselves and work out evenly among you and your partner. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. So use this method to break down household tasks. Collaborate with your partner. And stop arguing about chores!