Ask Wendy

How Do I Get My Husband to Do Housework?

Reprinted from November 4, 2016
My partner refuses to do any housework until I ask him 10 times and then he makes a big deal out of it. When he does clean it's all or nothing and it happens every 3 months or less and then he acts like the hero. I feel he doesn't respect me or have pride in the house we bought. I resent the hell out of him.

I’m super sorry you’ve been tortured by all the lack of cooperation in your relationship.

An “all or nothing” person will only clean the house every three months or so because of the overwhelming ordeal that all is.

The most effective way for me to help you here is to give you a new model to try, but I’ll warn you now, it could piss you off. This offering isn’t going to make excuses for how your partner behaves—rather, since he is already the way he is and you married him that way, let’s see if we can find a workaround so you get your house cleaned and you can get back to respecting instead of resenting him.

Part 1: The all-or-nothing perspective is driven by a focus that fully commits to a project. So “clean the bathroom” as a task just might include a toothbrush, tile grout, and four hours.

Instead of “Will you clean the bathroom?” try being more specific: “Will you please use the Scrubbing Bubbles and green scrubby thingie under the sink to wash out the tub until it’s clean? Don’t worry about the tiles.”

This could shift his all from a four-hour project to “all of what she said,” which should take about five minutes. Small difference, big win.

Part 2: Tell him what it would provide if he did this for you.

Wait, what? Why? He doesn’t acknowledge or thank you when you do every damned thing around the house! Why should you have to tell him what cleaning provides for you? It should be done because it’s obvious, right?

Because it works, that’s why. Saying what it would provide for you just might be the thing to light a fire under him. See, you and I do chores because we have a need for cleanliness, order, and we know that if we don’t do it, the undone task will scold us. That bathtub will tell us how gross we are if we climb into it again with the black ring of tiny shaven leg hairs left from the last bath. Inanimate objects talk to us, and what they say isn’t nice.

If he’s not acting on cleaning for months, you can bet the tub isn’t telling him he’s a slob. We clean the tub to make it shut up! We clean the tub because we feel the pressure of mess and clutter and dirt. He doesn’t feel that same pressure. Without pressure, the only way to get someone to act is through inspiration. And I’m guessing what’ll inspire him is to make you feel good.

Look, he already wants that type of credit—you said it yourself. What’s the worst that could happen if you gave him the credit? (Told you it might piss you off.) Sure, you might have to do a good job of faking it a moment so he doesn’t detect your resentment. But if you’re willing to give him the credit, and he does what you ask more and more as a result, you just might change from being willing to being happy to provide it. It’s a process.

So think it through…what would it provide you if he cleaned the tub? What would your life be like if you had a partner in the house to lighten your load vs. feeling like the maid with the weight of the household on your back?

Part 3: Check in with him to see if he needs anything. This is partnership in action. Without part 3 it’s just a demand.

Here it is all together:

“Love, will you please use the Scrubbing Bubbles and green scrubby thingie under the sink to wash out the tub until it’s clean today? You don’t need to worry about the tiles. If you helped me, I could make time to [grab a yoga class, do the dishes, finish reading through those emails before dinner, etc.] and I know I would be in such better shape if I could make that happen. Is there anything you need to say yes to this?”

Who could say no to that?

Part 4: After he provides what you’ve asked him to do, appreciate him for it. I know, I know, it’s not fair. He doesn’t appreciate you for what you do nearly enough. But you might notice that the more you appreciate his efforts, the more he makes an effort for you.

Bonus note: Ask him at a time when he can hear you, like after the first several sips of coffee. Not right out of bed, and not when he’s in the middle of something else. How do you feel when someone bombards you with tasks before your caffeine has kicked in? Yeah, you get me.

Good luck!

Anyone interested in advanced lessons on getting what you need from men can come to my live workshop called Understand Men. We’ll spend a day together learning how to get what you most need from them.

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