Demanding Careers and Equality in Marriage

Today’s post is an anonymous post on a subject that is so profoundly important to the health and success of our marriages (and something to which, even several generations into feminism, we don’t really have an answer to). It’s about figuring out how to balance home-work and work-work. It’s about figuring out how to find balance and partnership. It’s about figuring out how to make the work of running a household not just women’s work. Today’s post holds no easy answers, but hopefully it will prompt all of us to ask questions of ourselves and each other, and discuss.

Julie Randall Photography

I have a loving spouse, great health and money in the bank. I recently finished my PhD and am lucky to have a job doing what I love. As a couple, my partner and I look very successful on paper: ambitious yet balanced. At work I am a role model for younger women (or so they tell me) who want to “have it all.” I spend a growing proportion of my time mentoring, encouraging, and dispensing advice to these young women (and sometimes men!). We have a wonderful group of friends with whom we socialize regularly. We share our enthusiasm for books, music, and movies with each other. We often travel together for work and for vacations. We have sex regularly (although not as much as we both would like!). He considers himself to be a feminist and is supportive and encouraging of my career. He is the partner I always dreamed of, and more.

And yet, and yet. Despite appearances, the truth is I am scared for our future and almost every day I wonder if our marriage will survive. Our jobs demand so much of our time and energy that there is little leftover to nourish ourselves and each other. We want children in our future, but we also want to provide those children with a home where the parents are engaged and happy, not preoccupied or simmering with resentment. But even without children, we struggle to achieve this. Already (less than two years into marriage), one might say that I am The Bitch in the House because of my frustration and resentment of the inequalities in our relationship.

Because even though we each pay lip service to equal partnership, and in spite of our similar incomes, educations, and careers, there are inequalities. I do more of the housework, grocery shopping, and cooking. I also commute much farther for my job. The responsibility for vacation planning, gift buying, and keeping up our social life falls on my shoulders. Of course there are reasons and excuses for each of these. We have different expectations of cleanliness (APW has helped with this one!), I have a more flexible schedule (often I can work from home), I am naturally more organized and money conscious. Me running our household is one way I can help him in his battles with anxiety, which insidiously works its way into our lives. We tell ourselves this won’t last forever, that we are working for our shared future, that we will reap the efforts we sow now in that glorious future.

Now I’m afraid that we have sown something else, despite our best intentions, and reaping it is decidedly not what I dreamed of. Too often we are like Trojan planets that share the same orbit but never collide. In my darkest moments I feel like I have a grown child that I am taking care of. I think of my mother, who never really had her own career, but who raised me to be strong and independent so that I could. I fantasize about living alone again, maybe moving to Sweden (not unheard of in my field).

Other days I realize that my existence would be hollow without my partner at my side, and I feel overwhelming gratitude for the solid foundation of our marriage. Even though it can be painful, we talk about my feelings candidly, and I listen to his side of the story. We are trying to shake off our ingrained expectations and assumptions, which are so often shaping our narrative. We are trying to prevent work stress from spilling over into our home life (one of our toughest challenges). We recently adopted two cats, whose antics remind us to be playful. We remind ourselves that this life is an adventure, that we are fortunate. And I have hope.

Photo by: Julie Randall Photography

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  • And yet.. Indeed.

    I’m struggling with things that, while not identical, are the same as the things you bring up. It’s hard to find out what equality really is and what shape it takes in each specific situation.

    What is fair? Do I see clearly how we divide things? How do I balance my fierce need to feel independent and do(, contribute, pay , give) more than my share with my desire of fairness (and handle the feelings of resentment that result from a conflict of these needs).

    I think that the biggest life (well, marriage) saver is that nothing is ever taboo in our house. It’s always okay to say how you think or feel or think you might feel. The first agreement we made when we started dating is that everything is always renegotiable.

    We’re only newlyweds, but it has helped us work through everything we’ve encountered so far, even if it needs to be addressed time and time again.

    • “everything is always renegotiable.” I love that!*

    • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

      This is exactly right. My fiance and I aren’t living together, but household issues have already reared their head (gahhhh!). To be frank, I really am concerned that I will feel like I’m living with a teenager, simply because he has never really gained the habit of tidying up after himself (He is actively learning, but messyness-how is that even spelled!- is a hard habit to break!).

      At this point, our strategy is to work with the concept of being comfortable. For example, having a messy place is really hard for me to mentally cope with. I don’t need to sanitize it multiple times a week, but I need things put away and dustbunnies swept up. He feels uncomfortable in a space that is immaculate, since he feels like he’s just going to mess it up. Finding that happy medium in a house together, when he has a farm as a ‘side-job’ (ahhh mess!!) is a prospect that gives me concern.
      Being able to adjust, and readjust, as necessary is crucial. This is a concept that applies to every aspect of marriage. I love this post, and every single comment. Every person who is grappling with the concepts of independence and balance within a relationship has something to add to the conversation, and each of them makes me realize that this is an entirely natural process to go through. So, you lovely folks had better not feel guilty about your struggle, because I’ve decided that I no longer will!

      • carrie

        I read a fantastic post on Offbeat Home about taming the clutter. Essentially everything in your home needs a home. The silverware goes into the silverware drawer, the DVDs go on the blu ray tower. But what about this random game that doesn’t fit anywhere? or this fun gravy boat that I got without assigning a home to? We are trying to work together to find homes for things to help with clutter. Because I’m with you – my mind doesn’t react well to clutter (someone PLEASE TELL MY DESK THIS). And he’s more tolerant of it, then I get overwhelmed and give up, and he’s soothing me when I’m actually annoyed at him…GAH. So we made a pact to work on things bit by bit. The whole having a home thing made it more conquerable to us too, so perhaps it will for others? Plus, you can yell like Happy Gilmore at something out of place, “Are you too good for your home?!” ;-)

        • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

          Bahahahaha “Are you too good for your home?!” I’m totally going to use that.

        • Josephine

          See, I know things need a place. But I am place challenged. I cannot figure out where everything should go!

          Fortunately my fiancée can figure that out and I can clean, which she sucks at.

      • Amy March

        To speak for clutterlovers everywhere- failure to pick up after myself doesn’t make me like a teenager any more than constant tidying makes one like a librarian. I’m a cluttered person, and living with me requires accepting that it isn’t a character flaw or ssomething that needs fixing- just another area to work a compromise in.

        • Granola

          Maybe it’s the type of clutter? I can be relatively messy – I’ll leave out books or papers or the avocado I’m trying to sprout into a tree. To me, those are things that have a right to be in the public space, if you will.

          What drives me nuts are socks on the floor, or shoes that aren’t put away, (or my nail polish on the coffee table for him). He says he likes things put away, and gets frustrated by my clutter. But then I can say the same thing to him when he misses tossing his socks into the laundry basket or cleans his breakfast dishes but leaves the can opener he used on the counter. That kind of stuff might be what the commenter meant when she referred to “living with a teenager.”

          You’re totally right that certain people are more cluttered and that needs to be accepted in a relationship and compromised. But not all clutter is created equal either.

          • AMBI

            Granola, I think the point is that socks on the floor drive some people nuts and just don’t bother others.

            As for the “teenage” comparison, I think it probably has to do with the fact that mess and clutter are stereotypes of adolescence. I just hope we can steer clear of making any sort of judgment on people based on cleanliness. People exist on a huge spectrum of cleanliness preferences and styles, and one isn’t inherently better than the other (although we have all been socialized to believe that cleanliness is next to godliness and a clean house shows pure morals and a strong work ethic, the fact that a person is or isn’t bothered by socks on the floor or dishes in the sink really doesn’t say anything about that person’s character).

          • Granola

            Socks on the floor don’t make one a bad person. (Though when I think of it and I get and aneurism I have to reaffirm my commitment to that statement.)

            Is there some judgment that is allowable when we talk about adulthood. I know that I was a slovenly teenager because I didn’t perceive myself as responsible for a household. Now that I live on my own, with my fiance, I truly feel and therefore act differently. That type of ownership and responsibility is important. I know that when my partner doesn’t take care of his things and our things it makes me feel as if he’s irresponsible, and he views me as a caretaker/mother (automatically slotting him into the teenager role.)

            Maybe it’s just hard for me to let go of the notion that my preferences are “right” – and see that they’re just preferences. But I do think there is a kernel of something in the idea that it’s important to take care of and maintain a space. That’s what adults do – they have to be more responsible. And it’s also vexing because I’ve seen him take care of other things that are important to him (like an xbox or his guitar) so it’s not that he’s incapable. He can just selectively choose not to care about certain things and that attitude is often hurtful to the partner that for whatever reason can’t let it go.

          • Jacqui

            For me the ‘living with a teenager’ feeling comes from the point that eventually someone is going to have to pick up and wash those socks or wipe down the bench (unless we are going to live in an increasingly dirty/cluttered house) and that if there are 2 people in the house then it is going to be either him or me. If he doesn’t do it that sends me a message that he expects me to do it or at least doesn’t care if he is creating work for me – taking me for granted really. Like a teenager.

        • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

          It’s not a matter of him actually being like a teenager, because he’s really NOT-that’s just how I label that resentful feeling I get when constantly picking up stuff that isn’t in the place it belongs. Perhaps I will choose my words on this subject more carefully in the future. I mentally NEED things to at least appear tidy. I don’t really believe that having things tidy is ‘the right’ preference, it’s just far better for my mental state. Living in a seriously untidy place actually makes me cry… This is something I work very hard to mitigate to a more reasonable level. Since he can live with it either way, being a more tolerant person than me, things are going to end up a little closer to my end of the spectrum. But naturally, I will end up picking up things more often, because it matters more to me. Usually I’m ok with that, once I remind myself that equality in a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean dividing every chore equally.

          • Granola

            I think it’s really thoughtful of you to see it that way. I’m farther toward your end and my partner is much more laid back. The “teenager” thought is one I have when I’m feeling annoyed – I know it’s not fair, but I’m just mad.

            It’s really hard not to feel resentful about the imbalances. I think I usually end up feeling like I get the sh*t end of the stick more often, but that’s probably because I’m not counting the things that he does more of, of which I’m not even aware.

        • carrie

          I definitely don’t think it’s a character flaw! It’s like you said, it’s something to compromise on.

          • efletch

            It’s not a character flaw for sure. I am the messy one in my relationship but I am also the cleaner one. Meaning I will leave stuff out but I am also most likely to wash dishes or scrub the toilette. When my lovely partner goes all clutter cleaning bananas I know that it’s because this is important to him, not because he is judging or resenting me. And we talk about it so we both know what our own expectations are. So I don’t expect him to wash dishes and he doesn’t expect me to fold laundry. That’s not to say that we don’t make an effort to accommodate the other person, but I won’t call him a teenager because we have different priorities.

          • AMBI

            Just a random thought – sometimes differences regarding cleanliness/tolerance of mess stem from cultural or socioeconomic differences. For example, and this is just my own personal experience, my family has always had a much higher tolerance level for clutter and mess. We didn’t have nice things to begin with, and when you live in a place where the other trailers in the trailer park all look messy and ragged and have broken down cars in the yard and plastic lawn furniture strewn about and huge messes inside, having your socks picked up and your bed made just doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. My mom would try to clean, but it was like throwing buckets of water into the ocean. And everyone worked – a lot – we’re talking two and three jobs each. So cleaning just fell to the back burner. My boyfriend grew up in a nice house. They took a lot of pride in how it looked and in taking care of their things. He grew up cleaning, and has always had a very low messiness tolerance (combined with a willingness to get in there and work hard and clean). I just find it really interesting that an outside observer looking into our relationship might label me the “lazy” one and him the hard working one, because he puts more emphasis on cleaning than I do (although I have come a long way, and I do clean quite a bit and I tidy up daily). It really has nothing to do with who is a harder worker or lazy, it is just that we have very different ideas about cleanliness that have been ingrained in us from a young age. I think it is important to remember that if you wouldn’t judge someone based on their roots, you probably shouldn’t judge them about other stuff (like cleaning) since it is all really connected.

            But then again, I am making generalizations. Some of the poorest people I know keep their tiny rundown homes spotless because it was a source of pride and diginity (even if they had nothing, they were going to be good upstanding clean-living people), while one of my very wealthiest girlfriends is incapable of cleaning up after herself because she has never had to do it a day in her life. But still, those examples also demostrate that attitudes about cleanliness run deep.

  • PA

    To write of this so candidly takes courage – writing those darkest moments out onto paper is painful. I can hear the hope laced through all of the words, and that is also courageous; I can see why young women you know look up to you, even if this (your relationship) isn’t a part of you that they see.

    I’ve heard a few of my parents’ friends describe similar situatuons, setting up a pattern without realizing it and being trapped later. Undoing those patterns is painful and tricky, but it can absolutely be done – and it usually happens in any longstanding relationship.

    For my own two cents, I would suggest counseling – either together or on your own. A neutral third party can really help draw issues out and can see patterns that may not be apparent to the members of a relationship. I know it can be a taboo to suggest it, but, like with premarital counseling, my personal belief is that most marriages benefit from this sort of neutral view every once in a while.

    I wish you so much luck, love, and continued courage!

    • LBD

      Indeed. I’m also all about the counseling often and before problems get out of hand and before you start to lose touch with each other because of built up stuff. My husband comes with me to my therapist every now and again, because I have a lot of trouble speaking up before things get bad. It’s helping me get better at it at home too. I’m totally one of those people who build up resentment and explode in a not-so-nice-at-phrasing kind of way. So I guess I DO speak up, but I’m terrible at doing it in a way that doesn’t lead to my husband shutting down. BUT! I am learning!

      I know other people would probably prefer an independent therapist, but this works well for us, as my therapist is really good at being neutral yet caring. Also as someone who has huge issues with trust and talking about emotions, I like that we’re working with someone who knows all my stuff already.

  • Kimberly

    The sad truth is that there is no perfect solution. What you are already doing–talking through your feelings and expressing your discontent–is a step in the right direction. Couples therapy can help, too. Heck, make a chore chart. It sounds silly, but it sure is effective. Even the most feminist men I have ever met have trouble 100% embodying the perfect man (should they even? I doubt it). They have moms that either stayed at home and ran the household or worked and ran the household.

    It’s a double-standard that we have to work through so that our children will be raised to see men and women sharing all the responsibilities. My grandparents, who are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary on my wedding day this June, had to work through it. My Grandmom stayed home with 4 boys through the 50s and 60s. When it was discovered that she had a rare heart condition, my Pappy began taking over her household responsibilities. When she went to college for the first time in her 40s, he supported her throughout her academic career by cooking and cleaning. Even now, at 82, he takes care of the house and cooks for her every weeknight when she comes home from her job as an Associate Dean (she’s 76!). And every night, she washes the dishes and he puts them away. It took them SIXTY YEARS (give or take a decade) to find work-home balance! And they are still working through it. But they are trying and they love each other. That’s all that really matters.

    My grandparents’ relationship is my model for a happy marriage. And, lest we all forget, a happy marriage doesn’t mean you are happy all of the time. You can have regrets, you can have doubts, you can have bad days. If the thought of your husband or partner makes you happy, I’d say you have one happy marriage.

    (PS As a mom of two going on three, trust me when I say the kid stuff works itself out. You’d be surprised how things change when you have a baby–for you and your husband. While it’s good to have a general plan about the future, please don’t kill yourself trying to have a perfect plan. Cross that bridge when you get to it and live for today!)

    • Sarah

      I think it’s interesting that you say the kid stuff works itself out. Most of my friends who I’ve observed with these types of spouses end up even more overwhelmed once the baby comes. I mean, the guy might step it up a little, but not enough to counteract the increased responsibility, household work, chores, lack of sleep, etc…

      • AMBI

        Kimberly, I am so glad that having babies helped some of these issues work themselves out in your marraige, but I do want to echo Sarah’s comment that that is not always the case. I have a very close friend who really may be the real-life Superwoman. She is easily the smartest, funniest, kindest, most productive and efficient and organized and on-task person I know. She has LONG dealt with these issues with her very laid-back, messy, and not ambitious husband. I’ve written before about how she has had to just make peace with the fact that he is not ambitious, and that she is both the breadwinner and domestic goddess (workhorse?) in their relationship. She loves him for the fact that he gets her to slow down, live in the moment, and really enjoy life. But it really does take a toll on her that she is responsible for everything. She is extremely successful in a very demanding profession, but is also 100% responsible for cooking, cleaning, home repairs, yard work, pet care, social activities, gift giving, managing their finances, doing their taxes, etc. etc. etc. (Does she like it? No. But after years of fighting with him to get him to do these things, she finally just decided that if she wanted them done, she had to do them herself. And, while it may not be relevant, she is also a deeply religious Catholic and has simply accepted that this is what her husband, and her marraige are like, and she will make the best life she can with them – leaving is definitely not an option).

        So a few years ago, she decided she was ready to have a baby. She hoped stuff would work itself out and that her partner would be a more active and engaged and responsible parent than he is a husband, but that hasn’t been the reality. She is essentially a single parent, with another adult living in the house. She does ALL of the childcare, to the point that if she wants to go to book club she basically has to bring her son or get a sitter because leaving the child with his father really isn’t an option (her husband will call within an hour, in complete melt-down mode, and beg her to come home). I find it extremely frustrating to be around them, because I get mad at her husband for not helping her more. But you know what? She is actually pretty happy -in fact, she is actively trying to have a second baby. She knows that the work and responsibility will fall entirely on her for this child, too. But basically, she has always wanted to have a career, and a big family, and a beautiful clean home, and an active social life, and she has discovered that she is capable of creating and building that life almost on her own. I know that she would stop me here and say that she isn’t on her own – she has a husband that loves her and offers moral support and listens to her cry about work and sometimes makes her stop folding laundry in order to slow dance in the living room, and well, she has figured out how to have the things she wants and cares about, even if he doesn’t contribute equally in the “work” that goes into making it all possible.

        So, this isn’t really a sad story, I guess (although it still makes me really sad/angry/frustrated to be around them together when she is trying to calm a crying baby and put out food for guests and shoo the muddy dog out of the house and check work emails all at one time and he is sitting on the couch with a beer watching the game . . .), I just mean to say that sometimes things don’t change. My friend is okay with having babies in this type of arrangement. I probably wouldn’t be. You can’t expect that it will definitely get better – ask yourself, if it stays the same, will I be happy?

        • Kimberly

          My experience is my experience. I admitted in my reply below that I can’t speak for other couples. My point is that the author of the post has a foundation of love and communication in her relationship that will help them in the future when they decide to have babies, something that many couples do not have and which contributes to divorce and dissatisfaction.

          • AMBI

            Absolutely, and I am in no way trying to your experience may not hold true for other people, too. I just worry that we often believe what we want to believe, so when you hear someone say it gets better or it works itself out, and we are so hoping that it will just work itself out, we choose to believe that this is going to happen in our own relationships too. And it might! I guess I told that whole long story just to say that it might not change, and readers in this position need to ask themselves how they will feel if they have a baby and their husband doesn’t change. Will you be okay with it, or would that be a deal breaker and cause huge relationship strife? Just something to think about before having a baby.

            In my friend’s case, she has made peace with it and wants to have more children, despite her husband’s lack of interest in helping out. I personally would not be. Just goes to show, we all make our own unique decisions based on what is right for us.

        • Ambi, what an interesting story! There is such diversity in what works for different people.

    • Kimberly, can you explain more about “the kid stuff works itself out”? So curious!

    • Kimberly

      In my experience (I have a son from a previous relationship and a daughter with my fiance), my guys always needed a bit of a push to help me out. I mean, think about it–they had stay at home moms and didn’t do their own laundry until college. At first, I was just angrily accepting of it. Then I started speaking up and my guys started helping out, albeit on the small scale. After I had my son, it was like I was dating another person–he did laundry! and cleaned! and held the baby so I could nap! Same thing with my daughter and fiance. (I swear that both men would have breastfed if they could! Both mentioned it at one time or another.) They started seeing the things that were a mess better, and I, in my utter sleep-deprived empowerment, started demanding help. (Demanding being the key word there.)

      Now, I’ve been lucky. Both guys like to cook. My fiance is a bit of a clean freak and will organize the pantry if it gets too wild. But on a day-to-day basis, it was assumed that I would do the housework. I had to reverse those assumptions, which is frustrating. However, how many household cleaner commercials do you see aimed at men? Maybe one per three years! It’s a social disease! Just like I take for granted that I have running water, guys can take for granted that society projects the idea that women run the house. Plus, we have this stigma of being able to “do it all”–clean and work and raise babies. (Kelly Ripa and the Electrolux commercials, anyone?) Until we change the face of our society, we have to fight very personal battles about who will clean the bathroom and who cooks.

      As I said above, a chore chart helps (even if you skip the sticker stars–but who would want to?) in that it gets you to write down all the chores. Once you see it written out like that, it is pretty overwhelming. It gives a visual that a perfectly clean house just can’t do (or a messy one, for that matter–my fiance will walk past a pile of dirty clothes without a thought). I also mentioned counseling. Mediated discussions are really helpful.

      My first relationship didn’t work out because I chose to ignore that we weren’t compatible and that no matter how much I loved him, he was never going to be the right guy for me. However, I love my fiance and know he loves me. Sometimes I think of what could have been, but overall, I’d rather be with him than without. I think that the author of this post can share that sentiment about her husband. When you have the foundation of love and communication, the kid stuff works out because you want to make it work. Other couples may not have that foundation. I just don’t know–I can only speak for myself.

      • Do you have a chore chart that you’ve found helpful or easy to customize?

        All the ones I’m finding online say “Wash all the linens on Monday!” “Polish the furniture and floors on Tuesday!” What I really need is “You do the dishes on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and I clean the litter those days. Tuesday, Thursday, Weekends: reverse.” The house is generally fine, but it’s the little daily chores, not the big, weekly/monthly/erm-yearly ones that start to add up for us.

        • Kimberly

          I made one up! I first wrote down all the chores that need to be done by three categories: daily, weekly, and monthly. I consulted my fiance at that point and together we weeded out which ones would be our constant chores–who washes dishes and who dries them, etc. Once we had a group we could divide, we made a big chart (with our own color star stickers!) and wrote the leftover chores down by category. If we saw that a chore had been left on Wednesday or that one of us had done 5 chores and there were two left, the other would fill in. It sounds childish, but it worked. Now we don’t need it. We have the chores pretty much down. We split the cooking–the only thing we ever argue over–and do a lot of the chores together. We found that things like folding laundry and cleaning the bathroom get done in half the speed if we work together, so that’s what we do. Usually we try to make it a game or put on music or talk about things while we do it, so it feels less like cleaning (ugh) and more like hanging out (yay). Oh, and we get the kids involved, too. They are two and four, but they clean their rooms and help wipe down the tables.

          • I so need to do this!

          • Thanks for the hints! I’ll try this!

      • Kat

        ugh, the Kelly Ripa Electrolux commercials… right… cuz she’s just like us except with a lot more money and household help. Those ads drive me right up the wall!

        • Kimberly

          Me too! I also hate the Swiffer commercials with the “dirt”–played by women–waiting for “the One”–a cleaning product. Makes me want to throw up!

          • Liz

            Don’t even get me STARTED on those commercials, I could rant for HOURS.

      • Thanks Kimberly, this is interesting!

        • Rowany

          I’m so glad you expanded on “the kid stuff just works out” because, really, YOU started demanding help and HE/they started seeing what you needed, rather than everything magically falling into place. I do think that in many couples do let themselves fall into the rut of social norms even with children, and a lot that may be that women ‘expect’ change without asking for it, and when it doesn’t come just takes up the extra responsibilities while letting resentment grow. As you said, there are a lot of social stereotypes in our culture, perpetuated not just in TV but also in our household. Sure it might ‘make sense’, even be practical if the women do the cleaning because they have more free time and likes things neat, and the men fix the cars, but as was mentioned in “Women Don’t Ask”, one day your child might say “girls can’t fix cars, boys don’t cook, girls don’t pay for things” etc etc. Even though we’re not even close to having kids yet I keep this in mind so that we have an equitable pattern in place to set an example in the future.

      • Marina

        The kid stuff “worked itself out” for me too, more or less. Our basic plan going in (heavily discussed and consciously agreed upon) was that we would be equal parents, both with the fun stuff and the disgusting stuff. During the first couple weeks of having a baby, I was focusing on breastfeeding literally 12 hours a day. I had to realize that meant I could not do ANYTHING else (diapering, burping, cleaning, feeding myself) and still feel like we had equal responsibilities. And then I had to communicate that to my husband. And once I did those two things, he stepped up what he was doing and we got some outside help (seriously, those first couple weeks are insanely difficult) and it… well, worked itself out. So it didn’t “work itself out” by magic or by either of us changing who we were, but it did work itself out in the sense that we were able to stick to our basic philosophy by being willing to change what we thought that would look like.

        • I find it interesting the number of answers that boil down to “I got to the point where I HAD to demand help, and he stepped up”- I often find my husband more willing to work on things than I expect, I just have to make myself say what I need. I can’t count how many times I’ve dreaded a conversation, thinking “He’ll be so annoyed/wonder why the heck I can’t take care of this/etc” and he just goes “Sure, why didn’t you tell me before you needed help?”

          I wonder how often we’re shooting ourselves in the foot with that voice in the back of our minds saying “He won’t do this” (sister to the voice that says “This is YOUR job”) for whatever reason, when really we’ve chosen wisely- our partners love us and will do their share. We just need to say “Hey you, I can’t do this all”.

          • KTH

            This is SUCH a valid point, and I have the same experience with my husband. When I start to think it’s unfair that he’s not helping, I have to remind myself that it’s unfair of me to assume he can read my mind. Being able to communicate about needs is so important, and can often lead to amazing and surprising conversations. I just have to remember that, while this is the 30th time I’m THINKING it, this is the first time I’m SAYING it to him, so it’s also unfair, and not helpful, to be angry right off the bat.

          • anon

            I remember a comment Meg (or someone?) made, I think from the cleaning/house chore post which was you can’t expect your spouse to know what you want them to do. You have to ask and there is no shame in asking.

            I now ask him to complete things all the time, because surprise, surprise, he hasn’t figured out mind reading. Sometimes it feels like nagging, but the alternative of me bitching about him in my head for not knowinggg that the trash is full is enough to just simply ask!

            Also, chore charts didn’t work for us, but we’ve made every other Tuesday our cleaning day. It took a month or two to get in the grove (like the second week we forgot and went out for dinner, oops) but last night I came home to a man vacuuming. He realized cleaning and being organized is directly correlated to my happiness…and thus his happiness.

          • I have learned that it’s not just that G can’t read my mind, he actually sees different things than I do. For example, we are remodeling and so on his day off (he has Friday/Saturday off while I have Sat/Sun) he thinks about cleaning and organizing the basement or hauling a load to the dump, but he never sees the full trash in the kitchen or the dirty dishes in the sink (or by his side of the couch). He has said to me, “just ask me to do it!” I have told him that I don’t want to feel like a nag so, this morning he asked me, “Is there anything you’d like for me to accomplish tomorrow?” Sometimes I come home and he’s in the middle of doing the one thing I asked him to do, but hey at least he’s doing it. I do think I need to set up a chore chart because he’s never going to voluntarily clean the bathroom. Frankly, I don’t really voluntarily clean the bathroom (I’d say it’s more begrudgingly!)
            The trouble often comes up when I don’t feel like doing everything, so I let things slide and then get mad because we’re sitting around in a cluttered house feeling worse and worse about the situation and he thinks everything is fine. And then I take it out on him. If I could just communicate with him without getting mad, I know everything would be fine.

          • Josephine

            This, along with so many other things, is why apw is so great. The staff and the stories but so much is learnt from the comments. It makes me question assumptions that I might not have on my own and I really think my marriage will be better because of it. And more than that, I think I’ll be a better me because of it.

            Thank you ladies!

        • Kimberly

          “So it didn’t “work itself out” by magic or by either of us changing who we were, but it did work itself out in the sense that we were able to stick to our basic philosophy by being willing to change what we thought that would look like.”

          EXACTLY! That is what I was trying to express. :)

      • sarahdipity

        Thanks for expanding on your “the kids stuff works itself out comment.” I think if it’s important to have very clear communication channels and a supportive partner for anyone (male or female) who wants a specific type of work life balance. For many women it’s not working itself out and causing interesting ramifications for entire fields. This article discusses how essentially the “kids stuff” not being worked out may be the reason there is not more gender equity in the sciences.

        I think it’s sad when anyone who is passionate about what they do ends up in a situation where they have feel they have to make such an all or nothing situation. It seems really important that we figure out how to work out more balance at home.

        Side note: I thought the 2nd figure on the third page was fascinating. Essentially the number of hours worked by a man goes up as the number of dependent children increases while the number of hours worked by a woman goes down. (Naturally we have to be careful and study these things carefully but I found this to be quite surprising)

  • Umpteenth Sarah

    I have so much empathy for you on this one — you are so not alone. Academia is a tireless master, and just because it’s “flexible” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t bring its own unique and challenging constraints — you’re always working, to some extent, and the pressures are intense.

    Like you, I am the person in our relationship to whom most of the social planning, gifts, and so on falls — and no one really understands that organizing and “having fun” can actually be WORK! Those vacations don’t plan themselves, and were it not for one partner or another making the effort, we could just end up staying home on the weekends doing nothing and staring at the walls.

    So yeah. I hear you. Good luck

    • SAM

      Second this. Actually, the biggest fight my husband and I ever had was about vacation planning. I’ve planned our vacations and social events for YEARS. This year I’m finishing my Master’s degree and working full time. In January we took a quick jaunt down to Florida to escape the cold weather and relax. I looked up some restaurants and booked hotels, but didn’t put together an itinerary. I was tired, what can I say? Anyway, the man did not know how to function on vacation without plans. It wasn’t pretty.

    • KateM

      i am not disagreeing with you Umpteenth Sarah, but I know for myself, I get bogged down in the social planning/ clutter / cleaning is that I am social, my fiance is happy to stay at home, I care more about the look of the house, it doesn’t bother him. This is the area that we are struggling with more than anything is the levels that we are both comfortable with. I need to compromise on clutter a little, and he has to get rid of a little. I do the social planning because I am the one who cares about it. Certain compromises are necessary on both sides, but personalities are important to take in to consideration too. I think women are better at multi-tasking on the whole. I don’t know if it is nature or nurture, I just know that this is parameter that I am dealing with.

      • Umpteenth Sarah

        Yeah, and for us, we both equally care about most things (weird how that works out) but he’s just a little less motivated to organize and plan things, expecting them to miraculously fall into place like they would if you lived in a group house with a bunch of buddies. And, in a big city where it actually takes a certain amount of prep to get out, I just end up doing a lot of that sort of stuff.

        • suzanna

          Umpteenth Sarah, I feel you.

          We can happily compromise on household chores and cooking, but the social calendar/vacation planning? It KILLS me that I’m the only one doing it. It can be a lot of work, but mostly I’d just like for him to help me brainstorm and get excited about the IDEAS. I feel like a frickin’ cheerleader next to Eeyore over here.

          Similarly, he sucks at remembering to thank people. His niece sent him a really sweet card earlier this year, and it literally took him a month to call her and thank her. I feel like it reflected poorly on me (his family would text ME about it), and I hate that it turned me into a nag.

          • His family is way out of line. Am I wrong about that?

          • ElisabethJoanne

            Norms about gifts and thank-yous vary lots from family to family. Gifts aren’t important in my fiance’s family; cards are. It’s the reverse in my family. So, we have to remind each other of the appropriate outlook. He has bought thank-you cards for me to sign to his parents. I have bought gifts for him to give to my friends.

            But if HIS family is contacting you about HIS behavior, yeah, out of line.

          • THIS. This expectation to be the nagging wife drives me crazy. My husband’s family is lovely, but they very much accept/assume that the woman just handles these types of things. So if my husband hasn’t done something like call a relative they bug ME about it. I get most of the family invites to things etc.

            It’s clearly a stereotype borne out of some truth as all of these comments indicate, but it doesn’t mean we have to keep pushing it to make it all the more true!

          • Umpteenth Sarah

            You are a better person than I. If I got a text from my husband’s family asking me to send a thank you to our niece, nearby buildings would be leveled by the intensity of my rage.

          • I think I would have to fight off the urge to text right back, “why don’t you text HIM?” I’d be pissed.
            We always have the problem planning vacations because neither of us like to do it and he seems to have no imagination as to where to go. And then once I do come up with something he’ll say “maybe” as if its asking him to do something he’ll hate.

          • suzanna

            As Nina says, it says a lot about what is expected of women. Was his family out of line for bothering me? Sure. Was I going to blow up and ruin in-law relationships just because they’re used to women taking care of these things? Noooooo. My answer: ignore the texts and bother the real culprit, my sweetheart. Lob that ball back in the right court, so to speak.

          • Suzanna, I just wanted to say I really liked this line:
            “I feel like a frickin’ cheerleader next to Eeyore over here.”


          • Tiff

            Huh. This was a huge issue with my ex, too– I would get so frustrated that he always left all the trip planning/social stuff up to me. I wonder if this is really common. Is your husband kind of an introvert? My ex was, and after that relationship ended I dated some more extroverted guys who took more of an initiative in finding things to do.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      “I am the person in our relationship to whom most of the social planning, gifts, and so on falls — and no one really understands that organizing and “having fun” can actually be WORK!”

      Yup. Since I like the “boring” aspects of wedding planning, like budgeting and reading contracts, all that falls on me. It’s fun for me. To a point. I am slowly learning that when it gets past that point, I need to say, “I’ve had my fun comparing these catering proposals. I’m bored. It’s not fun anymore. I want to make a decision. What do you need to feel ready to make a decision?” On catering, he wanted to check references. Fine, but he had to make the calls. I had already put 3x the effort in to the prior stages.

      And similarly with chores.

  • Anonymous

    Much of this thoughtful post echoes my experience. But fast forward and add infant twins, one with special needs. It’s a whole lot. The key in our house has become my telling hubby what I think needs to be done if he isn’t already doing it. He just doesnt automatically see all the things that go into running a household or chooses not to be concerned with some details. This used to drive me insane. After several heavy talks I had to try what he suggested – that I just tell him what I thought needed doing. It’s been working. He wants to help more but doesn’t see all I see, or. See it and respond fast enough for **my** taste. Better to discuss than do it myself now and fume later.

    • This is similar to my experience. My idea of clean and my husband’s are different. When I look around and see a messy house, he just sees a house.*

    • Marina

      Would making a list help? Telling him what you think needs doing is still being in charge of the household and requires significant brain space, even if you’re not doing the physical chore. If it’s written down, would he be able to direct his own chores easier?

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I know there’s different cleanliness standards, but my fiance tells me he lives in a home (still with his parents) where he literally will eat off the floor. Yet in the home we almost share, he “just doesnt automatically see all the things” like anonymous says here. I don’t get it.

      I know part of it is he knows his mother’s standards, but doesn’t know mine; he can anticipate what messiness will upset his father, but not what will upset me.

      I made the list of all the chores, and how frequently they had to be done, because I got overwhelmed when he’d ask “what needs to be done around the apartment” and I’d think “everything – bathtub, sinks, floors, counters, stove, oven, all scrubbed; vacuuming, dishes, dusting, trash out…” but it hasn’t really helped.

  • Gillian

    Thank you for being so honest about what you are going through. I think these are important issues, and ones that I fear will crop up more and more as I make my own transition from PhD student to full career woman. Especially the bit about where to make time to nurture the relationship if you’re both working so hard? I feel mystified about where that balance would be.

  • rys

    This post really strikes a chord with me for three reasons. First, it’s a struggle I see many of my friends undergoing (I’m not sure that commonality is a salve, but hopefully it’s at least helpful to know it’s not a unique challenge) and thus spend a fair amount of time listening to friends try and figure it out, work out alternatives, and handle the bubbling inequity. It’s something I lament as an onlooker but also wish I had better advice to give to friends who ask for my semi-outsider’s perspective.

    Second, it’s an issue that makes me wonder, as a single 30-something, whether or not there is a relation to age and household maintenance. That is to say, as I hope to find a life partner, I wonder whether a guy who has lived on his own for longer and had to cook, clean, give gifts, plan vacations, etc, will be more or less keen on partnership in these realms. To what degree are these household inequities created by social or cultural norms, by personality traits, by biology, by childhood or adult experiences, etc? I will say that one of my best friends and former roommates seems like the male exception, as he probably takes on more than his “share” of household duties with his partner, and this sensibility was noticeable when we lived together (which was when he and his partner started dating). It makes me wonder if I can discern these traits in prospective partners or whether it’s something that depends on circumstance, rather than the individual.

    Third, I see my parents, nay my mother, struggling with this to this day. Perhaps she’s become more vocal or I just notice it more, but the patterns she and my dad created 40 or so years ago have definitely placed the bulk of household burdens on her, and she clearly resents it. While there are many things about my parents I admire, this is not something I want to emulate, and it makes me wonder how I can avoid replicating their patterns.

    So no answers, just a lot of thoughts….

    • Dawn

      Unfortunately I’m not sure that age helps. My partner and I got together in our 30s and while he’s perfectly capable of taking care of himself (he wouldn’t starve or anything and the bills get paid), we still have an imbalance (which we’re working on). This has been discussed in great detail on the posts about chores but we’ve still had to navigate a lot of the issues of him not recognizing when things need to be done and us having different standards of cleanliness (both actually pretty low so that helps) and levels of motivation in terms of planning things like dates and vacations. I think if anything he’s had more time to get set in his ways, and me set in mine, so navigating the shared responsibilities has been tricky. Luckily we’re both pretty mellow and slow to annoy but it was still incredibly frustrating for me to have to accept that I really do just need to tell him when he needs to do stuff around the house.

      So I think, in reality, sometimes being older just means you’ve spent more years not worrying about cooking (he often just wouldn’t eat dinner if he didn’t feel like cooking), cleaning (eh, it’s just his germs so who cares if the bathroom is a mess), buying gifts (he barely used to buy gifts for his family), and planning vacations (he gets next to no vacation leave anyway and used it all to visit family at Thanksgiving and Christmas — with no planning — he literally just show up — do not get me started on how upset I was when we were 6 hours into a road trip to Florida and I discovered his mother didn’t even know that he was coming, much less that he was bringing me).

      Granted the flipside is true too, that I’ve had all these years to develop how I do things as well and I’m sure that annoys him (I am a very anal vacation planner and have had to really let some of that go — I’m also a very anal meal planner which has also been relaxed a bit).

      So I think it’s less about age and more about personalities and also being willing to discuss things openly — I’m slowly getting better about telling him that I’m going to go stark raving mad if we don’t clean up the office. But it’s still tricky sometimes.

      • Kristy

        I think it’s all about the guy you pick. My ex-boyfriend, who I previously lived with, didn’t really help with any of the household chores. He was raised by a stay-at-home Mom who did all of the cleaning/cooking etc., and although he’d call himself a feminist, he just sort of let me do all of it, then said he’d help, but didn’t. He was in his late 20’s and old enough to know better.

        My finace does MORE household chores than I do- we both make dinners and breakfasts, we both do dishes and laundry. He does more though, to be honest. We share the chores. He was raised to help with everything, and had a full-time working Mom, which may explain some of the difference. He was expected to help out.

        I think it is their personalities and expectations, not their age. Find one who is USED TO HELPING and wants to help. Then marry him. :) Worked for me. :) Good luck!

        • Maggie

          “My finace does MORE household chores than I do- we both make dinners and breakfasts, we both do dishes and laundry. He does more though, to be honest. ”

          Same here. My husband is just tidier by nature than I am– he’s the one who can’t relax after dinner until all the pots and pans are washed; he does all his own laundry and folds/puts it all away immediately after it comes out of the dryer. Thankfully, we both have relatively similar levels of mess tolerance overall, so these minor differences don’t drive each other nuts… but he definitely does his fair share and then some.

          • For the longest time I thought that my fiance did WAY more around the house than I did. He does a lot of intermittent things – the weekly laundry (I hate going to laundromats. so much.), vacuuming the stairs, cleaning the kitty litter among other things. The things I can’t stand doing, really.

            It took him pointing out what I do around the house (I handle the kitchen, grocery shopping, and eventually the money) for me to realize that we have a fair balance for us.

            I still, strangely, feel like I’m not doing enough around the house though.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          I guess the best way to describe things is we only live together on weekends. Well, before we met, weekends were when I’d do chores. Then we got together and weekends were spent doing fun things with him. Chores just didn’t get done until one night I got overwhelmed by the clutter and dirt. I yelled and stormed out. I realized that if most of my time at home was spent with him, it was fair to ask him to help with chores, even if he didn’t technically live there. Also, the way our work and sleep schedules are, he had more time for these things.

          So we’re learning to share chores.

        • meg

          Yup! David probably does more than I do as well. So, it can happen!

      • Jenn

        YES to “accept that I really do just need to tell him when he needs to do stuff around the house.”
        I hate feeling like a nag, but I’ve realized that I just have to say “Please take the laundry out of the washer and put it in the dryer, but also remove my jeans and shirts so they don’t shrink and put them on the drying rack.” Maybe someday I can shorten that to “change the laundry” and the same point will get across and I’ll feel like slightly less of a shrew. Until that day, we’ve turned it into a joke – my laundry drying needs (and his white t-shirt washing needs) are “custom laundry” and we’re allowed to ask for help when it’s custom.

        • Yep, there is definitely a lot of this that goes on in our house too…and it works, and that’s great. But I also grow weary of being the one that has to be the stage manager for all the domestic chores and social engagements in our life. Certainly, asking/telling and having that result in a positive response is better than not, but also, I live with an entirely competent adult human being, who is quite capable of doing these things without direction from me. So I find it sort of irritating and exhausting that I have to stay on top of the constant reminders. I even set up a joint google calendar for the both of us to try and alleviate this…guess who uses it?

          To be clear, I am not undervaluing the fact that my partner currently does all the laundry and the dishes and because he’s not working right now he can run all the horrendous errands like getting the car to the shop to have the steering realigned. It’s a huge burden off of me that I would have to shoulder alone if I were single…but I still have to remind him several times about the car, and clean up the stove, and the counters, and the kitchen floor after he’s done the dishes, so it’s not as if he’s doing these things all on his own. In my case, it’s a small annoyance – I am not worried about the fate of our relationship over this. I just wish it would improve is all.

          • You know, one of the things to remember is that the work of managing the household and reminding people to do things is WORK. So if you have to remember to tell him? That reminder goes to your side of the household tally. Management is work. He’s outsourcing it to you.

            I continue to recommend this Bitch, Ph.D. post from 2005 , as well as Arlie Hochschild’s The Second Shift. This stuff is a huge invisible inequality in women’s lives.

          • Reply to Laurel – there was no button:

            YES this is my point exactly. That being the stage manager is ALSO work. Hell, this is why APW encourages us to assign this *task* to someone else on our wedding day. For some reason, that is the sticking point for us. He doesn’t see that it is asking for more work from me when he asks, “what time are we have dinner with M on Saturday?” or “Where do we keep the toilet bowl cleaner?” or “Should I grate or julienne the carrots?”

            We’ve talked *around* it, and from his perspective, it’s no big deal for me to be the one who remembers what time our dinner plans are…because “he’s forgetful”. My stock response to this anymore is “I put it on the calendar – you’ll have to look it up”.

            As for finding the toilet bowl cleaner, it’s less work for him to ask me than it is for him to look for it, but really it can be in only one place (the bathroom!), and I don’t like reinforcing the idea that I am the household CEO, so the not-so-nice response is sometimes “where do you think it might be?” I don’t like treating him like a schoolkid that wants the answers handed to him though.

            Since we tend to cook together, I think the carrots are just his way of caring about me, asking what I would prefer so he can do it the way I prefer (or perhaps to circumvent my opinionated tendencies – oh yes, I have them, and I try to work on that from my end).

            I try to keep these things in mind and that helps to quell the resentment. It is definitely a small annoyance, but it is real. I think it’s time to stop talking *around* this issue and just lay it out on the table.

            PS – I love the Bitch, PhD article – I’d read it before, but it’s nice to be reminded.

          • I’m CONSTANTLY asking my partner where to find things, because I’m terrible at it. At least I don’t (yet) do the thing where I stomp around railing about how someone moved my keys and the finding them in my pocket (hello, my dad).

            I think you’re absolutely right to put your cards on the table, and to refuse to get stuck with the management when you don’t want it. It’s one thing if you agree that one person is responsible for dealing with something. I manage our finances because I like to, and she hates it. She puts things in the mail because I never ever remember to do that. We’ve agreed to make various trades, which is pretty cool: it’s more efficient, it’s easier for both of us, and the person who takes the job gets credit for it. You know what wasn’t cool? Me being all, “Why hasn’t our Netflix been returned?” before we agreed that she’d take care of mailing things. BECAUSE I HADN’T RETURNED IT, that’s why.

          • suzanna

            Laurel, my favorite quote so far from that Bitch, Ph.D. article: “if you’re going to have to monitor your marriage to make sure that it’s an equal partnership, then that is in and of itself part of the labor of the relationship”.


          • Hmmm, yeah, so this is making me think. I don’t think it’s terrible to pick up the slack on things like “I’m just terrible at finding things”…sometimes. I mean, that’s sort of what a partnership is about, right? Compromise, and being the complement to the other person’s strengths and weaknesses.

            But, and I’m not saying that this is the case for you or me specifically, just a general concern of mine: I worry that it can become a crutch, and that the person picking up the slack will just end up enabling it.

            Truth: my partner doesn’t have a great memory for little things like what time our dinner plans might be, and/or that he said he was going to do X this week.

            Also truth: neither do I, actually, if I were relying solely on my brain. BUT! I know this about myself, and I come up with strategies to compensate for this (google calendar and post-its are my best friends) because if I didn’t, shit wouldn’t get done, and I probably wouldn’t be able to hold down a job for all the chainsaws I’d be dropping instead of juggling. These are important adult life skills that I need to function in the world, which spill over into my relationship. The same compensation strategies won’t work for everyone, but it’s important in a partnership, and just as a responsible adult in general, to find some that do, so you don’t drop all the chainsaws you’re trying to juggle, or just throw them at your partner (again, that’s a general, not specific “you”).

          • Oh yeah, I am NOT saying that it’s great that I ask my partner where to find things. And in fact, a lot of the time she now brushes me off so I go look for it myself. The main thing I’m saying is that if one of you is doing some extra mental work for the other, it should be part of the agreement in the relationship. Like maybe your partner would be willing to trade: you keep the calendar, and he does something you particularly hate to do. Also I think you’re right that it’s important to think about whether this is labor and sanity saving, or whether it’s preventing personal growth.

            Also, Suzanna: RIGHT?

      • rys

        It makes a lot of sense to me that it’s more personality than anything else. Though a little part of me would like to hope that someone who has managed these things for himself for years would be more likely to continue to do so….at the same time, I see what you mean about dinner “what’s that?”; cleaning “just enough”; and gifts “for whom?” And it’s also true that I’ve become more set in my ways about when dishes need to be done, when messes need to be cleaned up, and when vacations need to be planned (or left to serendipity). Living with a variety of roommates over the years has probably helped me learn to speak up about certain things (cleaning, mostly) but I suppose it’s always a negotiation…

    • MDB

      I don’t know if it is age so much as having to live and survive on their own. We’re in our early 30s but each of us lived on our own for a long time before meeting and moving in together, so we each know how to cook, do our own laundry, and clean. And to some extent, we do some of that still – he washes his own clothes and I wash mine and the household stuff (I figure this will come in handy when there little person clothes to wash – then he hasn’t forgotten how to do laundry). He learned to do this stuff because his mom is a nurse and worked odd hours outside the home while he was growing up. I feel incredibly lucky that we found each other and we are equal partners. YET….

      I could really relate to the original post because while FH helps out with cleaning the house and does a lot of the yard work (which he seems to enjoy – he got excited about mowing the lawn in March this year), I felt I could have written “Because even though we each pay lip service to equal partnership, and in spite of our similar incomes, educations, and careers, there are inequalities. I do more of the housework, grocery shopping, and cooking. I also commute much farther for my job. The responsibility for vacation planning, gift buying, and keeping up our social life falls on my shoulders. Of course there are reasons and excuses for each of these.”

      I’m the planner and the extrovert, and so the vacations, gifts, social life planning all falls on me and I pretty much have to give him either/or choices to get him to tell me his preferences. Despite the seemingly fun connotations, these things ARE WORK, and I don’t think many people realize that. And commuting, even on a train, is work too.

      A short time ago I was feeling rather overwhelmed, and while working from home one day a week helped, he works from home all the time, so despite all he does, sometimes it feels imbalanced. So we talked and we agreed to a cooking schedule in which he takes 2 nights during the week. It might not seem like a lot, but that’s half of my commuting days and then I can do fun, creative cooking on the weekends and use leftovers for my weeknights. Little stuff like that really helped, and now that the weather is warmer, I definitely see all that he does to care for the outside of our home.

      I think the important thing for me to remember is that the balance of home work shifts depending on what is going on in our lives – sometimes I have more, sometimes he does – but if we keep the lines of communication open and SAY SOMETHING instead of just assuming that he sees the issues I do, I don’t get as annoyed at him as I otherwise might (though playing video games while I try to clean the house or make a meal on the weekends without asking if I need help still bugs me). But we’re working on expectations for our lives and I think that helps.

      • oh god, the video games!! that drives me crazy. I’ll come home from work and make dinner while he’s playing video games! I think that’s what makes it worse. You’re right about the varying definitions of work. It is work to commute and even to think about the house work you have to do when you get home. ugh.
        At least when I slack (because I do and then feel guilty for both of us living in a sty) and say things like “G, you’ve married a terrible housewife” he’ll respond “You aren’t a housewife. You have a job.” That is nice to hear.

    • Kess

      I’d like to reply to this on behalf of my brothers. Age doesn’t really matter – upbringing/personality does. My brothers are probably the most responsible people I’ve ever met when it comes to ‘homekeeping’. They do the housework and they don’t expect females to do it (in fact, due to some bad housemates in college, one brother believes no females clean!). They can both sew at least basic things, can cook better than I do (But I’ve got them totally beat with baking!), and have higher standards of cleanliness than I do (they probably have similar levels of cleanliness because they always shared a room growing up). If I were to live with my brothers, they’d be the ones telling me what to do around the house.

      What I find interesting, is that my dad didn’t really help out that much around the house. The traditionally ‘male’ things like fixing things that broke frustrated him (he has a…temper when things don’t go 100% perfect), I cannot remember him mowing the lawn very often, he didn’t really cook or clean, and you could tell when dad went to the grocerie store because he came home with a bunch of useless stuff that was ‘on sale’ ;)

      He did do the dishes every night, but as we have a dishwasher, that was just two or three pots. The child rearing also mostly fell to my mom – I cannot remember being with just my dad when I was small. He did work full time while my mom worked part time, but I still believe there was a rather large discrepancy.

      I think what happened is as there were 4 kids, my mom made her workload more manageable by having us do chores as soon as we could. I think this worked out pretty well. We all had assigned chores that rotated each week, and while she still had to tell us to do them, it was just a “did you do your chores?” so it was much easier than having to remember everything. We just got so used to helping as we started quite young (I remember helping unload the dishwasher when I was ~3 or so) that all of us would always just help around the house. Therefore, my brothers are just really freaking good with housework, especially as my sister (the oldest) always seemed to fall a bit short with housework so we (mostly my brothers as I’m 5 years younger) had to pick up that slack.

      Note: my dad did get better when he went back for his masters and had a lot less hours he was away from home – he helps more with the yard work now, and cooks way more often than he used to. My mother sighs a bit though, as she is still convinced he has no clue how to clean a bathroom!

  • shirley

    I could have written this. I totally totally empathize.

    • LAS

      Me too. This could have been me.

      This: In my darkest moments I feel like I have a grown child that I am taking care of.

      But also This: Other days I realize that my existence would be hollow without my partner at my side, and I feel overwhelming gratitude for the solid foundation of our marriage.

      And yet, indeed.

      • S

        Yes. I struggle with how to balance those two all the time. And what’s odd to me is, in those dark moments, if I don’t take care of him, it’s like he’s incapable of finding dinner for himself, or having his own social life. So in as much as he takes care of me too, I don’t ever feel like if he’s busy or traveling or whatever, that I’m at a loss of how to feed myself healthily, or find something to do for fun.

  • Jo

    This is so very hard. I’m so grateful for this post.

    We were in a very similar situation where I did most of the everything around the house because I’m better at it, because his brain doesn’t work that way, because I was more flexible and I was protecting his sanity. And then I started grad school, and just couldn’t do everything. I started telling him that certain pieces were going to fall through the cracks, and he started doing them. Then I began internship and could do even less. We had a frank conversation that if he wanted any relationship time my chore time had to diminish significantly, and he did those. And it made a HUGE difference in my belief in his functioning, my respect for him, my stress level, and in the equality of our relationship. It proved to me that there was give in our give and take. It won’t always be so, with him doing the lions share of the household stuff, and that’s good. But it’s already been me doing the lion’s share, and I needed the opposite too. I was shocked that just saying the things that I did previously but could no longer do (and I was fine if they didn’t get done) allowed him the choice to pick those up and feel useful.

    I get so much your statement that you felt like a mother to a teenager. That erodes any relationship horribly.

  • Brefiks

    God, this is so hard. My goal is not to end up in a position where I’m the “CEO of the household” and have to point out when things need to get done. We are still working on that.

    And not to diminish the emotional power of your words with a practical suggestion . . . but I do have one: our partnership feels a good deal more balanced since we agreed that my partner would do the grocery shopping. (I do the cooking and theoretically, we split dishes, which more often means that I do them during the week and he does weekends, and he, again theoretically, does most of the other cleaning.) Anyway, the nice thing about groceries is that there’s a built in trigger. Even people who don’t “see” dust (gah) are more likely to notice when there’s no food in the house. I have no idea if this would work in your particular situation, but throwing it out there in case it helps someone. Thanks for your post.***

    *** I mistyped “power” instead of “post,” wow, ain’t that the truth!

    • I grew up in a house where my mother cooked and did more cleaning but my dad did all the grocery shopping and all of the dishes after meals. In my household, my husband does 95% of the grocery shopping. But we still have a lot of other things to work out before we achieve balance! But the grocery shopping option is a good one for people seeking to balance things out who happen to be with a partner who doesn’t see mess like they do.

      • AMBI

        This is random, but I do all of the grocery shopping, and neither my boyfriend or I have ever considered this as part of the “chores” or “work” that I do to contribute to the household . . . because I love doing it. I also love doing laundry and gardening, and choose to do a little bit of both almost every evening. We both love to cook and almost (almost) fight over who gets to do it. Next time he gets frustrated with me for not helping him around the house (he does at least 85% of the chores, as we have defined them – vacuuming, yard work, dishes, cleaning the kitchen and bathroom, taking out the trash and recycling, cleaning out the fridge, dusting, etc.). I tend to do stuff like tidying up around the house daily, making the beds, throwing a load of laundry in while I cook dinner, wiping down the dining table after dinner, etc. – stuff that takes only a few minutes and can be done almost every day. He does the bigger once-a-week jobs. And a few times, he has resented me for not doing that stuff. I try to point out the stuff that I do every day. And now I need to point out that doing stuff I like (grocery shopping) still contributes to the household.

        • One of the big realizations I’ve had about around the house stuff is that the fact that I might enjoy doing something doesn’t mean it’s any less a chore. It might be a fun chore, but it still has to be done for the household to run properly.

          For example, I menu plan for the week as part of grocery shopping (which we do jointly) because I like thinking about food. It took six months of that and Bunny telling me that “when you plan the week’s meals it makes my life a lot easier” for me to realize it was a contribution to the household as well as something I loved doing. It sounds to me like your grocery shopping is similar.

          Also – it sounds to me like you do a LOT around your house. The chores you list (we call them Big Chores) are definitely showier – but I think in a lot of ways the everyday chores that you are doing are ones that make the big difference in day to day enjoyment of being home.

          • Umpteenth Sarah

            SO TRUE.

            Anyone remember that perky Mary Poppins “chore” song? Something about how CHORES ARE AWESOME. Yeah, sure, fine, whatever. They’re still chores. By and large, I like grocery/meal tasks, BUT sometimes I don’t. The fact that I can’t just ‘not get groceries’ one week because I don’t feel like it means that it’s still a chore — and a time consuming one at that.

            I do the grocery-related chores, and I don’t hate them. My husband “likes” doing the dishes, so he does them. When he’s busy, I help him. When I forget something at the store (eggs? scallions? a lime?) he’ll go get it.

        • Jane

          Random comment here, but I do all the grocery shopping, and I think our financial situation (grad students/very entry-level jobs) helps with it not feeling like a chore: I LOVE grocery shopping because it’s pretty much the only shopping I get to do on a regular basis…at all!

          It doesn’t beat buying shoes and clothes, but I seriously look forward to stopping at Trader Joe’s after work on Mondays. (Anyone else?)

          • AMBI

            Yes! I mentioned this conversation to my boyfriend at lunch and he said “of course you like to do the grocery shopping . . . you like to shop.” Which is true – but I need to get him to see it as contributing to the overall work that goes into making our household run.

  • Kelley

    It’s amazing how just knowing that so many other thoughtful, smart, independent women have these same struggles somehow makes it a little easier. I also end up feeling like the family CEO and being the sole voice saying that things need to get done. I can’t tell you how many times I have shouted “cleaning is not just my problem!” We’re working really hard on having set tasks that each of us is responsible for and then holding each other accountable. And yet…

    • Geepuff

      YES! And no, I’m not going to make you a list, you are a grown a$$ man, you know how to clean up after yourself. I’m not buying that you have no idea what to do with that neatly folded stack of laundry sitting on your chair in the living room any more than I buy that you have no idea that dirty clothes go either in the hamper or the washing machine.

      BUT, how do I bring this up without sounding like a harpy??

  • streamnerd

    Thanks for sharing this… definitely makes me think about my own relationship and those of others around me.

    I am in a similar work situation as the author and I commute more for work, and I also feel that a lot of the household work/organizing falls mostly on me. However, I do not resent it (yet). In a way I find it rewarding. My job is hard and stressful pretty much all the time and tangible progress is slow. The work I do at home is tangible and I am appreciated for it.

    I’ve seen my parents’ marriage fall apart, I think greatly because of resentment over similar issues. I am determined to not let it happen to me. I’d rather have a spouse than a clean house.

  • All I can say is, YES.

    Also, thank you.

  • Sarah

    My boyfriend of three years and I are splitting up. We’ve lived together for two of those years. I can honestly say that I relate to so many of the things you’ve said here. I can’t tell you how many times it has crossed my mind that I have a grown-up child. For some reason, that thought on repeat has made me feel very old (I’m in my late 20s).. I won’t say that our imbalance was the direct cause of our breakup, but it certainly fueled the fire. I feel like we’ve come a long way from when we first moved in together – as far as communicating expectations go – but without any sort of prodding from me, he is content to just not clean, not plan, etc. I guess to me, it comes across as sheer laziness, which I find to be a very unattractive quality. On top of that (and this is a biggie), he never really saw the work I did around our apartment. I’m moving out by the end of the month so I’ve stopped cleaning up like I used to. Despite him making comments about the recent messiness of our apartment, somehow he failed to connect that to all the work I did before. (You know, I’ve just always left things a mess, according to him.) Despite the sadness that I feel that our relationship is ending, I feel a huge wave of relief to not have to worry about that anymore. I’e felt so silly for feeling this way, so I really appreciate this well-written and timely post.

    • DanEllie

      You have my sympathy and best wishes! It’s hard enough to do all the domestic work, and it’s even worse to have it completely unrecognized! Not silly to feel that way but I’m sorry that its contributory to the end of this relationship.

    • I don’t really have anything to say, just wanted to send you internet hugs. This can’t be easy for you, even when it’s right.

    • Danielle

      Hi Sarah,
      I went through a breakup a few years ago that reminds me of that. It was a really hard thing to go through, but I also felt liberated in the end. There was all this new time to take care of myself! And after dating a messy/irresponsible person, I learned what traits to look for (and avoid) in the next one.
      Good luck!

      • Not Sarah

        Danielle, what traits did you find you could look for? Is it even possible to see that on dates?

        • Danielle

          Hi Not Sarah,

          Just saw this comment! I was looking for someone who was responsible and good at taking care of their basic daily needs. I was very observant on dates and tried to take everything in, rather than dazzle them with my personality. In a few instances, after 2-3 dates it became clear to me that the person was not meeting my standards (things like drinking too much, seeming really unhappy/depressed, not listening to me were dealbreakers. You might have a different list). So I ended it in each case and moved on.

          Let me know if you’d like to discuss this more via email. I also recommend the book “Getting Past Your Breakup” by Susan Elliot, which offers similar advice.

          • Not Sarah

            You can email me at notsarah at comcast dot net.

            I would be curious to hear more about how exactly you knew someone wasn’t meeting your standards.

      • AMBI

        This is only barely related to your comment, but I had a bad breakup in college with a boyfriend that I thought was lazy and unambitious. My next boyfriend was, no surprise, a really driven person who was super ambitious and focused and driven. And you know what? Those are the qualities that ultimately led me to leave him. So be careful what you wish for! Don’t go too far to the other side!

    • suzanna

      Sarah, I have no idea if this will apply to you, but a friend of mine once said after a break-up, “I can’t decide which is worse: the loneliness of being single, or putting up with an idiot.” She found and married a wonderful guy later, but I completely related to her statement. Nothing wrong with being single, of course–unless you want partnership! Then it can feel like a constant battle with idiocy when you do find someone you like.

      Argh. Anyway. Yes to recognizing red flags in the future!

    • Jen

      I totally relate to you. I lived with my ex for 6 months, and while housework didn’t even contribute to our split, I was starting to feel resentful that he rarely helped. I also don’t feel like he noticed all the cleaning I did. I’m sure that apartment is a mess right now. I tried to talk to him about dishes and he said that he did them on weekends. Like that was good enough when he was making messes twice a day on weekdays, too! This is just another reason why I’m glad I’m no longer with him!

    • Not Sarah

      Virtual hugs from me too, Sarah.

      I may not have lived with my last boyfriend, but I spent a lot of time at his place and it was atrociously messy. While he was on vacation for an extended period of time and after we broke up, I’m pretty sure my favorite part was the fact that my place was CLEAN and not messy and just clean. It was so wonderful. I eventually realized just how much that was stressing me out.

      Hugs. It’s not silly to feel this way.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Before I realized how much the mess of my apartment got to me emotionally (wasn’t expect it; grew up in a very messy home), I had these secret wishes my then-boyfriend would go on a business trip so I had a weekend where I could clean without feeling guilty for the time spent not having fun with him. Of course, I’d miss him, but I also missed my super-clean apartment.

        But eventually it got to me enough that I yelled and stormed out and we started splitting chores.

  • I am really interested in hearing more about “renogotiations” as have been mentioned several times above.

    Right now, David and I have a mutual agreement wherein I run 99% of the household. His remaining chores are to take out the trash and empty the litterbox, both of which he does more or less faithfully. We both work full-time, but he is also going to graduate school at night for his MBA. On the nights when he doesn’t actually have class, he is studying or writing papers. I cook all of our meals, do laundry, iron, clean, dishes, etc. etc. etc. Most of the time, I don’t mind at all, because there is a concrete (temporary!) reason for the uneven split, and I know that keeping our home running comfortably is supporting him in earning his degree, which will in turn support us as a family. Plus, I get genuine enjoyment out of some of these chores (like cooking), though not all.

    But sometimes, I do get a little irritated, especially when thinking ahead. Before David went back to school we had a much more equitable split of household duties. I just naturally assumed we’d return to that model when he graduates. But somtimes I start to wonder… He has another year of school left, so renegotiations aren’t going to happen any time soon, but I have started thinking about it more often, and wish I had a better idea of what to expect or how to approach it.

    • Obviously you need to find the balance that works for your particular situation, but wow, 99% is a LOT for someone who works full time.

      • It IS a lot, and the reality is that sometimes things are left undone. I left the house this morning and the bed was not made and last night’s laundry was not put away. But the dishes are done and all three meals for both of us were cooked, prepped, and packed. At first it was hard for me to be able to let go a little bit, and not beat myself up for not having everything perfect all the time (David has never ever been reproachful about this ever, it’s all just in my own head) but I’ve gotten better (saner?) about it. I try to prioritize and stagger things throughout the week so that no one thing is left undone for too long, and when I really can’t handle it anymore I make that known, Ex: “I do not have the energy to do all of the laundry. Please tell me what things you absolutely need washed, and I’ll throw in one load of essentials.” On the other hand, some days I am a machine, and everything is sparkling. It’s day to day.

        • Whoa. That is INTENSE. Our house is never that clean.

    • MDB

      Communication. And it sounds like you do it now, so that’s good. When the situation changes and you need him to take on more and he is able to do so, you talk about it. It isn’t always an easy conversation, but if you don’t have it, I think that is when resentment can start to build. Good luck superwoman!

    • Laura

      We were doing this for a little while. We work radically different schedules (I’m 9-5, at the time he was 1pm-10pm). So, naturally, ALL the cooking fell on my shoulders–I was home in the evenings, he wasn’t.

      Except–I don’t really like cooking. I did it so we could eat, but eventually cooking dinner for us EVERY night wore me down and was making me VERY resentful.

      So, we talked about it. I told him I couldn’t do all the cooking. And lo and behold, he began cooking meals in the morning, before work, that would reheat well for dinner.

      It’s still a struggle, but negotiating as we go definitely helps.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Though our chore situation isn’t perfect by any means, I don’t worry about it. After a couple huge blow-ups about chores, I made a very detailed list of everything that needs to be done, and how often, down to each trashcan that gets emptied. The list/chart is completely ignored these days, but a lot of that is some family upheaval on both sides has taken the time and energy for chores from both of us. However, I’m confident that once we return to a routine, he’ll return to being the super-helper he used to be. And the blow-ups taught us both how important taking out the trash can become, relationally, so I’m confident we will discuss the issues reasonably for the foreseeable future.

      Though it turns out my list wasn’t detailed enough. He’ll scrub the inside of the bathtub, but not the horizontal ledges where dust collects. So there can be showing in addition to telling.

    • Kess

      This is just a random thought, but you may try bringing this up sometime in passing, just to remind him. Let him know that you totally understand the current reasons, but that when the status quo is not ‘quo’ (Dr. Horrible anyone?….anyone…?) that you’re going to have to do some renegotiation. I’ve found that if my SO is reminded of things occasionally very lightly before they happen, he’s much more on board because he doesn’t feel blindsided.

      • The world is a mess, and I just need to RULE IT.

    • Amanda

      I could be you and have written this comment! In this short term situation, I am happy to be running the household almost exclusively, because I know that “keeping our home running comfortably is supporting him”. I hadn’t yet thought about the renegotiations that will need to occur down the road. I look forward to the suggestions that will be made here.

      One thing I ensure to do – and it was reemphasized here on APW – is to thank him verbally for the contributions (even the small ones) that he makes, and with a smile. I also let him know how much I appreciate that he thanks me for making dinner every night and tells me it is delicious – no matter how burnt/bland it might be (occurs on occasion!).

  • This is such a great post. I too feel overwhelmed with everything to do in the house when I come home from work and my partner is really quite good in helping out. It’s good to see that organising the household – vacations, budget, bills etc is counted as a job too. This is what I end up doing more of because I (sometimes) enjoy it, or am better at it. I think my boyfriend sees the help he does in the keeping the house clean etc but not what I do keeping it running. I know I need to be better with the cleaning but this helps me understand what I do is important too…. does that make sense? Overall though I am lucky to have one of the good ones that enjoys cooking and keeping our home nice. xox

  • This is one of those APW posts that came just at the right time. I went to bed pissed off, and my first thought this morning was, yes, I’m still pissed. We have five relatives descending on our house at 6pm today, two of whom have never seen our house before and have requested a little tour. So we’ve (I’ve) been cleaning like maniacs to reduce the level of cat-hair tumbleweeds in every corner. I got the living room all perfect last night, and this morning I come down to find that he totally messed it up while eating breakfast before his early workday. Urrrgh.

    And I stare at the mess wondering, is it easier to suck it up and re-straighten it myself so I’ll know it’s clean before 6pm and just “don’t sweat the small stuff”? Or should I silently trust that he’ll fix it on his own like a big fat grown up after his exhausting workday, before 6pm? Or do I make a stink about it, risking a tiff right before relatives arrive, asking him to clean it and expressing how it felt to see it?

    Here is where my situation differs from the author’s: His job is way, way more demanding (and lucrative) than mine. However. I don’t think that makes it OK for me to be the house cleaner, or for him to be blind to the work I do. I didn’t sign up for that! But it gets confusing, because his job is truly draining and time consuming, and I want to be supportive. Sometimes I worry about if he has enough energy for the job, me, and the house. Sooooooo, thanks for the timely post!

    • OH MY GOD, CAT HAIR TUMBLEWEEDS. I cannot defeat them! They are everywhere, blowing by at the most embarrassing times!

      • DanEllie

        Seriously! We had friends with little kids to dinner last week and thought we’d done a good job cleaning until one of the two-year-olds needed his mouth washed out because he’d eaten one!

        • I totally fear for the days when we have little kids crawling around on the floor because the tumbleweeds NEVER end. So glad it’s not just us!

          • AMBI

            Dude, strap a swiffer cloth on that baby and let him dust.

        • Well, that’s really the kid’s fault, not yours. ;)

        • Hahahaha. :)

      • We bought ourselves a Roomba as an anniversary present to ourselves two years ago. We both feel that it is an investment in our relationship, because no one has to argue about who does the vacuuming, and the dog hair tumbleweeds are kept more or less in check (which is a godsend during shedding season, OMG).

        • Airplane Rachel

          I’ve always wondered if a Roomba is effective and worth it. Must be!

          • Changed my life (and my partner’s). I am not even joking.

            We are joking (sort of) when we call it our favorite pet.

        • Mmmm, wise idea…as I stare at the tufts of shed cat fur in the dining room. I’m also digging the swifter on the baby suggestion ;)

        • Roombas creep the shit outta me.

      • Geepuff

        Girl, swiffer sweeper vac. It is shear magic on pet hair. Do it.

    • AMBI

      You know, our balance of housework tends to work out pretty well . . . until we are going to have people over. And then I have much higher expectations of what the house should look like and what needs to be done, and I get crazy-frustrated that he isn’t as focused on fixing those things as I am.

      I talked to my girlfriends about this recently, and we decided that it is because (1) our guys just don’t see these things like we do, and (2) we still feel like having guests (or in-laws) see an untidy house will reflect badly on us. Not our partners, but us – the women. It shouldn’t be this way, but I know that when people visit, especially older people, they are judging me on the state of our household much more than they are judging my partner.

      • Sarah

        “We still feel like having guests (or in-laws) see an untidy house will reflect badly on us. Not our partners, but us – the women. It shouldn’t be this way, but I know that when people visit, especially older people, they are judging me on the state of our household much more than they are judging my partner.”

        ABSOLUTELY! I tried explaining to this to my boyfriend once, and he acted like I was being insane. But, sure enough, my grandmother and my landlord (who is old) often praise many people based on their clean homes.. “Oh, yes, that’s Kelly. She’s married with two kids and has a very clean house. It always looks so nice in there…… ohandshe’sanicehumanbeing,etc”

        • Hypothetical Sarah

          Yes! Growing up, I could never understand why my my mother got SO WORKED UP about cleaning the house before people came over. As someone said above, where she saw a messy house, we just saw a house. And we were just going to take out the toys and mess up the covers again anyway… Now that the boy and I have our own flat, I feel like I channel her before we have guests.

          Another place where women tend to get judged more: wedding planning.

        • EM


          I think this also comes into play in terms of daily chores, for us. All things considered, we have a pretty even split of household things. But when I *do* get to that place of feeling like I’m doing more than my fair share, it’s not just the work that’s weighing on me — it’s also the weight of history.

          In my head, him not picking up his damn socks becomes one more episode in a long history of unfair division of household labor. I really have to interrogate my own reactions to figure out if I’m upset about his behavior, or if it’s just one of those moments that the existence of the patriarchy is pissing me off more than usual.

          I once tried to explain this to him, and he did NOT understand — he doesn’t carry around that same extra burden. To him, dirty socks and sticky counters are just mess — to me it’s sometimes fraught with metaphor and moral weight as well.

        • My great grandmother was like that- my mom eventually gave up on obsessing because she realized that even HER mother (my grandma)’s house never passed muster, even though it always looked like a showhouse to us. I still remember her visits, when she’d look around, shake her head and wonder out loud how we all lived like this.

        • CarMar

          Yes, exactly. It’s hard because in my relationship with my husband, the clean house responsibilities are 50/50. What he doesn’t understand is that for older generations (like his mom and dad, who are significantly older than most of our friends’ parents), the cleanliness of the house reflects on the woman. I have to explain this to him every time his parents come to visit – and that I can’t do it all because I work full time, but that I will be judged 100%.

          On another note, we, as a new generation, who understand that the “house” isn’t 100% a woman’s duty, need to be sure that we aren’t judging other women based on their clean house!

          • Crikes! The household cleaning thing seems to be a real issue for a lot of people. It was for me!

            At the beginning stages of our relationship, there was an inequality in household chores. I moved 5 different times and lost my job all in the span of 1 year, and he invited me to live in his small studio apartment rent free.

            I felt like my living there was imposing (hint-it wasn’t. In healthy relationships, partners support each other when times are tough, and they don’t resent your needing help. When two people make a life together, sometimes one is doing better financially than the other, and later that can switch. That’s why you work as a team.) Because of that, I was *maniacal* about cleaning. I’d scrub everything down all the time. I’d cook gigantic meals. When his parents visited, I’d make cheesecake. I wanted so badly to impress him, or to somehow “earn my keep.” Looking back, all I have to say about that attitude is “ew.”

            Once my financial situation got better and we moved to a bigger place, the precedent I’d set on household chores became a problem. I’d gotten used to cleaning up after him constantly, but I also resented it a bit, and he had started to assume I didn’t want his help because whatever he did wouldn’t live up to my crazy standards. Luckily, we talked through it. We figured out ways to divide things up better. I showed him a few tips and tricks for cleaning, laundry, whatever, and then I practiced being gracious and letting him help me! That’s so, so, so much better!

            I still feel pressure to have an apartment that looks clean and pretty, especially when people are coming over. Now, we both work to make that happen. And when our schedules/health/lives are just crazy and we don’t have time to make that happen, we break down and hire someone to help. Stressing out about chores is SUCH a total waste of time.

      • This past weekend, my mother-in-law asked me if I *packed a lunch* for my husband every day. wtf. (We both work full-time.) We both started laughing hysterically, to the point where I wondered if she was offended. I didn’t tell her, “I don’t even do his laundry. At all.”

        • Dawn

          Ha, my mom seemed shocked the other day when it somehow came up in conversation that my boyfriend and I each do our own laundry. Including our own towels.

          I do make him little baggies of trail mix when I’m making mine at the beginning of each week though.

        • Lynn

          I finally told him that he had to tell his grandmother to stop asking me if I was making him egg sandwiches every morning for breakfast and doing his laundry (things she did for him). It made me irrationally angry…that the assumption was that I should do those things for him on top of all of those other things that I do.

          Tease me about it once or twice–ha-ha-funny. Sorta. Every time we talk? Not so much.

        • My husband packs me a lunch. :/

          • Denzi

            Yeah, I definitely have to defiantly own the “MY HUSBAND COOKS; WHATCHA GONNA DO ABOUT IT, A**HOLES?!” thing. My husband loves to cook. I hate it, and am the absentminded professor type about eating. And yet I get gasps and “best husband ever!” comments if I ever mention it. No, that’s not why he’s the best husband ever. That’s just part of the way our relationship works. (He’s the best husband ever because he started walking home from work to check on me yesterday when I wasn’t answering my phone and he knew I was having a panic attack right before I needed to be in class. <3 )

          • One of my coworkers is routinely HORRIFIED that I “make” my partner do the cooking. She likes to ask me whether he or I made the leftovers I bring in for lunch, then make big astonished judging eyes at me when I tell her he did. Every time. And it is not a rare occurrence.

            Truth is, we both cook, and often together, because we both enjoy it (but we enjoy eating more). But she actually said to me once: “you will never get a man to marry you if you make him do your work.”

            *blink, blink*

            Lady, why do you think I am here? THIS is “my work”.

            Funny that, we’re getting married in July. (And we both still cook.)

      • EM

        I had never realized this before but OHMYGOD — THIS 1000x!!!

      • DanEllie

        And this is the root of the feminist problem as I see it. The judging of cleanliness doesn’t go both ways. First, us women have the fear of judgment, while generally the guys don’t. Second, they’re not being judged!

        • Shiri

          I’m not sure that is true for everyone. I live with a man who is much cleaner than I am and is the one who feels like he stewards the homefront, therefore, if guests are judging, he feels like they’re judging him, even when I feel like they’re judging me. I think a lot of that judgment is internal and may come from whoever feels like cleanliness is their job, therefore, they’re the one failing at their job.

          • AMBI

            That is probably very true. But I do know that my boyfriend’s mother and all her girlfriends frequently gossip about their son’s wives, saying things like, “she never cooks – they eat out all the time” and “I am going to have to get them a cleaning lady because I guess she is just too busy to keep the house clean.” It is very real. These are smart women, all of whom call themselves feminists, but who judge their daughters-in-law on how well they keep house and care for their families (as in, cook and sew, etc.).

        • meg

          I don’t know. Some of it is freeing yourself. I’m not afraid of being judged on my cleanliness (or lack there of). And if people do, I ignore them. I know I make it sound easy, but it literally does not occur to me to take responsibility. It’s our house, they can judge both of us or neither of us, and I don’t care much.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            I say this with a big smile: You’re so much more emotionally mature than the rest of us, Meg.

            Example close to home: My fiance and I were at a cake tasting, discussing the wedding budget, and maybe APW, explicitly or implicitly. It came up that we never even considered not serving a full meal, despite having our choice of ceremony times and reception venues, and despite not being foodies. Why wasn’t it a consideration? Because every wedding I’d attended (more than 20 now) has had a full meal, even if it’s served on time at 3pm. All our guests would expect a full meal. Couldn’t we take APW’s advice and indicate on the invitations there wouldn’t be a full meal? Well, we could, but in my experience, no one pays attention to wedding invitations beyond getting to the ceremony on time. We could make it as clear as possible, and the guests would ignore it and be disappointed. Their disappointment would be their own fault, but…
            I’d still feel bad, because that’s the kind of over-achiever, accommodating, people-pleaser I am, whether entirely emotionally healthy or not.

          • AMBI

            I agree that this is probably the healthier way to look at it. And I try to do that. When I’m around my boyfriend’s mom and she and her friends are talking about a son’s wife (and keep in mind, this is a small community, so that son is my friend, his wife is my friend, these are not anonymous figures they are gossiping about but people I see every week), I usually point out that she works full time, and its not like he is coming home and cooking a meal or cleaning the bathtub either.

            I definitely have internal conflict between wanting to be able to not care if people (my grandmother, my boyfriend’s mom, etc.) on the cleanliness of our house and at the same time really wanting the praise and approval of those people. I’d like my grandmother to see me as a competent and successful adult, I’d like my boyfriend’s mom to see me as someone who is a good partner for her son. And on a really basic level, I want them to be approving of our home. I’ve gotten to the level where I can say fuck it if it is the cable guy or even one of my good girlfriends – I am no longer as concerned about what they think about me if they see that may house is a mess – but when it comes to people like in-laws and grandparents, it is a different story. For me. Obviously not for everyone.

      • Jane

        YES, multiplied by like 1,342 when in-laws are coming over!

      • streamnerd

        I used to get worked up and clean frantically before my in-laws came over. Once I got frustrated and ask my partner why he wasn’t helping, it was his parents coming over. He said something along the lines of: “You’ve been to my parents’ house many times, you must have noticed that they don’t clean before we come over so I don’t understand why you think you have to clean our house before they come over.” He also told me he thinks it is dishonest to clean right before people come over because it is not really how your house looks most of the time. I have since stopped cleaning before his parents come over and it has been great. The only person by whom I feel judged about the cleanliness of my home is my own mother.

      • Frances

        I don’t think we have a completely equal balance. It feels like I do more. I think some of this comes down to my husband’s obliviousness to what needs to be done. It’s not normally a massive deal – although at times it’s annoying.

        I know I don’t have very high cleanliness standards and as far as I’m concerned as long as there are clean clothes and dishes and most things are put away where they belong that’s fine by me. I try to keep on top of these day-to-day things and unless I specifically ask him to do something I’ll get all the cleaning etc done.

        The big issue is that he is much more houseproud than me. He’ll get very angry about the house being a big mess when I say I’ve arranged for people to come round.

        He will suddenly become a whirlwind of activity tidying things up.

        This imbalance leaves me feeling frustrated and guilty. I don’t feel comfortable not helping while he rushes around tidying up but on the other hand when I’m doing the day-to-day chores he’ll not stop watching TV to help.

        I’m going to try to keep a list of what things need to be done at any given time and ask him to pick something to do off it each night. In an attempt to get him more involved in the day-to-day upkeep of the house and hopefully this will mean he feels less worried that it’s not clean enough for last minute visitors.

    • MDBethann

      We have 3 cats and I can totally related to the cat-hair tumbleweeds in every corner. Even more fun, our cats are different colors – 1 is Siamese and 2 are black & white, so the hair shows up on EVERYTHING. I clean like a maniac too whenever someone comes over, but always manage to find another tumbleweed under a bookcase or next to the stereo.

  • Julia

    Thank you so much for this. Right now I am a grad student and my contribution to our household tends to be domestic. I have a job, but money-wise I bring in less than half what my partner does. And I am so interested in all of these comments, thanks to everyone for sharing their experiences.

    I remember when we first moved in together explicitly resenting my partner for what I saw as a total lack of contribution to the household. I felt like I was doing all the cleaning and other chores. But, he had found a new job and relocated from another state so we could be together.

    We do have very traditional gender roles at home, maybe because that’s how my parents were. There are some practical reasons for this – I get home earlier and I like cooking. We are both bad about cleaning and make an effort to do that together. He hates grocery shopping and I need to buy based on what I’m cooking anyway, so I do that. But I wonder about the future – once I get a new job, and then later when we have kids.

  • Love from Long Island

    Tough situation… but obviously you’re both smart, and I think you’re going to make it! You love each other and both care about your behaviors and attitudes. Just think about all those household CEO’s who could care less? That you recognize that he’s wonderful and vice-versa is a huge help.

    I can relate to what you’re going through, but something has changed within our first year of marriage. I just quit doing things. I quit worrying stuff would get done, and if I had an idea to vacuum, I vacuumed. I didn’t have a “discussion” with myself about my guy about how it “should be”. It’s a little scary to relinquish control, but I’m really proud b/c it has allowed my guy to shine and impress me. He has taken initiative, and it’s also helped to be direct in what we need. Men and women aren’t usually mind-readers! And, anytime I catch myself nagging/complaining in my head about him and what he doesn’t do for us–actually, last night as he watched me empty the dishwasher–I remind myself that I am doing these things for myself. Last night, I was able to let go of the blah-blahs in my head and just be of service. What you give to your partner, you are really just giving to yourself. The love you show others may come back directly from them or it could come in a surprise package from a place you never expected! But, being giving never means the Universe wants you to be a doormat for men or women to take advantage of you. I only work on me in this relationship b/c I know we’re meant to be together–and he works on his hang-ups, too. It takes a lot of patience and persistance to see that what I give, I receive, but every once in a while a wonderful moment reminds us that we’re headed in the right direction. Last night after the dishes were put away and the kitchen cleaned, we had a really loving conversation about his lack of joy in helping make dinner–no judgement, no anxiety, just deep sharing. That never could have happened if I wasn’t working on myself! Being married isn’t an end unto itself, it’s just a call to reach deeper within yourself and clean out the dark pockets–the parts that resist love. But, gently. And the more I remember this the better my relationship with my guy gets b/c he’s also working… just in ways I can’t always see or perceive. I know we’re doing the best we can.

    I wish you and your husband the best of luck and I have faith that you’re going to work through this and have even a stronger bond.

    • Julia

      Great point about letting things go. It is so hard to let my boyfriend help with chores sometimes because I don’t think he does things the “right” way. Realizing that it’s getting done and that’s the most important thing goes a long way.

  • LPC

    Life turns out to be a lot of work, marriage turns out to be, largely, a partnership to deal with that work. Maybe we get the glories of love only when we meet a baseline. I’d be the last one to say I know how to deal with this issue, except that relationships are so much better when each person is trying to care for the other, and no one feels that horrible, killing resentment of the uncared for. Shouldering more than one’s fair share is pretty hard to recover from. Defining what is necessary work, and making sure it’s felt equitably, might be the most important thing any partners have to do.

    That doesn’t mean the work has to be portioned out equally, just felt equitably.

    • Umpteenth Sarah

      “That doesn’t mean the work has to be portioned out equally, just felt equitably”

      SO TRUE. And MAN is it hard to measure what “feeling equitable” feels like.

    • Oof. That’s exactly how it feels.

      The opposite side of the coin, I suppose, is to try and recognize the ways in which you ARE cared for. He doesn’t make his share of the money now? He doesn’t wash the sink? But you know what? My fifteen-year old car runs perfect. The dishes are washed. The dog is played with..

      Equitably. This.

      • Dawn

        And I have a live-in IT support guy who built me a computer and once spent 6 hours having to clean a virus off of it and make things right. I figure that gets him out of some vacuuming.

        I do still do a larger amount of the housework but my resentment was decreased when I really sat down and thought about the things that he does do to contribute that just might not be daily or weekly tasks, but that often take much longer to take care of.

        And the cat gets more play time now too. Poor cat was apparently horribly neglected when it was just me.

      • My husband and I have this debate/discussio often…and then he points out the countless things he does that I don’t notice or forget because they aren’t obvious. Doh.

    • So wise, as always.

    • meg

      The last line is so true. I don’t know that our balance is fair, but it mostly FEELS pretty fair (people doing bits they like, which feels less like work) and that’s why it’s pretty smooth.

  • Jenn

    Wonderful post. I just moved in w/my fiance from a 2 bed/2bath into his loft 1 bed/1bath so that we could save for a house (which, baring any lottery winnings or rapid housing market turnaround will be our 3rd mortgage…Oy). For the first bit, we were freaking valedictorians of cleaning up after ourselves and making sure neither of us was the cause of the mess. We had a chore chart and we semi-faithfully abided by it. Then, as it does, life happened – We got more comfortable, starting forgetting to finish the dishes/sort the laundry/pick up shoes. It’s chaotic, but it’s temporary.
    My mother did EVERYTHING in my house growing up (and she worked at least part time from the time I was 5 or 6). I was never asked to help with daily routine things – only with monthly/less frequent deep cleans. I lived with roommates for many years and one of them was like my mother – she handled everything until she needed help, then she asked for it. Yes, I realize that makes me incredibly spoiled and incredibly, incredibly lucky.
    When I starting living on my own, I kept things tidy on the surface, but I had TONS of space to hide the mess (I had 3 CLOSETS ALL TO MYSELF). We have no space for that now. It makes me a little crazy, but motivates me to spend money on things that a) won’t fit in our home and b) we shouldn’t spend money on b/c we need a larger home soon.
    And you guys? He’s going to be the one that has to take care of my oil changes and tire rotations and brake, um, whatevers. That’s worth SO SO many nights of loading AND unloading the dishwasher to me.
    All this to say – People (even two people in total LURRRVE) aren’t puzzle pieces that are made to fit one another. We have to rub up against one another (like friction, not like THAT – minds out of the gutter, ladies) and find where we can both make compromises until we find out where both sides are comfortable. And then do it again if that’s no longer comfortable.

    • I adore your “People are not Puzzle Pieces” statement. Put it on a shirt, Team Practical!

    • Lauren K.

      Love this. My boyfriend and I have been living together for about a year. Prior to that, we both lived alone for 10+ years, so living together is a change. For the first 6 months, we’d bump heads about the balance of chores, and now we’ve started to reach a balance. I do more inside cleaning chores. But he does all the house maintenance, which I have absolutely no interest in doing, so that’s huge.

      The thing that I find hard is to sit still and let him clean sometimes. In my living alone days, I washed the dishes, because it was my apartment. Now it’s our place, so it’s okay to let someone else wash the dishes.

      • Jenn

        I agree completely. I’m generally lazy, but if there’s frenetic motion around me I. MUST. PARTICIPATE. I can’t not clean if someone else is kicking in. You know, unless it’s my Mom. Sorry, Mom – I promise to pick out the very nicest home for you when it’s time. No Shady Pines for you.

        • Lauren K.


  • Erika

    The gift-buying thing kills me. My husband has never bought presents for his family. Or, in the rare case where he did, there was serious procrastination and it was “oh, here’s a present for your birthday that was 8 months ago, Dad.” It’s not laziness, it’s some sort of anxiety about choosing presents for people, and also just not remembering birthdays (I have neither problem). So this kind of drives me crazy because I feel badly if we don’t give them gifts, because they give us gifts, etc. The way I have handled it is to go the really easy route and buy pretty much everyone in his family the same xmas gift. It’s a practical gift and I think most of them appreciate it, even though it’s not personal. Birthdays for his family members are up to him and if someone doesn’t get a gift, I don’t worry about it. It’s taken me a few years to get to this point, but I can more or less live with this arrangement, and accept that my in-laws know that since their son/brother did not get them gifts for the first 34 years of his life, it’s not a reflection on *me* that they are still not getting birthday gifts regularly from him/us. I grew up with my mother’s resentment about this very same issue with my stepfather, and I kind of envisioned forty years of the same resentment for myself. It was really important for me to decide that I’m not going to complain about this for forty years like my mother has. A little bit of compromise and a whole lot of acceptance was the key for me. Good luck to everyone struggling with inequalities–perceived and/or real. I think it’s one of the toughest day-to-day things we face in marriage.

    • Newtie

      I think this is so, so important. The gift-giving scenerio is similar between my fiance and me.

      Really, it’s about letting his responsibilities be his responsibilities, even if he doesn’t fulfill them the way I think he ought to. So sometimes his family gets no presents or weird presents. They DO think it’s my responsibility, not his, but oh well. If the worst thing I ever do to them as a daughter-in-law is not buy them presents they like, then I think we’ll probably be ok. I am responsible for my own family’s gifts, and I’ve noticed that over the years my fiance has done much better with his family’s, after watching what kinds of things I get for my people and how happy it makes them.

      I do verbally remind him of when birthdays, etc, are coming up, because it’s no chore for me to do so and it helps him. But if I remind him it’s his mom’s birthday in a week and he doesn’t get her anything, I’ve decided I don’t want to take that on.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      [largely a repeat of above]

      I just trust him about gifts and cards, and he trusts me. His family doesn’t really “do” gifts, but cards are super-important. My fiance will buy cards for my signature, or give me very narrow parameters of what card to buy.* I buy gifts “from him” to give to my family and tell him not to worry about cards for them. So far, each set of future in-laws seems content.

      *Thank you cards must have “thank you” printed on them, in English, even if a personal thank you note will be added, and no card can come from Hallmark, and my signature must be legible, even if it’s obviously from me, for example. Which is all literally crazy, as there are also actual mental health issues in the mix.

  • Anneka

    It’s funny (in a hmmmm… rather than a haha kind of sense) that even in relationships where both partners really strive for equality and balance, the household side of things is still kind of the woman’s job by default. And I’m not trying to imply here that it’s necessarily the husbands/boyfriends who think it’s our responsibility, it’s almost like we (the independent women) take this house-keeping role on voluntarily (kind of). Again, not because nature has wired us that way! Talking about this with some of my friends, we’ve come to the conclusion that all of us – and we were all raised by independent, working, feminist mothers! – did lots of nice things at the beginnings of our respective relationships because that’s how we (amongst other things) show we care. At that early stage this was very much appreciated by our respective partners and we felt good about it, too. But while I’m sure they still appreciate it 5 years later, it has become almost a habit and we all say the same thing: “if we don’t do it (laundry, bins, washing up) it won’t get done”. But what we usually mean by this is “it won’t get done WHEN I WANT IT DONE”.
    My boyfriend is very good at doing household chores, having lived on his own for quite a few years, BUT he doesn’t want to do the washing up straight after dinner, he wants to sit for a bit and digest first. I, on the other hand, prefer to do things immediately when they need to be done. It took me a while to realise that he doesn’t just sit there and wait for me to do things because he’s a chauvinist, which used to really infuriate me. He just has a different way of doing things. So now we meet in the middle. He speeds up his digestion and I slow down and have a cup of tea. Then we do the washing up together.

    I don’t want to be the CEO of the household though! Although I do agree that if something’s bothering you, it’s better to come out with it than to roll your eyes and sigh and take the bins out for the fifth time in a week. So the occasional pointer in the right direction (washing up, dust!!!!, laundry etc) isn’t a bad thing. But if I had to constantly nag I’d be very unhappy and the boyfriend would probably hide under the table.

    Then again, what complicates things is that the person with the higher tolerance to dirt/lack of food/full bins has all the power… my sister’s boyfriend isn’t a friend of the hoover while she prefers a dust-free environment. Needless to say, she hoovered every 3 days (he never did), and got increasingly annoyed. So she decided to not hoover until he would. SIX weeks (and mountains of dust) later she broke down and cleaned. When she asked him if he’d noticed the removal of Mt Dust, he said no. They now have a hoovering rota. She says it’s a bit like living in a dorm, but at least the balance is restored.

  • Excellent post, thank you.

    I will preface this by saying that my guy & I have been more or less living together for (just short of) 2 years and we both have the exact same career. But, I think I am lucky. He does take an active role in the household: walking dogs, cooking when I’m exhausted, extra trips to the grocery store (I hate driving), etc.

    That’s not to say it wasn’t really, really tough at first: we both had different expectations of cleanliness, different ideas of who needed to do what when. We both drove each other crazy at first.

    Here’s the thing: we’ve had to learn to not count. Sure, occasionally a make a master list of all the cleaning/household projects we need to do in a year (I like lists) and post it on the fridge. But then he will remember to have my car serviced (which I never think of) or will do my laundry when he gets up early (and I’m still asleep).

    So we don’t count anymore. We have a household and sometimes its ran better than the others. But I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve done the dishes versus him. Maybe I’m just really, really lucky – but this philosophy is working really well to keep us united as a team.

    (And it’s not an approach that came naturally to either of can thank couples counseling for this one.)

  • I’m a week away from my wedding and this post couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve never lived with my fiance (or any guy!), so I’m very concerned about the balance of chores. We’re moving across the country for his (very profitable) job in science, while I’m leaving the success I’ve built in our current city and starting over as a freelancer. While I appreciate having the freedom and time to build a new career, I’m also insanely worried that since I’m not “working” as much as he is, I’ll be expected to handle every household and social responsibilities. I put working in quotes because although my guy technically understands that putting out job feelers, working a part-time teaching job, writing and establishing contacts is a real job, throughout our discussions it seems like he expects me to supplement my significantly smaller income with running the household. He grew up with a stay at home mom who did EVERYTHING for him (he has never shopped for himself until I refused to go with him to buy new shirts last year), and I grew up with a mother who completed nursing school while pregnant with her third child and then worked 2 jobs to this day. She was just as busy, if not busier, than my businessman father, and I grew up in a pretty dirty house where if you didn’t do your own laundry starting at age 9, it wasn’t done. I have never placed a premium on time spent cooking or cleaning, and I’m very anxious about getting locked into those tasks in a marriage.

    PS – my fiance is great and I love him madly, these are my own neuroses speaking :)

    • Hi Caitlyn. It does sound like you two come from pretty different backgrounds with regard to household stuff! While I end up doing more cleaning, there are some things I don’t do. I’m sure combined laundry works for a lot of couples, but I do my own laundry and he does his own laundry/folding/putting laundry away. I do none of his ironing. I don’t clean in his office area or empty its trash can (thus, it’s a mess and the trash is overflowing). I think these boundaries are good for both of us, but everyone needs to find what works for them. At some point you two might want to have some big talks about this stuff so there aren’t secret expectations. Have a great wedding and good luck on the move!

    • anon

      I think upbringing has so much more impact that we expect in this equation. My parents were pretty 50/50 on chores as I grew up and I was expected to contribute as well. My MIL is a very hardworking woman but she is a do-it-all-herself, don’t-ask-for-help type. She was visitng recently and made a statement that completely clarified things for me. She said “I never expected Bob (her husband) to do anything, and then anything he did was a bonus.” My mouth almost dropped.

      Our expectations of our husbands could not be more different. My husband knows we are a 50/50 partnership and although it doesn’t come easy to him he works on it. It’s totally puzzled me how my MIL could accept that she is responsible for everything. She and her husband worked together for many years, earned the same and now she is now the major breadwinner and proudly the CEO of their house.

      I am so grateful to be able to say to my husband, you’re not living up to our partnership, how can I help you give your part? A big thank you to my mama for working when it wasn’t the norm and to my parents for showing me an EQUAL household.

  • I will freely admit that the reason my husband and I don’t fight about chores is that we are so equally ambivalent about mess. When it gets truly untidy to the point of not being able to see the kitchen table anymore because it’s full of the mail from all week, cardigans, a jumble of random objects…then it’s time to both take an hour on a weekend to sort it all out. The dishes are done once a week (maximum), and the floor gets swept less often than it needs to be. I also fully admit that part of this is due to my being in grad school and simply *not caring* when the day is done, but part of this was in place long before I started grad school so it’s really only a balm, a temporary excuse that will have to be changed to a different excuse once I graduate…

    If keeping things super tidy is going to cause me to be even more exhausted…and he’s going to be tired from doing it too since hey, he works, I work….then I don’t do it. Likewise, if I’m not doing it, I don’t expect him to do it either. That, ultimately, it our driving mantra: “If I do it, you can do it, and if I don’t care, you don’t have to care either.” If I don’t care about doing the dishes and just feel like letting them sit, then our agreement is that I’m not going to expect him to pick up my slack and care for me in my place. Likewise, if he doesn’t care about putting away his laundry, I’m not doing it because hey, I don’t have to care about his shirts if he doesn’t. There’s no rule that says everything has to be cared about all the time. (Of course, for things like dogs and watering plants, this doesn’t work, but those are things that we sort of got *because we care* — of course we feed and water the dogs and plants, those aren’t chores that can be skipped, or that we would think of skipping!)

    Sure, some things have fallen into place. There are things he does (puts dogs to bed each night) and things I do (wake up earlier to let dogs out). But it’s a team effort, and we’re pretty evenly matched in our assessments of when it’s time to take an hour on a weekend and clean the house dammit, and when it’s time to just kick back and realize we don’t have to be perfect or ready for Apartment Therapy.

    Would it be nice if we each picked up the slack from the other person when someone just didn’t feel like doing dishes but they need to be done? Sure. But we’re both okay with the arrangement of doing them when it Needs To Be Done Seriously OMG than keeping the sink empty and keeping us more tied to doing chores and being Good Little Housekeepers, you know?

    If it ain’t attracting bugs, if it’s not smelly, if it’s just simple clutter….meh, small imperfection of living, I say. Works for us. Certainly won’t work for all.

    (Maybe our ambivalence/contentedness-with-mild-constant-clutter comes from living in a goth band house together in undergrad? We built up a tolerance to such epic messes that now…this is easy!) :P

    • Haha – this is totally my household’s theory of cleaning: “When it Needs To Be Done Seriously OMG!”

    • Megan2

      HA! Fiance & I are “equally ambivalent about mess.” also! It really does work well to be on the same page with either being neat or not being neat.

      We also try to handle the jobs that the other dislikes. Not that anyone likes chores, but at least we can do the ones we “don’t hate.” He’ll vacuum, & do all the cooking. I clean the cat box & do the washing of dishes & clothes. Who ever is near the store, does the food shopping. I’m better at paying bills, he’s better at being social. It all works itself out.

      To the original article, I like the message of hope & goof fortune at the end.

      Once I looked at why I had expectations of what a home should look like, or how chores should be split, it got easier. It only had to suit us, not follow any pattern.

    • Vee

      My husband and I are also pretty ambivalent about messes. We both are out of the house 10 hours a day (he works a long day and I commute 1 hour each way), we have dogs to take care of, and we almost never have company. So if we are comfortable, “eff it,” as we like to say (very eloquent). I think there’s this standard imposed upon us from The Outside that says everything should look a certain way, even if you’re the only one seeing it, and if it doesn’t, you’re somehow a failure as a woman. The man isn’t the failure, I am. I am trying to reject this. If I am comfortable; if, as you say, it’s just simple clutter; if I’m falling short of looking magazine-ready, oh, every day – it’s really no big deal. I am not a Failed Woman. I have a job that pays half the bills and our dogs are healthy and happy.

      I will add as a caveat though that we do not have children, nor are we planning to have any. I can see some certain kinds of clutter and dirt being more important to tackle quickly if there are curious little hands grab grab grabbing about! [At the same time, there is also MORE clutter to deal with, so bless you, parents…]

      • “I think there’s this standard imposed upon us from The Outside that says everything should look a certain way, even if you’re the only one seeing it, and if it doesn’t, you’re somehow a failure as a woman. The man isn’t the failure, I am. I am trying to reject this. If I am comfortable; if, as you say, it’s just simple clutter; if I’m falling short of looking magazine-ready, oh, every day – it’s really no big deal. I am not a Failed Woman. I have a job that pays half the bills and our dogs are healthy and happy.”

        Ding ding ding ding ding! THIS. Also, related reading: (Premise: “Are lifestyle blogs a new way for women to compare themselves and come up short?”)

        We are not Failed Women for not having houses (and lives) that live up to these standards that are continually propped up for us by the media and even ourselves in the blogging community.

        • “I think there’s this standard imposed upon us from The Outside that says everything should look a certain way, even if you’re the only one seeing it, and if it doesn’t, you’re somehow a failure as a woman.”
          This reminds me of a Rita Rudner routine, where she talks about the decorative pillows she puts on the bed. She calls it “the pillow show”- and goes on about how her husband doesn’t get it, why do we put these pillows on teh bed when we just have to take them off to sleep? And her only answer is “But you have to have the pillow show!” The things that root themselves in our brains- IT MUST LOOK THIS WAY, NO, I DON’T KNOW WHY- can be ridiculous.

          • Vee

            This hits home to me in that I always wanted that perfectly styled bed, but every time I think deeply about it, I remember that I don’t even like to MAKE the bed. What would I do with those pillows when we’re sleeping? Throw them on the floor. And would I really pick them up? I sure as hell wouldn’t want to. (My husband is actually the one who makes the bed anyway, and he would absolutely reject the “pillow show” on principle!)

    • EM

      My mom calls this “compatible GTLs” — Grunge Tolerance Levels.

  • In my experience, telling someone struggling with resentment to relax can be counterproductive. She didn’t sound ungrateful to me.

  • My husband and I are constantly working on this. The first year we lived together, he was underemployed for much of the year while I was working, interning, and going to grad school full time, so we had a pretty fair split on household stuff. He tends to be a day-to-day neatener, and I tend to be a CLEAN ALL THE THINGS person when we’re having people over, etc., but in that period he was also cooking dinner, meal planning, and generally just picking up slack when I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

    Now, he’s in law school, and admittedly very busy. But it frustrates me to no end that he always claims to need help cooking meals, rarely contributes to plans and decisions about holidays and vacations and gifts, and he’s always asking me where simple household items are (“Where do we keep paper clips?!?!”). I have told him before that I refuse to be the center of the household, the woman who knows where everything is and how everyone likes their pasta prepared, but I don’t think he understands how much the prospect scares me.

    One of the passages in Bitch in the House was about how little girls were taught at their mothers’ feet how to clean and take care of a house, but many times, little boys were not. And I try not to resent my husband because I just *know* how to clean a bathroom or when to change the sheets, but it’s hard when it feels like he’s not learning now. Of course, I am from a household where my mother had us doing our own laundry and cooking food for the family very young, and his mother still does his laundry if he brings it home when he visits (something I would never consider doing). So, these patterns go way back.

    Everything is a work in progress.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      but but but…No one taught me how to clean a bathroom. I learned when I got my first apartments. How did he have his own apartments, too, and not learn? Or did he learn and somehow forget when he saw the pink shampoo bottle?

      Yes, that’s it. Pink shampoo bottles and matching towel sets make men forget how and when to clean bathrooms. The Consumer Protection Agency should investigate.

      • Haha! I suppose I should have said that we moved in together young. He was in dorms or truly scummy student apartments through college, and then he moved back home for a year after college while he did AmeriCorps before we moved in together. So, he’s still learning.

  • Thanks for the post. Achieving balance is like picking up silken tofu with chopsticks. I have seen it done in photos, but have yet to master the skill.

    And, the division of labor bit. My husband and I have gone through this, and revisited it. We even made a chore calendar, and the proceeded to ignore it starting week two. Things that have helped us: a cleaning lady, a robotic vacuum (called Neato), and a CSA grocery delivery. Even so, I try to keep one eye closed. And, he tries to be more cognizant. Maybe this is going to sound crazy, but I used to think he was not being diligent enough. Then, I realized that I just come from a line of super particular women. My husband spends a lot of effort attempting to make me happy. And that is enough, most days.

  • Gloucester

    As a student, I find it quite bizarre for me to be adding this particular question to the discussion, but anyhoo: for families who can afford the expense, what effects does hiring domestic help have?

    Clearly this does not address things like social planning or everyday washing and picking-up-after-self (and I admit I am the guilty party in the partnership re: the latter).

    But if we isolate the issue to cleaning– Is it partially that these questions weigh most heavily precisely on those of us for whom hiring help is simply not an option? (noting that on the large historical scale, outsourcing tasks like food cultivation has contributed to greater equality).

    • Umpteenth Sarah

      I think it’s hard to pinpoint the “added gain” of hired help, because that is often associated with wealth, which is correlated with about a zillion other things that make people happier (or less happy), BUT. I did read recently that a majority of women wouldn’t want to hire help even if they could afford to. Maybe that has to do with the “Kelly Ripa” phenomenon discussed earlier — we can/should DO IT ALL perfectly.

      I am SO not Kelly Ripa. I like cooking, but not cleaning, and I do NOT look adorable loading dishes into the dishwasher. If I could pay some nice person to clean up after me, I would do it in a second, and I think it would provide my husband and I with some much needed free time to go off and be married.

      In response to your question about people lower down in the rungs of society “feeling” these questions more, I honestly don’t know. I think it depends a lot on the family — I imagine there are plenty of well-off people who struggle every day with issues like this, even if they do have the resources to make these tasks easier.

    • FWIW, I fully intend to hire someone to come clean the house once a week or every other as soon as we can afford it…because being able to afford it will necessarily mean that we are once again a dual-income household, and with the kind of hours that are expected in our professions, we just don’t have that much “us” time, you know? And I’d rather not spend that “us” time scrubbing the toilet – it’s too precious. But sometimes the toilet still needs scrubbing.

      I brought up this plan to the husband-elect, and was surprised to encounter some resistance to this idea. He seems to view having “hired help” as a little classist, and he doesn’t want us to be “those people”. I can see that point of view, but counter with the point that hiring someone else to do this job in our house contributes to someone else’s income (which is not a small thing in this economy, I think)…as long as you treat people with respect and human decency, you are equals exchanging money for services, just like any other business transaction.

      • Shiri

        Mine feels the same way. We don’t have the money now (he’s semi employed) but I’m hoping one day we will, and as long as we pay a fair and equitable wage, I’m ok with that. He’s the “cleaning person” in our relationship, though, for many reasons, and so I think I need to more than just respect his position on this. That said, I think I want to do it to alleviate my guilt about not cleaning enough, rather than to actually lighten the burden.

      • Umpteenth Sarah

        The classism thing is something I totally wrestled with too. I think the problem comes when you EXPECT that you are entitled to help. No one is entitled to a cleaning person, and hiring one is a luxury that I will only have if I feel right about it. We pay people to do things we could do ourselves all the time — car washes, babysitters, manicures, etc — but for some reason having someone come by to clean your house feels a little like it’s in a different category. I don’t think it should be, if you can afford it.

      • Just wanted to say that I love the term “husband-elect.”

    • Hypothetical Sarah

      I can almost guarantee that we’ll hire someone to come every so often to clean in the future (though it feels a little silly when it’s just the two of us). The boy and I both grew up in thoroughly middle class houses with cleaning ladies. As Umpteenth Sarah and Magpie have suggested, there are only so many hours in the day. How much is it worth to you to have the time spent vacuuming and cleaning the toilet to do other things (together)? It can be a simple economic cost-benefit analysis.

      As a side effect of growing up in a house without cleaning chores, though, I don’t have an internal clock that tells me what cleaning needs to be done daily/weekly/monthly. Sometimes I regret that.

    • EM

      My parents will readily admit that hiring someone to vacuum and dust every two weeks (starting before they could even really afford it) is the reason that they are still married. We’re not there yet, but it is definitely going in my baby budget.

    • Catherine B

      Having a woman come clean our condo was one of the conditions of cohabitation for us. It helps. A lot. Neither of us are particularly into cleaning (who is?) but we both like it clean. It takes the pressure off and allows us to have company over without that OMG I have to clean the bathroom!!! aspect. The first time my mother came to visit afterwards was so relaxing. For us, the benefit far outweighs the cost.

    • I grew up with cleaning help, and have it now. The family I grew up in and the family I am a part of now are far from wealthy. Though I admit, wealth is relative to one’s own definition.

      My cleaning people (a team of two) can clean the whole house in less than two hours. It is a three bedroom, two bath. I would venture to say that it would take my husband and me a good four to six hours to accomplish what they do. I guess I feel about professional cleaners how I feel about professional movers. They do it better, and more efficiently. The cleaning people come once a month right now, but we’re thinking of bumping it to bi monthly.

      I don’t think I am entitled to a cleaning person. I do believe however that its totally worth the money. My husband and I argue less. We have more time for leisure.

    • suzanna

      I cannot wait to afford help with cleaning! Once, when it was too hot to go to the laundromat, we paid someone else to do it (as in, dropped it off at the cleaners for wash-n-fold). We really had to discuss if it was worth the $ beforehand, and I will tell you with 100% sureness (surity?) that it most definitely was worth it! I would do it every week if we could afford it. That sh*t is soul-sucking suckitude that I cannot wait to never have to think about again.

    • I love APW for these kinds of comments! I was born and raised in Latin America and I grew up with either live-in maids or help that came every day. Now that I’m an adult, when I lived on my own I tried DIY cleaning: it never got done and that was cause for strife for the person who cared about it so we decided to hire someone to come in once a week or once every two weeks and we just keep on top of messes and pick up, wipe spills etc. This has worked wonderfully for me, and even though I don’t make a LOT of money, financially it works out for me to pay someone to do 5 hours of cleaning (and they do it better and faster) while I get other things done.
      Now that we could be moving to the US, I have to admit I was worried about the expense and the possible classist overtones to hiring help to clean. Now I know I can just budget it in and call it money well spent on behalf of a happy marriage :)

  • Lynn

    Ugh. These are my struggles. Yesterday when the call went out for posts about moving and moving in together, I thought, I need to write one of those. Not necessarily for APW, but for myself. I’ve got to get all of this tangle about our shared responsibilities and all of that stuff out of the way.

    The piece about fantasizing about being on your own again? I am so there. I could manage my life better on my own. But I’ve chosen him because truly I am better with him.

    I’m tied up in knots about the inequity in our relationship. Ambi said it for me last week (or the week before or whenever it was) when she said it was about taking steps to move our baby family forward. He had an epiphany this weekend when he was at his bachelor party this weekend with his dad and all of his boys. Before the bachelor party started (at our house), he and I had a little flare-up about the unequal responsibilities in our relationship. Apparently they pointed out to him how little he actually does….and he’s made calls about moving into another job, talked to the people he needs to talk to. That relieves some of my stress.

    We’re talking about it, but it’s still difficult.

    • That may be the best bachelor party conversation I’ve ever heard of. Kudos to the other men in his life for expecting him to be an equal contributor! It makes me happy to hear about men talking about this issue with other men, and being told in that context to step it up a little.

    • AMBI

      Lynn, I am so glad you are starting to see a little bit of hope in your situation (and that he is starting to see a new perspective on what you are both doing to contribute to the family). That is SO good to hear.

      As far as it being all about taking steps to move your baby family forward . . . sister, that hit home for you and me both!!! I have gotten even more focused on remedying some less-than-healthy situations I created in my own life, and we’re even taking the step of starting counseling (big step towards moving your baby family forward, in my opinion!). Maybe this needs to be our mantra, you and me – whenever we are resentful and stressed and tired and mad . . . just keep repeating “it’s all about taking steps to move our baby family forward.” That can mean getting up and loading the dishwasher, or going in for a scary job interview, or going running when you really just want to eat ice cream and watch reality TV. It all benefits the health and future of your baby family. You know what else does? Forgiveness and letting go. Finding happiness. Maybe you can think of it that way? Has your guy “earned” your forgiveness? Probably not, but that isn’t the point. Looking within yourself and finding the peace to love and forgive and accept him is a HUGE step toward moving your baby family to a happier place (a step that I would very much love my boyfriend to take. It is definitely work, on par with doing chores or getting a new job. Forgiveness is work!)

      You know, I am in a bit of a reflective mood today on topic of “work” and contributing, and whether that has to be in the form of doing things you don’t like to do. My friend that I have talked to you about before (and wrote about above) sees her husband’s contributions to the family in terms of the laid-back energy, romance, fun, and moral support he provides. These are things that come naturally to him, and he isn’t “working” to provide them the way she is to provide money (but you know what, she loves her job and would probably do it for much less) or clean the house (again, while most people don’t list chores as a hobby, she does get satisfaction out of having a clean house that he just doesn’t get – doesn’t care about). I personally do a lot of chores that I tend to enjoy – grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, gardening, making the beds, etc. – those things are contributions, but I don’t feel put out by doing them. My guy does stuff that neither of us really wants to do. It is interesting to think about how much we value other’s work based on whether they were doing something they wanted to do, or doing something unpleasant just to help out.

  • AMBI

    While it may be just a band-aid on a bigger problem, and probably isn’t “practical” for many people, several of my married friends have chosen to hire housekeepers in order to deal with this issue. They used to fight so much with their husbands, trying to get the guys to do more work around the house. And then one day, one of my smartest girlfriends had a lightbulb moment after fighting with her husband to mop the kitchen floor. He said, “I have had a really really long day at work and I am tired. I know it needs to be done, but I just can’t do it right now.” And she said, “You know what? I’ve had a really long day too. And as much as you don’t want to do it, I don’t want to do it either. There is no reason it should fall on me by default. I work really hard, and if you feel like you can push the housework off on someone else (me), well I should be able to do the same thing, so I’m hiring someone. If you have a problem with that, you can get up and mop the floor.” He didn’t have a problem with it.

    • Sarah

      You just brought up a good point.. The “it falls on me by default”.. I think for a lot of us, that’s what’s so frustrating, just knowing that it won’t get done if you don’t do it.

      • Hypothetical Sarah

        But will it not get done if you don’t do it? I know I feel the same way sometimes… but sometimes I feel that I hit my “SOMETHING MUST BE DONE” point before he does, so I get annoyed and do it. Maybe if I waited longer, they would actually get done.

    • Amber

      Yeah… that doesn’t solve the problem that he doesn’t think he has to contribute to the household. Everything she said is true, but it’s not fixing the bigger problem. Plus from what I know maid services don’t really clean your house like you would clean your house, it just looks like it’s been cleaned.

      • AMBI

        You know, with this particular friend, she isn’t really a neat freak or all that focused on having a clean house. Having someone make it look clean even if it really isn’t as clean as it could be, is enough for her.

        Honestly, I think the issue here is that neither one of them really wanted to contribute that much time to household maintenance. For her, it wasn’t as much about him doing more, as it was about her being able to do less – basically, she wanted equal freedom NOT to do chores, rather than an equal partner in doing them. Small difference, but for them, it makes hiring help an ideal solution.

        For me, I’d end up cleaning the whole house before the housekeeper got there.

      • Jenn

        I hired 2 women to clean my condo before I rented it out. I went through when they were done and found like 5 things that could have been done better (and the condo was empty, so 5 is a lot of things). In that situation, I should have just cleaned it myself, but in my normal day to day life, the “clean” they did would have been leaps and bounds better than my tidying.
        I grew up middle-middle class and felt like a class traitor hiring someone to clean. Then I sat down and thought about how I don’t tweeze my own eyebrows, color my own hair, or pick my own cuticles. Clearly, I’d been a traitor for years. Not sure why domestic assistance is different, but it was in my head.

    • EM

      totally. the thing about this is, it acknowledges the monetary value of the work that can get taken for granted.

    • I just want to point out that she ended up hiring the cleaning service. So she’s doing less work, now, but she’s still doing more than he is because she has to find, interview, hire, pay, and supervise the person who does the cleaning. Management is work.

  • Sarah

    Those are wonderful things, truly. But it can really get to you when you feel like you’re supposed to be in a partnership and you’re going it alone.

  • Kristina

    I know that this isn’t an option for everyone, but I’ve found that having a cleaning lady come in regularly to do the heavy cleaning (tub scrubbing, floor washing, etc.) really eases up a lot of the stress. If you can, throw money at the problem.

    • Being able to throw money this problem would be amazingggg…even though we’re cool in our split, who doesn’t like to not have chores? Last year I got a groupon for a housecleaning service and it was THE BEST WEEK EVER!

    • CBaker

      When my partner and I moved in together, we had a yard to take care of for the first time. A neighbor suggested their yard guy, and we hired him thinking it would be a short term solution. (Our yard was completely overgrown, the house had been unlived in for quite some time)

      Then…we priced out some lawn mowing equipment and found ourselves in the middle of one of the hottest DFW summers in history. We have kept our lawn guy over the year, and contribute to yard work ourselves here and there to get a discount. Overall, BEST MONEY EVER SPENT. It would take me hours to do what our guy does in twenty minutes. And I would be pissed, stressed, and hot the whole time. (and resentful) I am completely willing to work extra hours at work or craigslist items we no longer need/use/want to afford this service.

  • Umpteenth Sarah

    I think she sounded very grateful for all of the things she has — but just because she has some good things doesn’t mean that she can’t want things to be better on any number of different dimensions. And, since this is all clearly bothering her on a really tangible level, I think her feelings of resentment are totally justified and real, and shouldn’t just be dismissed because she has a PhD and a loving spouse.

    I think there is often a lot of pressure on successful women to be happy for their lot in life and that leads to an unsustainable desire to be grateful all the time for everything without complaining or wanting things to be better. That’s unfair — everyone, from all places, can want to improve their situation and has every right to.

    • YES. I think its also important to have people willing to say “I have a good life, I love my spouse, but this is driving me nuts and I need to change it.”

      So often we only hear stories like this from failed relationships, often as the last straw before leaving. But marriages are not going to be perfect and we need to be able to say that- we talk a lot about how WE need to change and make ourselves better in marriage, but its worth saying what else needs to move for things to work.

      Focussing on your own feelings only works if you are being completely unreasonable- if you’ve reached the point where you feel like you have a child instead of a partner some times, then you are quite right to complain.

  • Alvi the Small

    Totally hits our house too, but I’m more of the messy one. D just has a lower tolerance for daily mess than I do. Doesn’t make him a good person, or me a bad person, it just is. We do split up the work in other ways (I’m the go – to person for bathtubs and washing floors), but when it comes to being aware of dishes that need doing and jackets/shoes on the floor, D always gets there first.

    What helped me a lot (as the messier person) was to be asked directly to help for specific tasks. I try to pay more attention to the dishes, but frankly, I’m probably never going to see the kitchen in the same way he does. So we made it Officially Okay for him to see the mess, ask me to help with it, and for me to get up and help. It’s not perfect, but it keeps the resentment/guilt cycle from getting out of hand.

    On the flip side, what helps me is to ask for his help and to accept the help he gives. That means that his “clean tub” isn’t as clean as my “clean tub”, but that’s okay. Next time, it’ll be my turn, and we’ll catch up.

    • I think it’s important, also, for the neater person to be direct. My husband, as the neater person (but I am the cleaner person!), sometimes falls into the trap of making passive aggressive comments about the 3 outfits I tried on and rejected that morning still being on the floor instead of just saying, Hey, can you clean up your clothes in the bedroom? The latter is much more effective (and less infuriating for the recipient!).

  • KB

    My point wasn’t to insult the poster – I was just trying to point out that resentment comes from inside and addressing your own thoughts, feelings, and actions that have contributed to the situation is often the best way to begin alleviating resentment.

    • I hated that Shamu article. Your partner is not a pet! You should be able to talk to him/her.

      While it’s true that resentment comes from the inside, sometimes the solution is to communicate with the person you’re resenting and reach a different accommodation, rather than accepting the status quo.

  • Alison

    First of all, thank you for a strong, brave, post. I suppose I am luckier than I thought I was, because even though my fiance was raised by a ridiculously overbearing mother who wouldn’t even LET him do his own laundry or cook (he tried, she refused), he is SO willing to split everything with me. We cook together most nights, and he tends to do the dishes, while I tend to do the putting away of clean dishes. He vacuums, takes out the trash and recyclables, and does the floors, I dust and do the bathroom. he even does most of the laundry, folding and putting it away included! The only thing he doesn’t do is scoop the cat litter, but that’s because the cats are mine (and he is easily squeamish, haha). That being said, I am the main social planner of our partnership, which can get tiring.

    I often worry what our partnership will be like as it grows (we’ve been together 3 years, but only living together for about 8 months, getting married in 6!). I plan to go back to school to be a PA, which puts me at a much higher earning potential than my fiance (he is a teacher). Even currently, in public health, I have a much higher earning potential than my partner, which will make things complicated (at the very least) when we decide to have children. I’m sure that we’ll work it out, but it’s just one of those “things that make you go hmm”.

    But, dear original poster, you are brave and strong, and I think that as long as you and your partner stay in open, honest, communication, you can tackle this. Good luck. ::hugs::

  • This post and all the comments are so wonderful and I can relate to many of the themes in it. My husband and I both have big dreams and ambitions that often come with the possibility of needing to relocate or move. We moved to Seattle to pursue my career and fortunately it’s given him the opportunity to go back and finish school in an excellent program that he’s interested in. After he finishes school and starts looking for his dream job – who knows what will happen.

    I used to be the person that had our whole future planned out – that we would buy a house and be stable there for years to come, with pets, a garden, kids, etc. But I’ve begun to re-think that strategy and perspective and move towards more of a “we’ll roll with the punches” kind of additude. We both have big dreams and we’ll make the best decisions we can to acheive them together. The bottom line is that we love each other through thick and thin – and whereever we end up will be amazing because we’ll do it together.

    While all that sounds just peachy keen and rosey, sometimes things do get tough, but we’ve found that best remedy is to remember that we’re a team and we’ll acheive our dreams together whatever the obstacles may be.

  • SAM

    I’ve always considered myself the lazy spouse (in terms of housework) but reflecting on it, I’ve realized that we have a pretty equitable breakdown of chores. I’d say the only thing that falls squarely on my shoulders is social functions, vacations, and gifts/correspondence.

    I’m in grad school and work full time so I’m pretty busy in the evenings… my husband does all the kitchen cleaning and dish washing. We do grocery shopping and cooking together and each of us does our own laundry. Husband handles joint laundry (sheets, towels, etc.). We have a maid come once a month to do heavy cleaning and I try to keep things straightened up between the visits (this is my job because I’m the one who creates the messes).

    My husband makes more money than I do, but he’s also 5 years older than I am so he’s been in the workforce for longer (I earn almost exactly what he did at my age). We’re both pretty career-oriented and both of our jobs have about the same income potential over the long run. We’ve both made small career compromises over the years in support of each other, but we’ve always undertaken them as joint decisions (what’s best for our future, etc.). He has been super supportive while I’ve been in grad school and we’re now considering a big move for my career, so I’m pretty much a lucky woman.

  • Lara

    Great (important) post. I was bummed when my super-amazing family law professor said recent studies (in re: hetero couples) indicate that when both spouses work full time, the female takes on two times more housework than the male. What is up with that? My parents allocated chores between me and my brother equally. When my brother got to college he was the only one of his guy friends who knew how to do laundry (!) or sew a button on a shirt. I totally second (third, forth) hiring a house cleaner. Married law professor friends of mine: male was raised in a household where he never did any housework. When he takes a shower he throws his clothes on the bathroom floor. And leaves them there. He doesn’t expect his wife to pick them up. He just doesn’t realize that he needs to. She hired a house cleaner and tells her female students to do the same. She says they make too much an hour professionally to be paid nothing at home to do twice the housework. (And I think this should apply however much you make an hour!)

  • Laura

    This post hits home. That said, I was totally struck and inspired by a bullet point from yesterday’s Wordless Wedding (Allison & Dakota):

    “Wisdom from Allison’s father during his amazing toast: “Do more than your fair share, and don’t keep score.””

    Don’t Keep Score. Might have a conversation with my partner about this one…

  • anon

    eff. This was meant to be a response to someone asking about hiring help. I don’t know how to move it…..

    I’m an MD/PhD student and my husband is a lawyer at a big law firm and we have a baby. We’re busy. Very busy.

    A house cleaning service (twice/month) has been a godsend for us. We still disagree about chores but theres so much less to do. We pick up after ourselves but the major cleaning (floors, bathroom etc) is taken care of leaving us more quality time together. We’re lucky because my husband was raised by two busy professionals who divided the housework pretty evenly. We don’t split everything 50/50 but by our strengths and weaknesses and usually feel like things are pretty fair if not even.

    Some logistics:
    Right now I do 100% of the cooking and grocery shopping-I’m better at it and have the car
    My husband cleans up after I cook
    Laundry is 50/50.
    He does all bathroom cleaning between cleaner visits and takes out the trash.
    I still pump at work and the washing of parts and bottles is 75/25 with him doing more
    We have 2 cats and he does more for them then I do

    Obviously this has changed and evolved over time but right now it’s working pretty well for us. . Having a cleaner won’t solve underlying issues of equality but it does free up a lot of time.

    • AMBI

      Somehow I read that too fast and thought for a second that you said you had 25 cats . . .

      • 25 cats? The tumbleweeds would be insane…

    • anon

      I should add that we split finances but I book/plan 100% of our vacations

  • MEI

    After graduating from law school, my husband and I both were averaging 12 hour work days each (me at a big firm and him at a legal aid position), and some weekends. Household stuff was just not getting done, but it was what we needed to do to get our careers jumpstarted and make a dent into those student loans. It was a mess both in a literal and figurative sense and I started sinking into a pretty deep depression and needed to get out. I took a 1-2 year term position with the government where I average 9 hour days, and my husband took a big firm job averaging 12 hour days. I do the vast majority of the housework, which still leaves me running ragged, but in a much better place than we were. Now we are thinking about having children, and I’m having to ponder where I will go after this job. I think we’re concluding I may go part time, or even be a full time stay at home mom for awhile until I figure out where I want to go career-wise. While this ostensibly comes from a place of our personal preferences and needs (I enjoy housework, flexibility in my work schedule, and do not love legal work; husband does not enjoy housework and loves his job), this week’s postings have made me think long and hard about these decisions. I wonder about the gender/feminist implications of our decisions. I wonder what would happen if I did find a job I loved that was demanding. I wonder about the risk I’m taking — I always have my big fancy law degree to fall back on, but certainly I am essentially guaranteed to be killing my some of my earning potential if we go with these plans. But like the writer of this post, I have hope. I think a lot of it comes down to risk tolerance. It’s like Zoe sad in Firefly, “I ain’t so afraid of losing something that I ain’t gonna try to have it.” But measuring that risk, and thinking about why and how we negotiate through these decisions, is the meaty stuff a good life is made of.

  • W

    This post (and all the comments) were really interesting to read. I tend to think my wife and I have a good balance of daily/weekly/annual chores and planning, but after reading all this I feel I need to go check with her to make sure we’re on the same page. As a guy who does most of the cooking, dish-washing, and meal planning (we clean together on weekends- one of us vacuuming and the other sweeping), I tend to get praised all the time when people hear what I do. However, on the weeks when I’m swamped at work and she takes over the chores, our friends and family don’t shower her with praise. The double standard of praising men who help and expecting women to just do is dangerous because it piles the burden on women and doesn’t pressure guys to do more. Praising guys who cook/clean/work in the home is good, but we should do the same for women. Similarly, we need to instill an expectation that men will do work at home. (Side note- I say men should work at home rather than ‘help out’ because they (men) should view it as their responsibility to take the lead, rather than helping the women take care of her responsibilities.) The balance of who actually does the work will shift over the course of our lives as our career demands wax and wane (She’s a lawyer and I’m a doctor). But, the keys for us have been, and will continue to be, clear communication about our expectations, hopes, and frustrations, and the mindset that we’re in this together and our success inside and outside the home relies on sharing the responsibilities.

    • AMBI

      W, are you sure you aren’t my boyfriend, because these are exactly the same things he says! Your point about the double standard and the praise men get for “helping out” around the house, while women are judged if they don’t keep a clean house, is so true!!!

      I love having a husband’s perspective on this issue. And while I really really love that you agree with me (most of us) on the housework balance, I think it would be really interesting to hear from a man who doesn’t agree. For example, when I repeatedly ask my boyfriend to do certain things (like make the bed), we end up getting in a fight because he feels like I am nagging, and ultimately he just doesn’t see that particular chore as important (when no one is coming over and no one is going to see the unmade bed but the two of us and we are going to get back in it in a few hours and mess it up again). So our disconnect is over me harping at him to do things that he doesn’t view as important. Yeah, he works his butt off cleaning the bathroom and doing dishes and mowing the lawn and vacuuming pet hair off the carpet, but when it comes to tasks that he doesn’t see as priorities – washing windows, making beds, keeping the pantry organized, cleaning baseboards, etc.), I can never get him to help with those things. I am interested to hear your perspective on doing work around the house that you don’t see as important but that your wife does (if that is even an issue for you two).

      • W

        I asked my wife what were the things that she wished I did, but don’t do. She replied, “Nothing, honey, you’re perfect in every way.” But, she’s a lawyer, so she can’t be trusted…
        In truth, what probably presents the biggest hurdle for me is doing the laundry. She likes to keep the loads moving washer to dryer as the washer finishes, but I procrastinate and put it off until I happen to walk by the washer. It’s easy for me to think of the laundry as “her thing” that she does around the house. Dividing the tasks that need to be done isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the problem arises if she feels like I could contribute to the task, but don’t. If I’m just sitting on the couch it is easy to recognize that she could begin to resent me if I don’t get up. I’m far from perfect, but there are times I have to almost force myself to get up and do what I don’t want to do. As we were going through our engagement we talked a lot about what is love, and how do we love. One of the things we talked about is that love is active, and it involves choice. In those moments, if I do get up I hear the words ringing in my ears- “I am choosing to love.” It’s not easy, and more often than not I come up woefully short. In those times that I fail to do what I should do, I usually have no idea until much later when she mentions it. There are times when I don’t help out of spite (the “I did the dishes, so she can do the laundry” mindset), and that tends to tear down our relationship rather than build it. However, most of the time it is complacency and inattention rather than spite. Her reminders (what some of the commenters call nagging) are necessary for me to see what she wants from me, and a reminder of what I should do. Of course, it irritates me sometimes/often, but we try to talk to about how best she can remind me. But, responding with irritation when she reminds me to do something is an area that I need to work on. In the end, I can really only control how I act and respond to her. My goal is, as it should be, to act in love more often and to respond with a loving attitude more often.

        • AMBI

          I wrote another comment and I guess I accidentally deleted it before posting. I just wanted to say you seem like a pretty amazing human being, and I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us.

          It seems from your comments that you are willing to do things (or at least do them at a particular time rather than procrastinating) simply because it is important to your wife that you do so – not because you find it important to change the laundry over immediately, but because it matters to her. That is where I would like my relationship to be, and what we are working on. Right now, we are kind of divided because there are chores that each or us feel are unimportant or not valuable uses of our time, but that matter to the other person. I have tried to express to my partner that even though making the bed doesn’t matter at all to him, I want him to do it because it matters to me. In my mind, that should be enough of a reason. Same should go for me sweeping the deck, too, I guess. It is a struggle. But I am glad to hear from a man who lives it every day – it is a happy healthy place to be if we can get there!

          You seem to have mastered “do more than your fair share and don’t keep score.” Bravo!

        • Peabody_Bites

          I love the idea of “I am choosing to love” ringing in your ears when you get off the couch to help.

          For the past five years I was a big firm lawyer and my husband’s finance job was going pretty slow in the current economy and so he did all the cooking and dishes, we had a cleaning lady once a week for 3 hours because we both hate to clean and are terrible at it, and we did the grocery shopping and meal planning together on Saturday mornings. He didn’t resent the extra work he did on dishes etc. and didn’t resent eating dinner at 11pm so that we could eat dinner together most weeknights.
          Now that I have a new (saner but still 8-11hrs a day) job and his job has become very busy, I have by default taken on the cooking and, due to family circumstances eating up the weekends, the grocery shopping. I find it very difficult not to get resentful about doing all the cooking and eating so late to support him in his job. Remembering all the years he did it uncomplainingly for me didn’t seem to help, but I feel good about reframing it as “choosing to love”.
          Also – how lonely is it to get home from work at 7/8 and not have your partner get home til 11. I loved it at first because it was such a novelty to have time on my own in the apartment, but now it is kind of lonely and boring as well as giving me more time to do the laundry (cue nagging feeling of resentment). I need to start making plans with friends again and not feeling guilty that I’m not there if he does get home unexpectedly early.

          This two-big-careers stuff is so hard. And it won’t get any easier with babies. But I feel SO grateful that my husband takes on an equal share of the household work (other than organising social stuff and holidays, that has always sat with me even in the 18hour work day days) because his mother is a doctor and so his father has always taken on that stuff.

          What a great post. Thank you.

    • It’s like dudes who get praised for “babysitting” THEIR OWN CHILDREN. Although — given the social expectations, I do feel like guys who get past them deserve praise for being feminists, even if they don’t deserve praise for their ‘extra’ help.

      • ARGH! Men “babysitting” their own children drives me up the wall. It’s not babysitting when they are YOURS.

        Personally, I don’t feel that guys who get past the social expectations to be good feminists deserve praise for it – I think that just sets up a sense of entitlement. “Congratulations, you just met the minimum standards for basic human decency – here’s a cookie!” Ugh.

        That being said, I do praise men (and all kinds of people) for being fundamentally decent human beings all the time because I do think that acknowledging decency in a culture where it is frequently lacking is important. People like to be appreciated, and operant conditioning works, suckahs!

        That being said, I also kind of despise the NYT article on Shamu and marriage mentioned elsewhere in this thread…which advocates “training” your spouse via operant condition (much like you clicker train your dog). Is it effective? Probably – operant conditioning has been proven effective in species from sea slugs to humans. However, what does it say about your respect for your spouse that you are “training” them with techniques that work on sea slugs?

        Contradictions, I am full of them.

        • I guess what I’m saying is that in some ways it’s harder for guys to see gender stuff, so they should get some credit when they do. But I also see what you’re saying: seeing gender is everyone’s job, so it’s not extra praiseworthy for men to do it. I see your contradictions.

          (p.s. we are 100% on the same page today.)

          • Oh yeah, I totally knew we were on the same page when I read your comment…I just wanted to tease out the deserving thing a bit because the expectation of cookies for being decent is something that comes up A LOT in certain discussions of men + feminism and other instances of privilege, so I thought I would throw that out there. Sorry I didn’t make that more clear.

            FWIW, even while holding this view, I totally thank my partner as much as possible for his contributions to *our* household. Not because he’s “helping me” with something that is my default job, but because my life is easier and better for having his contributions and I genuinely appreciate that.

            I think that’s the important difference: “I appreciate you” v. “thanks for ‘helping’ run our household (which is actually my job)”.

            Just like if we were to have kids, I could thank him for when he watches them because that freed up an hour for me to work out (and I would expect the same thanks in return) v. “good job ‘babysitting’ our kid!”

          • Oh no, the 100% on the same page is about how we’ve had like 4 interactions on this thread, all of them in the form of YES I WAS ABOUT TO SAY THAT.

            Recognizing that your partner has a responsibility to do something doesn’t mean you can’t be grateful he or she actually did it. In fact I think expressing gratitude for everyday stuff is an important part of keeping both parties from feeling resentment.

          • Where do you live? We should obviously be friends in real life, LOL!

          • W

            I agree with all that you guys are saying, and would add that I think there is a distinction between what you say within your relationship to each other and what you say to your friends. My wife and I should be appreciating each other often and acknowledging all that she does for me and vice versa. I think in regards to our friends we often praise men for simply DOING something and we praise women for the PRODUCT of what they’ve done. For example, we tell men how great it is that they cook/clean/parent, but we tell women “that tasted great/your home is so clean/your children are so put together.”

        • W – OMG, yes! on the men get praised for doing, and women get praised for quality of product.

          Though I totally recognize that this is an issue with domestic labor, the place where this really grinds on me is at work. Granted, I work in a still male-dominated profession, but really, it is 20-effing-12 already.

          The dudes I work with get credit for doing the every day stuff that is already their job, as they should, and it is *assumed* that they do it well enough, so there is not even a question of quality. Women’s work is carefully scrutinized for errors, and treated as suspect until proven otherwise. Only having passed this extra level of scrutiny will it be praised and even then, women are only one failure away from being “incompetent” and proving that “women just aren’t very good at this work”. Whereas when the men screw up it’s, “oh well, everyone makes mistakes – he does such a good job on everything most of the time, I’m sure this was just a one time thing.” It very much contributes to the feeling that women have to do twice the work for half the credit.

          I would say this thinking very much bleeds over into our perceptions of domestic labor as well.

          • Rowany

            I think there’s also the factor that men (in general) are better at promoting themselves when they do good work, whereas women (again generalizing) tend to wait to be recognized for their work. I think this means that when a mistake is made women have less of a visible track record to fall back on compared to men.

            I think the subconscious differences in evaluations are also in play but acknowledging our need to assert ourselves is an important way to ameliorate it.

          • Yeesh. Your workplace sounds like it’s gunning for an EEOC complaint.

            (btw I live in the Bay Area. You’re in TX, right?)

      • AMBI

        When the first of our friends had a child, the husband often mentioned “babysitting,” until finally my boyfriend said to him, “Dude, babysitting your own child is called PARENTING.”

    • EM

      Yay for a male perspective– love it! This reminds me of this amazing essay about fatherhood in Michael Chabon’s “Manhood for Amateurs.” It starts, “The handy thing about being a father is that the historic standard is so pitifully low.”

    • EM

      Also: your point about praise is so well taken! I’ve posted this previously, but ever since I started thanking my FH for the things he does around the house, he’s been thanking me more, and everything is just SO MUCH EASIER! When the balance of the work shifts to me, I don’t resent it as much, and I’m so much more aware of what he actually is contributing. They seriously weren’t joking about the magic words in kindergarten!

      • Meredith

        This! I thank my bf for the chores he does and he thanks me for the ones I do. It shows that we notice the work the other is doing and are, of course, thankful for it (even if it is ‘my’ chore or ‘his’ chore). I know I feel good when he says “Thanks for making dinner tonight. It was delicious” and I’m sure he feels good when I say “Thanks for taking the trash out, that is very helpful.”

        It’s small but just the acknowledgement helps so much!

    • Lynn

      This weekend my will-be-husband-in-2-weeks had his bachelor party. I don’t like my soon-to-be-brother-in-law, but I could have kissed him. While the future Mr. Lynn was complaining about our little disagreement, his brother apparently read him the riot act about not contributing either financially or domestically to our household. Mr. Lynn told me that his brother, “told me to get off my ass and help you.”

      I am now glad I went out and bought an air mattress for his brother to sleep on while he was at the house this past weekend.

    • suzanna

      omg, I’ve done the opposite of this (not recommended for helping raise gratitude levels in a relationship): when my sweetie finished a chore and announced it to me, all proud and waiting for praise, my response was, “What? Do you want a gold star?”

    • Claire

      “Similarly, we need to instill an expectation that men will do work at home. (Side note- I say men should work at home rather than ‘help out’ because they (men) should view it as their responsibility to take the lead, rather than helping the women take care of her responsibilities.)”

      Yes. This is exactly why it really bothers me when women have to beg their partners to “help them out” with tasks that are just part of maintaining a household. Do your part seems more like it.

    • Yes, I LOVE that you don’t say you “help out” with the chores because that would imply that chores are your wife’s responsibility, and it is encouraging to hear your whole perspective. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and comments. I also liked your idea about actively expressing love through your actions (and doing things even when you don’t particularly feel like it).

  • Right now I’m reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin ( and in Month 2 of her Project she tackled marriage. One HUGE takeaway I got from the book was on her discussion of being a nag to her husband and being the one “holding down the fort” as you have described here. She said she decided on shifting her perspective from “he doesn’t help and he doesn’t care” to “I want to do these things for ME.” So, while her husband could care less about the things she nagged him to do she would often take charge and do them herself. Instead of being resentful or nagging, she decided that she wanted to do them because they were important to her. Not because she expected someone else to do them or care about them as much as she did. And it felt good to her to get things done that she really cared out/was invested in seeing to completion.

    Does that make sense? I think this has really helped me when I get down on the inequities in my marriage too.

    • Amber

      But what about things that just have to get done?
      Our cats will piss on our bed or clothes if the kitty litter doesn’t get changed within a certain time. How is changing the litter something I’d do for me? It needs to be done for the cats health and our not-getting-pissed-on bed.

      The bathroom/dishes has to be cleaned, or eventually you look like TLC is going to film your house. A lot of people don’t like cleaning, why should the woman have to take a positive attitude about it so she doesn’t feel like a nag to the guy who is willing to wait out the nagging and things will still be cleaned for him?

      • YES. I think the “I’m doing it for me” attitude is just fine with non-essentials, like, I really want to change out the curtains because that would be more aesthetically pleasing to me even though the ones we have are just fine.

        But when it comes to getting the necessary domestic maintenance done, I grow very weary of the idea that the woman is the one that needs to convince herself that she actually enjoys the chores or just buck up and do them herself, that the woman is the one who needs to change to accommodate the man, when all the research shows that she is ALREADY doing more. Why is it always on women to accommodate and compromise?

        Best one-line summary I’ve ever heard of this position, in response to a whiny husband on some TV show grousing about “why do I have to do chores? I just got home from work!” To his wife that was barely holding it down with two terribly behaved kids and an untrained dog at home:


        • YES. It shouldn’t be the woman’s job to just accept inequality. That’s what feminism is for (or rather against).

          • AMBI

            I understand the position Kim is talking about in The Happiness Project. This is what I have mentioned elsewhere in these comments – my boyfriend and I fight when I want him to do things that he doesn’t see as important or worth doing. Changing kitty litter probably wouldn’t fall into that category, but making the bed sure does. We disagree on the value of making the bed – I think it is important, and he thinks it is pointless unless we are going to have guests over. So I make it for me. Instead of nagging him every day to do something that he sees as a complete waste of his time, but which I see as a valuable use of time, I do it myself. We are opposites when it comes to dealing with leaves on the deck. He thinks we need to sweep them off every day, and I think it is pointless. So he does it. To me, it makes a lot of sense to view the non-essential chores like this. If you both think it needs to be done, split the work 50/50, but if one partner doesn’t see the vslue in doing the chore, it will be a constant battle. To me, it just makes sense that if only one partner cares about it, they are probably the one who is going to do it.

            Now, of course, that would be a problem if your partner doesn’t see the value in really essential and basic things like doing dishes, laundry, and cleaning the bathroom. Luckily, I don’t have that problem.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Loved reading about Rubin.

      It’s helpful to remember that each person has “cleaning” things for himself/herself. Once upon a time, my fiance got a bad case of athlete’s foot, so he’s super-careful about the bathtub drain not getting clogged. I don’t care as much, as long as I love the people using the bathtub. I do care about actually harmless mold in the corners, though.

      At the end of the day, if we each take care of our piccadilloes, we both enjoy a reasonably clean apartment.

  • katiebgood

    Wow, it’s like this post was written in another universe. Are there really that many guys out there who had stay at home moms these days? I think I can think of two my age, maybe, in the almost thirty range. And all these stereotypes about men and housework- my parents got divorced when I was ten, but they had a pretty even split, which they both insisted on (partly because dad was not impressed by mom’s cooking) and mom and her husband are similar, though cooking goes the other way.

    My fiance and I don’t live together, but he is naturally neater than I am (I can not stand real mess that includes dirt or food and am very picky about dish washing, but am okay with clutter, he is less so). He grew up with chores, I didn’t really, though neither of us really gets what the point of making the bed is supposed to be.

    There’s a crushing sense of inevitability to this post and the comments, based on gender and generational stereotypes, and I guess my point is that it doesn’t have to be that way. There is hope in good communication and respect.

    • Amber

      I and my husband had stay at home moms (we’re 29 and 30) but neither of us think the woman should be stuck with all the housework.

    • AMBI

      I personally know dozens (tens of dozens) of people who grew up with stay at home moms, and quite a few people who are stay at home moms today. It is fairly common. I agree with you about gender and stereotypes and how it doesn’t have to be that way. All I’m saying is that to, having a mom who stayed home or being a mom who stays home to raise the kids is not at all abnormal – I know a LOT of them!

  • Amber

    Ladies, we can’t stand for this kind of crap. And it is, it’s crap that we allow these men that we love and are supposed to be our lifetime partners to take advantage of us and lean on societal “norms.”

    Before my husband and I moved in together, we listed all the chores that were needed for the house and then divide it up and in general stuck to it (he probably ended up doing some of my chores if anything). And we did the same thing when we moved to our new place with different chores and cats.

    I get resentful sometimes even though he definitely does more of the grunt work chores than I do. But I do plan all our vacations, and I think, “Well isn’t it nice for him to just book leave and then have a trip all planned out.” I handle all the finances and bills, and I think, “He wouldn’t even know if I stopped paying bills and ruined our credit.” I take care of all the car stuff, and I think, “Isn’t this what boys are supposed to do?” I only think those bad things sometimes though.

    In reality, he does kitty litter, trash, half the laundry, two-thirds the dishes, at least half the house cleaning and some of the groceries, cooking (when it happens) and shopping. He also works 40 hours (plus overtime when it’s busy), where I get a day off. Even in our first living arrangement when I wasn’t employed at all, he never expected me to do all the house work since I was home all the time.

    But it sounds like I’m “lucky,” though isn’t that a horrible thought? That I’m lucky because my uterus doesn’t automatically make my partner think I should do all the housework, shouldn’t that be the standard?

  • Marisa-Andrea

    This is something three years in we are constantly renegotiating in our home and we very recently added a child to the mix. I have to say that for me, this is part of the work that goes into our marriage because it is work and effort to establish some type of equality in our marriage that many times, due to our cultural upbringing, lazines, selfishness or what have you, reverts to the typical and unfair woman = domestic chores + demanding career outside of home and man = just make money in demanding career outside of home. And it’s frustrating. We often engage in what I call the “Exhaustion Olympics” where I’m expected to handle more of the household and domestic tasks when we are both exhausted but for some reason, his exhaustion is greater than mine. A perfect example of this is when it comes to taking care of our five week old in the middle of the night. Last night I stayed up with her from the time I got home from work at 5 until about 1 am at which point I said I had to lay down and close my eyes because I was exhausted. To which my husband replied “Well, I’m exhausted too” and so it began. It can get frustrating and tiring having to engage this way constantly in my marriage. But then I remind myself anything worth having requires hard work and changing one’s cultural norms and expectations do not happen overnight or even within a relatively short time frame of 3 years.

    • That sounds hard!

    • AMBI

      That really does sound so difficult, and in a way I think it may be something a lot of people go through in different forms. I get frustrated when I feel like am doing more than my fair share, but then I find when we fight about it that he feels like HE is doing more than his fair share. And exhaustion is so much stronger than that. And since it is really impossible to understand or judge each other’s subjective exhaustion levels, I guess the only solution or advice I can think to offer is (1) talk to him about it at a neutral time, and (2) agree on a subjective measure (I am going with hours here, but there could be others). So, for example, some friends of mine have a policy that wife is responsible for the baby from 5 until midnight, while husband is responsible from midnight until 7. Every night. Whatever happens. Other friends have a different solution – whenever one partner has dealt with the baby for four hours, they are entitled to a trade off (and some sleep) no questions asked. Obviously, neither one is perfect, but you get the idea about subjective arguments about who is more exhausted versus objective measures. Anyway, as someone without kids, I can’t even imagine how hard it is. Good luck. It sounds like you are doing really well.

      • AMBI

        Meant to say agree on an objective measure – you get the point, though.

        Hugs and sympathy. This stuff is really really hard.

    • I expect changing cultural narratives would be especially hard. It’s one thing to have grown up in a similar culture — at least you know what kind of societal norms and expectations you’re up against. But fighting your partner’s background as well . . . woo! Exhausting. Patience is a virtue, I suppose . . .

  • Anonymous

    I’m the author of this post, and it’s great to see the thoughtful discussion from people who are just beginning to face these issues, and from those who have found solutions! There’s a lot of wisdom and good ideas here.

    For what it’s worth, we are doing better at the moment – I wrote this post a few months ago during a period of intense work stress (for both of us), and now that has calmed down a bit. We are trying to find a long-term solution to some of the work-related issues, which I think will help tremendously on the home front. (A big move is likely in our future, so add my vote for more on that topic!)

    • EM

      Glad to hear it, Anon! Although I haven’t spent much time in that dark place with my FH, we are most definitely in the early stages of dealing with these issues. The way you were able to write candidly about the darkness without losing sight of the warmth and love you clearly feel for your husband is completely inspirational. If/when we hit some bigger bumps in the road, regardless of whether or not they’re chore-related bumps, I know that I am going to re-read this.

  • I got back from vacation and ask my boyfriend what he chatted about with his friends. They were asking for relationship advice and he boiled it down to “Do the dishes.” We each have our own chores but sometimes we take on too much. I like to control finances, manage vacations and gifts, etc, but he knows when to step up and do the basic things. And if I feel like I do everything, I just need to ask him what he does because chances are I’m forgetting about the car repairs, renovation projects, yard work, and many other things that he takes care of.

  • Thought-provoking stuff. And exactly why I’m reading Half a Wife now, BEFORE we throw kids into our equation.

  • KT

    I was thinking about this last night, hoping, actually that APW would have a post on it in the near future since I know the smart women here always have great insights. The housework was always a bit of sore spot for me; then we moved for his job and I spent 6 months unemployed. My confidence took a huge hit (we work in the same industry, were paid almost the same out of school 5 years ago, now he makes $20k more and got the job immediately while it took me the better part of a year) and, because I was at home, I took over almost all of the chores. Though I’m back at work, the pattern was established and I’m not sure how to change it.

    • Lauren K.

      Talk about it! Find a time when your reasonably relaxed (not running out the door, not in the middle of a fight about something else) and say something like “Hey, when I was unemployed, I was doing more of the house work. Now that we’re both working again, let’s talk about how we divide the housework”. Seriously, talking is key.

  • I call BS on the idea that the person who cares more about the cleaning should do all of it. I care a lot less about cleanliness than my partner does, and if it were up to me we’d slowly sink into a swamp of clutter. But it’s not fair for her to get stuck with all the work and so it’s not fair for me to shirk. I have a responsibility to think about what she wants and needs in our household, too. That doesn’t mean that, if she wants everything spotless and I don’t care, I have to spend hours scrubbing the grout with a toothbrush. It just means we need to get to a mutually agreeable, equitable solution in which both of us contribute to our household in a way that works for both of us.

    We’re still working on getting it right, but I really think it’s essential to view household labor as shared labor, rather than something you do somehow for yourself.

  • Ashley/ Ailee

    This post and reading these comments has been incredible, because as I said in my longwinded post yesterday, I really really don’t want to be the CEO of the house. It’s gotten better, but I’m honestly considering ending couples counseling for a while and using that money instead for cleaning servcice instead. It takes him what feels like years to accomplish chores, even though he does believe in equity in the relationship. We are just very different, and both of us left exhausted with our careers.

    Thank you so much for this post especially, because as someone who is successful for my age and for the community I came from, I can feel guilty for not being fully satisfied, and could imagine feeling that way for a large portion of my life if Husband Elect and I don’t fix this. Also, as a visibly black woman marrying a visibly black man who is absolutely wonderful, I also feel a lot of pressure to STOP NAGGING, be grateful, and get in the kitchen and whip him up something yummy while in lingerie after giving him a back massage for just existing and “choosing” me. That’s a larger discussion and not really the point, but knowing that I’m not alone in feeling the inequity, and in then feeling the guilt for feeling resentful or unhappy about it is SO NICE.

  • C

    ‘Me running our household is one way I can help him in his battles with anxiety, which insidiously works its way into our lives.”

    This. yes. This is something that I have a hard time with. My husband suffers from anxiety and bipolar disorder so there are weeks where he doesn’t feel like doing anything and weeks where he is a stellar stay at home spouse (currently unemployed) and everything is clean and done. I have tried to “let things go” on the bad weeks and I’m getting there. With school and my job I’m out of the house for 14 hours each day so truly, if he wasn’t there, nothing at all would get done. Even if it is just scooping litter boxes and feeding the cats. I try not to pick up the slack on weekends of those bad weeks – if he doesn’t feel like house-keeping then it sure as heck isn’t falling on me to do on my one day off per week.

    It’s been a process though. Our roles right now are pretty messed up which doesn’t help this conversation at all – I am the sole breadwinner and going to school, he stays home all day. His anxiety and bipolar disorder affect our marriage in negative ways but it is MUCH better than it was say, 5 years ago. He is trying. But my husband is much less ambitious as I am. That is difficult for me to type and even more difficult for me to try and justify to people when I see them judging our situation (current and previous). Sometimes I feel like his mom, pushing him out the door to see his friends, pushing him to go back to school, etc. And then like the OP, “I realize that my existence would be hollow without my partner at my side.”

    So I guess in conclusion, thank you to whomever wrote this. Marriage is hard, yo. And even when things look picture perfect on the outside it’s nice to know that someone else is going through the same thing as you are.

  • Newtie

    You know, my fiance & I haven’t had too many problems with balancing running a household, and I think it’s partly because we tend to see these things in terms of how they benefit us. NO ONE wants to wash dishes, vacuum, clean the litter box, etc (or at least I don’t, and my sweetie doesn’t either). But. Would we rather not have a cat? Or not have clean floors?

    When the benefit of the task does not outweigh the task, we stop doing it. For example, we like having clean floors, but the benefit of having REALLY clean floors does not outweigh the hassle and irritation of vacuuming daily. So we vacuum maybe once a week, when the benefit seems worth it. We both like having tasty, home-cooked meals, but after working all day sometimes going through the trouble of cooking just isn’t worth it, so we eat out. This means we don’t have as much money to spend on other things (like, uh, our wedding…) but for us, having a food budget that allows for going to a restaurant when neither one of us can deal with cooking is SO worth it. I LOVE throwing dinner parties for my friends. But sometimes the stress that it will cause – cleaning, food prep, cleaning up after – just isn’t worth it. So I don’t throw as many dinner parties as I’d like to, and I go out for coffee more.

    I know there were times in the beginning when he kind of wished he could come home from work to a sparkling clean house and a meal on the table. And I could do that, even though I work full time too, and I’m a student. But if I did that, I would be a mean, cranky bitch, and I wouldn’t have any spare time to go on hikes with him or do the things we really love to do, and I wouldn’t have any spare emotional energy to listen to him and support him. So, really it was a question of asking himself, which did he want more? A sparkling home he didn’t have to clean himself, or a happy, well-balanced partner? For him, doing a fair amount of housework is so worth our mutual happiness.

    And I’ve had to think about how I want to FEEL in our partnership, and then act accordingly. I don’t want to FEEL like the “household CEO,” so I don’t ACT like one. I may think certain things should get done in certain ways at certain times. Then I have to ask myself: ok, is this something I want to do myself, that will make me feel good because the benefit is high enough? If the answer is yes, then I do it myself. If the answer is no, then I just let it go. For me, not feeling like the CEO is way, way more important than making sure everything gets done my way and on my time frame. I’ve discovered there are a LOT of things that used to make me think “If I don’t do it then it won’t get done!” just really don’t matter.

    And, we ask for help. Last semester, I was working too many hours and struggling to keep up my full-time student schedule, and my poor sweetie was doing all the household work, and it was just TOO MUCH for both of us. He felt really unhappy with the balance of household work, but I knew I really couldn’t do any more than what I was doing without sacrificing my sanity. We decided we could live on a little less income, ask for more help from our parents and friends, and let go of some chores. I cut back on my hours at work — this has meant a certain amount of financial stress, but for my fiance, it’s worth it to have more help with the household. And for me, it’s totally worth it to have him feeling happier and less bogged down by chores.

    Really thinking about what will make us happiest, over all, rather than thinking about what we would ideally love to have in a perfect-but-not-realistic-universe has made all the difference. I realize there are no perfect answers, I just wanted to share some of what has worked for us.

  • KateM

    I posted a comment above and then really thought through this post a little more. I am getting married next month and we just moved in together into a new place. The timing of this post was perfect as I am starting to get a little frustrated with the division of labor.
    And then it really struck me how much we are talking about fairness. (the word I most abhor. period. worst.ever) Is it fair that I cooked and did the dishes? Is it fair that he has to move the heavy stuff because I physically CAN’T? Is it fair that I have a f*ing period every month and have to go through labor if we want children? Relationships cannot be about fair, it is about 150% from each partner, not about 50/50. And equality doesn’t mean there are not differences in men and women and things that we naturally tend towards. We carry the children, we are the ones breastfeeding, we have a hormonal instinct to nest. I am not giving men a free pass by any means or think that women’s place is in the home or that men do not need to participate in a way that make for a happy home for everyone, however that is achieved. When and if kids come, he is going to be the stay-at-home dad and I am going to be the bread winner since I already pull the larger salary and I would like to keep working. When I think about that, I dread what the house is going to look like, because it is going to be a mess. I will do the dishes and never complain about them ever again because he deals with mechanics who have been trying to rip me off for years. He doesn’t like it, but he does it for me and because it needs to get done. Does it matter if one does more than the other? Does that make us anti-feminist because we like a pretty and clean house and he doesn’t care if his stinky gym bag sits in the living room for a week?
    We need to re-frame the conversation. It is about communicating to each other your feelings, needs, and wants. It is about finding a common ground about what makes you both happy. It is about comprising on certain things, and if you can’t, you might have to do it yourself. If you need him to do more around the house, it needs to be communicated. However, sometimes you do things because you love that person, and even if you don’t want to do it, you do it because it makes them happy or it makes your marriage smoother. You pick your battles.

    • However, sometimes you do things because you love that person, and even if you don’t want to do it, you do it because it makes them happy or it makes your marriage smoother.

      This, for sure. But you know what? That goes for both partners.

      • KateM

        I totally agree. I am not giving men or any partner a pass on the home, we are all adults, pick up after yourself, I am not your mom, and I shouldn’t have to nag you about it. I am just saying that the frame of the conversation needs to be considered.

        • I think people here (women) are saying that they feel like they get stuck having to make the accommodations — which, when you think about gender socialization, makes perfect sense. So yeah, we should all accept that we’ll do things (chores, moves, whatever) to make our partners happy, and that’s cool. But it’s not fair if one person gets stuck with that expectation by default.

          • Newtie

            I agree that women are socialized to accommodate other people, but I agree with Katem’s ideas about the importance of reframing things because that makes *me* happier. (and, I believe, has the potential to make all people happier). I don’t really see it so much as about accommodating someone else as using reframing as a tool to give myself peace of mind.

            For example, my fiance used to often leave hair in the sink after he shaved. When we first moved in together, this drove me NUTS. I spent a lot of time nagging him about it. I tried speaking very rationally and soberly to him about it. He sometimes remembered to clean up after himself, and sometimes he didn’t. I hardly noticed the times when he remembered, and would get *so angry* the times I walked into the bathroom with a hairy sink. Then one day, when I was cleaning out the sink AGAIN, all of a sudden it occurred to me, “One day I’ll be an old woman and my partner won’t be here anymore, and I won’t wake up to a sink full of hair anymore.” And just like that I just didn’t care that much about about hair in the sink.

            It’s not that *I* accommodated *him.* It’s that that reframing made *me* happier. We stopped fighting about hair in the sink and that made us *both* happier. In this case, this was an accidental “aha” moment kind of reframing, but I think intentionally reframing thoughts in this way – when appropriate – is good for me.

            And the weird thing is since then he’s suddenly started cleaning the sink 99.9% of the time. Without me ever asking.

  • Geepuff

    How bad is it that I want to say so many of these things to my hubs, but can’t even muster the chutzpah to send him the link?

    Bravo to you for writing this down, and bravo to APW for being a place where it’s safe to talk about things like this. I don’t comment often, but I really love this site and the community it fosters.

    • AMBI

      Bring it up with him! I know it is hard, but maybe just bring it up in conversation (“I read this really interesting article today about . . . how do you think we are doing at balancing these issues?”) Whatever he says opens up the discussion, and you can talk to him not only about the post and comments, but about how YOU feel y’all are doing.

      • Geepuff

        Very true. I feel like our house is sometimes an outward representation of our relationship. We love it, but it goes through some pretty messy phases. We need to check in and do some cleaning and managing (relationship and house wise)

      • Amber

        I straight up asked my husband, “do you think we share the chores?” And he got a little sad and said, “I should probably do more…” and I was like wtf are you talking about? (he’s the one who does a lot of the house chores anyway).

        I told him later that I told you all our cats will pee in the bed if their litter isn’t clean, and he said “yeah, that’s my main motivator. I know you’re not going to pee in the bed if the toilet isn’t cleaned every month.” :P

  • LBD

    I think the big question for me that I’m coming away with after reading through these comments is, why do we as women have such a gosh darn hard time talking to our significant others about these things?

    I don’t have an answer, but am curious to hear what others think. Is it because our culture tells us this should be our job / role? What are we afraid of? Why is is so hard? Why do we build up all this resentment about these kinds of things so that when we finally do talk about them, it’s a big ole fight?

    And in that big ole fight, my guess is a lot of our SO’s are coming away with “She’s mad because she always does X” not really the WHY of why we want them to do more chores, or the emotional meaning for us behind them doing-or-not-doing chores. Maybe those hard to express emotions are why it’s hard?

    • This article, for me, speaks strongly to your question:

      It’s really about saying to the men we love, “hey, I know you didn’t mean to, but you just hurt me with the careless thing you said” and how to navigate the entrenched sexism of our society that sometimes manifests itself in individuals we love and who love us back. (It’s not really about housework.) But on a deeper level it’s about confronting unexamined privilege and why that’s hard, and why we expect that doing so will sort of blow up in our faces (even and especially if we have partners who usually “get it”) and why the choice of what to do about it is not entirely consistent.

      There is a line in it: “Swallow shit, or ruin the whole afternoon?” that resonates with me as to why some of these things are so hard to confront. We *expect* that bringing it up will ruin the afternoon *because* the expectation that this is women’s work and men are entitled to generally opt out or “help” when they feel like it, is so culturally entrenched. And we wonder whether it is worth it to risk ruining the afternoon.

      But you are right – that needs to change. I would argue that the burden for changing it is not *exclusively* ours though, and I think the linked article (and the companion piece linked therein) does a good job of demonstrating why.

      • Also wanted to add: I don’t mean to erase the experiences of those in non-cis/hetero relationships. I apologize if I made anyone feel that way.

        The gender privilege disparity that is present in cis/hetero relationships is what this article is speaking to, though I think it can be more broadly applied to any relationship in which there are disparities of any privilege.

    • Geepuff

      Maybe it’s just me and I’m just overly sensitive (wait, did I just gaslight myself?? Ughhh), but I feel that there is this fear of coming off as a “crazy girl” or a “nag” or any other term to turn the argument around. I don’t want my partner to think i’m a crazy nag, but also, I don’t want to live with festering resentment.

      So, how do you bring this up in a safe and supporting way (while feeling the same way yourself)? How to not come off as a nag? I have terrrrrrrrible dust allergies, so cleaning is a health imperative for me, so it’s extra hurtful when my partner is a mess. I love my partner and he makes my life whole, but some times I want to wring his precious neck out of frustration

      • I don’t think you’re over-sensitive. For me, fear of coming off as a “nag” is the A#1 reason I struggle to talk about this with my partner…because I do not want to be a nag. (FWIW, he rarely actually thinks I am being a nag, but damn it if I can’t trust that he never will – it’s like the care about your wedding/bridezilla dichotomy – blech!) It makes him unhappy and it makes me unhappy and resentful. But if I swallow it, he’s not bothered and I’m still unhappy and resentful, and that’s no good either.

        That’s where I think the article I linked above makes a really good point: in order to get to a place where NO ONE is unhappy and resentful about these things, the men (or whichever offending party, but in the context of this example let’s go with it) have to take some responsibility for their privilege and come to this with the understanding that we are in a terrible “heads he wins, tails I lose” conundrum re: “nagging” (not that I advocate viewing this as a competition – I don’t). They have the power to turn that off by choosing not to respond with “why are you being such a nag”, and instead with “I’m sorry that I didn’t recognize this issue – let’s fix it together.”

        • Geepuff

          “But if I swallow it, he’s not bothered and I’m still unhappy and resentful, and that’s no good either.” Yes, and Thank You!

          Great article (as was the one she referenced), and I definitely recognize that dealing with the issue is better than swallowing and hiding any anger and resentment, but my Southern WASP side has issues with that sometimes. Best to just get it out though, before the molehill actually becomes a mountain.

          We’re all responsible for our own emotions and our choices. How I (or you or he or we) emotionally and mentally approach a conversation is each one’s individual choice as are the reactions resulting. Which is, I think, the hard part.

      • Lizzie

        I have a special nagging-wife persona that I step into when I’m trying to get him to see the point of frustration that I’m getting to. It’s a super-exaggerated version of what I’m afraid of being like, so it’s a joke (kinda) that also gets the point across. I also award or subtract points from some imaginary total when he remembers or forgets to do something that I asked him to do. It’s all ridiculous, but it gets the real frustrations and the accompanying resentment out there as a shared thing, and most of the time it happens with laughter instead of an argument.

        • That’s actually kind of a great idea to diffuse it with caricature. Me, I start singing in an exaggerated operatic voice the things I kind of want to snipe at him.

          Lalala! If you don’t put your socks awaaaaaaaaayyyyyy….I sear to you….lalala!…….I will flush them all down the toilet……and you will have to mop up the over flow-lolololooooooooooooo!

          I picture myself in a corset and Viking horned helmet when I do it.

          (That doesn’t come across as nearly so funny in text, but oh well, you get the picture.)

  • emma

    My parents had a very equal division of responsibilities that I observed while growing up, although each took the lead in certain areas. What I find the hardest is the responsibilities my Dad had (vacations, investments, etc) are things I wanted to rely on my husband for. It took some time but I realized those aren’t his strong points. We are currently planning our belated honeymoon and I mentioned to my Dad I was hoping my husband and I would split up planning in each city. My Dad said to me, just be prepared for when [husband] goes down to the reception on the first day in “his” city and asks what to do. It was a total wake up. I can’t expect him to plan the vacation I want or how I would plan it.

    I find the balance of letting go and changing your expectations is extremely hard, but always a work in progress.

  • No idea if this comment will be read, since there are already 230 (!!) comments, but I didn’t see this post so much as about chores as about the inequality in what it means to “have it all.” Or maybe I’m reading into it what I’ve been feeling lately.

    Similar to the author in this post, I have a demanding job that I love, but is more flexible that my husband’s. While we split most “house” things, such as cooking and cleaning and finances, he still often asks me “what do we have to eat at home,” or “what are you thinking for dinner,” which makes me feel like I am the CEO of the house, a position I don’t want to have.

    When I look at successful men in my field, I feel like they do not have the dual responsibility that I feel I have to a work-life balance. It seems like their idea of work-life balance is making time to spend with their families. I obviously do not know the details of their shared responsibilities with their partners, but most of them have partners who have less demanding jobs and seem able to manage the home/kids part of their lives. My idea of work-life balance means figuring out what we are going to eat, and keeping the house clean AND getting home in time to spend time with my husband. And while I’m not doing all of the house/life chores alone, I still feel a societal pressure to “manage it all” that I’m not sure exists with men. And I worry that that pressure will only increase when (and if) we have kids.

    • Anonymous

      Post Author here. Yes. Chores-that-go-on-a-chore-wheel are not the main story here. He actually does a lot of those (kitty litter, dishes, laundry, some bills) . . .

      Maybe I haven’t properly explained it – but we both face a great deal of pressure at work, yet I’m the one greasing the wheels to keep our train humming outside of work

      As you point out work-life balance is not the same for men and women. I’ve found it’s not – even when you have the same job.

      • CarMar

        Same – my husband has a very demanding job, probably works longer hours than I do (but he can leave work at work). But I still feel like I’m the one “greasing the wheels” and I think a lot of that is unfair societal pressure.

      • Jenn

        I think most folks latched onto the chore bit since it’s more tactile and, well, more obvious than other items (Social Planning, Budget, Vacation). I know I did. I feel the same way about non-chore list items that I do about chore-list items – we both had our own way to sorting that stuff out as singletons and we’re bumping heads a bit trying to figure out how to co-manage that. We’re both really good at bossy and really good at lazy, so it’s a challenge.

      • W

        I agree that men and women face different pressures- the world around us tends to say to men “you worked hard to bring home that paycheck, put your feet up” but tells women “work hard so that you can be successful in your job, but make sure you don’t mess up your home/children/husband.” As a guy, I could easily go through life without ever noticing the difference or understanding the different pressures my wife faces. I am thankful that she has been able to articulate those to me, but I don’t have any easy answers. However, understanding what she faces motivates me to find ways to share that burden and make sure she doesn’t face it alone. In my mind, that is what marriage should be- finding ways to stand against the pressures of the world together. I’m sure we’ll spend the rest of our lives succeeding sometimes and failing at other times to support each other.

      • Geepuff

        Oh man, if I have to show the boy how to view a google calendar one more time, I might just come out of my skin and a have Tennessee-Williams-Character style come apart. I love planning, I’m a stage manager, but part of planning is delegating. Right?

      • z

        I too think it’s unfortunate that this became a chore thing, although that’s a great topic in itself. But I have at times felt that I was the adult and he would only do things that I specifically delegated. I felt like I was all on my own for long-term financial planning, maintaining family relationships and friendships, doing the Big Think About Who We Are And Where Are We Going. It was really bad for our relationship, and kind of weighed on me like a dark cloud.

        However, I eventually found that when we would break our normal routine and get out of town for the weekend or something, we would have good conversations, and that he actually was thinking about these things, just couldn’t really verbalize them until he got away from the daily grind. So that was reassuring.

        The thing that triggers the “I’m the mom and he’s the kid,” for me, is table manners and hygiene. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but we expect 6-year-olds to master this stuff, and despite numerous discussions he just can’t seem to get there. Having to request that he use a napkin or chew with his mouth closed definitely makes me feel like the mommy. Nothing kills a fancy restaurant date like averting my eyes from the half-masticated food in his mouth, and the strong correlation between toothbrushing and nookie is really something a grown man should be able to figure out on his own.

    • Lauren K.

      This comment really made me stop and think. I’ve been reading off an on all day and thinking about the balance of housework between my partner and I. Now, I’m thinking about the balance of life management stuff, which is a work in progress (as is the housework). A lot of it is who we are separately. I plan a for the weekend a week out, he plans at the last minute. I LOVE planning vacations, possibly more than taking the vacation. Separate from me, he goes on group vacations primarily planned by other people. Occasionally I end up saying “Plan Something”. And then I go along with it, especially when it’s not what I would have done. How much of this is about control? And communication?

      Communication is my word for the day, both at work and at home. Lots of food for thought! Thanks for the interesting discussion.

      • AMBI

        Yes – we need a post on planners who love non-planners! I plan EVERYTHING, from our weekly shopping, to the logistics of seeing each family over the holidays, to how to fit in all the chores each week, to vacations, to all our social events. He is much happier just going with the flow and doing whatever develops naturally rather than following a plan. This drives me nuts! For example, when we are preparing to host a big party, I have a very organized list of what needs to be done and when it must be done (from cleaning to cooking to taking my shower and getting pretty before guests arrive), and it makes me INSANE when he won’t follow that schedule and will instead decide that an hour before guests arrive is a great time to start mowing the law or cleaning out the storage shed. He works hard around the house, an is always willing to do more than his fair share, but I have very strong ideas about when and how certain stuff needs to get done. I’ve put serious thought into this for goodness sake! Why can’t he just listen to me and understand the wisdom of doing some chores (like mowing) earlier, so that then you have time right before guests arrive to do the stuff that must be done right then (like cooking)? The same goes for all family events and vacations, etc. – he would rather not plan, and then we end up in a stressful situation where a family member gets their feelings hurt because we were overbooked and couldn’t fit in time to go visit them. Aghh!

        For me though, I am really happy to do all the planning. I prefer it that way (control freak, I guess). Honestly, I have a hard time giving up the power and letting him plan things, because in the back of my mind I feel like I would do it better. There have been way too many times when his fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants approach to life has meant that things just didn’t get done, or that I ended up doing his chores at the very last minute before a party instead of getting to shower and put on a cute dress and makeup. So, really, I guess, some of our planning issues all boil down to trust. I wish he would just trust me that my plan is the best way to do things, and I guess I need to trust him more that when he does plan something it will work out well.

        Planners vs. Non-planners make for a very interesting relationship dynamic! Until now, I hadn’t really thought about it in terms of gender or sex before, though. It is just a part of who I am and a part of who he is, and in my head the situation could very easily be reversed (in fact, we have friends where the guy is the planner and the girl is happy to have someone else grease the wheels and make everything run smoothly).

  • I feel I can hardly add to the wonderful discussion, and I don’t want to reduce this fabulous post to a discussion on chores and division of labor, but it’s refreshing to see in the comments that lots of women deal with the same things. My fiance is an incredibly kind, thoughtful dude, but…he’s kind of a slob. He still has a college-student mentality about mess – he can just ignore the piles of coke cans on the side table or the grime building up in the sink or the pants he took off three days ago that still lay in the middle of the bathroom floor. I used to be that way when I was younger, but I’m definitely in a different place now.

    Adjusting to this has been the only major challenge since we moved in together. Right now he has a job and I am unemployed, so I do the bulk of the housework. But, as I pointed out to him yesterday (such timeliness, APW!), in the fall I’m starting graduate school, and I’m just not willing to do the same amount of housework that I’ve been doing this year. Then I feel guilty getting mad at him because he’s paying for everything right now from groceries to my student loans. Then I feel guilty at myself for feeling like me doing laundry and taking out the garbage – basic self-sustaining stuff – is somehow a repayment for the work he does at his job. If I wasn’t living with him, he’d have to do it anyway, right?

    Luckily he knows I feel this way and wants to help out more, but it’s just so hard to make him pay attention to things that he doesn’t naturally *care* about.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Anxiety, depression, and bipolar have already been mentioned. In our relationship, it’s AD/HD that makes him close to literally unable to see the dust or remember the last time something was scrubbed. Basically, until we’re in enough of a routine that he can plan household chores like he plans things out for work, I have to be a nag. We’ve talked about it, and he says he’d rather I be a nag than resentful.

    • Dani B

      My bf of 6 years and I had been living together for 3, both of us gainfully employed and pretty much splitting household stuff along the lines of Hayley’s “When it Needs To Be Done Seriously OMG!” when we realised that the time for him to go back to school, if ever, was NOW. We moved to a much bigger city, I took on a more demanding job that I don’t particularly love but that pays the bills quite adequately, knowing that it’s a temporary move. He works part time and studies full time, which amounts to more than a full time load, so we agreed that I’d do most of the household stuff. This was totally ok with me, was my idea in the first place (guilt about my big student loans making me think I should definitely be superwoman to ‘make up’ for it…) until suddenly it wasn’t. It’s not just that I’m the primary breadwinner and the doer-of-all-things, it’s that a year into the arrangement I started to really think hard about whether I could carry on for another 3 years of it. He’s strugggling with his studies and not sure if he’ll make the threshold for entry into the master’s year, then add in a whole bunch of other lingering relationship issues, and we agreed that we needed a time out. I needed to fly the 500km home, reconnect with my family and friends for a few weeks, and hopefully we’d see everything with clearer eyes when we’re not right in the middle of it.
      So I came back, and the same dishes from when I left were on the counter. The cat has clones of himself drifting around under the piano, and the bathroom, well…
      But the boyfriend, he said, “I know we TALKED about you doing most of the housework, but I guess I didn’t actually realise that you really genuinely do most of it until you weren’t here. Yeah, you clean the bathroom, but you organise me and pester me about deadlines and insist that we leave the house together at least once a week, and I think I get it now. It’s not just folding the laundry, but all that other life stuff too.”
      So we’re renegotiating and reassessing, and the three weeks apart turned out to be exactly what we needed to start speaking honestly and with some perspective.
      He’s in the early stages of getting treatment for adult ADHD (which explains quite a lot, actually, although it doesn’t excuse anything) and hopefully won’t be feeling so overwhelmed with just studying that all he wants to do when he gets home is surf facebook and tumblr. I’ve picked up a new hobby that’s reasonably time consuming, comes with a totally new social group, and best of all is a physical outlet for the stress I feel elsewhere in life.
      Importantly, we’ve realised that I really *like* organising the ‘life stuff’, and I freaking hate housework. My job in catering involves a LOT of scrubbing and cleaning anyway, and carrying on with that at home is awful. He couldn’t organise his way out of a shoebox, doesn’t know when his mum’s birthday is, but makes the bed every morning and whistles while he washes the dishes and just thinks. HOW we didn’t see all this years ago I will never know – I think we were so obsessed with the idea of an equitable division of things that it never occurred to either of us that equal does not mean linear, or equal amounts of time, but that ‘equal’ is what feels fair between you. This lesson is slowly permeating our relationship, so it’s been interesting to see the discussion around here framed in terms of chores, since they’re tangible and the results are so visible (and clearly such a point of contention for so many people!).

  • EngagedInColorado

    Three words, if you can afford it:
    Hire. A. Maid.
    Back before I lost my job (thanks crappy economy!), I did, and I didn’t regret it a bit. I don’t mind everyday dishes, sweeping, and laundry, but that deep-down tile grout and toilet scrubbing? No thanks. I was single then, working on launching a freelance writing and blogging gig in my spare time, and slowly watching dust accumulate in corners. I had better uses for my valuable time, and plenty of money to spare. I had the maid come every other month, though, as a nod to economy. Now that I’m engaged, if I get to the point I can afford one again, I’m getting one again. I’d rather invest my time in my work and my relationship and in enjoying life. There’s no need to crucify yourself for a task you don’t even really need to do if you’re making a comfortable living. The guests will never know who scrubbed the toilet.

  • Anonymous

    What about the idea that “having it all” leaves one drained and feeling resentful, instead of emotionally fulfilled? Maybe it’s not possible to have a two-career couple without the home life taking a backseat?

  • FL_Farmer

    I have not had time to read all of these comments, so am apologizing now if this has already been mentioned… when my parents were newlyweds with demanding careers and babies, my mom nearly lost it about “the chores.” She was working 60-80 hours a week, taking care of little me, cooking, and trying to get my father to clean the house to her expectations (impossible.) As one of 5 kids herself, she felt like she had to live up to her mother’s example. When she brought this up to her own mother, my grandmother said, “Hire someone to help you. It is not worth your limited free time and stress to worry about bathroom cleaning.” To this day, while my parents have split chores and my mom will often vacuum in-between cleanings, a professional allows them to keep the peace.

  • AMBI

    Just a random anecdote to make you gag:

    My boyfriend, jokingly, when asked by his uncle how he had been doing: “Good I guess. Busy. Man, life would be a lot easier if I had a cook, a personal assistant and a maid.”

    Uncle: “So what you’re saying is that you need a wife?”


    • Ugh. And it’s stuff like this – this casual, “funny” misogyny – that really permeates society and warps our brains so that we have some of these internal dilemmas in the first place.

      • I would have had to sit on my hands to avoid this response:

        t(‘_’t )

    • Not Sarah


      I still see men who have wives like that who aren’t that much older than me (early twenties) and it drives me BONKERS. Bonkers, I tell you.

    • Jane

      Oh man, you know what gets me? When working married women joke, “I need a wife!” I mean honestly. You have a spouse. He should be supporting you the way you support him. Bluargh! I hate that joke. Fight the second shift in your marriages!

  • “We are trying to shake off our ingrained expectations and assumptions, which are so often shaping our narrative.”

    This sentence spoke (very loudly) to me, because our household chore situation is pretty effing great . . . but these expectations and assumptions in other arenas drives me nuts. I try to tell myself to just do what I want and not pay attention to what’s expected or assumed. Sometimes that makes me happy. Sometimes I feel as if I’m constantly walking uphill. Keep truckin’, peeps.

  • z

    I really struggled with the chores issue earlier in my relationship– for some reason it seems to have gotten a lot better, but I’m not sure why. Maybe I just stood my ground for long enough and finally it clicked.

    But it was never really about the chores themselves. It was really frustrating to experience the cycle of setting up new chore charts, which wouldn’t even last for a week. The infuriating cycle of him making commitments to clean and then immediately breaking them, so that even when we did set up a new system I never really believed it would work. Wasting yet another Saturday night on the Same Damn Fight, the crushing banality of fighting about something so boring. Every weekend was like a suspense movie– will he or won’t he clean the bathroom?!?!?– holding myself back from “nagging” and then flying into a fury when the agreed-upon time had finally passed. And internally rolling my eyes whenever he would call himself a feminist. I definitely started to see myself as the mom and him as a teenager, because he was so unreliable and irresponsible, and that’s terrible for a relationship (and especially for your sex life, unless you like that sort of thing I guess).

    I just couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t keep to these very simple, straightforward cleaning agreements, or why he couldn’t collaborate with me to come up with something he could actually fulfill. And it made me feel that commitments to me weren’t important in his eyes- – it really felt fundamentally disrespectful, a much bigger deal than the actual cleaning itself. It caused me to doubt our ability to problem-solve as a couple in general, and if you can’t effectively manage a household of two able-bodied adults, how on earth can you have a baby? It was a major problem the first year we moved in together, and it was really challenging. Hang in there!

    • I think you bring up a great point about agreeing on something and then the commitment being broken repeatedly. It’s not the actual chore but the disrespect that is felt because of the lack of follow-thru in the commitment. That cycle of trying to find a system that works that both people agree to and then one person not doing what they agreed to is definitely frustrating.

  • Sunny

    I enjoyed this post!

    I’m a bit cautious, though, about “hoping for the future” – I’m afraid that household habits established in the context of a love relationship are awfully difficult to break… so the counseling might be in order.

    I just wanted to share a few things – maybe helpful? What follows is maybe too detailed, but essentially it boils down to this: instead of trying to assess “equality”, try to assess equal number of hours spent in the tasks you outlined above. We did this and were surprised to find that we come out pretty equal in time spent on household/relationship work!

    You might be interested in this recent article in Time on gender and work in the household:

    This is how it works out for us concretely:
    In our relationship, I’m the one that likes things clean (as in, free of dirt), while he likes things neat and orderly. You’d be surprised how different those versions of “clean” can be! In any case, we’ve come to a division of labor that is
    – based on our strengths and on what we can enjoy (I love to cook, he is the best at picking up and putting things in their place)
    – responds to his ANXIETY, slight OCD tendencies, and need for a routine: he gets the tasks that adhere to a routine: like making the bed, washing the dishes, picking up in the mornings, garbage, picking up a few groceries that are the same every week and from the same place, vacuuming; I get the rest (including cooking, which I love, floor scrubbing and toilet scrubbing, which I’m pretty insistent about, and household laundry – we each do our own personal laundry). When yard work needs to be done, I give him the instructions, he does it (I have a bad back). Most weeks I do a little more, some weeks I do a lot less, and in those weeks where my job is out of control busy, I can count on him to get us and the household running, if only at a bare minimum!

  • Anonymous

    A lot of the comments seem to revolve around the aspect of shared cleaning responsibilities, but what struck me the most in the original post was the concern that one partner was constantly developing and maintaining the social/familial relationships outside their marriage–“greasing the wheels” and feeling as if she had to always take responsibility for things like phone calls, gift buying, vacation planning, etc.

    This is a problem with which I can definitely feel some affinity, and about which I sometimes find myself a bit frustrated. And it can be hard to talk about because it’s so non-quantifiable. With cleaning, you see direct and immediate results. With relationship building, it’s slower and measured more by feelings (and how many people you feel comfortable calling and asking to take you to the airport! *grin* )

    I’m reading a book right now called _Wild_ about hiking the PCT, and the author describes how her family just sort of disintegrated when her mother died. I have some personal experience with that, and often, it does seem as if those threads of community tend to be held by women (would be interested to find out how this problem rears its head in LGBT relationships), and they can blow away so easily when threads are broken.

    My partner and I are both a little bit introverted and shy, so even though we love having and being with friends, the act of planning activities with people we don’t know super well takes a lot of energy. And in a new town, everyone is someone we don’t know super well. I’ve asked my partner to help in the simple act of creating and maintaining friendships, and I think he does try, but like the author of the original post, I seem to find that it defaults to me (and maybe, matters most to me?), at least most of the time.

    I wonder often what my responsibility is in terms of helping him to maintain his own friends and biological-family relations. Other than occasionally reminding him to call his mom, I don’t do much, but then, neither does he…

  • Jane

    I am also an academic, married to a feminist man who has a demanding career of his own, and I am also scared of adding more work (ie, kids) to this mix. I strongly recommend a book called “Getting to 50/50” that my husband and I read before we got married and we both just loved it. It is absolutely inspiring and encouraging for duel career couples that also want kids. It has a wonderful message about being the change you want to see in the world: things like husbands taking full paternity leave, etc. It inspired my husband to negotiate for more paternity leave and scheduling flexibility when he started his new job and it worked. I also have to say: each partner just has to do their full share around the house. That seems non-negotiable to me! If there is resentment, something has gone awry in communication.

  • KV

    After living with my now husband for 7 years, my take on this topic is that we divide the necessary chores as much as we can, let slide what dirt we can live with, and try to be appreciative toward the other person. 99% of the time this works. When I have a moment of “chore hate,” I remind myself that this chore is something I “get” to do instead of “have to do.” By this I mean things like I *get* to make dinner for us in our kitchen, with yummy food we bought with our money, in the house we fixed up together. No one is making me do these things. I do them, and my husband does them, because we love each other and making our home together, and are incredibly fortunate to have what we have. Thinking about it this way will usually snap me out of chore funk.

  • Kathleen Shaw

    One question that arises for me, and perhaps this merits a whole new post, is what IS his side of the story? I am always curious to collect these, as I am interested in the ways in which women take these responsibilities on themselves and where they are coming from (our partners? our mothers? our society? our personalities?) I too feel the burden of mundane household inequalities, but the more I talk to my partner about them, the more complicated they become– I know he cares less about clean floors than me, but why? And why is my response to his lack of cleaning initiative brooding anger when I know he will help if I ask him to? What are our partners thinking about this? Do they even notice? I like hearing other male takes on this, since I usually get my info from one source.

  • Marguerite

    This post is very relevant to my (now-ended) partnership. He was a great feminist, but still didn’t quite get the amount of caretaking that I ended up doing by default in the maintenance of our lives. I’m relieved to hear that I wasn’t alone in this, and interested in hearing others’ solutions. But I can’t help but think that the solutions being offered are either kinda unlikely or kinda crappy. It’s either find a partner (in my case, the rare hetero man) who is on the same page as me or educate a partner about this subtle but important equality (unfortunately, this is more likely.) I went through the education process with my ex, and although he eventually got it, it took many years and a ended up taking a toll on the relationship. That toll was actually a major factor in ending our relationship. Just thinking about the prospect of potentially going through this with another partner makes me exhausted and angry. I’m not trying to belittle the offered solutions by any means–I wholeheartedly applaud everyone trying to make this difficult situation work–but I’m sad that in this day and age we STILL have to do this.