All too often moms tell me, why does it seem like my husband is just another kid? How do I get him to do household chores without nagging him or treating him like a child?
In a household where my husband and I often work from home, we get an extraordinary amount of time together, by all standards. Since we tend to be such homebodies, we also create plenty of work in the household. If you don’t clean regularly you will be amazed by how much hair builds up in a week (especially 2 or 3..), the number of crumbs that pile up around the edges of kitchen counters, and the dirty trash and laundry stacked in the corner(doesn’t wash itself).
It’s not uncommon to feel like our household is a disaster shelter littered with food, garbage and toys. In an era where wives still disproportionately shoulder the burden, resentment towards your partner builds quite easily.
Go For Results, Rather Than Venting
My husband often opens wrappers to candy, toys, everything, and leaves the packaging at the scene of the crime. The worst is when most of the packaging is thrown away, but the top sliver is still left on the table for good measure. If you’ve spent all day picking up after a whiny seemingly helpless toddler, this might just be the last straw.
The next reasonable step would be some sort of confrontation with my husband, though that’s hard to do without emotion and frustration. Greeting my husband with anger will most likely cause defensiveness, causing resistance, and drawing more parallels in my head with looking after a toddler. The anger on both sides turns into a vicious cycle.
Another way to look at it would be, would you be more likely to do something voluntarily and without prompting if someone screamed at you and expressed disappointment? Part of your expression of anger is obviously an attempt to raise attention, but wouldn’t it be more effective to calmly say: “Seeing this wrapper makes me feel frustrated, because after a full day of cleaning up after my child, this seems to add to my load. I’d appreciate if you would remember to throw trash away immediately.”
Effective communication doesn’t mean that your husband will always remember. But the outcome and long term results far outweigh the negativity and resentment.
Noting – Don’t Identify With Your Anger
One of the techniques in the popular meditation app Headspace is the noting technique. The idea is that you do not have to be defined by the angry thoughts and feelings or let them dictate you. If you can note and label a feeling you have : “Oh that’s anger”, you start to distance yourself from it and start the path of letting it go. We often feed our own anger and get caught up in it, at the detriment of our own sanity. But the sooner you let it go, the faster you can move on and try to solve the issue.
Take Deep Breaths
Possibly the simplest strategy to pause the flood of emotions is to take a few deep breaths. Deep breathing calms your body from a physiological standpoint and helps to take your anger down from fight mode.
Remember Your Husband Is Not Your Toddler
How does your toddler react when you order him around, in a strict angry tone? Usually not well, with plenty of resistance. If the story in your head pictures your husband as a child who cannot look after himself, you will continue to rationalize that story until it’s undeniably true. If the narrative gets stuck, even the smallest provocations will trigger much bigger blowups. Your husband will also feel the derision and even hint of contempt that goes along with that story. How’s that for foreplay?
Set Clear Expectations
One of our recurring fights is that I ask my husband to do something but he doesn’t do it. At times I’ve even put it in our mutual to do list, only to keep waiting. When confronted, there’s usually some sort of mismatch in expectation of timeline or importance. “You asked me to book a cleaner, but I said I’d clean the bathrooms, and I did, so I thought we didn’t need to book a cleaner for awhile.”
Work On A Solution Together, Not By Yourself
If we step back and think about the origins of the “nagging”, there’s likely some mismatch in expectations. Are there any chores that have been assigned in your head, that you may think are perfectly reasonable, but haven’t been communicated to your partner?
Go Through Household Chore List
Write down every household chore you and your partner can possibly think of. Even include things you enjoy or don’t mind doing. Then rate both the level of importance to you (urgency), and your level of dislike for the chore. If you can find a chore that your husband loves to do but you hate, amazing! Maybe you already know some of these things, but actually hashing them out together gets everyone on the same page.
Use Apps or Technology For Support
We use wunderlist for our family to do list, which allows deadlines and “assignments” of duty. For chores we use a simple spreadsheet, but there are also plenty of chore apps with built in reminder. Rather than having parents nag each other on a task, let an app do the reminding.
An unhappy person is more likely to have unhappy thoughts. Being stuck in the grind of childcare can make any parent wonder where their adult lives have gone. Scheduling time away from the family,working on individual skills and hobbies is incredibly important to help your overall outlook.
If we could figure out a way for household chores to be well paid work, millions of new jobs would be created. In the meantime, trying to figure out a peaceful division of labor without friction takes effort, but is well worth the time.