This Wednesday: Tips for getting your sweetheart to do chores—without nagging.

Tips for getting your sweetheart to do chores—without nagging.

In marriage, or any partnership, chores are a huge source of conflict. How do you get your sweetheart to hold up his or her end, without nagging?

 It’s annoying to hear a hectoring voice, so suggest tasks without words. When the Big Man needs a prescription filled, he puts his empty medicine bottle on the bathroom counter. Then I know to get it re-filled.

 If you need to voice a reminder, limit yourself to one word. Instead of barking out, “Now remember, I’ve told you a dozen times, stop off at the grocery store, we need milk, if you forget, you’re going right back out!” Instead, call out, “Grocery store!” or “Milk!”

 Don’t insist that a task be done on your schedule. “You’ve got to trim those hedges today!” Says who? Try, “When are you planning to trim the hedges?” If possible, show why something needs to be done by a certain time. “Will you be able to trim the hedges before our party next week?”

 Remind your partner that it’s better to decline a task than to break a promise. The Big Man told me that he’d emailed some friends to tell them we had to miss their dinner party to go to a family dinner—but he hadn’t. Then I had to cancel at the last minute. Now I tell him, “You don’t have to do it. But tell me, so I can it.”

 Have clear assignments. I always call repairmen; the Big Man always empties the Diaper Genie.

 Every once in a while, do your sweetheart’s task, for a treat. This kind of pitching-in wins enormous goodwill.

 Assign chores based on personal priorities. I hate a messy bedroom more than the Big Man, but he hates a messy kitchen more than I. So I do more tidying in the bedroom, and he does more in the kitchen.

 Do it yourself. I used to be annoyed with the Big Man because we never had cash in the house. Then I realized: why did I get to assign that job? Now I do it, and we always have cash, and I’m not annoyed.

 Keep a to-do list. That way, if an energetic mood strikes, you know what needs doing. This works very well with the Big Man. He makes fun of me, but I see him consult the list.

 Set aside a weekend afternoon for home improvement. Your sweetheart may think, “I’ll clean out the mess in the breakfast room when I have some free time,” but no one has that much free time. Make time for it.

 Settle for a partial victory. Maybe your partner won’t put dishes in the dishwasher, but getting them from the family room into the sink is a big improvement.

 Re-frame: decide that you actually enjoy a chore. This sounds ridiculous, but it works. I usually dislike shopping for kids’ clothes, but because the Big Man enjoys back-to-school shopping, I was able to find it fun, too.

 Re-frame: decide that you don’t mind doing a chore—like putting clothes in the hamper or hanging up wet towels.

 Don’t push for the impossible. The Big Man knows that there’s no way I’ll do anything relating to our car, so he doesn’t even ask.

 No carping from the sidelines. If your partner made the travel arrangements, don’t criticize the flight time. If your partner got the kids dressed, don’t mock the outfits. If you want something done your way, do it yourself.

 Remember that messy areas tend to stay messy, and tidy areas tend to stay tidy. If you want your partner to be neat, be neat yourself.

 If a task is a high priority, make that clear. I used to leave popsicle sticks all around the house. Then the Big Man held one up and said very nicely, “You know how some people feel about the cap being left off the toothpaste? That’s how I feel about these things.” Message received.

 Think about how money might be able to buy some happiness. Could you find a teenager to mow the lawn? Could you hire a weekly cleaning service? Could you buy prepared foods? Eliminating conflict in a relationship is a high happiness priority, so this is a place to spend money if it can help.

 A friend has a very radical solution: she and her husband don’t assign. That’s right. They never say, “Get me a diaper,” “The trash needs to go out,” etc. This only works because neither one of them is a slacker, but still—what a tactic!

I admit that these tips are practically useless, however, in a situation where one person is absolutely oblivious for the need for chores to be done. I have it easy, because if anything, the Big Man is more chore-oriented than I am. If a person simply does not care, it’s practically impossible to get him or her to participate.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • I absolutely love these tips!
    This is the first time i’m at your blog, so I’ll check it out. The concept of trying to find happiness consciously is one which i’m trying to implement, so i think i’ll be able to relate to your blog 🙂
    In the meantime, I’ll link to your post from my blog (my first blog, slightly scared of messing up…)

  • Dan

    This was going absolutely fantastically until the last paragraph.. any hints for those of us in that situation?

  • jo-less

    Argh, I have the ‘partner-is-oblivious’ problem! She just doesn’t seem to notice that things need to go back from whence they came and I spend my time following her around and putting them away. Luckily for me she knows she isn’t prepared to clean regularly so we have a cleaner, but I wish I could get her to just put the butter back in the fridge after she uses it…or the biscuit barrel back on the shelf…or take the stuff at the bottom of the stairs up with her….! Great post though, I shall try some of the suggestions.

  • Awesome Tips!!!! This is a topic near and dear to my heart since getting married 5 years ago. I have another one or two to add.
    Tip 1 – When my husband says he’ll do something and then doesn’t do it for weeks, I don’t nag. I’ll wait and then say, “Hon, it’s been a couple weeks since you said would clean the gutters, if you are too busy, I’ll call the gutter service. Would you like me to do that? 9 times out of 10, that gets him to do it because he doesn’t want to pay someone to do it.
    Tip 2 Earlier on in our marriage, we struggled because I like to keep things more organized and picked up than he does. He would moan and whine when I would complain and sometimes we would have big fights. So I decided to use logic with him rather than anger. I asked him if cared about my happiness. He said of course he did. So I pointed out to him the things that were making me very unhappy and asked him. “Does doing those things make you so happy that it’s worth making me so unhappy?” He thought about that and the logic really hit him. So he agreed to really try and we worked out a way that I could remind him without nagging him until he was able to change his habits. Naturally, I also volunteered to hear his list of things I did to bug him and we went through the same process.
    Thanks again for your list…that is going to be a GREAT section in your book!!!

  • Great stuff Gretchen, as usual. Clear and non-emotion laden communication is so effective in this arena! As to Dan’s question regarding your last paragraph, that’s a tough one that I help a lot of my clients with. Sometimes after you’ve tried every other strategy without success, it requires saying “We both deserve to be happy in our home. I understand you aren’t willing to contribute to helping keep things orderly, so I’m more than happy use our joint funds to pay for someone to come do it.” That may appeal to the frugal-minded person and motivate them to action if they see that it really bothers you and that you are serious about it getting done.
    The important point here is to recognize that everyone has the right to enjoy being in their home, including you. And if that means paying to have things done around the house that you’re not willing to take on by yourself, then so be it.
    Another possibility is that often the person who is not helping does so as a means of controlling some aspect of the relationship.

  • ps: I’ve also heard of people coming up with new household policies such as “anything left lying around the house at bedtime is fair game for trash or donation”.
    I know it sounds childish, but lemme tell you it gets their attention when the stuff they leave lying around just disappears. 🙂 This also works with kids.

  • Great suggestions for dealing with that recalcitrant person who won’t do ANYTHING. I agree that if you can afford to throw money at the problem, do it–this is such a source of conflict, and from what I hear, while some people can be motivated by the sensible suggestions above, some just will never lift a finger. One point about hiring someone else to clean your house: you must establish a tidy baseline. You’ll never be able to find something that someone else put away, unless that objects BELONGS somewhere. Vaccuuming around piles doesn’t get rid of the piles. Etc. I know some folks who have used the it-goes-in-the-hamper-or-it-goes-in-the-trash technique with success. It works on some people, but not with all. Another rule to try: “You lose it, you find it.” Because one of the most annoying thing about living with messy people is that you have to spend so much time helping them hunt for their keys.

  • Dan

    Monica and others.. Thanks, and I hear you on the “throw money at it” tip, but I have tried that and it didn’t seem to work, it would have just been playing right into their lazy plans.. and I also have a fundamental belief that if someone can’t learn to put their *own* things away, then paying someone else to do it is only going to make them even *more* lazy..
    I have also tried “If it doesn’t get tidy, it goes in the bin..” and while it works on the kids (and when it doesn’t, I just throw away all the broken and old stuff to remove clutter), my significant other just launches into a tirade of how “they know what has to be done” and how they were “just getting to it” and then next day the stuff is still lying around!!
    When I then use the other tips like calmly pointing out that the pair of shoes they were going to move is *still* there, i just cop another tirade..
    I have even tried rearranging furniture and removing as many flat surfaces as possible to limit the areas that can accumulate clutter.. but all that taught me is that its truly amazing how much stuff can balance on the back of an armchair!!!!!!!
    I will continue to brainstorm ideas, but i tell you it is EXTREMELY frustrating to really love a lazy person..

    • ajs

      Hi Dan. How ’bout your wife hooks up with my husband and you and I run off to live in a neat, clean house together?

  • Alex

    I have one of those that don’t care.. I throw something away he goes an buy new.. and we are on a budget well, I am. he is super helpful when it comes to strangers but at home he just won’t do anything. and asking/suggesting anything equals “nagging” he does his own laundry and takes the trash out thats it, shoes on the floor clothes everywhere is so frustrating! your tips work more for kids.. I tell my husband he is retard (not insult but literally) a person that you have to repeat everything everyday and without expect them to ever learn or remember… is sad. I’m going with hypnosis or brainw-ash next.

  • Alex

    I have one of those that don’t care.. I throw something away he goes an buy new.. and we are on a budget well, I am. he is super helpful when it comes to strangers but at home he just won’t do anything. and asking/suggesting anything equals “nagging” he does his own laundry and takes the trash out thats it, shoes on the floor clothes everywhere is so frustrating! your tips work more for kids.. I tell my husband he is retard (not insult but literally) a person that you have to repeat everything everyday and without expect them to ever learn or remember… is sad. I’m going with hypnosis or brainw-ash next.

  • Martha

    Dealing with those who do not care is difficult, but dealing with those who are just too important to waste their time on the mundane IS REALLY FRUSTRATING…and overtime it gets to be pretty insulting. I agree with Gretchin’s August 24th post…If you throw money at the problem, a very lazy or entitled spouse will take that oppportunity to do EVEN LESS.
    One thing that I have found helpful is to change my language. If I ask my husband to “Do something” or worse yet “take responsibility for something” I have found that really insults his ego. He likes it when he is asked to “take charge” or “honcho” something. It could be the very same thing, it is just VERY IMPORTANT that he not feel subordinate to anyone doing it.

  • Boy, I’m one of those messy people my boyfriend is trying to train. I don’t like mess, and I don’t consider myself lazy – but it’s definitely some kind of cluelessness.
    I don’t LIKE mess, but it sneaks up on me. Justifications range from, There’ll be time to pick up later, or It’s more efficient to do all the dishes at once, or Wouldn’t you rather ride your bike than fold laundry.
    My boyfriend is doing a great job of teaching me good habits in a very positive way – generally by depicting inanimate objects with emotions. “See how much HAPPIER the butter is when it’s in its home, here, in the fridge?” “Look how much FUN these shirts are having, hanging in the closet with all their friends!” It’s silly, but I’m gradually internalizing the “everything in its place” concept.
    And I never think he’s a nag. (Partly because I do recognize I need to change, and partly because he’s so cute doing it.)

  • Wow TasterSpoon. You are living my life. My husband does the exact same thing. He actually does a cheer when I clean up. He says it’s positive reinforcement. Some of my girlfriends think he’s being condescending, but I don’t take offense and know he means well. I really never learned to clean up or organize. I lived in a very messy household as a child.
    I can’t figure out why my husband is the neat one and I–the wife–am messy, but that’s the way it is.
    We pretty much have a “no nagging” policy at my house. We respect each other first. I relate to the comment about how some people treat strangers better than their own family. We are aware of that tendency (it happens with other couples and family members) and try to avoid it at all costs.

  • SelenesMom

    Usually, calling someone “lazy” is de-motivating and unlikely to get them tootling around the kitchen singing “Whistle While You Work.” My husband once did say that he thought I was just being lazy for not scrubbing down the whole stovetop every time we cook. I said that I might be lazy about this task, but thankfully I’m not lazy about the important stuff, like getting up in the morning, going to my job and earning the money for, among other things, an occasional housecleaner. I wonder whether some people aren’t missing the hard work their spouses may be doing (or at least feel like they’re doing) in areas other than cleaning.

  • Brandi

    These tips are great! I will be using most of these with my boyfriend and my son. Thanks!

  • Naveen Kumar

    Pretty much what your saying is just do all the work, while your partner enjoys his/her life. You’re not nagging anymore but now you are silently suffering. That’s plane stupid..

  • Oliva

    This is not useless, it may be simple, but absolutly genius!.

  • Dana Wine

    I feel like the message in this article is don’t push the lazy man? If I use the do it myself attitude, I do it myself. Example: my guy is on layoff as he does road work. I go to work come home from my day job and work two side gigs for myself. I do hair from home and flip houses, so I work! I ask him “can you clean up the yard ” we’ve been remodeling and there was a sink and toilet bowl out there and some scrap wood. I said “can you fix the lawn mower today?” The nieghbors probably want to vote us off of the island. He says “sure.” I come home nada. I’m naturally pissed in 5 min I clean the yard, load the mower in my car, take it to Home Depot for repair, while he plays video games. Don’t do it yourself! My mom always said once you do it once it will be you job forever. Amen mom. So the key is how to get him to do it without sounding like a bitch and NOT doing it to yourself?