21 Day Relationship Challenge – Day 15

Consider Some Hard Facts about Shared Work

Today’s resolution suggests that you “Consider some hard facts about shared work.” One common source of conflict in relationships (at least in my relationships): Who should do what. Considering these facts about shared work may help you gain insight into ongoing arguments and resentment.

Did any of these facts help you think differently about struggles within your relationships?

Were you able to put that insight to use, and did it make a difference to your happiness?

We can all learn from each other, so please post your experiences with the resolution in the comments section below.

  • I struggled with this one for years, especially with laundry. When our daughter was little I tried selectively washing only her & my clothes. But then he would use “my” towels when he ran out even though he knew he wasn’t supposed to. Finally I came to accept that a) he’s really bad at doing laundry, b) he hates doing laundry, and most importantly, c) he’s really good at lots of other things that he enjoys a lot more. Strangely, once I developed this more loving (and less nagging) attitude about laundry, he developed some guilt about his inability to do laundry, so now I spend more time reassuring him that we don’t both have to be good at the same things, that his strengths complement mine, and that I love him for other things besides laundry. And he has voluntarily made efforts to do better at laundry, setting timers for the washer & dryer (though he can’t quite bring himself to fold & put away, poor guy).

    Would I rather he spend enormous mental energy making himself do that hated task, or save his mental energy for paying attention to me? Definitely pay attention to me!

  • This one’s interesting to me. In my last long-term relationship, it was a CONSTANT struggle. It might be that I took advantage of the other person always being willing to step in and just do what needed to be done. Oops!

    In my current relationship, we fell into an extremely balanced “dance” of sorts where we each pitch in on things differently. So one week, I may get a hair up my um, bottom, to clean the kitchen and do the dishes. The next week, he may be the one do the dishes.

    What I like is that no one “owns” a chore – we take turns doing dishes, laundry, vacuuming, dusting, etc. So if you think something needs to be done, you just do it yourself, instead of getting annoyed at the other person for not doing it.

    Interested to see what others’ experiences are!

    • gretchenrubin

      This approach gets trickier when you have children, in my experience.

      • We do have a 5-year-old and another on the way!

        • gretchenrubin

          Wow, and you can follow this strategy? I’m impressed!

    • cruella

      Great to read this – same here. And yes, there may be a mummy trap when the kids come BUT if one is prepared for it and see the potential problem much can be done to avoid it. Key, in my opinion, is to somehow get the father (since that seems to be the problem most of the time) to have some length of time at home, responsible for kids and household while mum is out of the house. SO much understanding for the endless chores of everyday life with kids around your feet to be gained!

  • Anna

    I am a single mom with two teenage children (son and daughter). They do much of the cleaning (bathroom, vacuuming shared spaces, empty dishwasher) as part of their weekly responsibilities. They were also supposed to be in charge of cleaning the kitchen after dinner (I do the cooking), but it wasn’t getting done, or they fought, or other unpleasantness. Now we do it together – three jobs: wash, dry and put away. I’d much rather be relaxing after my long day, but the job gets done, the kids don’t fight as much, and they accept it as routine without resistance. A pleasanter evening trumps 10 extra minutes in my arm chair (almost) every time.

  • rlvesch

    I feel like this is the perpetual challenge of every couple and it only intensifies when you have children. The biggest challenge I have given myself is to let go of how I would want or expect the chore to be done. If my husband does laundry and doesn’t fold things the “right way”, then I need to focus on just being content that he did the chore of his own volition. During our last conversation about the feelings of chore inequality, I expressed that I didn’t want to ask him to do something that obviously needed to be done. I wanted him to just see it and do it. But I learned that he just doesn’t necessarily see those things. He will do them, just in a different time frame. We agreed that it would be helpful for me to just keep a list in the kitchen with things that needed to get done (without names attached to the chore) and we could just look and choose what we wanted to do. So far it has worked out well. But I’m sure that this conversation will continue to rear it’s ugly head over the years. The “I’m more tired than you” or “I did more than you” conversations are pointless.

  • walt

    As one in a long term (20+years) relationship, we have settled
    into our “chosen chores”-those we prefer or are “wired” to do, enjoy doing or
    maybe perform a little “better” than the other. I don’t believe this is a wrong
    approach as it allows each of us the opportunity to practice gratitude and
    appreciation towards the other. “Wow. She just prepared a great tasting dinner for
    us after a long day at work.” And “I’m able to come home after work, do
    something I love to do-cook- and not have to worry about cleaning up afterwards
    because he doesn’t mind that task.”

  • KristyDoyle

    I really loved today’s challenge thought! It’s completely true, and it’s also important to keep these things in mind. Instead of begrudgingly doing the dishes every day, three times a day, wishing I had help, I’ve mentioned to my fiance that I don’t particularly like doing the dishes every time. He probably just thought I considered it my job, or just didn’t think of it at all — I automatically do the dishes every time, so why would he even give it a second thought!? But after telling him about that particular chore being an issue with me, he has started helping out a lot more!

    • gretchenrubin

      So happy this was helpful.

  • What a great post.
    Work done by others, in silence, sounds easy…always. I have to learn to be notice: me and my work. Sometimes is really important to remind other people your usefuld role.
    For me is particularly difficult to: If you want someone else to do a task, don’t do it yourself. I try to anticipate, to not wait other people willgness to do things. Thanks to remind me that.

  • ACB

    This is a fantastic post that I just forwarded to all my Mom friends. (I was tempted to forward to my husband too but didn’t want him to view it as another form of nagging)
    I constantly want my husband to do things he doesn’t view as important as I do and then when he doesn’t step in I feel taken advantage of when I do them. The advice to not do those things yourself is very important and very difficult! Also I need to realize that he has a difficult day, too, and appreciate what he contributes.

  • Miljana

    Anyway, the most important is organization. some
    compact, agreement. But, if somebody very often avoids his/her duties, that is
    alarm for changing politics, taking care that some people work only on/by
    pushing and high levels of adrenaline, and the others work without pushing and
    without tensions and competitions successfully. But, if and that doesn’t give
    good results, than change the partner (husband/wife). Or, you’ll be a donkey
    all your life and carry a heavy burden.If you accept that kind of life, put your
    head down, look down, and do not cry and whine. The same is with business.

  • Sasha

    Did I miss something? Was there a link to the “facts” that isn’t working on my computer? Or did you mean your own personal “facts” about the shared work in your relationship. Sorry to be so dense.
    I agree this is an enormous challenge as both my husband and I feel exhausted and unappreciated. Adding complexity to the argument is that we each spend more time on things that are important to us, but not to the other person. For example, I spend a lot of energy on the kids school and social experiences when he feels they would be fine on their own. He spends inordinate amounts of time on home maintenance when I would be willing to live in a less perfect house. On good days we accept our differences and our contributions. On bad days we say hurtful things about eachother’s delusional notions of helpfulness.

  • Julie W in Middletown, DE

    They say that money matters are the number one reason couples fight; I really think that division of labor and childcare trumps that. When my husband and I were both working full-time, I made a detailed list of everything to be done for us to divide up together. This visual had much more impact than constant verbal reminders (ie, nagging). It also brought to light many tasks he never really thought about, such as making appointments, buying birthday gifts, seasonal clothes shopping for the kids. And gave him a chance to remind me of the repairs, car maintenance and yard work he usually did. It helped us both appreciate what we each brought to the table. (As for the reminding, I now use an iPad app called Paperless to send him a checklist weekly, including appointments, weekly tasks and projects.)

  • Janean

    It is so true to not do someone else’s work. I don’t touch the garbage or recycling unless my husband is out of town. I would let it spill over, but it never does, as he knows it’s his job.
    Also, years ago in a previous relationship, when I did the laundry, I’d fold and put away. When my partner did the laundry, he never would put away. I resented that. Now I appreciate it. I do all of the laundry and folding, but only put mine away. Husband and kids know to have theirs off my bed by the end of the day. I think this gives them a reminder that magic fairies aren’t washing their clothes, while giving me better boundaries. Good reminders. Thx Gretchen.

  • blissinger

    My husband and I have two “jobs” we do together: an annual publishing project in which we still, after 24 years, don’t have all the responsibilities worked out, and our music, which is easy: he plays the guitar, I sing. We have no kids. In the house, I do the cleaning, cooking and first-of-the-morning tasks (coffee, breakfast, feeding the pets, walking the dog) and he does the evening chores (washing dishes — usually — walking the dog, locking up, filling the water mugs for the bedside, running the TV (we have streaming shows instead of cable). I used to resent that he never cooks, but I let that go a while ago. We each have our own room now (hallelujah!) so his mess can be hidden by closing the door. It works.

  • Mary Jane Bruce

    If you ask your spouse or one of your kids to help with a chore, you need to think to yourself: Do I want the help or do I want them to be happy about helping? You might not be able to have both. My kids may grumble about helping rake the leaves but they’re willing to do it. Just thank them with a smile on your face and ignore the grumbling. Also, give them some control. Do you want to help rake the leaves now or after lunch?

  • Diane Richey

    My almost 21 year old son lives with me. I’m in a relationship but he has his apt & i have my own place. I have tried everything over the years with my son to help out. He only does stuff when I specifically point it out to him to do. He likes things written down. Tried that, doesn’t work either unless I point at something like the trash, dishes or something else that needs to be done.