Women regularly complain to me as a therapist that their guy doesn’t do enough around the house – familiar? My wife has the opposite problem; she complains that I do too much… at least she used to. That complaint disappeared after my sister-in-law said, “Never complain about a guy who doesn’t need to be told to take out the trash.” Both my brother and I are great at doing work around the house without being told – we were trained well. The surprising thing is we came from a home with a magic hamper and our lunches being made until the day we moved out to get married – it was sweet. As lucky as we were, we grew up doing chores, which helped us know the satisfaction of keeping your home in proper condition (or maybe it was because we grew up in the country). Because of my training, my wife and I have found a good 50-50 balance for work and doing chores at the house, which is really helpful for a successful relationship. With how easy it was for us to make this dynamic, it still surprises me when I hear someone in a marriage isn’t pulling their weight. A couple times in therapy I’ve had guys sheepishly admit they did the majority of work while their wife did her own selfish thing, and they wouldn’t have said anything unless I directly asked – they were scared of her reaction. In those cases, the guys were passive while their partner was entitled and she believed she deserved an unfair work sharing dynamic for some reason. When a guy isn’t doing enough chores, it’s very different (and more common). First, women are never sheepish when they share this and it rarely needs my prompting because there’s usually more resentment than fear. Second, when a guy isn’t doing his share of the work, unlike the women who didn’t help because they were entitled, there are three main reasons to consider: Is it her, him, or both? The problem is many people just assume the guy is the problem, so let’s consider the options.
Her: Sometimes when the woman has a complaint about the guy not doing enough work, the main problem is her. How is that possible? Good question. If I asked which gender tends to be more easygoing and less picky about their living situation (aka who is more likely to have milkcrates for furniture?) That’s an easy answer. If I asked which gender is more likely to shop at Home Sense or Bed Bath & Beyond for things to decorate a home? Again, simple. If I asked which gender is more likely to panic about the condition of the house when a guest randomly knocks on the door or when a service man visits, the stereotype is pretty clear. Men and women have very different standards. Sometimes, the woman will go overboard on her expectations and it doesn’t matter what the guy does, it’s never enough. I’ve met guys who will describe how much they do and it’s impressive to anyone but their wife because she’s working that hard if not harder. Sometimes when a man is said to be not doing enough around the house, the woman simply expects too much of herself and her partner. In therapy, I often find the goal is to help the woman be nicer to herself because many women have mastered feeling bad and worrying about making everyone happy, which is impossible. It’s amazing how many conflicts are created from the woman being really hard on herself and trying to fix the world at her own expense. If this is the case, the woman needs to be careful not to beat herself up or take on more work because the point here is to find ways for both people to be able to slow down and enjoy life more.
Him: Sometimes when a woman complains the guy isn’t doing enough it’s because he’s really not doing enough. In this case, there are many possible reasons. There is a chance that he was good at one point, but he’s given up because his wife is always redoing everything he does, so he gives up trying (my wife did this when her mom kept redoing everything she did as a teen). The more common reasons a guy doesn’t do enough, however, include he’s lazy, his standards are too low, his priorities are different (he’d rather have fun than do chores), he’s selfish with his time and energy (e.g. he’s addicted to video games), he’s a slob, he’s worn out from work, he was spoiled as a child (i.e. he didn’t do enough chores as a kid), it doesn’t register that his wife isn’t happy, he takes his partner for granted, or he’s going through some type of depression. It’s funny how we think women are complicated when it tends to be the guys who are harder to understand. Women are pretty easy to get – they want to make everyone happy or they’re the total opposite and completely entitled and self absorbed (social media can help distinguish the two).
Both: In this situation, there can be a mix of the Her and Him problems. Either way, there’s a good chance the guy gives up trying to make his partner happy because nothing makes her happy; as soon as one job is done, he’s given another and another and another, and there’s never any time for fun. This is like how a guy shuts down emotionally because if his partner asks what’s wrong, he knows if he’s honest he’s getting scolded and will end up saying, “I’m sorry,” so it’s easier to say he’s fine, which is often confused when he’s actually fine and there’s nothing going on. If a guy has learned that he’s darned if he does and darned if he doesn’t, he’s likely not going to do it. At the same time, if he learns he can get away with it, he’ll likely take advantage of it.
When it comes to getting a guy to work, I will say nagging never works, which is why the partner keeps nagging. Negotiating can have some benefit like “If you do (thing), I’ll do (thing),” or “If you don’t do (thing), I won’t do (thing),” but this can lead to tit for tat squabbling. Trying to understand can help, which means a question like “To clarify, do you think we are equal in the amount of the chores we do around the house or is it a different split like 60-40 or 70-30?” or “To clarify, do you just assume I like working around the house and don’t need help or is there another reason you don’t seem to care about the amount of work I do,” or “Out of curiosity, does it bother you that I do more work around the house or are you okay with it?” (Notice how there are always two options with one being more positive?). It can also be helpful to have a list of chores you want done in the month listed and agreed upon, so he can pick and choose when to do them, and there’s proof that he’s pulling his weight or not. The other option is to tell him you’re going to hire someone to do work around the house because you can’t keep up with it (that might light a fire under his butt) or you simply want to downsize to a smaller house to make less work. For some reason people want big houses when they really just lead to more work.
This week may you consider why there’s an imbalance (or a balance) in your sharing of the household responsibilities.
Rev Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)