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First thing I will say is that I did not con my husband into taking on half of our household work, and it certainly wasn’t an overnight success story. But I realized this week that we are finally there. Truly sharing 50% in household and childcare efforts. And, it’s such a relief!
Like many couples, we came into our marriage with different expectations around tidiness and chores. While neither of us enjoys housework, I would suffer through it for the benefit of a clutter-free, beautiful home. He, somehow, does not see the clutter and mess everywhere.
In the first few years of our marriage, I would be so overwhelmed by his clutter that I would just do all the cleaning up. At first, I thought it was my need-things-to-be-tidy-issue, so I should be the one do the work. But you probably know what happened, because it’s probably happened to you too. I. Was. So. Resentful.
He’s playing video games or watching TV and I’m cleaning up after him? What’s wrong with this picture? I. Am. Not. Your. Maid.
So I went on strike for about a year. But… I was still resentful. Now I was living in his pigsty! Ahhhh!
I remember the morning I started driving what I call “the equality initiative” at our house. As I was leaving for work, I said to my husband, “tonight, we are cleaning this pigsty up.” His response? “We are rubbing off on each other!” I quickly quipped back, “let’s be honest: neither of us is happy with these circumstances. You feel like you’re cleaning up all the time. And I feel like we’re living in squalor. It’s merely the price we pay for the happiness we get from being together.”
That morning was a huge realization for both of us. While our friends were fighting over who was doing the dishes or taking the kids to school, we were figuring it out and trying to find a middle ground we could both live with. Because at the end of the day, I wouldn’t give him up for my single-everything-in-its-place lifestyle. And neither would he.
Even at that point, I would have said my husband did about a third of our household work. He did his laundry, cooked dinner, took out the trash, did half of the grocery shopping, half of the direct childcare and anything else I would ask him to do. But he never did anything else, because it didn’t matter to him, and I truly think there were times he thought I enjoyed those activities.
So instead of asking him to do something right now, I would ask him to be in charge of specific household tasks.
First things first, when our daughter was born, I set a very clear expectation he would do half of the feedings, half of the middle of the night diaper changes, half of the baths, etc. We even had an app to keep up with who had done what last!
When, out of efficiency, I started both dropping our daughter off and picking her her up from school, he started playing video games in the morning before work. Yeah, that lasted less than two weeks before I asked him to find something constructive to do for the extra 20-minutes I was putting in. So now, every morning he does the dishes from the previous night. At the time of writing this, I have done the dishes once in the last year.
The thing is (right or wrong), men don’t necessarily see what needs to be done. So then you feel like you’re constantly nagging to get them to help. But if you set an expectation that they own certain tasks, they’ll do them. They want to make you happy. They just don’t “see” it. The key, I’ve found, is making the tasks repetitive, ideally daily, that force them to get in a habit and don’t require judgment to execute.
For instance, the kids have to get dressed every day. Put him in charge of that. Meals have to be cooked every day. Can he be in own cooking? Trash has to go out every Tuesday. Totally in his wheelhouse.
One huge area of progress for us has also been finally hiring a cleaning person to come in once a month and save us the full Sunday we would spend doing the deep cleaning tasks. That greatly reduced the total effort I was spending and helped get him to 50%.
It’s taken us ten years to get here, but it’s definitely worth it. I would say the biggest milestones that got us here are:
1. Be honest with each other about what we really want
2. Setting very clear ownership of repetitive/scheduled tasks for my husband like trash, dishes, kid duties that he needs to do daily and create habits around
3. Outsourcing some of the work to reduce the stress on ourselves
If you’re interested in checking out the cleaning service we use, it’s Handy. If you use this link, you’ll get $40 your first booking. There is no long-term commitment. If you like your Professional, you can request them again. If not, they’ll send you someone else. You have flexibility to request upgrades for a certain visit or cancel visits whenever you want. We have a Professional come once a month for four hours, which is plenty for us. It costs us $100 plus tip – and it’s worth every penny!
Hoping you’re able to get your partner to 50% too!