Couples and Chores: Putting an End to the Chore Wars

Couples and chores is a not-unusual source of arguments, hurt feelings and disconnection in relationships.

However, what lies beneath the complaints that your partner is not doing his or her fair share of household chores, are typically much deeper feelings. And, it is these deeper emotions that can fuel the intensity of those arguments.

In this post, we’ll take that journey down to the depths of why couples and chores arguments can be so difficult to resolve, why many agreements couples make may not last and, then, offer suggestions for making peace over getting things done around your busy household.

Chore Wars Abound — And So Do the Consequences

One study showed that 25% of couples who divorced named disagreements about chores as a contributing factor, with infidelity and the relationship drifting apart as the top two reasons.

Other research showed that couples who chose to hire some help with household chores were happier because outsourcing chores gave them more time together.

Still, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that, while men are contributing more help these days with chores, women still spend more time doing household tasks.

Let’s Look at Deeper Reasons for Arguing About Chores

At the core of Emotionally Focused Therapy, the most-successful approach to helping couples, are three guiding principles that keep a couple’s emotional bond secure and strong:

  • Accessibility: Can I reach you when I need you?
  • Responsiveness: Can I rely on you to respond to me emotionally?
  • Engagement: Do I know you will value me and stay close?

Keeping that deeper focus on our core emotions, we can see how these basic needs are at the core of arguments of couples and chores. Consider these common themes of the chore wars:

  • “Don’t you see how much I have to do around here?”
  • “I feel so hurt when you don’t follow through with the chores you’ve committed to do!”
  • “I pull my weight around here, but you grumble every time I remind you of your responsibilities.”
  • “Oh, and why do I have to keep reminding you anyway?”
  • “Why don’t you understand why all the clutter and stuff  lying around bothers me?”

It takes a moment and some thought to make the connections: At the deeper, core level, one partner clearly feels hurt and unimportant when the other partner doesn’t do their fair share or keep a commitment.

And, it is those hurt feelings and deeper emotions that fuel the intensity of the arguments. One partner is protesting the apparent lack of honoring commitments that were made. Too, he or she can feel hurt when requests are seemingly ignored or forgotten.

In summary, the hurt partner is feeling that his or her needs are not understood or respected.

Couples and Chores Arguments: Chicken or the Egg?

Only by probing further, can couples understand the origins of their chore arguments.

We find in our therapy offices, that when couples are feeling distant, emotionally unsupported and the relationship is in distress, the chore arguments often are a symptom — rather than the root cause.

Jane is feeling hurt that John has not initiated intimacy or date nights. When John forgets his chore of taking out the trash, Jane fumes.. She barks at him: “Dang it, you’ve forgotten the trash again!” John only hears the anger, he isn’t aware of the more hidden, deeper pain.

On the other hand, when John and Jane are doing well and are kind and loving together, Jane’s request is entirely different:

“Hey, Hon, the trash is full. Could you take it out for me?” she says in a gentle tone.

He replies, also kindly: “Oops, sorry. I forgot to open the lid and check. I’m on it now!”

Easy, peasy, right?

It’s helpful to discern which came first: Couples and chores arguments — or a fundamental breakdown of closeness and connection.

The degrading of those three principles we listed above is, of course, more challenging to resolve. We’re going to focus here, though, on how to address the misunderstandings that occur about couples and chores and on suggestions to resolve or avoid those pesky chore wars.

The Essential Discussion

Failure to sit down and make some clear, distinct decisions about chores can clearly lead to a greater degree of misunderstandings later.

We also think it’s helpful to accept some basic chore-related principles:

  1. Some chores are less desirable or pleasant than others. Doing yard work in the hot summer months or cleaning bathrooms, for example. Oh, and dog poop clean up . . . .
  2. “Fairness” can change from time to time. When one partner’s workload is heavier it’s more difficult to share chores equally. This imbalance can occur, for example, when one partner is going to school plus working or when one partner’s job includes a great deal of travel. Therefore, one partner may have to pitch in to a greater degree at times.
  3. Agreements are best when they are continually reviewed, discussed and revised.

Creating the Best Chances for Success

Couples and chores agreements can have the best potential when you are both open and honest when making decisions.

Most importantly, if one of you is not okay with an agreement, are you speaking up to your partner? Can you say, for example, “Actually, that doesn’t feel right to me?” When you make an agreement you don’t truly agree with, you can be planting the seeds of a resentment — which can surface later as an argument.

Include in your discussion how you can support each other. Types of support can include taking on a few more tasks when one partner has higher work or childcare demands. The first year of a baby’s life is particularly taxing on both partners, however, often more so for the mom.

Discuss how you will remind each other if someone neglects a chore commitment. Clearly, you want to avoid angry, hostile encounters. If this has been a problem in the past, it can be helpful to discuss and agree how you’ll share your feelings going forward.

And, finally, agree to those regular discussions and to making revisions on the commitments if needed.

Neatness, Tidiness, Degrees of Orderliness

When not more deeply understood, the needs of one partner for greater levels of cleanliness and order can be a minefield for couples and chores arguments.

Getting to the heart of each person’s beliefs and feelings can be a game-changer. Replacing repeated arguments with a greater knowledge of your partner’s emotions related to the level of comfort he or she has with household order has the potential to reduce the discord.

At times, a person who requires greater tidiness, finds comfort in having everything in place. On the other hand, a person may have feelings of shame if the house is not attractive when company drops by.

Someone who grew up in a chaotic home environment may find peace in the stability of having everything in place. To the contrary, someone whose parents were very strict on chores may want relief as an adult from strict demands.

When each partner truly listens to their significant other’s story and accepts their partner’s feelings, it can become much easier to make those agreements about household chores. Too, when we feel heard by our partner, we can feel more secure and loved — as well as getting to the core of chore conflict.

Keep on Reading!

Some of our other blogs may be helpful:

Communication in relationships

Avoiding relationship conflictS