Sharing household responsibilities can be a tricky business. Often individuals come into a marriage with very different ideas about gender roles and standards of household upkeep. If one partner comes from a family that observed very traditional roles regarding housework and child care while another partner had parents who shared those tasks equally or approached them in a very non-traditional way, there might be conflicts when this married couple begins to establish the division of work in their new family. Or if one comes from a home that had a higher standard of cleanliness than the other, there might be disagreement over how clean the house should be kept. This can cause stress and tension in even the most loving marriage. In order to keep resentment at bay, avoid the following while negotiating your household obligations.
1. Don't silently stew
If you are feeling frustrated with the way work is organized in your home, talk about it with your spouse. This does not mean you should make comments in the direction of your spouse like, "I seem to be the only one doing anything productive around here," or, "I guess if I don't do the dishes, then no one will." These types of passive-aggressive comments might give your spouse the hint that you are dissatisfied with the current arrangements, but will not give them a clear idea of what you want done about it. In fact, these kinds of comments will probably provoke your spouse to do even less because they will feel that you are being critical. Instead, find a time to sit down and calmly discuss your feelings. Ask for help. If your spouse doesn't share your perspective that things are imbalanced, try the following exercise:
Make a list of the household responsibilities that need to be done in a given day or week. Then write down who currently takes care of each responsibility. This will give each of you a concrete picture of the tasks to accomplish and who is doing what. This will allow you to discuss more realistically how you would prefer the workload to be divided.
2. Don't criticize
Criticism almost always breeds defensiveness. Keep in mind that everyone does things differently, but different doesn't mean bad. Instead of criticizing the way your spouse does housework, show your appreciation for the work they do. Ask your spouse respectfully if they would mind doing something a particular way, or let your spouse see how you do things and let them decide whether or not to change. If the difference bothers you too much, consider trading responsibilities so you can do it yourself without becoming anxious or irritated.
3. Don't maintain unrealistic or rigid expectations
Don’t require perfection out of yourself or your spouse. If both of you are working full time it is unlikely that you will be able to keep a completely clean and tidy house. Besides, your spouse may have a very different definition of what constitutes an acceptably clean home. Don’t expect him or her to do things exactly as you would do them. Instead, show appreciation for what they are doing. If you are hoping for your spouse to be exactly like your mother or father, you might end up waiting a long time. Relax your expectations regarding housework and be open to alternative solutions. Remember that your relationship with your spouse is more important than an impeccable home.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.