Are you ready to sit your partner down to talk about the aggravatingly unfair division of labour in your house? Here are some tips from psychologist Joshua Coleman, senior fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families.
Look for underlying issues
Before even starting to dig in to a discussion about division of domestic labour, Coleman suggests assessing whether your anger is actually being used as a stand-in for more profound grievances. “Some men may protest their feelings of being deprived or hurt in the relationship by not doing housework,” he says. “Similarly, a woman might be especially critical of her husband’s sloppiness because of feeling rejected, unseen or uncared for by him in other areas of their life.” If these deeper wrinkles aren’t ironed out first, Coleman says housework negotiations are bound to fail.
One of the biggest ways to shut down a conversation is to criticize your partner or use general negative statements about their character, like “you’re lazy.” Coleman suggests using language that inspires your partner to work together with you on solutions. For example: “I feel like I’m doing more work than I’d like to be doing, and I wanted to get your thoughts to see how we might move forward together on that.” If you really want to grease the wheels, begin the chat by acknowledging everything your partner is already doing.
Express standards as preferences
The reluctant spouse may need tips on how to do things. Giving feedback, however, can be a minefield. Coleman suggests first recognizing that your standards are just that—yours. “The person who has the higher standards often feels like they’re the right standards,” he says. “But if you come at it from the perspective of preference rather than moral certainty, you’ll have a much better chance at influencing your partner.” Although the person with the lower standards puts more of an imposition on the other’s lifestyle than vice versa, it helps to keep in mind that you’re talking to someone who may not choose to be as tidy as you. “The more you ask, ‘What can I do to get you to see it more my way?’ the better it’s going to go,” he says.
Take dramatic measures
If talking with your partner goes nowhere, Coleman suggests moving on to the “best alternative to a negotiated agreement,” a theory that negotiators use at the bargaining table. Coleman’s own wife used this when she was carrying the burden of supervising their kids’ piano lessons even though it was his desire that they take them. She just stopped doing it, forcing him to take up that duty if he really wanted it to continue. (I’ve also heard of women making dinner and doing laundry for everybody in the family except their husbands, as a kind of labour strike.) But if you see the conflict heading toward divorce, Coleman says you need to communicate that. “You can say, ‘Look, this is a very serious problem for me. It’s making me think about whether you and I are compatible, and it’s causing me to change my feelings about you.’” You want to make these statements, however, while you still have some love in the tank and the relationship is not beyond resuscitation.