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How do you motivate your stay-at-home wife to do more cleaning?

Updated on November 27, 2011

This hub was written in response to a question by Nefarious_Misery, who wrote:

I understand we have four children, and I am in no way expecting an immaculate house, but there has to be SOME effort. It seems to me that she just sits on the couch all day.

The house isn't clean enough for ANYBODY.

I understand that raising 4 children is a chore in itself

I have bailed her out and cleaned the house myself only to have it return to a raging mess a week later

I have asked




given ultimatums

even threatened to leave

We set up cleaning schedules, assign chores, but she never sticks with it.

I work two jobs to keep us in the black (for the most part) I don't have time to sleep let alone clean the house.

P.S. I would LOVE to stay home and take care of the house/kids rather than work 80+ hours a week.

My Response:

First, some questions:

  1. Was she a good housekeeper before she had children? If not, it's extremely unlikely that she will improve now that she does.
  2. How old are the children? If any of them are under the age of three, I would honestly be more surprised if she did manage to keep a consistently neat house. If several of them are under the age of three, you should probably kiss your dream of a neat home goodbye for at least a few more years and focus instead on making sure that it doesn't get messy enough to actually become a health hazard.
  3. You say you think she just sits on the couch all day. With four children to look after, I think that's highly unlikely, but if she really does just sit on the couch all day, have you considered the possibility that she may be suffering from undiagnosed depression (possibly post-partum?) or other mental health issues? I think it would be worthwhile at the very least to sit down and have a serious conversation with her about the possibility of that, and preferably to talk to a doctor or therapist.

If the two of you decide together that it's not depression, but a simpler problem such as feeling overwhelmed, try breaking the issue down into smaller steps.

Write down a list of five simple, concrete tasks that you would like to have done every day in order to make the house more livable and sit down with her and your children (if they are old enough) to decide who will be in charge of doing them. For example, loading, running, and unloading the dishwasher, or picking up the toys on the living room floor and putting them away before bed are fairly easy, quick tasks that can nevertheless make a substantial difference in the appearance of the house.

I also recommend FlyLady as someone with a gift for breaking down housework into simple, doable pieces. "You can do anything for 15 minutes a day," she reminds her readers, and her website contains tons of free information, a support forum, and more. Encourage your wife to sign up for her mailing list and join her support forum and you may soon find the CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome) dramatically reduced.

Finally, you mentioned that you yourself work "80+ hours a week" and "don't have enough time to sleep, let alone clean the house." This raised a few red flags for me, as someone whose marriage barely survived a similar situation.

A book that really helped me and my husband sort through our problems is The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. Chapman believes that people have five primary methods of expressing love to each other and that different people value different methods more highly than others. When two people's love languages aren't compatible, it can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

Chapman's five love languages are:

  1. Quality Time
  2. Words of Affirmation
  3. Physical Touch
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Gifts

From your comments in the question, it sounds to me like you may place a high value on Acts of Service - you take pride in your role as provider for your family and seem to regard your wife's poor housekeeping as not holding up her side of the deal, as it were. If your wife places a higher value on a different love language, however, she may not recognize that you regard your hard work as an expression of love for her and your children.

If her primary love language happens to be Quality Time, she may be struggling especially hard to reconcile her emotions. This was the case in my family. As much as I appreciated on an intellectual level how hard my husband was working to support me and our daughter, I felt emotionally abandoned as a result of him working 80-110 hours a week, and the resulting rift in our marriage took years to fully repair. It's very common for men to become so focused on providing financially for their families that they overlook the importance of spending time with their families, and this can be a critical mistake with a spouse who values Quality Time.

Your wife may also be hurting emotionally if she values Gifts, Physical Touch, or Words of Affirmation and you are not providing these. Feelings of emotional abandonment could be contributing to feelings of being depressed or overwhelmed, which in turn can kill the motivation and will to perform even basic tasks.

Since money seems to be a real issue for your family, I suggest sitting down and talking with your wife about some ways you can stay financially afloat while meeting her emotional needs as well. Could your wife get a job so she can help your family's financial situation? Though it's more common for men, feeling financially dependent on a spouse and/or unable to contribute to relieving the family's financial problems can also lead to depression and feelings of helplessness in women.

If it's important to both of you that she stays home with the children (and/or if her potential income would be insufficient to cover the child care expenses that would result if she got a job out of the house), are there any home-based businesses she could try? You've obviously already discovered HubPages, which can be a great source of second income, but there are many other ways to make money with no job, and many small business opportunities that are appropriate for stay-at-home moms. is a great resource for moms who want to work at home.

Getting a job either in or outside the home will probably not improve your wife's housekeeping (in fact it may make it worse), but it should help relieve some of the pressure on you and enable you and your wife to form a productive partnership to deal jointly with financial, housework, and childcare duties, instead of continuing to split them unevenly and in a way that seems to be unsatisfactory to both of you.

If getting a job of any sort is not an option, are there any expenses you could cut back to allow you to spend more time at home? Are there any other ways you can find to meet her emotional needs and start the journey towards turning your marriage back into a happy one?

I don't mean to suggest that her emotional needs are the only ones that matter - they obviously aren't - but you are here on HubPages asking for advice on how to improve your marriage and she isn't, so without hearing her side of the story, I don't feel informed enough to offer specific advice for her. Also, as Gary Chapman points out in his books, most people do a better job of meeting the emotional needs of their spouses when their own are met, so by helping your wife feel more loved, appreciated, and supported, you are likely to find that she starts to do a better job of meeting your needs as well.

Good luck!


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    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 

      6 years ago from Southern Clime

      When a woman feels loved and appreciated, she usually becomes more energized and determined to meet her spouse's needs. If she is feeling a little depressed, criticism and threats will only make it worse. Maybe a special time and place for just the two of you could help. A candlelight dinner, a night out, a movie, or a picnic could be a starter. Put a lot of romance into it. I do believe that more quality time together could help. She probably feels neglected and needs an emotional “high.”

      Another thought, she could get a part-time job and use some of her money to pay a housekeeper, part-time or full time, depending on her salary. I often get behind on housekeeping, so I hire help to do major tasks when I need them done. Cleaning the range, storage rooms, cabinets, floors, and refrigerator and freezer are some of the big jobs. I get extremely good work done. Just a few hours of help takes a load of my mind and body! I just wish I had done this sooner; nevertheless, I am quite satisfied.

      I wish you and your wife over and above well!

      Great and interesting hub!

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma

      Ah. But what is the definition of "clean" here? Everyone has different standards. If a couple gets together and one is an absolute perfectionist, and the other is more of a clean-but-cluttered type...then there can simply be a difference in perception.

      Also, sometimes the house can be completely sterile in the morning, but by suppertime, you have to wonder where that hard work went. Sometimes the working spouse gets home just when things are at their most hectic, and the stay-at-home parent has just collapsed for a break.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      6 years ago

      Really good hub and gives people something to think about. Just came across it. Shared too.

    • diamondadvice profile image

      Liz Hancock 

      6 years ago

      What a thorough response! A well written hub showing both sides to this situation.

    • grinnin1 profile image


      6 years ago from st louis,mo

      Great hub. This is the bane of my existence! I am not a good housekeeper, and like Robie says, the standards are different. I don't even SEE things he sees, let alone let them bother me. I have tried to get better, I try to see things and one of my major improvements has just been to "tidy up", which doesn't necessarily mean it's clean, but gives the appearance to my husband that I am putting in some effort. And that's the point, because no matter how many hours I spend doing laundry, finances, grocery shopping, dishes, cooking, etc; if the house doesn' look "neat" , he doesn't see what I've done.Done venting- Great hub!

    • Robie Benve profile image

      Robie Benve 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      I have similar issues with my husband, it was already a problem when I was working, but after I stayed home, the complaints grew. I guess he expected a major improvement of the tidiness level. The fact is: we have different standards of what clean and acceptable is. Partially due to the fact that he grew up with a true house-maker mom, while I had an over-working mom that never had much time for household chores. So what is normal and lived-in for me, is messy to him.

      I gave you Awesome and voted up. Your hub is wonderfully written, and so truthful.

    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 

      6 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      Thank you for suggesting depression as a possibility. I experienced severe depression during/after my final pregnancy and did little other than basic survival--feeding the kids and keeping them safe. Otherwise I was either hiding somewhere crying or sleeping to escape the horrible pain and emptiness. Thankfully, dear friends realized what was happening and got me to the doctor. for a diagnosis of hypothyroidism as well as post-partum depression. Life is good now.

    • patchofearth profile image

      Rebecca Long 

      6 years ago from somewhere in the appalachian foothills

      Brilliant insightful and beautifully written. This is defenitely something that more people ought to read.

    • profile image

      Provider& stay at home 

      6 years ago

      Sometimes the husband does make a better homemaker than the wife and I think that is completely fine to accept and I learned to be a decent homemaker from my mother who had four kids and her own home based business, and top top it off,she made more than my dad lol

    • profile image

      Provider& stay at home 

      6 years ago

      Sometimes the husband does make a better homemaker than the wife and I think that is completely fine to accept and I learned to be a decent homemaker from my mother who had four kids and her own home based business, and top top it off,she made more than my dad lol

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      6 years ago from London, UK

      It is certainly the hardest job I ever done. Brilliantly written.

    • Frankly Baked profile image

      Frankly Baked 

      6 years ago

      lol! I love this one!, my wife should def read this

    • profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      It;s not easy, and the husband assuming that he would rather be at home than at work all of those hours is suffering from wishful thinking. It probably sounds fun to be at home instead of at work, but I don't know a single person who actually found it that way. It's boring, frustrating, upsetting, monotonous, isolating and sometimes scary. Going to work is simply going to work.

    • mljdgulley354 profile image


      6 years ago

      Great hub. Brings back memories when my five children were growing up. Trying to keep up with the house was a constant struggle.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 

      6 years ago from New Jersey

      I wasn't sure if it was meant to be satirical either, so I apologize if my answer was harsh. It's a big change to get used to 4 kids. If some are older, it would help to give them the easier chores. I realize if the other person works all the time, they need sleep. Then as a couple, they aren't getting any "we" time.

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 

      6 years ago from Northern California

      Hi kerryg. Voted up and more. When I first saw the title, I thought that you were kidding, and that this hub hub would be satirical in nature. I am pleasantly surprised. You've provided good information and good resources.

      However I feel the need to fill the humor void. Here's an old quote from my cousin.

      "My wife is a terrible housekeeper. Whenever I want to pee in the sink, it's full of dirty dishes!"

    • Nefarious_Misery profile image


      6 years ago from on the move

      Thank you kerryg for this very insightful hub. The most powerful statement to me that you made was that as the finincail provider that I would view her work around the house as a validation of love, whereas she would most likely not see it that way and feel isolated.

      We do have a toddler in the house (and have for the last 12 years) and no her house was not clean when we met. But there have been times in our 13 years together that she did keep an orderly house.

      Our children are 13, 9, 6, and 3. The older two do help with the housework, but their chores still require adult intervention to complete them.

      You've given me a lot to think about here. So I'll comment again to let you know if we've made any progress. And I will definitely be checking out the Flylady resouce to aid me further.

      Voted up and totally useful.

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 

      6 years ago from New Jersey

      If you were a woman who worked F/T before being a stay home Mom, I don't care how much you love your kids, the change in life style is extreme. You were used to getting up and dressing in business clothes. You spoke with adults who respected your opinions on work issues, and likely went out to lunch in nice restuarants. I would love to say the year I had my child was the best in my life. But I was lonely, felt like the chores were boring, meaningless, and Sh*****k that went unappreciated by anyone. My husband did work more, and our house was in an isolated area, so I didn't have other Moms my age around. Perhaps she could use a small P/T job just for mental health reasons. Or she could be suffering from depression. I tried many P/T jobs over the years to get out of the house a bit, but my husband felt that "watching" children meant just sitting there staring. So I'd come home to the dinner I cooked before work still out on the table, never cleared, a child unbathed who didn't do homework, a dog who wasn't walked, and basically felt punished for trying to work. She may be needing some "girl" time, or even if you act like you appreciate what she does more it would help. Let's face it, housework does not rivet the mind. I adore my son, and enjoyed my time with him. But I took him out every single day. A woman who can be inside walls all day has to be special or be ignoring all her own needs. Nobody is happy not having one minute to herself all day or night. At work at least you see and interact with other men. And I doubt if she has time to sit on the couch with four kids. Try not to have anymore, there must have been signs after number 2 or 3 that she wasn't into the housekeeping and picking up after kids stuff.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      6 years ago from Florida

      I read the question this morning, and responded. I think the children should share in household chores. I guess I defended the wife more than the husband on this. I had four children, worked full time in my husband's Veterinary clinic, kept house, etc.etc. with no outside help. My husband was too busy taking care of his practice to be of much help.

      I did it all with love and I did't have to see a therapist.

    • davenmidtown profile image

      David Stillwell 

      6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Very well said and I may have to get that flylady's book myself!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      Great response, Kerry! I guess you've figured out that my husband-training hub was inspired by this same question. lol. Voted this up!


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