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Arguing About Household Chores. Is It Worth It? Relationship Advice

Updated on August 22, 2010

Dear Veronica,

I am having a really hard time with my husband. We get along really well in most regards but this one area is a big problem. My husband is Italian and comes from a family where the women do everything for the men. His mother did all his laundry and all his cooking and shopping and everything. Even after he moved out he would actually drive over there to drop his dirty laundry and shopping list off for his mother to do. She would cook for him too and stock his fridge and everything. When we first started dating I was shocked about it. I told him I thought it was odd a grown man be running home to mom to have his laundry done. But he told me she liked to do it and I guess I thought he'd outgrow it. When we moved in together I did all the housework. A few times I tried to get him to split up the chores with me but he would never do them. If he did, they were done poorly and I would have to redo them anyway. I admit I was caught up in living with my man and was trying to show him I could be a good wife so I didn't complain and I sucked it up and did all the chores even though I work just as many hours as he does. After we got married though I told him this really wasn't fair and I wanted to split up the housework. I even made a chart and put exactly what needed to be done and when but it never helped. We began fighting about it and it hasn't stopped. We've been married 2 years and I don't think he's done one load of laundry or cooked even one meal. It's bad enough that he won't pitch in with the cleaning or anything but he won't even just pick up after himself! His dirty dishes just sit wherever he ate. His dirty clothes just sit on the floor in the bedroom waiting for me to pick them up. He makes a mess and just leaves everything. A few times we've been fighting about this when his mother overhears and she makes it worse. But not in a mean way. I admit I really love my mother in law, she's charming and she's sweet and she really means well she's just very old fashioned. When she hears us fight she waves her hands and says "Stop! Don't fight! I will do the dishes! I will do your laundry!" So it's not like I can be mad at that. It's not even that she is butting in and trying to interfere. It's just that she hates to hear us fight. So she is willing to do anything to get us to stop. I don't know what to do to get him to understand that in this day and age it's not acceptable for him to think I'm going to do all the housework. I don't know what to do to get him to understand this. Veronica, help! How do get through to him?

Connie from Staten Island

Dear Connie from Staten Island,

Well you've gotten yourself into a bit of a pickle my dear. Let's pull this apart and see what's left.

I really need to stress this point, for you and for everyone who marries someone thinking they can change them. You said your husband was this way when you met him. So this isn't something new, and this isn't something he's doing just because it's you picking up after him. This is really him. It's the way he was raised. Right or wrong is besides the point. When you met him you knew this about him. And you accepted it. Saying you thought he'd outgrow it isn't fair.

Not only did you accept it, you admitted that you "got caught up living with your man and wanted him to think you'd be a good wife" and you did all the chores. So not only did you let him think you accepted him as he was while you were dating him, you reinforced it by showing him you can live together in perfect harmony.

You really have no right to fight with him about this. He hasn't hidden anything, or tricked you, or played any kind of game, he's just been himself. Look at it this way. You mentioned that you both work. So, imagine that you worked while you were dating, and he may have complained here and there, but he dealt with it. Then you moved in together, and he he made it completely agreeable that you had a job, because he wanted to show you he was a good husband. Then after you got married he started to telling you that you had to quite your job. He started fighting with you about it. Fighting with you, and telling you he'd thought you would have outgrown this by now. 

Think about how unfair that would be. Think about how you are exactly the person he met, and dated and fell in love with. And how unreasonable it would be for him to demand that you change. And think about how it would feel if he told you he was only so agreeable about your job because he was pretending to be good husband material. 

Your mother in law does sound sweet. Not butting in as you said, but wanting to fix any fights you two have is very sweet indeed. You're lucky to have a mother in law that is so special. Clearly, she did spoil her boy but as you said, she's old fashioned and it may be a part of that culture. The fact that she isn't inflicting her ways onto you is wonderful. She's not telling you that you should be doing his cooking and cleaning. She's simply wanting to help the two of you not to fight. Additionally I'm sure she feels partly responsible for this part of him that seems to make you so mad and unhappy. That's got to be hard for her.

Another thing that sounds kinda cool is that your husband did make some cleaning attempts. Granted they were so poor that you had to re-clean after him. But he did make an effort anyway.

The only variable going on here is what exactly your husband is saying to you when he fights with you about the chores. If he is saying things that are demeaning, or that make you feel like he thinks you're inferior to him, then that truly is a problem. A real problem. There are men that think a woman should be doing all the housework and cooking just because of her gender. There are men that believe they are superior to women so the women in their lives are supposed to take this subservient role and cater to them. If that is what you're going through, then this is not about splitting up laundry. This is about a character flaw. This is about something big bad and ugly.

But I have to insert here that normally when someone writes in with a problem regarding their partner, they don't omit things that further prove their case. I think if he was saying terrible things to you in these fights that you would have mentioned them in your email. I think if you felt he was a chauvinist or some kind of misogynist, that you would have said that. Instead you're saying things like how wonderful the relationship is, and how much you love your mother in law, and even that he tried to do things your way but failed. It doesn't sound like your man is an asshole. It just sounds like he doesn't pick up after himself or do housework There is a huge difference. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm going to finish off here still assuming he's not a creep.

You said that you get along fabulously with your mate with the exception of just this one thing. Right there, that's a pretty damn good scorecard. And when you think about it, this one thing isn't something horrible. He's not having affairs, secretly addicted to drugs, beating you, gambling your life savings away, or doing any number of things that really would be horrific.

So, this is the situation you've allowed yourself to be in. Expecting him to change isn't the best option. Obviously. It has resulted in fights that you're not winning, and probably a lot of hostility and resentment. You can't fight him into changing for you, especially this late in the game. Your way isn't working. So let's look at the others.

One brilliant solution is very simple. Hire someone. Farm the work out. He's been honest, forthcoming and very clear that he does not now nor has he ever been one to cook or clean or do laundry. You've picked up the slack. If you do not want to pick up the slack anymore, fine. You have as much right not to cook and clean as he does. If he doesn't want to do the chores, then he shouldn't mind your deciding who will do them for the both of you. Find your line. Find that place where you do what you feel is OK for you to do housework-wise, and farm out the rest.

Have a maid or a cleaning service come in. It's not as expensive as you may think. You can even have someone come a couple hours a day on weekdays, maybe even a high schooler for just an hour every day after school. You will be amazed at how that $15 bucks a day will change your stress about everything. I don't know what a high schooler would charge you, I'm sure it depends on the list of duties. Around where I am it ranges from $10 an hour to $20 right now. I have some kids from the high school help me out here after school in the fall, with leaf raking and packing away our summer lawn things. Even just one teenager for one hour once a week could be just enough relief that makes all the difference in the world.

If you don't want to go that route and you can afford to enjoy yourself a little more, have a cleaning service come once a week, or once every other week. Lots of reliable ones are out there. Fighting about who's going to clean the bathroom and strip the bed isn't worth while. If you don't want to do it, that's fine. And this is an excellent solution.

If you mind doing all the cooking, then stop. You're grown ups. You have lots of options. You can eat out more, and you can grab more take out. It doesn't have to be crap. Plenty of Whole Foods or other fresh-made options are available. You can make a huge healthy salad at the salad bar in most super markets for a pretty reasonable price. Even if you cooked the rest of the meal, just cutting out all the prep time and work to make a hearty salad might be the difference between your enjoying your meal or feeling frustrated by it.

You know, here's another option. Your husband who seems quite honest, said that his mother enjoys doing the housework care for her family. It's not out of the question that that is the truth. Maybe she would really like to have you over for dinner more. Setting a regular night or two a week would allow her to do what she enjoys and also save you on cooking, shopping, prepping and cleaning up. You can offer to give her money towards groceries, and if she won't accept you can do other things to repay her with gifts and good deeds. You could even ask her if you could take the leftovers home with you from these meals. She'd probably see that as a compliment. And I'm sure she'd much rather see you two finding a workable solution and allowing her to be apart of it, than to see you two fighting all the time about such a small aspect of life.

I really hope you'll consider this. You both work. Making some small adjusts to your budget to afford a cleaning service and eating out more often really is a smart way to avoid these fights. You may be surprised at how affordable it is. Even if it takes a little sacrificing here and there, if it will stop you from resenting him for this and fighting so much over this, then it is completely worth it.

And of course, this is a new language for you in the fight as well. If he says he doesn't want to shell out the money for a maid, then you give him a smile and a dustpan and say, fine.

One other suggestion you could try is a change of assessment. Instead of looking at the housework and laundry as falling all on your shoulders, begin assessing all of the duties involved in living together, as I'm sure there are some that your husband does. Does he take care of the car maintenance? Oil changes, washing the cars, taking them for tune ups? Does he cut the grass in the summer? Trim the hedges, pull the weeds? Does he do the snow shoveling in the winter? Does he do any of the bill writing? Any of the tax preparations, or any of the financial paperwork for the two of you? Is there anything he takes care of?

If so, maybe you could just try to adjust your thinking. For every thing you do housework-wise, maybe he does something for the two of you, as well. Even if you could just get it down to one or two things that he has to try to pitch in on regarding the house, like just picking up his own laundry and maybe running the vacuum just once a week, instead of trying to split it all up, you'll have more success with getting him to help out. If you try to think about things on a more even scale, maybe you won't feel compelled to fight about this. No matter what, fighting about it with him isn't helping. It isn't going to change anything.

Again let me reiterate traditional roles are bullshit. It is not his job to snow shovel and her job to cook and clean. I completely understand and validate how you feel about wanting to split up the housework. But, in your situation, that's just not fair at this point. You accepted him, you even played along. Find another way to fix this. It's such a small piece of what sounds like an otherwise awesome puzzle. Hire someone to clean, eat out more, let mom cook for you both, consider the other things he does for the two of you. This isn't hard, it just takes a little doing. Good luck to you.


Submit a Comment

  • SteveoMc profile image


    8 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

    So easy to label something women's work. If they accept it, then too bad for them. Being mostly lazy myself, I find it helpful to do as asked but do a terrible job of it. No arguing. She just says I need some help with, say, vacuuming and I jump right up and vacuum the whole place right then and there and empty the dust bin in the middle of the room and run the machine into everything and knock over stuff and move all the furniture out of positon and decide it looks better that way and run the vacuum over the edges of stuff and try to vacuum only when she is relaxing. Before you know it, she wants to do the vacuuming herself.

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from NY

    Thanks lindsey79. Good for them. Thanks for sharing that. Isn't that an amazing lesson: what everybody else does is not always about you. It's very freeing to learn that. It really isn't something to be taken personally. My husband and I use a cleaning service too. We just choose to spend our time differently. I'm glad your brother and his wife were able to be a team and work through that issue.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    That's exactly what my brother and sister-in-law did, Veronica---hired someone to help clean. They had to initially get past their own value judgments related to cleaning. For example, my SIL wanted things cleaner and saw his more naturally sloppy self as a sign of disrespect to her rather than he was just naturally not a neat person. But once she was able to disconnect this action with the value judgment and they were able to financially work out the details, it's the best decision they ever made according to my brother.

  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from NY


    Thanks so much for your comment. I agree, sometimes we just sink our heels in and we don't see that there really is more than one way to work through a problem.

  • 2patricias profile image


    8 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

    I really like your suggestions to hire in some help. It is a good example of lateral thinking. Sometimes we just run up against a brick wall, when we should turn in a new direction.


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