Tuesday, January 23, 2018

On the Division of Household Responsibilities

In 2016, I repainted substantially all of the interior surfaces in my house. The builder used a flat paint that didn't wear well--one touch to the surface would leave a permanent smudge. This just wouldn't do.

So I repainted everything except for the utility closet and the garage.

The utility closet is a second closet in one of the upstairs bedrooms. When my boyfriend moved in, we decided the utility closet would be the best place for his beat up bookcases. This meant that if I didn't repaint the utility closet now, there wouldn't be another natural opportunity until we move out of the house.

So I repainted the utility closet, while the boyfriend watched Blade Runner, which brings me to the real point of this post.

What are your tips for constructive conversations about the division of household labor?

I own the house.
I work full time.
He is a grad student.
He works part time as a reservist.
I would like the house to remain my sole and separate property, so he is not paying rent (unless you count the electric bill, which is the bill that is his responsibility).

Under these facts, I think there is a reasonable argument that I should be solely responsible for big ticket maintenance items, for example tree trimming and repainting. Yet, there is also a reasonable argument that he should do his part with respect to routine housekeeping.

Presently, I find myself doing the grocery shopping, laundry and housekeeping because--you guessed it--"you're so good at it." This is a response I did not expect based on our dynamic prior to his move in. To some extent, I invited this problem because he moved in immediately before his final exams and I offered to take care of things so that he could focus on studying.

Still, the current arrangement is not acceptable long-term.

To some extent, it seems men are either the type that help around the house or not, and we have to choose our men accordingly. Let's assume (since he's already moved into the house and all!) that he's more adaptable when providing any suggestions that you may have. In addition, I am not open to a race to the bottom (a piece of advice I have received offline is to stop doing chores until he starts helping).

Thanks in advance for your input.


Lucy said...

I think you explained it really well...just make him read the post :-)

Kidding apart, I would bring it up while you are both relaxed and not pissed about something and say: hey, I am going to plan things for next week and I need to know what is going to be the split between tasks. Let me get a paper and pen and run some scenarios. I was thinking about doing X, Y, Z...so could you take care of I, J, K? If not, you want to switch something? We are now living together and we need to start some good habits on work and expense sharing. We haven't done so because you were stressed with exams, but that is over now, so we need a plan. A plan we both agree on, nothing of torturer-victim pair.

And if he squirms you can remind him you are his girlfriend/partner not a surrogate mom. So as equal responsibility as possible.

On the financial side, I would add up all the utilities and split in half at the end of the month. Of course, property taxes and property upkeep is yours. But he should still shoulder his own living. It is not about paying rate, it is about paying your own expenses. And if he saves less, well, he will have to be more careful with his spending. He knew that going into grad school. Unless you guys operate with one pot of money.

Mommy Attorney said...

This will require compromise. One the one hand, it's your home and you've been living in it awhile and you probably have clear ideas of what should be done and when and how. He will have his own ideas about that and they may not line up with yours.

So first, show him that it's not fair for you to be responsible for everything. If he is a reasonable thinking person, that should not be the hard step. If it is, you need to reconsider your relationship. Seriously.

Second, find out what are things he is good at/enjoys/can competently do. Hopefully this is a long enough list that you can just turn those over to him and be done. If not, then google lists of household maintenance/functioning and show him things on that list and ask him to pick 5.

Third, if you give him the task of, say, loading the dishwasher. Then you cannot show him how he did it wrong, or re-do it behind his back. If it's his to do, it's his.

In my house, we have generally agreed-upon divisions of labor. Mine is longer (because, duh, I'm a woman and this is still a world where women put in way more hours than men). On Saturdays, we write down the tasks that need to be done and divide them out on a chalkboard. We each see what the other is responsible for, and keep each other (nicely) accountable.

My standards have lowered over the years (and the addition of 3 kids). His have gone up. We fought about household tasks and chores for at least 5 years. We've been together 19 and married 15.

Anonymous said...

Long time lurker, first time commentator (commentor?). I understand that your question is ostensibly about the division of household labor, but I can't help but think that what you are really asking (perhaps without realizing it) is: Should I keep this guy around? To which I would say - why are you living with a guy who lets you do all the work while living in your house for free? Is this really the kind of guy that you want to be the father to your children?

BearikaBallerina said...

I totally get this. While my SO helps with fixing things and installing things, I do all of the cleaning. All of it. It frustrates me but I'm the stepmom to his daughter and love them both to pieces. So for me, it's completely worth it. There are times where I ask myself if I really want to do this for always, but I love him and want to be with him/them forever so I just do it. She is so much like him too. They both strip down to undies when they get home and both leave their clothes and other things on the floor and I am always the one to clean them up. I hate anything being on the floor. I am the sole cleaner of our bathroom, sole cleaner of our room, sole dishwasher. It is sooooo annoying but eh, I love them. I guess if it's worth it, it's worth it.

Elizabeth said...

What's worked best for us is to have agreed upon chores. I do all the cooking, grocery shopping, most of the cleaning, walk the dog, and take care of the trash. My husband does anything technology related, all non-grocery store shopping, all the vacation planning, and cleans up our daughters' messes. I do a little bit more taking care of our daughter, but at most it's 60/40.

But I think it's also good to have an agreement about what chores should be done. His comment "you're so good at it" either means he's an asshole who is trying to get out of doing any work or you might have higher standards than him and he doesn't want to make the effort. My husband's standards are much higher than mine and so there are many areas where I do not perform the task because he would complain about all the things I failed to do. See, e.g., vacation planning.

In another example, my husband cleans up our daughter's toys because I don't see the point of putting something away that she's just going to take out and play with again tomorrow. If that task was delegated to me, I'd be pretty annoyed about it because I think it's a waste of time. In your painting example, I could see how your boyfriend might not think it's an important chore and so, while he's not going to stop you from doing it, he might not see the value in helping.

There are some chores that it's best to outsource if you can afford it. We have house cleaners come for two hours every week and a nanny that does a lot of cleaning while she watches my daughter. We also use a handy man to assemble any furniture. I expect this has saved a lot of fights.

But above all else, it's best to figure this out now because generally when people have kids the woman winds up doing even more work.

Sorry this turned into a manifesto! I apparently have a lot of thoughts on this subject.

starsrule9 said...

Please do a post about the advice you get. I am the primary earner and worker yet cook, grocery shop, plan all trips, budget and pay all bills. I have found no solution.

Anonymous said...

One of the best pieces of advice I got when getting married was not to start doing something I didn't want to do for the rest of my life. He needs to start doing some more stuff. Seriously. You work too hard. I know. I'm a lawyer. With kids.

Not trying to be rude but did you discuss this before he moved in? These are pretty common pitfalls for couples that breed resentment quickly. I agree with the comment about expenses...certainly he was paying rent somewhere before? Can he get groceries and cook 2 nights per week? or how about asking if he wants to cook dinner or cleanup?

Paragon2Pieces said...

@Anonymous: Don't worry, I'm not perceiving that as rude in the least. Before he moved in, I read as many articles as I could about moving in together, common pitfalls, regrets that people have after the fact, etc., and made a nearly 50 point list of things I wanted to discuss and agree in advance. We will need to revisit the conversation to try to get what was said aligned with what we're actually doing.

He did pay rent before. I was feeling generous and wanting to give him financial breathing room during his last semester of grad school.

Anonymous said...

I'm not understanding your comment about wanting to make sure your house is your sole and separate property--how would him paying rent or helping with repairs change that?

nrlrose7 said...

As I have the more demanding job and generally care less about housework, my husband does the bulk of it. But when he starts to get resentful, either that i'm not pulling my share or not being appreciative, we talk about it. Like someone else said, try to have the conversation when you're not already mad. And don't bring it up as ammunition in another argument. I was very surprised when he first told me I wasn't doing enough, and we had a real conversation about chores, expectation, and emotional labor. There is no perfect division, but you have to find what you're comfortable with. My husband does the laundry, but I almost always refold my clothes because I like them a particular way.

KW said...

What if you said you were feeling overwhelmed, is there something he could take off your plate? Then, it gives him the choice of what to do?

Anonymous said...

One thing I will say is that there are some chores/tasks he is going to be interested in doing on his own with no prompting and some that he is never going to do unless asked. For instance, my husband is completely blind to rotting food in the refrigerator. I have accepted I either have to clean it out or neutrally ask him to do it. He is never on his own going to do it, unprompted, unless it gets to a level beyond what I can tolerate. Yes, I agree he is an adult who should just do things without being asked. But the reality is, we all have things we are more interested in doing and things we are less interested in doing. I agree with these suggestions about sitting down and talking about splitting up the chores. My comment relates more to the fact that you will probably have to continually ask him to do certain chores after you have had this conversation.
And having been married almost ten years, I agree you need to lay out what you can live with sooner rather than later so you don't wind up becoming resentful of what all you're doing down the line.

Anonymous said...

Oh and P.S. - why do you do all the laundry? When my husband and I moved in together, we kept doing our own laundry. He did it for himself before we moved in together, why would I start doing his and mine? For "community items" like sheets and towels, he does it one week and I do it the next.
I feel like the same for cooking, we take turns cooking and the night he cooks I do the cleanup and vice versa.

Anonymous said...

I find myself doing the grocery shopping, laundry and housekeeping because--you guessed it--"you're so good at it."

Unfortunately, this says something about how little he knows you. He lacks the insight into you to understand how that phrase would come across to someone of your station in life (education, profession, worldview, etc). He's got an unbelievable situation: someone earning multiple six figures who's willing to not only pay for food and shelter, but also do the lion's share of the chores. Agree with what others said about all of this building resentment in you. That will only increase unless he changes. FWIW, my husband and I both work full time, and we split all chores (cooking, cleaning, laundry). When someone cooks, the other cleans up after. He actually does more because he cleans the vehicles and does yardwork, too. This took several convos during our first year of marriage.

Anonymous said...

PS. The real point of your post seems to be that he was sitting there watching Bladerunner oblivious to the fact that you were PAINTING THE HOUSE. To not even offer to help seems utterly anti-common sense to me. (Assuming it went down this way, of course.)