How Do I Get My Husband to Do Housework?!?! (Part 1: The Lies That Drive You Nuts)

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The number one complaint I hear from all wives, especially egalitarian wives, is that their husbands don’t equally share the mental or physical burden of household tasks. Sure, they may “help” if their wives ask them (or say they’ll help, but leave the task undone, or actually help, but do a haphazard job). Even more aggravating, many husbands don’t even pick up after themselves, unofficially delegating the family housework and their own mess to the wives’ task list.

This is obviously not a sustainable living situation. But how do you get a husband to take responsibility for his own stuff, much less his share of the housework?

Since I am a Formerly Horrible Homemaker, as well as the primary homemaker, I understand a bit of both sides of this hopeless mess. This is a series of thoughts in three parts:

Part 1: The Lies That Drive You Nuts

Part 2: Why He’s Not Following Through

Part 3: Giving Back Responsibility

Let Go of These Lies

These lies make your husband’s lack of involvement even more aggravating:

  • It’s selfish of me to want him to take care of his own stuff and pitch in with the housework. This is my opportunity to serve. Doing a kind deed for an otherwise responsible person is a great way to show love. Bearing a burden for someone who can’t do it on his own is an acceptable sacrifice. Doing someone else’s job that he’s capable of doing himself is enabling — even if it’s not that big of a sacrifice for you to do it for him.
  • But he works so hard and comes home so tired. You work hard too. You’re tired too. In fact, you’re so burnt out that you’re exploding at your husband over dishes. Your anger, resentment, and despair are all signs of imbalance. You don’t need to quantify who “works harder” or is “more tired.” That’s too subjective of a thing to be calculated. You’re both tired, you both work hard, and still the house needs cleaning, the bills need paying, and the kids need baths. All of those things are equally true. You don’t need to dismiss either one of your conflicting needs.
  • If he’s egalitarian, this shouldn’t be that hard for him! We all have blind spots and imperfections. Believing a thing and doing a thing are two separate steps in spiritual growth. Household tasks have a practical learning curve not covered in conceptual theology.
  • I can change my husband’s mind. You can’t. You’ve tried everything, after all, and nothing has worked. No amount of tears, calm, anger, or patience will get him to change. No matter how perfect your communication is or how many “I statements” you use, you will not talk him into changing. No length of silent treatments will convince him to get his act together. While expressing feelings, remaining calm, and communicating effectively are helpful, true change comes from inner motivation — something that nobody but he can muster.

Perhaps the biggest lie is this: If I do kind things for my husband, he’ll do kind things for me.

Popularized by books like The Five Love Languages, The Love Dare, and every patriarchal book directed at women ever, this law of reciprocity dupes us into thinking that we can change our husbands’ behavior through kindness. It creates more helplessness, and thus more frustration, because we’re stuffing our feelings, lowering our expectations, and surrendering our agency in order to passively control our husbands — and it doesn’t work, especially when it comes to sharing the burden of parenting and household tasks.

One time at work, I noticed a task wasn’t done, and I began doing it as a favor. Another coworker stopped me: “Don’t do it. If you do it for them, they’ll never learn, and you’ll be stuck doing it forever.”

If that isn’t the truest statement ever said about spouses and household tasks, I don’t know what is.

You’ll go crazy thinking that picking up your husband’s socks for him every day will inspire him to schedule all the outstanding appointments. He’ll be grateful, no doubt — so grateful, that he’ll gratefully let you continue to show him such kindness for the next thirty years of marriage.

After freeing myself from these lies, I realized my husband was probably just as confused as I was about which responsibilities were his and which were mine.

Part 2 is coming out tomorrow!

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12 thoughts on “How Do I Get My Husband to Do Housework?!?! (Part 1: The Lies That Drive You Nuts)

  1. Laura

    I’ve been married 25 years. When we were first married (at age 21) we were both equally busy – finishing schooling, working. And an early thing we did was make a chore list, and we divided up key household chores, and it was a schedule on the fridge. For us, this was the common sense thing to do. It never occurred to me, or him, that I would do all household work because I was female. And we were not egalitarian back then either! After a few years, we no longer did this (the chore list) because a natural rhythm had developed. Over 25 yrs, things have changed – times when I worked more, times when he worked more, times I did not work, etc – and we naturally adapted and the person working less or not at all would pick up extra household tasks.

    And even coming from a complementarian background back then, I have somehow never related to “the women must serve” their husband in the home. I think this is because in my home growing up there was a big emphasis on self-sufficiency – as in, not being a helpless person, but taking care of your self, not waiting helpless for someone to do something for you that you can do yourself. Therefore, I expect self-sufficiency from others!

    It is not that I never serve my husband or other people in this world, but I tend to easily see the difference between enabling someone and giving someone a needed helping hand.

    Anyway! I think your post series is a good one!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Laura

        Well, my mom did not work outside the home, therefore she did take more/much household responsibility. However, I nonetheless often remember my dad involved in daily household tasks, such as washing dishes. I’d say there was a “teamwork” approach with certain tasks like meals – each person in the home needed to pull some weight. It somehow was not a “family value” to sit there and wait for things to be done – pitch in! We all gotta eat, so we all gotta help. “Many hands make light work” was perhaps the indirect motto.

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      • Bailey Steger

        Interesting! I wonder how you cultivate a “teamwork” attitude? In my experience, “everyone is a team” is code for “nobody takes responsibility except a few burnt out individuals.”

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  2. Wayne

    Men are not being lazy by disregarding housework.
    Most men just don’t care about housework. It’s just not as high as a priority for them as it is for women. Most men could live in a cave full of tools and gadgets and be blissfully content.

    Like

  3. villemezbrown

    I am looking forward to reading the rest of this series. On a first read of this post I just felt guilty because in my marriage I am 100% the person who doesn’t do my fair share. :-( I try to do better. One little thought from “the other side”. Be careful of the slippery slope under “they do a haphazard job”. I think there are probably some husbands (and wives) who intentionally do a bad job hoping, subconsciously or consciously, that this will cause them to be relieved of responsibility for this task. But for most of us that is not the case. If I fold the laundry and my shirts don’t stand up a la Marie Kondo ;-) that doesn’t make it a haphazard job. That is an extreme example, but I know I don’t load the dishwasher “correctly”. I probably don’t make the beds correctly either, but my deficiencies at that task are ones my husband can live with. Recently, my daughter vacuumed the living room right before a guest was coming over, and then later told me my husband re-did it. She said it made her feel like not doing the vacuuming at all ever again. That is not an option of course, and she still does the vacuuming, but I understand her reaction even though, honestly, her vacuuming is a little, well, haphazard.
    Adele

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    • Bailey Steger

      Oh, Adele! Don’t feel guilty! You’ll probably like Part 2 better — it defends all the “haphazard” ways we do things and vindicates the preferences of whoever hates housework more. ;) This reminds me of all the arguments my husband and I had over how I was loading the dishwasher wrong and folding the socks wrong and placing the washcloth in the sink wrong (????). I was finally like, “If you care so much about how to do it, do it yourself!” Turns out he didn’t care as much as he had originally thought. ;)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Kate

    My husband is pretty good about contributing. He tends to do more outdoor stuff, and I tend to do more indoor stuff. He would never leave his socks on the floor. He’ll help out with my usual tasks if I am having a hard time. i try to do the same to the best of my ability…you’ll never get me on the roof cleaning gutters. I appreciate your focus on the “lies”.

    I am not sure if you have ever read the marriage book “Love and Respect”. In it the author practically brags that he throws wet towels on the floor and he can’t be bothered to throw his candy wrappers away so they actually reach the trash can. So incredibly disrespectful, but he does not acknowledge his behaviors as such.

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    • Bailey Steger

      Ugh. Really?! I read that book years ago before I was egalitarian, and I keep stumbling across stuff about it that is just not okay. His poor wife!

      I applaud your husband, on the other hand! Sounds like you have a good, mutual rhythm to housework!

      Like

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