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!