Despite the Covid-19 vaccine and lifting of social distancing regulations, it looks like working from home will continue to be prevalent for most adults. This can be a ticking time bomb for most relationships. Not only are we within constant proximity of our partners—which is stressful in and of itself–but we’re home ALL THE TIME, which tends to make the house fall into disarray much faster than if we were at an office all day.
Think about it—when you work from home, you are using your space a greater percentage of the time, which means there are more messes to deal with than what you’re used to.
So, how can you realistically handle managing household responsibilities with your partner?
I’m going to outline three practical solutions for you to get back on the path to domestic bliss!
Solution 1… Use clear communication with each other to directly state and understand your needs, strengths, and weaknesses.
Step 1- Figure out which household responsibilities are MOST important to your overall happiness. Does having a dirty floor drive you mad, but dishes in the sink don’t seem to phase you? Write down a list of the chores that you NEED to be done and the ones that don’t bother you so much. Ask your partner to do the same so that you can compare each other’s lists. This allows for a neutral way to express your needs to your partner—and vice versa. No nagging required!
Step 2- Now that you and your partner have determined both of your priorities for your unique versions of household happiness, it’s time to determine out of those chores, which ones you don’t mind doing and which ones you absolutely dread. Ask your partner to do the same. Everyone is different, so it’s important to understand your own likes, dislikes, and motivations—as well as your partner’s.
For example, both my husband and I NEED the laundry to be put away to feel at peace in our environment. We determined this from step one of making our list of priorities.
Step two, which helps us figure out where each other’s strengths and weaknesses are—revealed that I love to fold the laundry, but hate the process of putting it in the washer, switching it over, and taking it out of the dryer. My husband is the exact opposite—he will never feel motivated to fold the laundry, but the process of switching it in and out of machines doesn’t bother him at all.
Based on this information, we deducted that my husband should be responsible for starting and switching out each load of laundry and that I should be responsible for folding and putting everything away. With this system, everyone is happy and neither one of us feels stuck doing a task that we are never motivated to complete.
Use this process to figure out your unique dynamic. Maybe your partner empties the dishwasher every morning and you load and run it every night? Or you feed the dogs and take them outside, while your partner makes breakfast for everyone. There’s a solution for every couple—the key is finding what works for you!
Solution 2… Delegate specific tasks to outside helpers.
A good friend of mine once told me that hiring a housecleaner saved her marriage and was the best decision she had ever made. Of course, not everyone can afford the luxury of hired help, but I would suggest considering ways to appoint certain responsibilities to someone other than you or your partner.
Ask yourself this: Is there a specific space in your home that seems to be a recurring source of stress and conflict between you and your partner?
If the answer is yes, brainstorm some ways that you can eliminate that stress. If what you’ve been doing so far hasn’t been working, try to think outside of the box and imagine creative ways to outsource the problem to someone other than you and your partner.
Let’s say you’re both overwhelmed with working full-time and keeping up with regular household maintenance like dusting, floors, and bathrooms. If it’s within your budget, hire someone to take care of it for you.
If you’re not sure if it’s financially attainable, call around to some house cleaning services anyway! Most of them will work with you to find a solution that works for your budget.
If a weekly service is too expensive, consider bi-weekly or monthly. You could also request for them to do only one or two chores per visit (such as dusting and bathrooms, rather than a traditional “full clean”) to save on the cost. Some of my friends have also hired cleaners as a one-time (or once in a while) service to help them get out of a cleaning rut or prepare for holidays. Don’t feel like you have to commit to consistent services. This shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing approach, but a creative solution to find small ways to ease your burden.
As always, refer to your list of priorities from Solution 1 to figure out which services are most important for both you and your partner to feel most at peace in your home.
Solution 3… Practice empathy and patience with your partner, even when it’s difficult.
Everyone is struggling right now, and everyone experiences stress in different ways. Something that may not seem too stressful to you, could be eating away at your partner and causing them to feel overwhelmed. Some people are great at communicating when they’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and that’s great! But sometimes a person doesn’t know how (or doesn’t want) to express difficult inner emotions that they are experiencing.
Try to be in tune with your partner’s cues. If you notice that they don’t seem to be motivated to complete their share of the household duties, be empathetic to what else may be going on in their inner world. On the reverse, if you’re feeling particularly stressed or unwell, communicate with your partner that you’re just not feeling up to completing some of your designated duties.
You may find that you and your partner are more inclined to cut some slack on each other if you both come from a place of wanting to understand what’s happening in the other person’s mind and body.
For example, if my husband has a headache and isn’t feeling up to tackling the dishes that night, I know not to hold it against him, especially since it’s out of his control. In fact, with open communication, my husband and I are both very empathetic with each other and more willing to help pick up each other’s slack.
On that note, don’t feel obligated to pick up the slack if you are also overwhelmed! This will eventually lead to building resentment, which is a relationship killer. Practice empathy, show kindness to yourself and your partner, and let the dishes go for a night or two. Convey to each other that it’s ok to let some things slide here and there.
If you make the health of your relationship your biggest priority, I have no doubt that you’ll always find a way to succeed!
Those are my three solutions to managing household responsibilities with your partner. Be sure to come back and read more of my articles to get practical tips and advice from a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.