Housework and better relationships
Dear Positive Way, I take care of all household duties and work a full time job. My husband does not participate in home duties, cleaning, maintenance of home, etc. He acts as though he is a visitor. I am overwhelmed because I do it all. It’s like it doesn’t faze him. He may do very few things, but only if I ask him, and keep reminding him over and over again, rarely will he do anything on his own accord. He seems disassociated from me and the kids (3 sons). He does not act as an integral part of us. He separates himself away. He gets mad when I tell him I need help and that I don’t want to keep asking him all the time. He will sit on the couch all day even though he sees me cleaning and doing all the household stuff, which includes going to store, etc. He is like a weight and unless he likes what he is doing, he won’t do it. I do not feel secure because I feel alone.
I want him to join me in caring for the needs of the family without telling him all the time. I want a partner, but I can’t talk to him about my feeling because he gets mad and cuts me off. Unfortunately my mood will show at times how I am feeling inside. It’s so bad that I have an aversion to his touch. Like an automatic reaction I will pull away. I didn’t realize why I was pulling away all the time, but it’s built up resentment because it never stops. I am reminded daily that I am solo on this venture.
How does this change if he doesn’t admit that what I am feeling is even valid? Signed, CINNAMON, age 47.
Dear CINNAMON, Yes, what you are feeling is valid. It is understandable that you have built up some tension and resentment over this situation where your husband is not doing his share. It sounds like he is tired of the situation too. Research shows that marriages are healthier when men share in the housework but this is not just about housework. Let’s explore some options for you to consider for how you can change things for the better. Part of your answer is contained in the articles and information that you will find linked throughout this response. Please read and study them as well.
- First of all men tend to look to the woman as the spiritual and social guide of the family. It sounds like it’s time to stop nagging and change for the better by taking on more of a positive leadership role. Neither of you like the tension but both of you will like the results of a smoother household and family.
- As you communicate with your husband please consider using some of the powerful communication techniques such as Expressing and Owning your Feelings, Family Meetings, and the NAME Statement. This link also will lead you to more than a dozen other relationship communication and problem solving articles that may help you. We have a great technique that can help in this matter. It is called the Speaker/Listener or Couple’s Fair Exchange technique and details are below.
- Use an object that can be passed back and forth to each other when it is that person’s turn to speak. You could use a card or piece of paper – anything will do.
- Rules for the Speaker – they now have the object in their hands.
Speak for yourself, don’t mind read. Keep statements brief. Don’t go on and on. Stop to let the listener paraphrase what they think they heard.
- Rules for the Listener Paraphrase what you hear. Focus on the speaker’s message. Don’t rebut or argue.
- Rules for Both The speaker has the floor. Speaker keeps the floor while the listener paraphrases. Share the floor by passing the object so the other person can speak.
Also, our book Talk to Me has a whole chapter on this process and much more detail on this subject and I feel both you and your husband can benefit from reading it. If you haven’t taken the Listening Skills Evaluation quiz on our website please do so. Take it for yourself and then ask your husband to take it. You both will find it helpful.
- It is best to start very slowly and gently when approaching a hot topic like yours. It is very normal to get defensive and shut down your listening when you feel you are being attacked or put down in anyway. Please read our article on Accepting Influence and Softening the Approach. It is rarely what is being said that causes defensiveness – it is how things are being said that matters. Softening the approach will allow for both of you to listen more clearly without becoming defensive. Once you practice the Couple’s Fair Exchange Technique on small matters at first it will give you a safe platform for the bigger issues later on.When you ask your husband for your first family meeting let him know that you only need 15 minutes and specifically what the topic will be. For example, “Sam, I’d like just 15 minutes of your time this afternoon at 3:00 or tomorrow morning at 11:00 to talk about how we can work together to improve our family. Which time is better for you?”
- You can enter the meeting with the idea of working on the family. Stick to the topic and let him know that you are willing to help because the relationship is important and you know that things have been tense. Also acknowledge what he does for the family and how it is appreciated. Like you, he wants to be appreciated as well. Make the meeting short. The purpose of this first meeting is NOT to solve the problem but to just establish a safe environment in which you two can communicate. It will take more than one meeting for you to build that mutual trust and communication. Solutions will come later with more and more meetings and better understanding.
- You can have regular meetings to work on the situation together. It took time to get where you are so you MUST allow time for it to change. You can change yourself. You can change your behaviors. You can change how you communicate with your husband. BUT you cannot change him. That’s up to him. You can help by communicating well and in a supportive manner while leading the family in the direction you want. You have the opportunity to rebuild your love, clarify your roles and expectations and build a better future.
- If your husband is sitting around all the time and not doing anything, there may be a deeper problem such as depression. Even mild depression can take all the motivation and energy out of a person. Consider medical advice if you think it is possible.
- Please also take the relationship quizzes to find more ways to improve your communication. Take the Relationship Dynamics test and read theRelationship Warning Signs. These will give you some insights into the health of your marriage. You may wish to consider relationship counseling or relationship skills training. The first dozen links on our links page have some great resources and you can find more in your Yellow Pages.
You are wise to take action to change for the better. The problem is much deeper than housework and it will not get better on its own. Take the lead. I you’re your patience is thin but take one small step at a time and you can reach your destination. We wish you the best.
Please understand you have free will. This advice is given only in the realm of personal growth and self-help. This is not to be considered a substitute for therapy or professional counseling. We wish you well.