• Celia K Nott

Why are chores such a chore?

June 29, 2021

Dear Elbie,

I need help! If he asks me why the dishes aren't clean one more time, I may just bury him in the garden.

These last few months, getting my husband (DH) to do his share of the housework has been such a chore. It all started when we moved into our new house.

DH and I have been together for a few years now, but lived in small apartments until a couple months ago. I work from home and my husband (DH) works in the city: a twenty-minute commute from our house, which is half the distance he used to travel. Nonetheless, we both put in forty hours each week.

In the past, because we lived in such small apartments, I didn't mind taking on the bulk of the housekeeping, and DH only had to put his dishes in the sink and take out the trash. But now we have this house, and it's not huge, but it's easily double the size of our apartment PLUS the yard. DH promised he would take care of the yard and step up to help with the cleaning before we moved in, but ever since it has been a constant battle to get him to do ANY chores! He won't even take out the trash anymore, and that was part of his marriage vows.

I've tried everything: asking nicely, posting reminders, setting up a schedule... but DH seems oblivious. I even tried letting the dishes pile up until he HAD to do some, but he just bought takeout and asked me to make sure I did them the next day because he wanted chili for dinner.

I love this man. I do. But if I hear him tell me that he doesn't have as much time as I do, as he walks away from our dirty kitchen and throws his sweaty socks next to the hamper, I might actually kill him.

Please help!

~ Desperate not to kill

Dear Desperate,

Boy howdy, girl, you've got yourself in quite the pickle. That dear husband of yours has had a taste of freedom and don't wanna let it go. What you have here, Desperate, is a classic case of confused identity: You're acting like your husband's mother, not his partner. Which means a good chunk of your problem has nothin' to do with the man at all. It's got to do with you.

Don't believe me? Well, I ain't had the pleasure o' raisin' my own kids, but I've had enough nephews and nieces nibbling at my ankles to have picked up a few things. Firstly, we teach 'em not to listen. All that naggin' we do, telling 'em to do this or do that, and then doin' it for 'em when we finally hit our breakin' point. Just like kids, you've taught DH that if he ignores you long enough, you'll eventually do the job yourself. Who wouldn't ride that gravy train?

Second, you aren't letting him suffer the consequences of his actions. I could be wrong here, but my guess is he wasn't all that good at puttin' his dishes away or taking out the trash in the apartment. You probably helped him out with those chores a few dozen times or so, am I right? Honey, you set a low bar, and because it wasn't much trouble at the time, you let him slide a few times too many.

But a little trouble has become a lot o' trouble now that you two lovebirds have a bigger nest. Now you've given that DH of yours more responsibilities, his slackin' is more noticeable. And no matter how much you nag him, whether with a post-it or an email-list or right when he walks in the door, he's already been trained up to ignore you. You could put a billboard up outside his work an' he'd still cruise into the house, drop his pants at the door, ask what's for dinner, and leave a trail of debris behind him as he makes his way to the living room... or office. I hear men these days spend an awful lot of time on the interwebs. Course, guess we all do...

Now don't get too beat up. It ain't all your fault. Your husband is an adult, not a child, so he never shoulda let you mother him to begin with. Partners are equals, but it don't sound like he even tried to be your equal. That's on him.

Beyond that, he ain't respecting you. You are a working woman, Desperate, not a housewife. It don't matter if you commute down the stairs or across town, your job is just as important and demanding as his. My guess is you couldn't 've afforded that nice new house o' yours without that job, yeah? So you deserve respect, just as much as you deserve love. And right now you ain't feelin' either of those things and if I was in your shoes, I'd be tempted to fertilize my begonias with some DH too.

But it don't have to end like that.

What you gotta do is two things: First, stop doing for him what he should be doing for himself. When my Charlie was alive, we went through a bout like this, but it was about his damn socks. That man would wear three pairs a day just because he felt like it. So I bought him a laundry basket an' his own soap, and stopped darning the things when they wore out. It took two weeks before Charles came back, promising to wear one pair a day unless absolutely necessary... I kept that laundry basket in his closet, though. Just to remind him I wasn't messing around.

Do you hear what I'm saying, Desperate? If the pile of dishes drives you batty, have a his and hers pile. He can't eat off your dishes, so if he wants to eat that chili you made, he'll have to wash up or go without. As for the trash... we're comin' up on summer, so I bet if you started putting it in his car, he'd stop forgetting to take it out. If he don't want to be an equal partner, divide up the house so you don't have to live in his unequal mess.

Second, you need to talk to your husband about this. Adult-to-adult. Apologize for treating him like a child, and ask him to start respecting you an' your job. Don' go on the attack here... nobody likes being attacked and he's learned to ignore you when you go on and on anyway. Just real gentle like tell him that you feel he ain't respecting the work you do. Maybe go at it like hoAsk what he needs, but be sure to make it clear what you need. If the man won't listen, find a pastor or a counselor to mediate. If he still won't listen, well... don't go so far as to bury him in the garden. If you do all this and he still won't change, he's proved he's just a man-child after all. An' man-children can't help themselves... they need mommy to do that.

If it comes to that, and even counselin' won't help, it may be time to give ol' DH the boot. Just keep these lessons in mind before you walk down the aisle again. You hear?

~ L. B. Whitman

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