Friday, May 18, 2012

Does your husband clean? (Revised)

Dear Cinderella,
        Let's discuss gender rules. Why is it that my husband spouts how he isn't one of those 1960's husbands who feels its soley the wife's duty to clean, and yet there's only about once a month it occurs to him that he, too, is responsible for the task of keeping our home clean?
        Pointing out this fact is dangerous and usually ignites a fight which will generally end in one extra day of effort from Prince Charming to place his pants somewhere other than the back of my dining room chair.
        I have a good man. He is hard-working. He is honest, kind and a great father to my children. However, there are times I wonder if I'm alone in my desire for him to help me clean. Many nights, I'll wait for him to sleep before I begin, because cleaning while he merely sits on the couch reading or watching TV generally makes me just more bitter. Am I alone? Am I having a wave of crazy irrationality and need to step back?
—The Scullery Maid

Dear Sculley,

Please excuse me, but I am revising my previous* answer to your question. My husband and I talked this evening and I realized my initial response didn't account for his view of our situation.

So, I think the only way to truly describe how we resolved it, is to bring him in on this one.

Let me first say that from my perspective, I'd beaten this topic into the ground. I had come at my man from every angle, begging for help around the house. I tried being kind and sweet. I cried. I got angry. I tried to ignore it. Nothing had any lasting change. I would always end up sucking it up and cleaning by myself, feeling alone, forgotten and resentful.

However, that's only my perspective. My husband's is entirely opposite. So, here is our conversation from tonight, illustrating how "I got him" to help me at home.

Me: From my perspective, during the first 3 years together, I was mainly responsible for housework. I wanted you to help more. When I'd ask for help, you seemed to get irritated. If you did help with the dishes, it was often with, what seemed to me, a bad attitude, like you felt put-out.

Him: Sometimes I did feel put-out by having to clean. I was going to school and work all day and then doing homework at night. So, coming home and having chores to do just felt like more work than I could handle.

Me: A few years later, after we were done with school and you were working 9-5, why didn't you help more around the house?

Him: Three elements played into that:

  1. Not noticing. I never had the conscious thought, "Oh, the sink's full of dirty dishes. I should wash them."
  2. Not understanding what you meant when you said, "I need help around the house." You'd say it. I'd think I understood it. Come to find out, what I was doing wasn't what you wanted me to do.
  3. Not getting credit for the things I was doing, since they weren't the things you were expecting me to do. You'd say, "You don't do anything around the house," and I'd think, "I do help out." My efforts felt like they were in vain.

Me: You finally seemed to change after we started marriage counseling. What caused that change? What helped you finally understand how to help me?

Him: I remember having a conversation with our counselor and expressing frustration about feeling like I couldn't win. In the past, every time we'd talk about you needing more help at home, you'd always change the expectation. The goal was always being moved. So, even if I was doing what you'd asked, it would change and I would come up short again. Our counselor then asked you to commit to a set of goals, to define what you meant by "helping around the house" and stick with it so I could win.

Me: Yeah, that was eye-opening for me. I didn't realize I kept changing my cleaning expectations for you. So, here is what I defined as "helping around the house."

  1. When you get home from work, be mentally present: no iPhone or iPad. Either help with dinner, clean off the table, play with the kids or pick up the living room. Just be an active, contributing member of the family. You get off work at 5 and I don't get off until the kids are in bed. So, let's split the effort and make it easier on me.
  2. After dinner, if I made the entire meal, clean up. Rinse the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Put the food away. Wash any pots and pans used to cook the meal. Wipe down the counters. If you cooked, I'll clean up. If we both cooked, we both clean up.
  3. Help get the kids ready and into bed.

Of course, there's flexibility in all of this. But, this is generally what I need help with: cleaning up from dinner and getting the kids in bed.

Him: You spelled out what you meant by "helping around the house" and stuck to it. Then, I knew how to win. You also started recognizing me a lot more for my work, which encouraged me to help more.

Both of us internalized our personal lessons and began changing together. He started helping more because he knew the expectation; it was easy for him to win. I started praising him and letting him know he was winning. That encouraged him to continue to help in the ways I'd asked.

In the end, both of us had to change together. It wasn't just him. It wasn't just me. It was us...well, me more than him. Without a mediator, a counselor, I wouldn't have been able to see where I needed to improve and adjust. I wouldn't have been able to get my husband on my team.

How about you other women? Have you and your husband found a good balance with helping around the home? What did you do to get there?

Your friend,
Cinderella Becky

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*In case you are curious, here's my first response to The Scullery Maid. It's crazy how even after the fact, I didn't realize that I was the one who changed until talking with my husband tonight!

Dear Sculley, 

You are NOT alone. Can we just say "my first 5 years of marriage?!"

I, too, have an insanely cool man. He is way too intelligent for his own good, playful with the kids, hilarious and responsible. However, his threshold for cleanliness was far from mine. He didn't take much initiative to help tidy our home. That left me feeling over-worked and you.

I tried asking for his help in every way I could think of. I asked nicely. I cried. I got angry. I tried getting over it. I even, on one hormonal occasion, emptied all of his drawers and hangers, throwing every article of his clothing on the bedroom floor hoping he'd then see and appreciate how much I do for him.

Each of these methods worked, in the sense that he'd pick up after himself and help with dishes for the next two days. After that, we were right back to me doing pretty much everything. And it's too much work and pressure for one person.

Talking to one another wasn't getting the message across. We needed a mediator. So, I got desperate and off we went to marriage counseling.

Our counselor helped soften my perspective of him. I learned that when he comes home from work, he might think, "Wow, this place is trashed." But, that's as far as it goes. His thought process doesn't go straight to, "I should fix it." Instead, it goes to talking with me, playing with the kids and having a brain break. I learned that he's not careless, lazy and intentionally leaving the work for me.

What did he learn? A lot. I was able to explain that when he does nothing about the dirty dishes, they default to me. When he leaves his clothes strewn about, picking them up defaults to me. By not choosing to act, he is essentially choosing for me to do all of the work.

Even though I'd said it hundreds of times at home, he heard me this time and felt bad that he was letting all of this fall in my lap. But, there was another key piece that helped him fully understand what I needed.

Love languages.

His love language is physical touch. Mine is service (i.e. helping clean the house). We realized that we could both have what we want, which is to feel loved. So, here's the equation that changed everything:

husband folds laundry = wife feels loved = wife gives him hugs & kisses all over his cute little face = husband feels loved

...And on and on this equation goes in a beautiful cycle of rainbows and butterflies.

Once he realized how burdened I felt and that the above cycle is an eternal truth, he made a complete change. He's been going strong for about 6 months now. It's changed me, too. I feel a huge weight off my shoulders. I don't feel alone anymore. I feel like I have a PARTNER, teammate and caring friend. And, I also go easy on him when he doesn't notice the mess.

So, Sculley, I'm sure if your man truly understood how you are feeling, he'd feel really terrible and help you. And if you've talked to him and he didn't seem to get it, try marriage counseling. You know how you'll tell him ten times that he needs a haircut and he doesn't believe it until someone else says it? It's kinda like that. Sometimes, it takes an outsider to open our minds. There are also a lot of good marriage books out there (but you both have to read them). I'm not a big reader, so I can't suggest any specific titles.

Your friend,
Cinderella Becky


  1. My hubby and I have an interesting relationship when it comes to cleaning. I hate to clean, but feel obligated to do it because I'm at home all day. He doesn't have a problem helping, but doesn't do it spontaneously, I have to ask. But sometimes he gets bored and does a deep cleaning or reorganization of some part of the house. When he does that, I feel guilty because I think I should keep the house cleaner. Once when I was pregnant I actually yelled and cried at him because he emptied the dishwasher... because I "wanted" to do it. Meaning I felt that I should do it.

    Thankfully after the pregnancy hormones wore off I was more than ready to let him help, although he has been banned from starting the laundry after he washed a load that had just been washed and dried. And I'm learning to ask when I need his help instead of seething at him that he doesn't spontaneously help me. He's tired at the end of the day, too. And he has never said, "No, I will not help you." He has asked if it can wait until later that day, and I think that's fair. It can't always be done on my time. As long as it gets done, I'm happy.

  2. In our marriage he is the "acts of service" and I am the "physical touch." So for us its a little different. I used to be offended when he cleaned because I thought that meant I wasn't doing my "job" as a wife. When he was actually saying "I Love you, let me help." After counseling we too began to understand each other and its been marital blilss ever since. He knows I am overworked being pregnant and taking care of kids so he's more tolerant of me not doing as much cleaning and is always willing to help, especially when I let him know what I need. Thank heavens for good counselors!