Dividing up domestic work

jxbrownNovember 17, 2003

I married for the first time at the age of 41. I bought my first house at the age of 24. DH was living in squalor (an exageration, moderately severe untidiness is probably more accurate) in a rental apartment before he married me. After we married he had some job trouble and we finally decided that it would be best if we moved to my home town, where he had always wanted to live. I left my rather cushy job, sold my house, and took a job back in the big city with much longer hours (better pay!) and we bought a house together. This is house number five for me and house number one for him. Unfortunately, after moving into the house it turned out that there is much more work that is needed than I realized. None of it is particularly expensive or demanding work, but it does require that I either hire someone to do the labor and supervise myself or with my dad's help or I do it myself on weekends.

Shortly after we were married, I gave him a new guitar for his birthday and he became absolutely obsessed with learning to play the guitar. This is normal behavior for him. For his entire life he has been kind of compulsive about practicing whatever activity is catching his fancy at the time. Currently, on weekends he will get up at 10 a.m. and play guitar pretty much uninterupted until midnight or one a.m. During the week he comes home and plays the guitar until I call him for dinner and then he goes back to his guitar until midnight. He says that he still doesn't get enough time to practice. Most of the time I can lure him away for a fun activity although he prefers to eat at local restaurants so that he can get back home as soon as possible to resume practicing.

The problem for me is that I start to get resentful about the housework. Although it is no more work than I did before I was married, I still feel like he should help. I do all of the grocery shopping, cooking, clean up (he puts dishes in the dishwasher, starts it when full, and empties it if I ask enough times and am patient enough to wait). I also am responsible for our thankfully low maintenance yard, household repairs, and cleaning. Occasionally he takes the dry mop to the hardwood floors, but he leaves the pile of dog fur in the corner and the mop next to it, since it is apparently my job to scoop up the dust and fur and put the mop away. He also picks up the mail when he comes in and carries it to the dining room table, because, you guessed it, it's my job to throw the junk mail away.

He is living the lifestyle that he lived before he was married: minimal housecleaning, no house or yardwork, eating in "restaurants" and I am living the same lifestyle that I lived before I was married: 100% of all domestic work along with rehabbing an old (only this one isn't charming) house. We rarely argue, but when we do it is invariably about housecleaning. He criticizes the mess and I react. I feel he should help me around the house a little bit and he feels that I should just hire more help. We can certainly afford to hire help, but I find it incredibly time consuming to get estimates and arrange to supervise workers. We did have a house cleaning service when we lived in my old house before moving, but I just haven't gotten around to arranging that. I never felt that having the bathroom swiped with who-knows-what was all that useful a service, but it did force me to tidy up and put things away before they arrived. Of course, it was my job to remember their schedule, lock the dogs out, write the check, etc.

What would be a fair distribution of labor? He doesn't know how to use tools and is too sensitive for me to teach him. He still resents that his mother made him help around the house when he was a child and says that his first marriage ended because his ex "wanted to be taken care of". When I try to get him to supervise house repairs he usually has to go to work "early" that day or on weekends has plans for guitar shopping or going to his friend's house to play guitars. If I ask him to put dishes away in a matter of fact tone, he accuses me of "nagging". Does anybody have any advice for solving this problem? My sister is a princess whose husband waits on her hand and foot. That would make me nervous, but I wouldn't mind a bit of help on Saturday mornings....

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Hoo boy!

Well since he was like this before you got married and apparently he is resisting any change in his established habits, I think you know as well as I do what the answer is to your question.

My DH can be quite similar to yours in many ways. He doesn't seem to see the dirt and chores the same way I do. I've tried to explain to him that there are things that need to be done every day or at least every other day in order to maintain a home. Over the course of the last 4 years, with much nagging and tears on my part, he is starting to come around. But the bottom line is that he is doing it because he knows it's important to me, and he loves me and so he wants to keep me happy. Much in the same way that you know that guitar playing is important to your DH and you love him and want him to be happy so you sacrifice your time with him so he can practice.

It sounds a little one sided to me, but you must have had an idea that this might happen when you first decided to get married, no?

Perhaps you can bite the bullet and hire the help that you need and present him with a bill for half of the cost plus your "administrative fees" for having to run everything.
Unfortunately, he has no incentive to change.

He knows that if he doesn't do what he doesn't want to do, you will take up the slack and make sure it gets done.

I guess the decision you need to make is if this is a situation that your comfortable with for the next 30 years or so.....

Just my $.02


    Bookmark   November 17, 2003 at 9:41PM
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I agree with Keli in that your situation will probably not change a whole heckuva lot for the better but, if it's any consolation, I'm one guy who hears you. I am so sick and tired of men not stepping up and taking care of their wives! Not saying that we should be at our wives' beck and call but neither should you ladies be at ours. Marriage is certainly not a one-sided venture (at least it shouldn't be)...it's hardly even a 50/50 relationship. I think marriage is a 200% deal - each party giving 100% of themselves to make the relationship work.

Yeah, your husband may be set in his ways or have childhood issues but it's still no excuse for his behavior. I think he's being very selfish.


    Bookmark   November 18, 2003 at 11:01AM
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You're both working, you're both living in the house. The house belongs to both of you. A fair distribution of labor is half. As long as he can get away with not doing his share, he clearly will. The other posters are probably right; getting him to change is going to be tough and he may not. But he sure won't as long as you let him define anything he doesn't want to do as your job.

I'd draw up a list of things that need to be done around the house, and take turns choosing the ones you each will take responsibility for. On your turns, pick for yourself the things that bother you the most if they don't get done. Try to leave to him the things you can tolerate not getting done, then don't do them if he doesn't. If he wants to hire someone to do his half, he can find them and pay them.

But it's also important to remember that it doesn't have to be done your way. My husband and I had each lived alone for years before we got married. Luckily, we were pretty similar in our tolerances for mess, and he does his share.


    Bookmark   November 22, 2003 at 8:23PM
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Maybe that guitar should "disappear." Honey, this is going to hit a boiling point one of these days and I wish I could be there to see it!

No, hire some help before this happens. He's no help and he resents you asking/telling/nagging him. That seems pretty clear. I wouldn't even ask him, let it go for a while. I would definitely find some activities to fill my time (and I don't mean housecleaning) while he's spending so many hours learning to play the guitar.

Quit steaming. Hire the help. Pay the help. Go shopping.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2003 at 10:28PM
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"he criticizes the mess" - wha? Talk about mixed expectations. You are expecting him to be a partner in your marriage and he is obviously expecting to be taken care of and catered to. Even if you hire someone, and by all means do, you are bound to have issues because of his self-centered behavior. Maybe counseling is in order.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2003 at 7:45PM
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This is how it works in my house of 25 years.
Im the Captin of my ship so I don't swabb no decks...
ok ok just kidding. I have walked the plank a time or 2.

My wife works, I work I want a clean house
I want peace in the valley.

The best thing I did 15 years ago was pay a lady (now $50)
to come in every Friday and clean and wash, change sheets.
Nothing like a clean house espically for the weekend.
Pick up after yourself during the week, now with kids about gone we eat out all the time. When we do nothing like paper plates.

We go on vacations Linda stays at the house while we are gone. Linda is the best thing a couple can ever have.
Get you one TODAY.. What is $50.00 a week


    Bookmark   December 10, 2003 at 10:15AM
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Oh honey don't waste your time nagging him just go hire a housekeeper and pay for her from his funds!

    Bookmark   December 11, 2003 at 11:44PM
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I agree w/ liketolearn. housekeepers save marriages (much cheaper than a bill from a marriage psychologist or a divorce lawyer.)

    Bookmark   June 25, 2004 at 12:41PM
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I think his comment of why he divorced his ex, "because she wanted to be taken care of" should have been a warning sign. I have a husband who is similiar. He doesn't play guitar all day, he works 6 days a week and has a huge vegetable garden that he loves to work in. For him, he prefers to do what he "enjoys" and he does cut the grass and weed eats. Its my fault that he doesn't help more inside, as I just found it easier to do it myself all these years instead of nagging. He did help a lot more when the kids were still at home. I don't work outside the home now and I do things as I feel like it. I have back problems and I told him 3 days ago the carpet needed vacuuming as I haven't felt pushing the vacuum. He asked which rooms needed vacuuming, said he would do it, but I haven't heard the vacuum running yet, LOL. So I'll be doing it today after he goes to work. He will help more when we retire soon because he will be bored too death.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2004 at 9:24AM
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yep, get a housekeeper. sell the guitar to pay for her.

it could be music to everybodys ears.


    Bookmark   July 11, 2004 at 10:31PM
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oh my....i'm not the only one out there! housework is a battle that my husband and i get into every 3 months or so like clockwork!! i understand EXACTLY what you mean by getting resentful. my DH comes home, (from work, or from a day out, whatever) and immediately heads to the lazyboy chair (don't that name just say it all!) meanwhile, i get home and have to clean kitchen that kids have left a mess, do laundry, tidy up house, and start dinner. all while he's sitting there flipping channels! it never fails, after i've been slaving for an hour or so, and am finally nearly done, he will say "honey, why don't you take a break". GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR i just want to choke him sometimes!!! i would love the freedom to be able to come home and sit my rearend down and know that the things that need doing will get done magically without me having to do them! well, i finally gave up on that dream. my way of solving this problem was to drop down to part-time at work. if i am working full-time and doing 100% of the housework, then i turn into a not so nice person. now, with me working only part-time (and him picking up overtime hours at work to compensate for the loss of income) this is working out soooo much better! i don't mind cleaning and cooking and doing it all, because i feel that it's a more equitable distribution of labor. plus, i feel grateful that he works so hard so i'll even go the extra mile these days and cook him a nice dessert! all in all, it's working out well for us. he's a happy man who comes home to a neat house and dinner on the table and kids who are bubbling over with stories about the special things mommy was able to do with them during the day.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2004 at 8:53AM
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While the idea of a housekeeper sounds attractive, I think it is still a matter of principle. Does he see you as his mother? It is still his house too and he needs to do something to maintain it and contribute to it, rather than just leave you with all the work. Maybe if you stopped doign the housework at all he would get the message. And his guitar playing reminds me of a 12-year-old kid, not a grown man. Maybe you should take up a hobby that you do with just the girls...?

    Bookmark   October 1, 2004 at 4:13PM
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reading your post - was like listening to myself. i have exactly the same situation. we both were married in our later years - i was 35 he was 45. it was a first marriage for both of us. and although we both owned our homes at the time we got married - i still feel jipped when it comes to the fare share of the housework. we have hired a cleaning service which has helped alot. but they dont do "everything" that needs to be done. and sometimes i feel overwhelmed about making repairs or at least being responsible for getting things done. like yard work, fixing this shelf, repairing the stair rail, painting, replacing a fixture etc. etc. we both work 40+ hours per week but i feel that i put a higher priority on maintianing our home than he does - often times its very frustrating. and unlike you - i feel i have "more" to do now than had i stayed single and maintained my own home. more laundry, more groceries, larger home, extra stuff... and my husband is notorious for working a weekend or having a commitment whenever there is a large task impending like painting the garage or raking the leaves or trimming the trees etc. he conveniently has to work or has a gig to play.

so i really dont have any good advice to change his behavior. one thing you can do is to explain to him that you are not his mother and you are not his maid. you did not get married to take care of him, nor for him to take care of you. you are married to take care of each other. and if you can outline some specific chores for him that may help. although realize these chores may not get done, or may not be timely, or may not be in the manner in which you would have done them.

the other thing you can do (and this is the hard part) is to understand that what are your priorities are not his. and that is where the difference lies. if he is like my husband, he doesnt care if the mop and dirt pile stay in the corner until the next time he mops. and he probably doesnt even see it. i guess its acceptance that he is not going to see the peeling paint, the fallen limb and the sagging gutter - and if he does see it - it probably doesnt bother him. and that is something that you cannot change.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2004 at 6:03PM
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The problem in our house is that we both work, we both hate housework, and neither of us does it til the situation is desperate or someone is coming over. But we have a tacit agreement that anyone who isn't cleaning up can't critize someone else for not cleaning up.

The solution: use part of your two salaries to hire a cleaning service.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2004 at 3:51PM
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One phrase that comes to mind is from one of Dr. Laura's books and states, "You know what kind of animal you brought home" before you married him.

I know that sounds primitive, but it is essentially true. You knew what kind of person he was before you married him. You knew he was not a domestic wizzard when you met him and you knew his pattern of obsession with interests, you knew of his level of maturity in comparison to yours. The bad news is, he won't change and will resent you if you try to nag or change who he is. The good news is, once you accept a man's true nature, you can spend more energy finding a solution to the perceived problem at hand (as your problem may not be someone elses):-). I will have to agree that by allowing your hubby to not take responsibility in the relationship (i.e. its maintenance), you are enabling him to continue the same behavior. The dance between the two of you will continue unless there is intervention. He is "checking out" of the relationship (emotionally, responsively, maturity) and I feel you are resentful of more than just the housework (as your e-mail places a strong focus on his guitar playing without considering your feelings).

You will have to come to a compromise and maybe hire a house cleaner, a contractor-do-it-all-handyman whom you trust with monitoring/completing house repairs, landscaper, etc., and THAT IS OK. Some guys are just not "house husbands," but there is some respect and emotional neglect going on that cannot be ignored. Believe me, the underlying problem may seem to be housework now, but it will escalate into more serious disagreements. I know it seems like every post ends with the same suggestion: therapy or counseling, but it will help the two of you before you lose your way completely.

It is o.k. to get help to learn how to communicate and relate to other people. For some reason, we are expected to "just know" how to do this when are required to go to school and train to do everything else in life. Have fun, rediscover each other, learn how to talk to each other, learn what the other wants and expects, but most of all, have fun with it. Find a good "couple's coach" and learn what he wants and expects from this marriage and be sure to stand up for your needs too.

Good luck & take care

    Bookmark   December 9, 2004 at 4:04PM
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Well JXB,

I feel, and Im no Dr. Laura nor do I listen to her, but IMHO, the *real* thing here has nothing to do with who does what, now, then or in the future. The *real* problem/challenge/bone of contention is that you are feeling neglected  or worse still  abandoned for (at this time, though that may change for some other interest) a GUITAR!

Your various remarks and comments indicate to me that you are quite happy buying/fixing up homes, that you find ways of dealing with whatever challenges occur in that regard as you havenÂt always been with the DH, and that your DHÂs current fascination is no surprise to you whatsoever. In fact you actually bought him the guitar thus well knew this could and probably would lead to another ÂfascinationÂ. Yes?

I donÂt think this resentment you feel has anything to do with housework or who does what. ItÂs the *chimera* over the real issue(s).

You indicate in your remarks that dollars and cents are not an issue so get on with finding the help you need to resolve these contentions (and donÂt get all pissy about needing to do it yourself). Ask for specific times you will spend together (so you get YOUR attention needs met) and begin enjoying life again. Decide what time youÂd like to have *together* each week doing what ever you enjoy & get that in place. Then, if youÂve had your *attention quotient* met, the resentment wonÂt surface & destroy.

You say:
"My sister is a princess whose husband waits on her hand and foot. That would make me nervous, but I wouldn't mind a bit of help on Saturday mornings...."

So I guess you need to make clear to DH that youÂd like to be treated as a LITTLE bit more of a Princess! Me too! IÂm working on it! LOL!!

Life can be short. Make every moment as fun as you can and donÂt sweat the small stuff (or make it bigger than it is).

HTH, With Hugs

    Bookmark   December 9, 2004 at 10:37PM
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:) funny- I married the slacker with five guitars, bought the house- and now he's the one obsessed with working on it.

he's the one who ripped 60 years of jerry-rigged workbenches, defunct appliances, and ick out of the basement, leaveing little for me to do but vacuum, paint, and put up shelves.

he's the one who saved up a year's worth of overtime to buy the big-screen TV that I'm starting to get kind of fond of- after 10 years with no TV at all :)

'The wizard of oz' is much cooler on a 50" screen than on the 17" from my childhood!

yes, he's a slacker, and he does drive me nuts- but he's also totally aware of the fact that I'm the alpha in the house, and if he makes me mad, good things will cease to happen to him.

I'm not even going to ask you what possessed you to buy a grown man a guitar instead of power tools...

but since you obviously don't NEED a man to take care of a house- it's high time you pointed that out to him.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2005 at 3:56PM
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We used to fight about housework and yard work all the time! Hired a housekeeper and lawn service - no more fights! Life is too short to make yourself miserable over this crap. It cost about $280 per month for a weekly cleaning and lawn service every 10 days (found this timing works very well and doesn't allow the grass to burn up in the heat). Lawn guy also plans the spring clean up, tree pruning and mulching for early spring AND provides snow removal in the winter (he is here around 5 AM with his snow blower after a heavy snow so we can get to work! Charges the same for this as cutting the lawn $40!) Housekeeper comes every Thursday, so the house looks great for the weekend. All I have then is to change beds, towels and do laundry. Worth every penny and even when I was cut back to 4/5 time at work (4 days per week), my husband said we were NOT giving up either service.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2005 at 6:20PM
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Lots of good advice here. I certainly sympathize, but agree that your life will be better if you realize he won't change--at least, not much, anyway--and try to go with the flow.

1. Hire someone to do the cleaning, and the yard, too, if
possible, and give your husband credit for not insisting
that you do everything without outside help. There are
men like that, too! To me, his willingness for you to
hire someone takes the edge off the selfishness of his
behavior. Praise him for being thoughtful that way.

2. See if you can get him to agree to spending some time
with you at certain times each week or even each month.
He might resent having to agree to a regular schedule for
this, yet be willing to give you some time now and then
if you ask for him to do something specific, like go to a

3. Any chance you might join him, just a bit, in his hobby?
(I hope that it wouldn't end up with him insisting that
you practice as much as he does (lol), but it would be
time together. And maybe you could work it so that his
next obsession is with something you like, too.)

3. It is good that he does do a few things around the house,
even though not the way you (or I) would like him to do
them. Show appreciation for them and try not to
criticize (though I fully sympathize with your
feelings about the dog fur and mop left in the corner!).
Instead, show lots of appreciation so that he will feel
good about having helped and maybe be inclined to help
again. I suspect that many men don't do household chores
the way we want them done. They simply see things

4. For the chores left over after hiring someone, if you \
resent doing them:
It was a good suggestion from someone that you make
a list of chores and select the essential ones to do
yourself. But I suspect he might feel pressured and
resentful. Instead of that, you might be able to
introduce a few new chores for him, one at a time, with
long intervals in between, and not labeling them as
"his." You will simply "need" his help once in a while to
do such-and-such, which is the truth, in a way, and when
he does it, you will be very appreciative and show it. I
don't see this as being manipulative. After all, when you
do something for anyone, you appreciate their showing
gratitude, right? The Golden Rule rules!

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and when it comes to catching flies, honey is better than a swatter.

I hope you will be able to work things out so that neither of you has to go around feeling resentful.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2005 at 1:16PM
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You knew what he was like before you married him but you married him anyway. Did you love him for who he was or did you think you could change him?

If you loved him the way he was then there is no problem. You simply decide if you want to do the work for him or if you want to hire someone else.

If you thought you can change him then you may have a problem.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2005 at 4:59PM
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