If you and your spouse or partner regularly argue over housework responsibilities or the cleanliness of your home, you are not alone—this is one most common and stubbornly persistent topics that couples fight about. The specific grievances may differ from one couple to the next, but one commonality is that when couples fight about housework, they’re often really fighting about something else.There are a lot of possible, hidden explanations for why an argument about, say, a big pile of laundry can become so emotional, or even explosive. An obvious one is that one partner has different expectations than the other about what are acceptable household standards. Maybe the site of a pile of unfolded clothes gives one partner an anxiety attack, whereas the other thinks everything’s fine so long as everyone has something clean to wear the next day (and they can close the door to the laundry room, anyway, so who cares what it looks like)?
Dig a little deeper, and you may learn that one partner grew up in a household where everything had to be spotless; now, even as an adult, spying dust bunnies under the couch evokes the angry voice of a disapproving parent. The other partner, meanwhile, may have grown up in a household that was a lot more relaxed about cleanliness, or was never expected as a child to help out around the house. Either way, the result is often the same: one person ends up feeling constantly criticized, while the other feels that his or her needs for order and cleanliness are being ignored.
When you’re struggling to get past the resentments and frustrations that seem to be ever-present when these conflicts arise, a good therapist can help you understand what’s happening and learn to work together instead of against each other. But additionally, there are a few tips that can help take the fangs out of the fights so you can start to cooperate in ways that are less emotional and infinitely more effective:
*Address the problems sooner rather than later. Fights over housework tend to get swept under the rug, because they can be so painful and seem so intractable. But just like dust bunnies, resentments swept under the rug only get bigger over time.
* Change your tone. If one of you is angry about dirty dishes in the sink and the other complains they’re being made to feel lazy or incompetent, try and change the tone of the conversation to a neutral one. Sit down with your partner, and each of you can choose one or two points of contention to address. Then brainstorm about what each of you can do to help solve them.
* Show appreciation. If you fixate on the smelly garbage that was left in the kitchen last night but fail to acknowledge that your spouse spent hours cleaning out the garage yesterday, you’re probably setting the stage for a fight that really could be avoided.
* Make it a family affair. If you have kids, establishing some age-appropriate ways for them to pitch in. I’m not suggesting they scrub the toilets or do the laundry, but they can certainly pick up their toys and toss them in a bin at the end of the day, help take dishes to the sink, etc. It reinforces the idea that you’re all in this together, and you’d be surprised how having an extra pair of hands—even small ones—can not only relieve the workload but improve morale, too.
Are you tired of having the same old argument? Our licensed counselors at Orange County Relationship Center are here to help.