Love, Always

Feeling resentful because your partner NEVER helps out around the house? Read this.

“Every day, it’s the same #$%$^ thing!”

My client is a human-volcano on the brink of eruption.

She’s tired of feeling like she’s the only one who cares about keeping the house tidy.

She sweeps, dusts, folds laundry, cooks, and keeps everything in order — in addition to working full time.

“I do everything and he doesn’t even notice. He certainly doesn’t offer to help out!”

She’s on the brink of tears — and soon, it becomes apparent that there’s an even deeper issue at play here. She wants to have a child and she’s wondering, “Is my husband going to ‘step up’ and help out with the child, one day, if we have one together — or will I be slogging along all by myself then, too?”

When you’re in a committed relationship — and living together — there are so many scenarios that can cause tension, if left unaddressed. Divvying up the housework is a common one. So how do you address the scenario I described, and similar “dirty dishes” or “piles of laundry” type of issues, in a way that strengthens your relationship — so the two of you team up together, closer than ever — instead of burying your union in an avalanche of complaints and dissatisfaction?

If you’re feeling resentful because your partner rarely (or never!) helps out around the house, here’s an “emotional health workout” for you to take yourself through.

Move through the 2 steps outlined below, then take 10 big, deep breaths and pop on a soothing meditation, and then — when you’re feeling completely calm and centered, try step 3 — hold a conversation with your partner about how to make things more fair, balanced and peaceful at home. (You’re likely to have much better results if you step into that convo from a calm place instead of feeling like you’re about to explode!)

Check in and take yourself through the following 3 steps…

1. When you’re feeling irritated with your partner, ask yourself: “How can I release my irritation in a healthy way?”

Don’t allow negative emotions —like lingering irritation, frustration and anger—to build up inside of you. It’s just a matter of time before these bottled-up feelings erupt. Then you might say something nasty — even volatile — to your partner that you wish you could take back, instantly. But you can’t.

The next time you sense that “volcano” feeling building inside, release that energy, safely. In my 28 years of coaching and counseling clients, I have found one particular method to be most effective. This involves being in a private space (like a study with the door locked) and pounding a soft pillow, using a hand towel that’s been knotted on one end — while simultaneously verbalizing one’s feelings. Most people feel a sense of release within a few minutes of doing this. They feel lighter, clearer, and calmer. They’re not carrying that heavy load around anymore. Which means they’re likely to be in a more forgiving space towards the person with whom they’re irritated.

2. Ask yourself: what are some wonderful things that my partner does to express love, show affection, support me, or make my life easier?

Make a list. It might wind up being a much longer list than you expect!

Your partner might actually be doing a lot of things to support you and make your life easier — like always driving the car while you relax in the passenger seat, or assembling furniture, or dealing with home repairs, or running errands on weekends, or massaging your feet, or listening intently as you talk about your day, or doing most of the cooking, and so on.

As you fill out your list, you might realize, “Oh. My partner actually does a lot of things to make my life sweeter and easier. Just not the stuff that I expect or want!”

Time to breathe…

Now that you have released the irritation and anger that you were feeling towards your partner — and now that you have made a list of all the wonderful things that your partner does for you— you’re better equipped to have a loving and productive conversation with your partner.

But before you do… take 10 big, deep breaths and pop on a soothing meditation.

Now, for the final step.

3. When you’re ready to have a conversation with your partner, stay calm and use the magic word: “Because.”

Choose an ideal time for this chat — ideally, a time when both of you are rested, calm, and happy (not at the end of a 16-hour shift at work, for example).

Explain to your partner:

I wanted to take a moment to say “thank you” for all the things you do to make my life easier, like ______ and ______. I don’t think I say “thank you” enough, but I notice all of those things, and I really appreciate them. I really appreciate you!

One thing that I’d love for us to work on, though, is ______. It’s really important to me that ______ be [neat / tidy / clean / organized / clear / etc.] because ______.

Can we come up with a plan for that? Here’s one idea… [then describe your ideal plan, like taking turns with the garbage, creating a new system for divvying up the housework, hiring a cleaner to help out, or whatever you want to propose.]

The magic word here is “Because.” It’s important to explain the “reasoning” or “logic” behind your request so that it makes sense to your partner why he (or she) should get on board with your plan. If you don’t offer a reason, it’s more along the lines of saying “Just do what I want.” That’s not going to get the result that you’re after.

As one example: a friend of mine is self-employed and works from home, while her partner works outside the house. She’s a self-proclaimed “neat freak” who prefers to be in a very tidy environment. He’s not a “slob,” by any means, but he’s not as meticulous as she is and she often found herself cleaning up after him. This created some friction until she finally explained to him, “It’s really important to me that we keep our apartment very neat because this isn’t just where I live, it’s also where I work. This is my office. I have a hard time focusing if things are messy.”

She calmly asked him, “Imagine if you went to work one morning, ready to focus and get started on your day, except you found clothes and crumbs and other stuff scattered around your workspace. That probably wouldn’t be an ‘ideal’ start to your workday, right?”

This line of reasoning made sense to her partner, and they created a new plan together. This past weekend they spent an entire afternoon cleaning and tidying — his idea! — and my friend was in heaven!

Bottom line:

There’s no need to live in a state of tension and friction with your sweetheart.

Even if you prefer surfaces to gleam with surgical-level cleanliness — while he or she takes a more, shall we say, “organic” approach to household chores and cleaning — with loving communication, you can create peaceful processes and solutions.

And one final reminder:

Sometimes, it’s a good idea to relax and “choose your battles,” as the old saying goes. Co-habitating with another human being means that you gain so many pleasures — like always having someone to chat with, snuggle with, hang out with, and chop veggies for soup — but it also means relinquishing certain preferences, too — like having everything exactly the way you want it, all the time!

Try to focus on the beauty of co-habitation — the beauty that this relationship is bringing into your life — rather than obsessing over the fact that your books are no longer arranged perfectly in alphabetical order.

In exchange for true love and a lifetime of companionship, cheerleading, and support, perhaps you can put up with the occasional dust bunny, unwashed towel, or cookie crumb.

Love — the kind you receive from a partner, but more importantly, the kind that you give to yourself — has a way of making life feel whole & complete, even when things are not “perfectly neat.”