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How to split the housework and chores (for couples).

Updated: Apr 30

As a couples therapist, I often work with couples as they struggle dividing up household chores.

Most of the time, the actual issue isn't the chore. There's a deeper issue.

But let's assume that for you it is really about the chores. What do you do?

Well, first, let's normalize how hard it is for couples to split the housework and chores.

First of all chores are incredibly important. Living in a house with constant dirty toilets and overflowing trash is disgusting.

It's also one of the few things that's almost entirely subjective. If you vacuum once a day or once a week is entirely dependent on what you want for your life. There is no universal "right" answer. It's simply what you want for home.

So housework is entirely subjective and also very important. Which makes it a very difficult topic to tackle.

Second, let's have some empathy for the person who cares the most about splitting the housework and the chores.

In my caseload, it's usually the wife who's unhappy with the husband about the chores.

Obviously, this isn't all couples, and there are exceptions. It's merely one of a few recurring patterns I see.

I see is a lot of wives carrying the "mental load" of the household. Let me explain.

Say she goes to do the dishes.

Well, when she's placing plates in the dishwasher, she realizes she's also got to put away the leftovers. So she stops loading the dishwasher to put away the leftovers.

Then when she's in the fridge, she notices that there are leftovers from the night before that need to be thrown out.

So she throws out the old food, and now the trash can is full.

So she takes out the trash and comes back inside and realizes that she's out of trash bags. So she adds trash bags to her grocery list.

Which reminds her she needs to plan the meals for the coming week. Which means she needs to take inventory of what she already has and what meals she needs to make.

And as she's thinking about that, her eyes go to the half-loaded dishwasher, and she screams.

Woman screaming

What these wives want from their husbands is a man who can look around and see the world through their eyes. These women look around, and they don't just see dishes. They FEEL like their world as chaotic. Their way of feeling like their world has order is to order the chaos around them.

It's like they're engaged in a war against the monsters of slime, disorder, and clutter, and they want their husbands enlisted in the battle.

In general, I think if you're married to someone, you have pledged yourself to fight alongside them. Their battles have become your battles. I think more men would benefit from seeing the world through their wives' eyes.

Why "To Do List" don't work when splitting the housework and chores.

This is why "to-do" lists don't work. Your wife doesn't want to make a list of the 5 things you need to do because she knows once you do those 5 things, you'll think "I'm done." She wants to know you're scanning the environment like she is. She wants to know you see the struggle she's seeing.

When you come home, look around and see what does my wife see. If I take out the trash, what's the next thing that might need to be done?

If you can do that, I think your relationship will improve.

If you spilt the house work and chores beware of the "Peanut Butter Jelly" problem.

There is a problem with this though. I call it the peanut butter jelly problem.

A few years ago, I was talking with my friend's wife. They had just moved and she was telling me about how hard it had been on her.

Her husband, my friend, seeing this, decided to step up his game.

"Honey," he said, "how about I start packing the kids' lunches."

For about a week, things went great. Then one day, the wife asked, "Hey, thanks for packing lunches. It's helped. Just curious, what are you packing the kids for lunch?"

"Peanut butter jelly sandwiches," he replied.

The wife winced.

When she'd packed the lunches, she'd always tried to make sure they kids had a balanced meal and not too many carbs. And here her husband was packing PB and J!

"Jordan," she said, "I had to realize that if I was going to let him help, I had to let him pack peanut butter jelly."

And I think that's just true. If you're going to give up a task to your partner you have to actually give it up. You can't give it up and control it at the same time.

So that's the solution. The solution is for the husband to fight the wife's battle with her. And the solution for the wife is to give up control of how the chore is done.

If you can't then you may need a professional mediator to help you talk through the underlying issues. I take on about 3 clients a month, so if you'd like help with the "chore wars" shoot me an email. I'd be glad to help.


Dr. Jordan Harris.

GIF of making and eating a PB&J
Also, never use strawberry jelly. That's disgusting. Always use grape.


Dr. Jordan Harris is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists who works in the Northwest Arkansas area, servicing Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville. With over 10 years of experience, he's worked in various fields from addictions, to kids, to psychiatric wards. Currently his specialty is working with couples with young children.

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