In marriage, or any partnership, chores are a huge source of conflict. How do you get your sweetheart to hold up his or her end, without nagging?
It’s annoying to hear a hectoring voice, so suggest tasks without words. When the Big Man needs a prescription filled, he puts his empty medicine bottle on the bathroom counter. Then I know to get it re-filled.
If you need to voice a reminder, limit yourself to one word. Instead of barking out, “Now remember, I’ve told you a dozen times, stop off at the grocery store, we need milk, if you forget, you’re going right back out!” Instead, call out, “Grocery store!” or “Milk!”
Don’t insist that a task be done on your schedule. “You’ve got to trim those hedges today!” Says who? Try, “When are you planning to trim the hedges?” If possible, show why
Tips for getting your sweetheart to do chores—without nagging.
something needs to be done by a certain time. “Will you be able to trim the hedges before our party next week?”
Remind your partner that it’s better to decline a task than to break a promise. The Big Man told me that he’d emailed some friends to tell them we had to miss their dinner party to go to a family dinner—but he hadn’t. Then I had to cancel at the last minute. Now I tell him, “You don’t have to do it. But tell me, so I can it.”
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Have clear assignments. I always call repairmen; the Big Man always empties the Diaper Genie.
Every once in a while, do your sweetheart’s task, for a treat. This kind of pitching-in wins enormous goodwill.
Assign chores based on personal priorities. I hate a messy bedroom more than the Big Man, but he hates a messy kitchen more than I. So I do more tidying in the bedroom, and he does more in the kitchen.
Do it yourself. I used to be annoyed with the Big Man because we never had cash in the house. Then I realized: why did I get to assign that job? Now I do it, and we always have cash, and I’m not annoyed.
Keep a to-do list. That way, if an energetic mood strikes, you know what needs doing. This works very well with the Big Man. He makes fun of me, but I see him consult the list.
Set aside a weekend afternoon for home improvement. Your sweetheart may think, “I’ll clean out the mess in the breakfast room when I have some free time,” but no one has that much free time. Make time for it.
Settle for a partial victory. Maybe your partner won’t put dishes in the dishwasher, but getting them from the family room into the sink is a big improvement.
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Re-frame: decide that you actually enjoy a chore. This sounds ridiculous, but it works. I usually dislike shopping for kids’ clothes, but because the Big Man enjoys back-to-school shopping, I was able to find it fun, too.
Re-frame: decide that you don’t mind doing a chore—like putting clothes in the hamper or hanging up wet towels.
Don’t push for the impossible. The Big Man knows that there’s no way I’ll do anything relating to our car, so he doesn’t even ask.
No carping from the sidelines. If your partner made the travel arrangements, don’t criticize the flight time. If your partner got the kids dressed, don’t mock the outfits. If you want something done your way, do it yourself.
Remember that messy areas tend to stay messy, and tidy areas tend to stay tidy. If you want your partner to be neat, be neat yourself.
If a task is a high priority, make that clear. I used to leave popsicle sticks all around the house. Then the Big Man held one up and said very nicely, “You know how some people feel about the cap being left off the toothpaste? That’s how I feel about these things.” Message received.
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Think about how money might be able to buy some happiness. Could you find a teenager to mow the lawn? Could you hire a weekly cleaning service? Could you buy prepared foods? Eliminating conflict in a relationship is a high happiness priority, so this is a place to spend money if it can help.
A friend has a very radical solution: she and her husband don’t assign. That’s right. They never say, “Get me a diaper,” “The trash needs to go out,” etc. This only works because neither one of them is a slacker, but still—what a tactic!
I admit that these tips are practically useless, however, in a situation where one person is absolutely oblivious for the need for chores to be done. I have it easy, because if anything, the Big Man is more chore-oriented than I am. If a person simply does not care, it’s practically impossible to get him or her to participate.
A version of this article originally appeared on Gretchen Rubin’s website.