Relationships with Terah Harrison
Chores are a common source of conflict for couples. Usually, one person is more concerned with order and cleanliness than the other, which can make for a really nice balance if the couple has a plan and communicates effectively around this issue — it can go south really fast if the couple does not have a chore system in place.
This situation might sound familiar: It is day three of the dirty dishes standoff. The counter is covered in stacked dishes, and the kitchen is starting to smell a bit funny. I am a little worried there could be a family of small insects that have made a home in a coffee cup or on a sticky, jam-covered plate. I can’t stand even one dirty dish on a counter and am liable to take your cup from you to wash it before you are even finished with your drink. My husband, however, is content to let dishes sit until he can “get around” to washing them. I have realized over time that he often doesn’t even see the things that really bother me regarding cleanliness. It is his job to do the dishes, so I am really trying not to freak out all over him about all of the imagined bacteria colonizing our home, but I am at my wits’ end. He has no idea what’s going on inside my head and is happily watching the stock market in his office while I am practicing deep-yoga breathing to calm myself.
It is helpful for many couples to establish duties for each person. Deciding on chores based on internal motivation to do them is a great system. If one of you hates vacuuming and the other loves it, it is natural for the person who enjoys the chore to assume the task. Sometimes, one of you is more particular about how a certain chore is done (i.e. the person who takes baths might want a cleaner tub than the one who takes a shower). Sometimes there are chores that spark no internal motivation, so then it is a good idea to build a reward into the chore. Usually the reward for my husband doing the dishes is that I make dinner. This doesn’t always work on weekends when we might go out to eat (hence the three-day standoff) but is generally a good motivation for him to get the counter cleared. If you’re doing the chore together, then perhaps reward yourself with a trip to the movies or something else you both enjoy.
Don’t let chores become a vehicle for controlling your partner. If you make the list of chores, be sure you give your partner choices. Also, let your partner do the chore on his or her time and in the way he or she wants to do the chore. Trying to dictate how the towels are folded just creates more conflict. Learning to accept that others do things differently — and that’s okay — is a great life lesson. Also, when asking your partner to do something, “please” and “thank you” go a long way. Appreciation and politeness make more of a difference than we often realize.
In the end, the dishes get done, and I learned a great lesson in letting go while practicing my breathing techniques and finding peace in dirty dishes chaos.
Terah Harrison is a licensed professional counselor and owner of Therapeutically Chosen, LLC, where she specializes in relationship counseling for singles and couples as well as matchmaking.