Tackling housework resentment
Picture the scene, it’s sunny Saturday afternoon. You’ve returned from a busy morning shift at work to find the house a mess, the kids running riot and your partner, seemingly blissfully unaware, on the front drive cleaning their car. None of the housework has been done.
You can feel your temper rising, muttering swear words under your breath and envisioning shoving the toothbrush they’re expertly cleaning the alloys with, somewhere the sun doesn’t shine! Your internal dialogue screams ‘Am I the only one round here who ever does anything?’, ‘Am I the only one who cares about the house?’, ‘They’re such a lazy (insert fave swear word)!’
As you slam your way around the kitchen, stacking plates, clearing sandwich crumbs, your anger and resentment rise to volcanic proportions and you switch to thinking of the words you’ll use to let them know that they’re selfish, irresponsible and uncaring. And that they don’t value your efforts (or you, by extension).
Housework as a home-wrecker
With a 2018 Harvard business school study finding that disagreements over household chores were the 3rd leading reason for divorce, with around 25% of 3000 respondents reporting this was the main reason for their relationship breakdown, we should not underestimate the effect that these often trivialised issues can have on families. Long term insidious resentment can be as damaging to a relationship as workplace stress, sex or money problems according to the Gottman Institute.
For many couples the workload may be fairly evenly split in the early days of the relationship. But this can often change over time. For some, the arrival of a baby and maternity leave can bring a gradual but seismic shift in roles. It’s not hard to see how resentment arises when one partners’ career is halted; they’re tethered to a brand-new human and the other partners’ life appears to be unchanged. Meanwhile the at home partners’ life has become an unrecognisable hamster wheel of laundry, childcare and cleaning.
With the modern-day view of paid work being superior and salary being a direct measure of success, parental and domestic duties have been downgraded and demoted. Housework is frequently depicted as demeaning and of no real worth. It’s not hard to see why couples struggle to find balance and harmony when one partners’ role is persistently deemed inferior by society.
The root of resentment
So, what is the solution? For me my resentment towards my husband and children faded as I began to ask myself these two questions.
- Who am I cleaning for?
- Why is a clean home so important to me?
In answer to my first question, my initial thought was, I clean for them. I clean for my (selfish, ungrateful) family. I tidy away their toys for them. I wash clothes and dishes for them… Sound familiar?
Take a moment though and think of the situation with the car outlined above. Who is your partner cleaning the car for? Is it for you? Or is it because they love their car, are proud of it, want it to look good? Is it their way of expressing their self-worth and showing externally the fruits of their labour?
If your partner asked you to scrub the alloys with a toothbrush, what would your response be? Don’t answer that! Do you care if the doorsills are dirt free, are you bothered by a few crumbs on the seats? If you’re anything like me the answer is no. So long as there’s no vermin taking up residence I don’t really care. So if your partner got cross every time the footwells got a little dirty and shouted, that wouldn’t be ok
However, if they told you having a clean car helps them feel more on top of things and less stressed. That they worked hard to buy the car and don’t want to diminish that time spent away from the family. That they find it disrespectful when you don’t care about it. Would you try your best to keep it clean then? Would you be more mindful of your mess?
When viewed like this, you can see why the mess in your home is acutely visible to you, yet your partner seems oblivious? They’re not necessarily being selfish. You just both have different perspectives on your environment, different areas of focus and levels of expectation.
Reframing the issue – what is your WHY?
If you are honest you may conclude that actually you clean for you, because you are most affected mentally and physically when things get out of hand.
Mess distracts you. Clutter mentally weighs you down. You clean for you, for your wellbeing and peace of mind and that’s ok. It’s also ok to express this to others and ask for their help. Explain your feelings and how your family members’ behaviour makes you feel. It is not ok to shout and nag when others don’t see things from your perspective. No amount of shouting will change the way another human views the world. You can’t make people care about the things you care about. They do care about YOU though and sharing your feelings and your ‘why’ can help.
So, what is your ‘why’? What are the reasons you really want a clean well organised home? What motivates you to clean? Why do you feel awful when things fall below your expectations? Once you know your why, then tidying and cleaning become the things you need to do in order to stay aligned with these underlying values.
My whys are: I enjoy having friends round to my house but am embarrassed by mess, I think this stems from my childhood when I often felt embarrassed having friends round, as the house was often untidy due to my mum working long hours to support us.
I’m not proud of this one, but I clean because I feel a clean home is a measure of worth for me as a mother (I’m working on this). I clean because I want to be proud of my home, I worked hard to renovate it and want to keep it looking nice. I clean so that my children have space to play, my husband has room to work, we all have space to relax and be together.
Building the bridge of understanding
These are my whys, it’s likely yours will be different. Once you start to reframe things; when you’re faced with the daily chores or mammoth one-off decluttering sessions, it will be easier to remind yourself what you are trying to achieve and why it is important to you. So, before you start shouting, before you start internally fuming please take a moment to consider your partners’ motivations and their perspective. If they truly aren’t supporting you in the way you need then it’s time to have a discussion, not about housework per say, but about your feelings and your ‘why’. Also consider that you can use their unique perspective to find the jobs and responsibilities that match their ‘why’ too, providing internal motivation that external pressure can never provide.
Louise has 14 years experience in small animal practice and emergency and critical care. She is Clinical Director and founder of the children’s food allergy FPIES UK and Director of the bespoke recruitment service Contented Vets. Her overriding goal is to help vets to live their best lives by assisting them to take back control of their careers, homes and finances. Louise lives on a dairy farm in Cheshire with her husband and two children.