A reader wonders what to do about the fact that her husband expects her to do everything around the house and has stopped treating her lovingly.
I’m married, we both work but I feel I do all the household chores minus the trash. He’ll tell me he has no time. The only thing I really would like is help with cleaning up after I cook and him to occasionally empty the dishwasher.
I know these are little things but I’m finding myself getting resentful.
I do ALL the cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, etc. I feel these are very small requests. We have separate accounts and I also pay all the bills. Meanwhile he buys himself whatever he wants and rarely anything for the house that doesn’t directly benefit him. I’ve brought it up but he doesn’t offer to help and I don’t want to nag so I say nothing and then get resentful.
It’s fresh in my mind as we just had our anniversary he had to go get me a card the day of. I always buy him expensive, thoughtful gifts and cards. He used to surprise me all the time and be very generous. I’m not sure what happened…
This email made me sad. It really feels awful to have that sinking feeling that you’re being taken advantage of by a person you love who used to treat you well.
Life is LIVED in the little things. These “little things” you mentioned are not so little at all.
The thing is, since as a society we sort of expect women to take on these responsibilities without complaining, it makes women reluctant to view it like they deserve complimentary help with the day-to-day parts of PARTNERSHIP.
One of the saddest parts of my job is noticing how this kind of neglect transforms women from cherished, sensual people with their own passions and interests into bitter, martr-y workhorses who end up so angry and sad they can barely function.
This shift from “cherished one” to “workhorse” is so common that we almost expect it from wives. Insert “naggy old battleaxe with whiny, put-upon husband” trope here.
That stigma plus the fear of being alone can be enough to make you reluctant to speak up when your husband expects you to do everything.
Unfortunately, it’s not that speaking up is the problem, it’s NOT speaking up and negotiating calmly soon and often enough.
Tolerating anger is corrosive. And, anger doesn’t die unless you do something about it— either by rejecting it’s cause or accepting the circumstances completely.
Holding your tongue just makes you more likely to snap and throw burned pasta sauce on his car while screaming on your front lawn because he came home late and never bothered to call… one last time.
Just look how reluctant you are to sound ungrateful or somehow unsatisfied with this non-partnership. You don’t say whether you have children with your husband or not, but for my readers with kids, it’s so common for women to feel even MORE guilty for nurturing themselves when there are children involved, since their little lives depend on competent childcare.
Then… mama goes EVEN FURTHER to the bottom of the priority list.
Anyhow, this dynamic happens so slowly that one day, wives wake up and realize that they’re doing EVERYTHING in their marriages and they’re mad as hell about it.
And… I can’t emphasize enough how truly bad for you psychologically and physically this anger really is.
This kind of anger and resentment is eventually going to make you sick. I don’t want to minimize the effects of something like this— as people tend to do before it’s too late. You say, “I feel these are very small requests.” then, “I don’t want to nag” and “it’s fresh it my mind because.”
I don’t say any of that to hurt your feelings, I just want to call attention to the fact that what you want is ultra reasonable— in fact, I sense that you’re afraid to ask for more because you’ve been so disappointed in the past that you don’t want to get your hopes up. That makes me so sad for you.
You said, “The only thing I really would like is help with cleaning up after I cook and him to occasionally empty the dishwasher.”
Read that again.
You’re doing everything and all you feel justified asking for in return is for your husband to clean up after you cook and occasionally empty the dishwasher. That request is almost so small it’s unreasonable NOT to want that.
I would try to help with those as a BASIC courtesy at a friend’s dinner party, let alone if my partner made me a meal, nightly.
For a anyone (male or female) who is paying all the bills, doing all of the housework and furnishing a shared home— the household arrangement you are experiencing is one you would have with a snotty teenager to whom you gave birth, not a full-grown, healthy spouse. This is not a partnership. It is not complimentary. It is a codependency where your spouse is a 10 and you are a zero.
Wives often rationalize, “well, I OFFERED to do it this way,” or “if I take charge of things, at least they’ll get done my way” or “at least he’s faithful.” And, sometimes there is a kernel of truth in there.
Then, sadly, like you, they wake up one day, saying, “I’m not sure what happened.”
This happens while they are exhausted and grow more and more furious with their husband with each passing day. You’re most likely even upset at yourself for letting it happen in the first place.
Several things happen to create this kind of “responsibility creep” in marriage.
Usually the situation goes something like this:
One person courts the other and gives a lot— and they fall in love, with their chemistry on fire.
The loved-up couple blissfully get married.
As their life together goes on, the other person gives back— doing labor to create a nice home. Their partner sees that things are getting done and sort of thinks mentally, “well, that’s their job now” instead of, “how can I help?” like their partner expects.
To compound the problem, often the person who takes on whatever job decides there is a SPECIFIC way IT should be done.
Now, these expectations that your partner will do certain things in exchange for certain things on your part are rarely discussed or negotiated— leading to something called a covert contract.
I first read the term “covert contract” in a book titled, No More Mr. Nice Guy which is worth reading even if you are a woman who is getting walked all over— since the basic concept of the book is how to stop going around with “doormat” stamped on your forehead.
Anyway, once you create a covert contract for what will happen in exchange for you doing something— resentment will build like crazy if the never-verbalized contract goes unmet.
You said you have discussed your desire for him to do basic kitchen tasks and now you don’t want to nag.
What you haven’t done is explained the consequences for him not taking you seriously in either your home or your relationship.
There is a big difference between negotiating with love and nagging someone.
Negotiating is powerful. When you negotiate properly, you have a discussion about what isn’t working for you and you then work together with your partner to influence change.
Nagging is powerless because it’s you TALKING AT your spouse about chores or whatever you want to happen.
No matter what words you use, you’re essentially saying, “do it because I said so.”
We rightfully shy away from nagging because no one likes it, but we usually find ourselves nagging during situations when we feel powerless. Then we nag more which makes us feel even more powerless because it doesn’t work… and on and on the cycle goes.
When you negotiate, you have a pre-determined consequence to the other person reneging on the deal you make with them.
When you negotiate, you are saying, “hold up your end of the deal because that’s what we discussed or there will be a real consequence.” As long as you can follow through, the consequence is why you have power in a negotiation.
Successful negotiation is REALLY, REALLY important for a romantic partnership, a good business, or even a good relationship with your 2 year old. I can’t understate the importance of being able to strike a good deal with anyone.
Often people don’t like to think of romantic relationships in terms of negotiating because it sounds cold and they have pride about how, “if the other person loved me, they should know or do X,Y,Z” (plus, I still believe in fairy tales).
Because people tend to think that their partner, “should have their best interests at heart,” that mindset extends quickly to, “they should know what I want and what my best interests ARE.”
The truth is that people are inherently selfish.
Now, that’s actually not a bad thing as long as you realize that meeting your own needs should take priority over everyone else.
If they are going to look out for number one (them), you should look after number one (you)— that way, when you come together in partnership— with the goal being to build a life together and give— no one is bleeding or looking for someone to mind read what they want, need and require for everyone to be happy.
Your husband probably isn’t a bad guy. He probably also wants you to be happy.
But, given that you’ve taken on all of this responsibility and haven’t pushed back very hard (doesn’t sound like)— he most likely thinks this arrangement is actually A-OK with you since you have bought into the idea that all you deserve in this relationship is for him to pick up a dish every week or two.
Unfortunately, because you’ve dutifully kept doing everything, he has learned that even when you complain, the bills still get paid and the hot meals keep coming, so he thinks, “what’s the big deal?” and goes about his merry way.
This goes doubly if he has TRIED to help in the past and you have stopped him for any reason or criticized his efforts to help you. If this is the case, he most likely feels disrespected by you and that might be the root of the problem.
You would be surprised how often I hear from husbands who really love their wives and want good marriages but have been getting so little respect that they have started passive aggressively avoiding doing anything because their wife made them feel two inches tall and five years old every time they have made an effort of any kind.
That’s another reason why negotiating will work better than nagging. When you negotiate with someone, it’s much more likely to be a respectful conversation– which a responsible man will usually respond to.
So far I’m not hearing that you have negotiated with your husband from a place of self worth and cooperation— giving a clear consequence for his lack of responsiveness and then gone on strike by refusing to take care of everything and/or withdrawn, using actual consequences to get your point across.
Here’s what to do when your husband expects you to do everything.
Arrange a time to sit down and have a conversation about what is going on with you, what you need to be happy and what your bottom line is for his participation. Will you stop cooking? Will you move out?
Think it through and decide in advance what you’re willing to do if he doesn’t start contributing to your shared household and then be ready to follow through with whatever your consequences are.
Then, at a time you have both agreed upon where you won’t be interrupted, explain calmly how you have been feeling about the situation in your household without accusing him of having negative intentions toward you or making him the bad guy.
Use genuine feeling statements that include an actual feeling. (Note: Sad is a feeling– “I feel like you’re a jerk” is NOT a feeling.)
Here’s a script to help you start the conversation:
You: “I’m feeling sad and overwhelmed around the house. I’ve been doing X,Y, Z and I’m starting to feel really tired and unhappy. I don’t see how I can continue keep up with all of it. Would you be willing to take on X and Y?”
Him: “whatever he says, yes or no.”
You: “Thank you for hearing me out. That will make such a big difference for us.”
You: “I understand that but it’s just too much to continue to do. Is there more you can do in exchange or instead to lighten my load?”
Him: “whatever he says”
Then, hold your ground and watch and see what happens. If he follows through or finds a way to take more off your shoulders, show your appreciation in words and actions. Notice any and all effort he makes and use a ton of genuine positive reinforcement.
If he doesn’t follow through, follow through on your word, enact your consequences and pull back. Then wait. You might have to grit your teeth a little during this process because it will feel natural for you to rush in and “save everything” but DO NOT. Resist the urge to talk the issue to death or become angry and accusatory.
Also, do NOT criticize the way he chooses to solve the problem.
For example, say that during your negotiation, he decides the best way to handle the chores would be to hire a housekeeper. Let him do it, make the arrangements and pay for it. Do not get in there and start micro-managing when he makes decisions or you’ll set your entire process back to the dark ages. You can’t give him a task and then criticize the way he handles it because it’s disrespectful and you’ll end doing everything like right now.
This will be an ongoing change to your relationship, so be prepared to make changes or have further discussions with him.
I hope that helps some. I’d love to hear how it turns out.