Keeping a household happy can be tough! Especially after a long day of work, sometimes you just want to relax, get a box of pizza and throw all your clothes in a haphazard pile on the floor.
Of course, we all know that this behavior can become a real issue, whether you’re living with a partner or roommate. Tiny annoyances around chores create real enmity and irritation. Couples therapists report that it’s one of the main sources of tension between people who otherwise like each other.
So why does it become an issue in the first place? Maybe it’s because we feel home should be a place where we relax, not work. But living together is a practical partnership, not purely romantic.
Whether it’s chores, finances, childcare or any of the myriad little things that keep a household afloat, these tasks are just as important as anything you might do in the office.
We’ve rounded up a few tips for making these tricky conversations and decisions feel less like work. For the sake of this article, we’re going to assume that your partnership has a more intense, romantic quality than a typical roommate, as some of this advice just won’t apply to a 23 year old named Dave who plays Call of Duty until his eyes bleed. You should’ve known what you were getting there.
The common wisdom is that domestic disagreements typically come from miscommunication. This is definitely true, to a certain extent. You may be approaching a relationship with different gendered or cultural expectations, standards of cleanliness or assumptions about roles. Most people don’t naturally want to sit down with a partner and tally all of these things off.
So, consequently, your partner may not realize something’s bothering you. They might think that you don’t mind that their undies are on the floor. After all, they don’t mind. Cleanliness might not be an issue for them, but it’s a huge deal for you.
In almost every relationship, a big problem arises when we expect people to read our mind and grow resentful when they don’t.
Sometimes it’s up to you to speak up if the balance is off. Even if your partner gets defensive, it’s better in the long term than you getting stressed, angry or passive-aggressive. That said, there are right and wrong ways to bring things up. Creating opportunities to calmly communicate is a better method than, say, forcing an intense conversation right before you go to sleep. Many partners find long walks together to be deeply therapeutic for their relationship. There have been countless studies about how a simple walk can relax the mind and bring up conversations that would otherwise have stayed buried. Some of these conversations shouldn’t be rushed. Just try to leave the phone on silent.
That said, some things just aren’t easily communicated. It’s up to you to try to understand how your partner sees the world. It’s important to recognize what social expectations you two might be internalizing, especially in a parental relationship.
In some couples, one person may feel pressure to maintain the children's busy schedules while the other person feels pressure to excel at the office.
Recognizing that your partner's pressures are different from yours can level up your empathy for each other.
Very often, we worry about domestic issues like getting new dish soap, or the kids’ medical forms or countless other small tasks. This mental load of anticipation, decision-making and monitoring, is in itself a form of cognitive labor. What is often called “worrying" or “nagging" is, at its best, a form of awareness about the problems that might come up down the road.
Perhaps the best thing a partner can do is to choose to be more observant and solve problems before they happen.
If one person’s awareness is high, looking for issues and ways to solve them and the other person’s isn’t, it’s not going to be a happy situation. Even if you fix a problem, it’s important that you don’t always have to bring it up. Make a point to take the initiative and handle some of the hard work without involving your partner.
Assuming you can communicate healthily, organizing chores and tasks is key. But people are different here. One person might love a shared Google calendar while the other might never think to check it. While a shared todo list or calendar can be helpful, sometimes it’s better to assign spheres of responsibility: dishes, laundry, getting the kids out the door and picking them up. Simple divisions of labor have a better chance of sticking.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to show gratitude and kindness as much as you can. Those little "thank yous" are what make a relationship work.
Kindness is ultimately both for yourself, and your partner. It’s cliche, but domestic partnerships really do come down to the little things. It’s the tiny, crack-in-the-dam problems that widen over time, especially when they’re not noticed. It’s vitally important that couples remember that they’re on the same team, even if they have to sometimes say it out loud!