Even after years of sharing space, disagreements over the division of labor within the home can crop up, especially when one spouse feels the other isn’t pulling their weight or, worse, is lazy. When there are piles of laundry, dishes spilling from sink to countertops, the kids need baths, and it feels like a zillion other things need attention, it’s unsurprising that tensions can run high if one partner feels as though they bear the brunt while the other…doesn’t.
So, what do you do if you find yourself thinking that your husband or wife is lazy? First, take a breath. When you’re stressed, it’s easy to assume your partner doesn’t care, doesn’t want to help, or is lazy. And when those thoughts start swirling, it’s even easier to get angry and stew. Sometimes those thoughts erupt and cause an argument; other times, they’re internalized, and lead to resentment. Neither option is helpful.
There are as many divisions of labor at home as there are homes, and every situation is different. Despite that, there are a few common threads that can lead to one spouse carrying the weight of the domestic and household tasks while the other seems to coast through, not contributing.
Frequently, it boils down to outdated gender roles that, in cis, hetero relationships, have the man working outside the home, bringing home the proverbial bacon, and the woman staying home, carrying out all the housework, child-rearing, and schedule organizing. While those days are behind us, the preconceived notion of gender roles might be hard to shatter, leaving women, most commonly, wearing wage-earner, primary caregiver, and homemaker hats simultaneously.
While women are typically the ones wishing for a more equal division of labor, the converse can also be true. The male partner may view the female partner as lazy or not contributing or pulling her weight, which can lead to the same types of resentment and anger.
So, if you think your partner is being lazy, it’s important to be respectful, investigate if there’s actual truth to the feeling, and move on to a bigger conversation from there. Here are a few pieces of advice to remember.
1. Be Respectful
This may seem like a no-brainer but it’s easy to let anger take the reins. “It is always helpful to share your perceptions with your partners in an honest but respectful way,” says Dr. Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D., ABPP, Board Certified Clinical Psychologist and author of Letting Go of Your Ex. The same advice you’ve heard 1,000 times applies: Use “I” statements instead of blaming your partner for being “bad,” “lazy,” or “insensitive.” State directly how you feel. Listen actively. Offer suggestions for potential ways forward.
And always try to approach your partner with a cool head. If your spouse isn’t helping clean up the kitchen after meal prep and it’s getting to you, Warren suggests saying something like, “I’d really like some help from you cleaning up after meals. I feel irritated when you don’t help me. Is that something you’d be willing to do?”
The suggested response is blunt while also being kind and considerate, and says aloud what might be kept internally. However you personally choose to phrase it, be sure to avoid passive-aggressive speech like “Some help would be nice” while loudly clanging dishes and slamming cabinet doors.
It’s also important to be aware of the time you choose to confront your partner. Do they seem frazzled from putting the kids to bed? Probably not the best time to talk about the dish situation.
“You have to choose very carefully how and when you speak to each other,” explains New York-based family therapist Dr. Kathryn Smerling. “You can even make this informal and be proactive and communicate that you want to have a conversation about this before it gets out of hand. Make a focus on solving a problem rather than venting your anger.”
2. Take Inventory And Express Gratitude
Instead of focusing solely on perceived negatives, take an honest look at what your spouse does and thank them for the mundane things that are so often overlooked. Chances are, you’ll realize that they’re doing quite a bit that isn’t noticed.
“It’s easy to focus on the frustrating aspects of a relationship when you feel stressed or taken advantage of,” says Warren. “Be sure to make note of and reinforce things that your partner is doing well. Not only does it make you and your spouse feel appreciated and loved, but it helps build positivity in your relationship.”
3. Check Your Biases
Understanding where your expectations for your spouse come from is key to working through problems. Think back on your childhood: who did what and how were household and family tasks divided?
“When people fall into [gendered] patterns, very often they fall into them without talking about it, or they may be assumed,” says Smerling. “If couples sit down and talk about the division of labor, I think they will find it will be easier to divide household responsibilities between them.”
Often biases are unconscious. Reflecting on your thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes can be helpful. According to Warren, asking yourself a few basic questions can help you work through the mire of un- or subconscious attitudes and respond to the situation more rationally. Ask yourself: Is my behavior extreme? Am I dismissing the positive of what my partner is doing to help? Can I shift my thinking to be more helpful and accurate?”
4. Find A Support Network
Going round and round about the same issues isn’t beneficial to anyone. Besides, new habits take time to sink in. When you find yourself frustrated, instead of beating the proverbial dead horse, reach out to a friend or loved one to vent about the issue.
“Sometimes, there are things you and your mate may disagree on that they are not willing to change,” explains Warren. “Continuing to fight about the same topics that aren’t shifting with your mate often leads to more tension and discord.”
5. Get Help
Sometimes, a fight or disagreement can go on so long that it becomes impossible to discuss. Baggage and unresolved emotions build up, and it’s easy to dig in your heels and refuse to listen, or you’re so worn out by the same old complaints that communication goes right out the window. A good therapist is a great way to work through things with your spouse if nothing else is working.
“If you’re really having a hard time communicating with your mate, get a professional to help you,” says Warren. “It can be incredibly helpful to have an unbiased professional work with you to manage your conflicts.”
More than anything else, open, honest, fair communication is key. Sit down with your partner and list what’s important to each of you, then work out an equitable way for everyone to achieve their goals. “Generally, parents share responsibility for their family to function,” explains Warren. “Coming to a place where you can appreciate what your partner does, respectfully communicate what you’d like to be different, and work together as a team is critical to resolving discord.”