SGR 007 | Why We Fight Over Who Is Doing The Dishes (And How Not To)
Do you find yourselves arguing over silly things, like household chores?
Are these disagreements resulting in major explosions in your relationship?
Is it worth it?
Is this what you want your relationship to feel like?
I bet you just whispered to yourself a pretty firm, “no!”
Fighting over household tasks is extremely common. Most couples don’t have a frank discussion about division of household labor before they move in together or get married. For the couples that do, they’re not always the best at following through on those agreements.
How you deal with conflict around these smaller issues - cleaning, food shopping, dishes, laundry - has a deep impact on the overall quality of your relationship. Imagine what your relationship would feel like without all that bickering about the garbage not being taken out on time!
This week we are talking about the most common issues that arise around household chores, looking at what turns these issues into major arguments, and exploring what might be underneath those issues that makes them so explosive.
We’re sharing practical strategies to keep emotions in check and your household tasks running smoothly. We’ve also created a great bonus to help you get organized and still save room for date night.
Short on time? Here’s a list of today’s topics and when to listen:
- What causes small things to become big fights - 4:15
- What is underlying the fight - 7:45
- Understanding your partner's background - 11:40
- Tips on reducing conflict - 17:17
- Why you should wait to talk about what happened - 17:30
- Organize tasks - 18:56
- Assigning chores - 19:51
- Flexibility - 21:44
- Outsourcing Tasks - 23:08
- Meredith + Marina’s Takeaways - 26:29
Marina: Hi everyone! And welcome to episode seven of the Simply Great Relationships podcast. We’re glad that you could join us today. We’re talking about a really good topic. I think we’ll resonate with a lot of people. I’m Marina Voron; this is Meredith Silversmith. And we are excited to bring you this episode on, “How To Happily Divide and Conquer Household Tasks.” Make sure you stay until the end because we’ve got a great bonus for you and we’ll let you know how to get it at the end of the of the podcast.
Meredith: Happily divide. “Happily” being the keyword. I think Marina and I, see a lot of couples that come in, talking about how just trying to get the housework done. Just trying to get to the chores of the week end up in major fights. So, the question that we put out is, “Is it really worth your energy to do that? Do you really wanna fight about dishes for the whole weekend? Like really?”.
Marina: Yeah! I mean, I’ve seen some real level ten catastrophe, ring the alarms type fights over such mundane, like minutia. But couples get really stuck at that.
Meredith: Yeah! Absolutely. So, we felt it is important to address because we do not want you to waste your weekend fighting about dishes. We want you to enjoy your weekend and have strategies for making it resolvable and calm and peaceful when you’re managing these things. So, that’s our goal for today. I think another, you know, a really big piece of that is that how you deal with conflict around these smaller issues like laundry, dishes, garbage, all that stuff, actually has a deep impact on the quality of your relationship. Just because it’s a small issue, if it’s turning into a knock down drag out fight once a week, that’s affecting you.
Marina: Yeah! And I think it ties back to the quality of life which is something we’ve talked about a bunch of times before. You know, does it really help your Tuesday night and relaxing after work and spending some time together watching your favorite show? If you’re angry and hostile and contemptuous towards each other because dishes weren’t done or because the garbage wasn't taken out at the time that you wanted it to be taken out. How is that actually day to day impacting your quality of life and the quality of your relationship? And it always genuinely makes me sad to see when these little things get in the way of that day to day connection and enjoyment.
Meredith: Yeah! Absolutely. And, I don’t know if you were with us last week, our episode on “Compromise,” episode number six. That’s a really great cheat sheet we gave away. When it comes to..
Marina: Compromise cheat sheet.
Marina: Very valuable.
Meredith: For managing household tasks. Because again, this is an opportunity for understanding and comprise. So if you didn’t get it, go back to that episode and be sure to get the cheat sheet because you could use it with this stuff today.
Marina: Yeah! Because this is the stuff that comes up for everybody. Like dishes, laundry. Those are some really common... Garbage?
Meredith: Yeah! Who’s taking the garbage out, who’s putting garbage to the curb, who’s bringing the garbage cans back in?
Marina: Oh my goodness! So..
Meredith: That’s a lot.
Marina: So many fights around the garbage that I hear from couples. What are some other common ones that you hear?
Meredith: Well, I could say, that Tom and I argue about pet care. We definitely argue about that.
Marina: Guilty. George and I argue about pet care. And...
Meredith: “ You feed the cat.” “ No, you feed the cat.”
Meredith: “ I did it yesterday.” That comes up a lot. And cleaning. Whose responsibility it is clean what. What guests are coming over, is it my family, is it your family, or you’re the one who invited them, so you should clean. You know, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot to be said, I think around that kind of stuff.
Marina: Yeah! So, what do you think causes these small insignificant things to become big arguments?
Meredith: Right! Because it’s not that there’s something wrong with us or with you if you’re arguing about these things. Everybody does. But when it becomes, like you said a “level ten fight, “ there’s something underlying it. So, I think something that comes up a lot with the couples I see is there’s differences in their beliefs around who does what. So whether it’s how they grew up. Right? “Well my mom did this, and my dad did that, and I saw that work really well” or the opposite, “I saw that work really poorly, so I want to do it differently.” Certainly, gender roles incoming to play and cultural background. Again it comes back to beliefs and values. What we believe should be, if those are different from partner to partner, that’s an easy way for these day to day tasks to turn into an argument.
Marina: Yeah! And I think, what flows in with that, is like if you never had that conversation and you haven’t established this shared vision of “This is how we want our relationship to flow. And apart of how we want our relationship to flow is managing these little things" and establishing those day to day expectations and day to day rituals. You’re gonna run into a lot of trouble because you’re both functioning from completely different sets of assumptions. And I think couples are super good at going along with the belief of, “My assumptions are your assumptions” when that’s not true.
Meredith: No! Definitely not true. That’s really a good point, actually. Expectations. Having shared expectations. That’s a big one. I think the other thing that we can surmise if these arguments are happening a lot is there maybe deeper unresolved conflicts between you. You might be sort of pushing them down or sweeping them under the rug and not addressing them so that when your husband doesn’t do the dishes when he said he was going to, or when you didn’t pick up the groceries when you said you were going to, it becomes a huge deal because it’s another thing on the list of disappointments, on the list of letdowns, on the list of reasons I can’t trust you.
Marina: Yeah! And how that usually looks just so that people can help self-identify if this is happening for you, is maybe it’s your partner’s turn to do the dishes and they didn’t do the dishes and you come home, and you’re tired, and it’s not like, “ Oh honey, I noticed you didn’t do the dishes. You know, we talked about it. It’s your turn tonight. Was there some sort of impasse?" It's, “Why can’t you ever get anything right?! Why are the dishes not done?! Don’t you care about me?! “ You know, it’s more like, this conversation is not about the dishes anymore. And it’s got your four horsemen. It’s got your hard start up. It’s got your criticism. It’s got your contempt. And it’s really about finding a small channel to talk about a bigger problem. And it’s not really an appropriate channel. It’s not really an effective channel in terms of compromising, getting to yes, getting your feelings heard. Any of the stuff we’ve talked about.
Meredith: Yeah! Absolutely. And I mean, sort of what we’ve started discussing just now is, what’s underlying it? So, again, it’s not about the dishes, it’s not about the laundry. There’s something deeper there. So what is that? I think what comes up with a lot of couples, even from myself and I’m sure for you as well, in that moment, that snap in your brain is, “ I’m not feeling important,” “I’m not feeling valued,” “I’m not feeling cared about.” Right?
Marina: “My voice is not heard.”
Meredith: “My voice is not heard.” Like as irrational as it might sound, In that moment, you may say to yourself, “If he really loved me, he would’ve realized how important it is to me that the dishes be done, and he didn’t do them. So that means, what I say is not important.” We can really spiral them around.
Marina: Yeah! And then, we’re connecting a lot of dots and creating a really faulty belief system and argument. And putting these contingencies on how our partner shows us, love. And it’s just setting your relationship up for failure really when you go down that spiral thinking.
Meredith: Moments that I really enjoy couples therapy are when something like this has happened, and we’re processing it together, and one partner will be brave enough to share their spiral down the rabbit hole. It’ll look a lot like that. And the other partner will hear them and reflect and validate using the communication strategies from episode one. And then when I switch roles, the second partner who didn’t do the dishes, we talk about, “ Why?” They’re like, “I forgot. I came home, and I got involved in some… you know, work email, and then I went to the gym, I forgot.” It really can be as innocent and simple as “ It slipped my mind. I’m human.”
Marina: Yeah! And it’s a really nice moment to see when that happens because you realize that your partner is not out to get you. Your partner’s intention was not to make you feel that way. It’s that mismatch in the message that is being sent versus the message that’s being received that we talked about in episode one. And when you’re able to really internalize that and give your partner benefit of the doubt for being human and realize, “Well maybe the silver lining is that, we need to have a totally different conversation not about dishes but about a certain emotional thing in this relationship”, you can take a lot from that.
Meredith: Definitely. And you know, like we talked about before, if there’s underlying conflicts that aren’t being addressed, sometimes the dishes are just a scapegoat to release the frustrations. You got so much anger, and frustration built up, but you don’t feel that you have an outlet for it or an ability to talk to your partner about it, so you just release it in that moment because there is a reason. Now I have a reason to express my anger.
Marina: Yeah! And that’s really unfortunate because of anger, you know, the iceberg model. Anger is just the tip of that iceberg. There’s a whole lot of emotions that drive that, and you do much better coming to your partner saying, “I feel unheard, unvalued. I need to feel more of a priority, and a part of what that looks like for me is when my voice is heard as opposed to going on a tirade of everything your partner doesn’t do right when it comes to household tasks. So, another thing that I see and I wonder if you see this also, is some of these expectations and standards really come from our families and are set by our parents. And when we don’t have those conversations about like where these expectations come from, a lot of room for headbutting comes into play.
Meredith: Yeah! Yeah! I mean, I can speak from personal experience. Tom and I definitely struggled with this in the beginning when we first start living in together because Tom grew up in a home where everything was very neat and very organized and very clean which I’m not saying as a bad thing. It’s a great thing that’s how he grew up. But that was really a priority, so his parents really stress that “We have to clean up. It’s time to clean”. It was like, “We don’t go to bed with dishes in the sink. We don’t go to bed with papers on the counter”. You could walk in at any time into my in-laws’ house, and it looks like a-OK. So I grew up a little differently. I maintained my own room. I have my own space. We’re only children, again. I kept my room how I wanted to keep my room, and it was organized chaos. And I still function a bit an organized chaos. So in the beginning, I think Tom really had this expectation like, “Oh my gosh! There’s papers on the table!” or “The dishes gonna be done tonight?” or you know, I just have a lot more stuff I think that he had growing up also, so that was a lot too. So just, we lived differently and trying to integrate that was really hard.
Marina: Yeah! And if there’s an expectation for your partner to function like your parent, I think this plays into a dynamic most people don’t really pick up on, but really, it’s not sexy. It really sucks the sexy out of your relationship because when you see your partner as a parent, that’s not sexy. And a lot of times, I see couples for sex therapy, and they’ll have all kinds of intimacy issues, but they’re never free of these kind of issues, and I always say, “Let’s adjust that first.”
Marina: “Let’s line that up and have you really be partners again so that you’re not seeing her as your mom who’s supposed to take care of you and make your lunches and you’re not supposed to see him as your dad who tells you what to do or your lost.”
Meredith: Yeah, definitely.
Marina: So I think that’s kind of a back door issue that a lot of people don’t pay attention to, but I really encourage you to pay attention to that. Has your love life, has your intimacy been a little off because you have these kinds of expectations?
Meredith: Yeah, absolutely. And the other thing I think that comes here in terms of expectations is we all hear from our clients or just from friends, “Ugh! I hated the way my parents did it! I’m gonna do it differently.” or “I loved how my parents did it. I wanna do it just like that!”. So, you got to think, did your partner grow up in a really chaotic household? And either feels comfortable in chaos? Or wants the exact opposite and wants really clear structure? Did they grow up in a disorganized house and now they really want order and calm? Did they grow up in a rigid house and now they really need to go with the flow? You’ve gotta get that deeper understanding of where your partner’s coming from. How they lived growing up and what they’re bringing from that into your relationship so that you can navigate these kind of issues and not butt heads all the time.
Marina: Yeah! I mean, understanding where your partner’s feelings and needs come from is really the key to compromise which is what we talked about last episode. And it’s an easy conversation to have, but it’s such a valuable one, and it’s like I can totally relate to this. My mom sounds kinda like Tom’s mom. Super cleaner. Everything was pristine and hospital level disinfected. And I felt like that was always very rigid. So to me, when I moved out on my own and then later with George, I was like, “I don’t care! It’s good enough! It looks tidy! It’s good enough!”, you know. But George, he likes a little more order, for things to be a little more pristine, I guess. And until we got where each of us was coming from, we couldn’t really compromise our middle ground but then we compromised our middle ground because I understood the things that were important to him and he understood that to me, it was more important for us to spend quality times in our free time and I don’t associate cleaning with quality time. And that was a big kind of push forward in our relationship.
Meredith: Absolutely! This is important. It comes up a lot.
Marina: Yeah, it does!
Meredith: Everyday, it can come up, right?
Meredith: So we wanna give you some practical strategies that you can use today to manage these type of conversations a little differently. My number one suggestion which to be honest, I struggle with sometimes, is don’t talk about it in the moment because, in the moment, you’re probably flooded. In the moment, you’ve noticed whatever wasn’t done, or whatever was done or wasn’t done the way you wanted it. You’ve just seen it; it’s triggered something in you. Now is probably not the best time to address it because it may not come out as constructively as you’d want it to. So, take some time, twenty minutes, calm down, read a book, watch a T.V. show, do something to reduce flooding and gather your thoughts on how you wanna address it. You’re not going back in time here. You’re not gonna rewind the tape and have your spouse do the dishes before you get home. You can’t change it now. All you can do is focus on the future and getting a better understanding and a better plan for then.
Marina: I think that’s a super important point to touch on, the fact that nobody’s got a time travel machine. You can’t go back to three hours ago and make your partner do the dishes that they didn’t do and guilting and shaming them about it is not gonna get you anywhere. And using harsh startup and using criticism is not really gonna get you anywhere either. You really need to soften that startup and express your own thoughts and feelings in order to be able to move forward.
Marina: The next one is organize. Organization, very valuable here. And what we mean by organize is, do you even know what are the chores that need to get done? Because I feel like this is one that couples are always on completely opposite pages when this is really a recurring issue. What are the things that “need to,” not "would be nice." “Need to.”
Meredith: Must happen.
Marina: Yeah. Need to get done daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly. Is there an organization system around identifying what they are, identifying how they need to be done, identifying around whose role it is to get them done and identifying in what space of time they need to be done.
Marina: Organizing on a very real, very practical way.
Meredith: Yeah, and I think what goes with that is taking into account each other’s strengths. So, there’s things that I might be better at than Tom or things that he might be better at than me or things that he hates, and I don’t mind so much. So, really taking that into account, like, I don’t hate doing the dishes because I can listen to music, I can do stuff, but I hate taking the garbage out. I hate going out the backyard and dragging the garbage down to the street like I hate it. There’s spiders. I don’t like it. So, I will do the dishes any day if I don’t have to do the garbage. So that’s something that he and I have worked out that we both feel good about. So, really considering those pieces when making this list.
Marina: Mhmm. Also, switching chores up, because the reality is nobody is like, “I love chores so much! Give them all to me!”. Switching them up so that you don’t feel like you’re being punished or you’re doing the sucky one, and your partner is doing the easy one. Switching them up is kind of putting the safety checkpoint to make sure that they’re divided more or less equally.
Meredith: Yeah. And something that comes up a lot and I think that you had mentioned this when we’re discussing just chores in general and preparing for today was the fights aren’t always about whether they got done or not. Sometimes they’re about when they got done like, “I want you to do it now! I want you to do it before I get home!” or whatever that expectation is, it’s kind of funny! You’re laughing! It’s funny because it’s not even… it could get done! It’s done, the chore is done. It’s over, you can move on with your day, but it didn’t get done when you want it to. So noticing that that’s at play sometimes? And maybe being willing a bit flexible. Maybe being willing to say, “Oh, hey! Got done! That’s good enough for me”.
Marina: Yeah. I think the time flexibility and the “good enough” are really big ones here. The next one, this is like my golden rule maybe because I’m a little bit lazy, but outsource whatever and whenever you can because I believe in the quality of life over necessarily just keeping the money but being miserable. If you know that your only time with your partner is on the weekend which I think we can both relate to. We both have partners that have long hours; we work long hours. My quality time with George is on the weekend. I never ever will sign up for doing a clean up on the weekend versus spending time with George when I know I can take $80 out of my going out for dinner fund and put it towards getting a cleaning person but spend time outside going for a really lovely walk with George and our dog and having some quality couple’s time over having time when we’re both doing our own thing and cleaning and being kinda miserable.
Marina: So I think outsourcing, and I know it’s not necessarily always in everybody’s budget, but I think there are things we can all outsource every once in a while that really help us feel a better quality of life.
Meredith: Yeah. And I think a big one, you know, certainly something like that which would be an addition to a budget but there’s ways you can just replace how you do things. So, I know you, and I are both big fans of fresh direct.
Meredith: We should really talk to fresh direct because big fans, big fans. But I told all my couples, “Why are you fighting about who’s gonna go grocery shopping and why are you fighting about when, where and how? Order it online! Fresh direct. You’re sitting at your computer. Boom boom boom! Done! It’s not more money. It’s not a challenge. They bring it to your door. It’s magical! And that’s taking something off your list that you no longer have to do!”
Marina: Yeah! And I mean, really, for me that’s two hours out of my weekend that I get back.
Marina: And two hours is like a really nice walk or a little dinner date or some time with friends! I think it’s so much value for not necessarily a ton of money.
Marina: Fresh Direct, hit us up!
Meredith: The final thing to remember especially when we’re talking about “Is it good enough? Did it get done?”, no one ever died from the dishes staying in the sink overnight.
Marina: That is very true.
Meredith: I feel like someones gonna comment and say, “Actually, there was this one person…”
Meredith: But to my knowledge, it’s not gonna kill you if the dishes stay in the sink one night. At the end of the day, is this a level 10 issue? Do you really wanna have a knock down drag out fight and not talk to your partner for three days because the dishes stayed in the sink overnight? I don’t.
Marina: I don’t either! So, the key here is ask yourself, “What is really triggering my hurt feelings here? Why am I really upset?” because it’s not because of the dishes. It’s because the dishes triggered feelings of not being heard, not being valued, not feeling prioritized. Have that conversation but don’t waste your good energy on blowing things up over something that’s so mundane and so little.
Meredith: Yeah, 100%. So listen, we don’t want you to just listen to this, watch this and move on with your day. We really want you to integrate it into your relationship. So, what we’ve done is created a sample chores schedule that you could steal from us and adapt for your house. So it’s broken down into a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and we’ve even included some of the most common chores on there. So you don’t have to fill in your chores. You can get rid of the ones that don’t apply to you. You can add ones that we didn’t include, but it can’t get much easier than that. So, take advantage. Go on our website. You can download it at www.simplygreatrelationships.com/007download and just bang this out with your partner real quick and see how much smoother your week goes. It’s really crazy.
Marina: Enjoy that quality of life. Enjoy your relationship!
Marina: So let’s talk about takeaways! What would you say is your takeaway from today?
Meredith: Hmm. My takeaway would be probably, actually what you said about when I think I’m very concrete, and I like number, and I like science. So, you said that if I order on fresh direct, that's 2 hours of time on the weekend that I get back to do with what I want. That’s really concrete. I really like that. So now, I’m gonna start thinking about things that if I could outsource this somehow, how much time would I get back and what would we do with that time? How could we invest that time in ourselves or our relationship or just doing things that make us feel good? So, I think that was a big takeaway. What about for you?
Marina: For me, it’s really about having that conversation with your partner about where are some of these beliefs, thoughts, ideas around the division of chores, the division of labor, individual and your role as a couple in terms of getting these sort of things done come from? That’s a really important conversation to have as a part of compromise. It’s a prelude compromise in terms of getting to know each other better and in terms of getting to know your partner’s triggers. Do they need calm? Do they need flexibility? Do they need a pristine house? If they do, why?
Meredith: Yeah. And that’s a good episode one, strategy, right? We have the communication tip sheet on episode one that you can download if you haven’t yet. That’s perfect, perfect way to talk about these things and get a better understanding. So definitely go back and grab it. Yeah! So, I think this is really relevant to probably all of our couples. All of us. I know we practice what we preach in this area as much as we can. But that’s it for today! We hope you take these tips and start using them. Definitely grab the sheet that we’ve included today. We’d love to continue the conversation with you in our Facebook group. We’re gonna hook you up with tips, tricks. We’re gonna do some live streams exclusively for our members. You can ask us relationship questions, sex and intimacy questions. Anything you wanna throw out there, we’ll respond. You can find the group at www.facebook.com/groups/simplygreatrelationships, or you can just go to our website www.simplygreatrelationships.com and click the link. So, definitely join us there. We’d love to see you. And we will see you next week!
Marina & Meredith: Bye!