In marriage, or in any partnership, chores are a huge source of conflict. How do you get your sweetheart to hold up his or her end without nagging?
One of my best friends from college has a very radical solution: she and her husband don’t assign. That’s right. They never say, “Get me a diaper,” “The trash needs to go out,” etc. This only works because neither of them is a slacker, but still—what a tactic! And they have three children!
This is something to strive for. But even if we can’t reach that point, most of us could cut back on the nagging. These fourteen strategies may help.
1. Suggest tasks without using words. It’s annoying to hear a hectoring voice. When the Big Man needs a prescription filled, he puts his empty medicine bottle on the bathroom counter. Then I know to get it re-filled.
2. Limit yourself to one word if you need to voice a reminder. Instead of barking out, “Now remember, I’ve told you a dozen times, stop off at the grocery store, we need milk, if you forget, you’re going right back out!” Instead, call out, “Grocery store!” or “Milk!”
3. Don’t insist that your partner does a task on your schedule. “You’ve got to trim those hedges today!” Says who? Try, “When are you planning to trim the hedges?” If possible, show why something needs to be done by a certain time. “Will you be able to trim the hedges before our party next week?”
4. Remind your partner that it’s better to decline a task than to break a promise. The Big Man told me that he’d emailed some friends to tell them we had to miss their dinner party to go to a family dinner—but he hadn’t. Then I had to cancel at the last minute. Now I tell him, “You don’t have to do it. But tell me, so I can.”
5. Have clear assignments. I always call repairmen; the Big Man always empties the Diaper Genie.
6. Do your sweetheart’s task every once in a while, as a treat. This kind of pitching in wins enormous goodwill.
7. Assign chores based on personal priorities. I hate a messy bedroom more than the Big Man, but he hates a messy kitchen more than I do. So I do more tidying in the bedroom, and he does more in the kitchen.
8. Do it yourself. I used to be annoyed with the Big Man because we never had cash in the house. Then I realized: why did I get to assign that job? Now I do it, we always have cash, and I’m not annoyed.
9. Settle for a partial victory. Maybe your partner won’t put dishes in the dishwasher, but getting them from the family room into the sink is a big improvement.
10. Re-frame. Decide that you don’t mind doing a chore, like putting clothes in the hamper or hanging up wet towels. Surprisingly, this is easier than you’d think.
11. Don’t push for the impossible. The Big Man knows that there’s no way I’ll do anything relating to our car, so he doesn’t even ask.
12. Don’t carp from the sidelines. If your partner got the kids dressed, don’t mock the outfits. If you want something done your way, do it yourself.
13. Think about how money might be able to buy some happiness. Could you find a teenager to mow the lawn? Could you hire a weekly cleaning service? Could you buy prepared foods? Eliminating conflict in a relationship is a high happiness priority, so this is a place to spend money if it can help.
14. Be neat yourself. Remember that messy areas tend to stay messy, and tidy areas tend to stay tidy. If you want your partner to be neat, it has to start with you.
I admit that these tips are practically useless in a situation where one person is absolutely oblivious of the need to do chores. I have it easy, because if anything, the Big Man is more chore-oriented than I am. But if a person simply doesn’t care, it’s practically impossible to get him or her to participate.
Originally published on The Happiness Project