The Cleaning Imbalance

Dear Home Ec 101,

How can I make my husband help around the house?


Nags Head, NC

Heather says:

I moved out quite young and lived with an interesting variety of roommates until I married.  Different people have different standards of cleanliness and tolerance.  If you are the Felix of your relationship, odds are you will carry more of the cleaning burden.   You can ask, but you cannot make your spouse or partner do anything.  This goes for those living with roommates, to a point.  As long as finances aren’t an issue, roommates have the somewhat less difficult option of dissolving the situation.

My best tip for achieving help around the house is to ask politely and directly when the other party is not busy.  Use the same courtesy you expect from others. Thank them when the are through and do NOT immediately fix what they have done.

I know many of our readers have been down this road and not every tactic works for every relationship; please share what you have found helpful in your situation.

You do have a choice when it comes to the maintenance of your home: you can wallow in resentment and self-pity or you can choose to maintain your surroundings to your* standards.

*If a spouse is both critical and unwilling to help, please seek professional advice.


  1. JRae on May 3, 2008 at 9:07 am

    One thing I’ve done regarding dishes is we keep a calendar and sharpie next to the sink, and mark off whenever we do the dishes and how much we did. Then we have that as ammo the next time we try to get the other one to do the dishes. (I did them the last 4 times!) Hehehehe.

    Still working on the rest of the chores… but I can’t expect him to do them when I don’t want to either… 😛

  2. Dana on May 1, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Perhaps I’m childish…but if the dishes go too long sitting in the sink (his one household duty) I pile them up on the front seat of his car. I’ve only had to do it twice…he seems to get the point and is on best behavior for at least a few months.

  3. Mom of three on April 30, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    Remember Jim,

    Guys look sexy behind a mop. LOL
    Sounds like it works for you, but the ladies would ask, does it work for her?

  4. JimK on April 30, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    Over the years my wife and I developed a system: I do the stuff I enjoy (cooking, dishes – seriously I like doing dishes), she does the stuff she enjoys (laundry – she actually likes doing it, says it’s like doing little science experiments) and the stuff we both hate we put off as long as possible. 🙂

    My kitchen floor looks like a back alley in a third world country, but the dishes are shining and my clothes are April fresh. 😉 It works for us. Neither one of us nags the other about the hated chores. Somehow we usually end up realizing at similar times that some of the un-fun stuff needs doing and we do it together.

  5. Mom of three on April 30, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Two things I have done:

    Hubby works outside the house, until this year I worked in, so the housework was mine. But one night he came home and asked “what did you DO all day?”

    The next day, I left him home with laundry, dishes, the two year old who didn’t talk, but could run a VCR and the one year old. Came back 8 hours later and asked “what did you DO all day?” 15 years later and those words have never come out of his mouth again.

    Two: I set down and printed off a daily calendar with 10 minute increments, and for one week I kept a time card. At the end of the week DH got his copy of “what I do all day.” We were both amazed at how much I do, and a lot of it didn’t get on the list due to multi-tasking and taking longer to record than they took to do.

    Now I understand the frustration, but if your standards are higher, what’s wrong with asking? DH and I have a code. If I am needing some attention and he’s too busy to notice, I put an empty vase on the table. He always notices and fills it the next day. ANd usually will take me to dinner as well. I need the attention, so I ask, even if it’s a subtle way.

    Make a list of things that need to be done, and give it to DH. My husband works behind a desk, so he loves doing things like mopping, or folding clothes, because he needs the exercise.

    Now that I work outside the house, I have to ask for more help, and it’s hard. It’s admitting we are weak. But then it allows the man to be the hero, which one relationship coach says is good for the romance department, so the next time you need the couch moved so you can mop under it, Ask that big hunky man to do it for you and swoon over his effort. If you make a big enough deal, he might just do the mopping as well.

    I always tell my husband how sexy he looks when he’s cooking or sweeping (Two chores I hate). Thing is, he is incredibly sexing doing it, and if he does it, I don’t.

    Too, let him pick manly jobs. Moving furniture, mopping, mowing the grass, carrying those heavy laundry baskets upstairs and putting them away. Pick the gift or organize the closet yourself. I’d rather shop over mop anyday. 😉

    And if all else fails, scrimp somewhere else, and hire a maid. Then neither of you have to clean.

  6. Karen on April 30, 2008 at 1:50 pm


    Right now I am both maintaining MY standards and resenting it. It doesn’t help that my MIL and/or FIL come over every day, which means I don’t _feel_ free to lower my standards.

    The question brings up a pet peeve of mine. Why must we speak of husbands “helping” around the house. Is it not also his house? Nobody mentions a wife’s “helping” around the house or with the kids. The underlying presumption is that it is the wife’s responsibility, that any domestic work done by the husband has been delegated.

    I think that most our generation’s men do do a fair bit, many even do their fair share of chores. And however cheerfully they do it, it seems to me that in general, few take anywhere close to their fair share of initiative. The lack of initiative belies a lack of sense of responsibility.

    Sometimes I anticipate so many questions (feigned helplessness?) about how to do something (especially if it involves some thought, e.g., buy a gift, organise a closet…) that I don’t even bother mentioning it. I just do it.

    Why the lack of initiative? If they don’t even notice that something needs doing, but we do it without mention, then is there any reason to suspect that they will notice that we’ve done it? Of course, “needs” is by my standards. Perhaps it’s really not necessary. If the work is invisible, it can’t be measured, it can’t be acknowledged let alone recognised. Hopefully it is valued anyway.

    The secretly resentful side of me suspects that modern husbands are passive-aggressively forcing housework onto their wives by deliberately
    1- doing work poorly
    2-making wives work for the work with nagging
    3-ignoring what needs to be done
    4-ignoring what the wife has done
    (By minimising the amount of total work, they minimise their share/shortfall)
    5-having conveniently low standards

  7. AA on April 30, 2008 at 11:36 am

    Don’t forget to explain that having a clean house is important to you. Talk about things that are important to HIM and explain that, although you don’t find it fun, having a nice clean house is important to you. Let him know that by helping you with the house, he is helping to make you happier, less grouchy, and shows you that he loves and respects you – even if having a clean house isn’t high on his priority list.

    This has worked wonders for me. Once he understood that having a clean house kept me in a better mood, well, let’s just say there haven’t been dirty dishes in the sink in a LONG time 🙂 The back and forth also helped me to understand things that are important to him and show him mutual respect. This doesn’t have to be a touchy feely conversation either.

    Finally, ask him which chores he thinks he can do well. Then let him. If he doesn’t do them to your satisfaction, ignore it – first, just let him get into the habit. You can refine his technique later. 🙂

  8. Julie on April 30, 2008 at 10:27 am

    I’ve been married almost 9 years and struggled with this issue all 9. My husband grew up with a SAHM who didn’t require him to do any chores, and it simply doesn’t occur to him to do them. He has a good attitude about it and doesn’t complain, he just has a lazy streak and low standards of cleanliness! He also refuses to allow a maid service, even though with a little budget-rearranging we could afford it. The best solution I have come up with is a chore chart on the fridge, with assigned daily, weekly, and monthly chores for each of us. After a month or so when the novelty wears off and he starts slacking, I just have to remind him. It’s annoying, but I can put up with the annoyance for a clean(ish) house.

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