THE BLOG
03/29/2012 12:20 pm ET Updated May 07, 2012

Chores And Marriage: Get Cleaner, Happier And Sexier

I need to come clean. (Ha. Sigh.)

Unlike many women, I'm not a crack chore doer. I joke that I married my husband so that someone could be the domestic one, but it's funny because it's actually true. I'm terrible at both cleaning and cooking. And yet, in our household, we've mostly ironed things out (pun intended, and yes, my husband does the ironing).

I can hear what you're thinking right now. Really, she's talking about dividing up chores? Yawn. But here is the thing. Household division of labor is one of the problems that causes the most stress in young marriages. And, in case you think it's not worth sorting out, couples that divvy up chores well have been proven to have better sex lives. So! Now that I have your attention, let's discuss:

Cleaning Myths

Myth #1: It's not help if you have to ask for it

The complaint I hear most often goes like this, "I love my partner, and (s)he means well, but I always have to ask him for help. That makes me feel like I might as well do it myself."

Newsflash: Your partner can't read your mind. If you're dealing with the chore problem in the first place, chances are they are not very good at the chores in question. They are not quite sure how you clean a toilet (even if you've showed them), or how often a toilet needs to be cleaned. This means they are probably not going to volunteer to clean a toilet (they are not stupid, that would just be throwing themselves into the lion's mouth). Until you get a system in place, you're going to need to ask for help, and that's a great thing. We should all get better at asking our partners for help, not worse. Asking for help means you're good at communicating your needs, not that your partner doesn't love you.

Myth #2: (S)he's not that good at it, so I just have to do it over anyway

For those of us that didn't grow up trained in the art of chores, chores are unpleasant (just like they are for everyone), embarrassing (because how were we supposed to know that you didn't clean the inside of a toilet with a scrub brush?), and scary (because we get yelled at for not doing them right). This is not a particularly compelling mix. If we gather our nerve, and our scrub brushes, and dive into doing chores, and Every Single Time our partner comes along behind us and tells us we did it wrong and does it over, guess what? We're going to stop doing chores altogether. All that unpleasantness and then it's done over any way? Just do it your d*mn self, since you know how you want it done.

So here is what I'm allowing you: When your partner is learning a chore, you can give them one simple suggestion each time. "Hey honey, you know, most people don't clean toilets with scrub brushes. Why don't you try this toilet bowl scrubber?" They will get better, but you have to encourage them.

Myth #3: (S)he's just not that into cleaning

I've heard people say over and over again, "Well, I need to do all the cleaning, because my partner is just not that into cleaning." Right. Is (s)he interested in keeping your rage-ful monster self at bay and having a healthy relationship? Then (s)he just got interested in cleaning. This is the crux of what marriage is about. We're into keeping our partners happy. We're into growing as people so that we're better partners. So if your partner isn't that interested in cleaning, I suggest you go home and sit down and have a conversation where you explain that you're just not that into in picking up after them, so the two of you are going to work this out.

Your Game Plan

Point #1: Have A Game Plan

You may need to keep asking your partner for help no matter what, but it will really help if you sit down and come up with some ground rules. Maybe you clean the house together every Sunday. Maybe you draw up a list of all the chores that need to be done (and how often), and you divide them up. This is helpful because it gives your partner a really clear idea of what to expect and a feeling that the rules are not going to change on them every two seconds and that they have to keep reading your mind on a subject they know very little about.

Point #2: Embrace Roles (Even If They Change)

One of the things that makes household chores such a tinderbox is gender roles. It's really easy to get caught up in the endless cycle of thinking, "If I'm a woman, and I do the cooking what does that MEAN?" If you and your partner have divided chores along the lines of who is good at what or a random distribution of the chores that everyone hates, then it doesn't mean anything. Cooking is only oppressive if you're feeling oppressed by it. Cooking is not oppressive because you're a woman. That said, there are good things about clear roles, even if they change over time. Knowing your responsibilities helps you meet them with significantly less stress and fighting.

Point #3: Remember To Ask For Help

Even with all this, you're going to have to keep asking for help. Chores are going to continue to be unpleasant, embarrassing, and scary for your partner in the near term. So come Sunday morning, you may need to play cheerleader: "We're going to clean the house together, and it's not going to be that bad."

Point #4: Lower Your Standards

If your standards for a clean house look nothing like your partner's standards for a clean house, it's possible you'll have to meet in the middle somewhere. Your standards may be lower together than they would be apart. But combined, if you make a good team, that's good enough.

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