"My boyfriend and I moved in together a few months ago. We've been together for two years and thought we were ready. We get along great in every way, but there's one small problem that's developed: I can't get him to help out around the apartment and do chores. He isn't lazy, but he just doesn't move a finger to help. I get on his case and find myself yelling at him, calling him a slob. I've even withheld sex. The dynamic seems to have changed and our relationship is suffering. This leads to major fights and is ruining our relationship. What should I do?"
This question is one I am asked frequently. Whether it's newly-married couples, those moving in together for the first time, or couples who have co-habitated for years, the issue is timeless and leads to many conflicts, tense nights, withheld sex and, of course, a messy house.
It's not uncommon for the dynamic in a relationship to change once a couple moves in together. When dating and living apart, there's a safe place to retreat to during times of stress. When living together, though, things that were once a non-issue are now front and center and the basics of living are now under scrutiny as compatibility is further tested by the new living arrangement.
Here are some simple steps to take to improve this situation:
- Do not boss him/her. This leads to an unhealthy dynamic and makes you more of the pain-in-the-butt parent than the loving partner. Being the parent will have a profoundly negative impact, especially in the bedroom, as resentment and resistance build. Be polite and courteous and treat your partner as you'd want to be treated.
- Change the dynamic by empowering your partner. Ask them what chores they prefer doing. By letting the person choose they can tap into what they're comfortable doing, providing a sense of control and independence that might be necessary during this new phase in the relationship. So, for example, maybe your partner isn't too fond of cleaning bathrooms but he is OK with vacuuming, then let him.
- Define clean. Are your expectations realistic? Two people might have different ideas as to what clean actually means. Is it dusting, scrubbing tile, and cleaning windows? Or maybe it's just emptying garbage and vacuuming? Reach an agreement as to what are new mutually acceptable standards for cleanliness. Focus on the end goal, making it about "our house" rather than just either one of you.
- Make a list of your respective chores. Keep it on the refrigerator and establish a mutual reward once tasks are completed, e.g. dinner out, movies, meet with friends.
- Compliment him or her. By acknowledging what your partner does well you'll provide much needed positive reinforcement and encourage more of the same behavior.
- Use sex. Well, sort of. Tell your partner: "I find it sexy when a man (or woman) can clean." Indirectly he (or she) will get the hint that housework can lead to sex.
For more tips on improving communication and your relationship check out my book BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life in 28 Days.