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I feel like too much of the responsibilities of being an adult fall on my shoulders, and that my wife does a lot more taking than giving in that regard. I would like our relationship to be more of an equal partnership where I feel that I benefit from it too. Don't get me wrong, I love her dearly, and the romantic side of our relationship is pretty good, but there's also a practical side of two adults living together and that's where I feel like I get a raw deal.

We had a big fight this morning over the silliest thing, because she was upset at me for not refilling the coffee maker after using it (which is not a thing in our house, I usually have to refill it in the morning before I use it myself.) But it really struck a raw nerve for me, and opened up an argument about how I want her to do more around the house.

I'm ten years into my career, and I've been quite successful at it. She's just starting out. I work 60+ hours a week, she works about 35. The difference in income is more than 10x. She keeps her money that she earns to herself and uses it for personal things, and I pay for all of our expenses, rent, food, vacations, eating out, etc., plus I give her a monthly stipend that she can spend how she likes. Given the difference in our income, I don't mind that so much - I feel she could contribute in other ways.

I handle the garbage, the supermarket, and the finances, bills, and taxes. I manage to get 1-3 hours each evening before bed, plus half a day off each weekend to spend with her. In order to work as much as I do and still do all of that, I have no life or friends outside of work and marriage. It's hardly balanced, but I'm happy enough like that because I know I'm working towards an early retirement and secure future for my wife and I and our future kids.

I think if she could just keep our tiny 500 sqft apartment clean, and have supper in the fridge for ~5 days a week (which should mean cooking 2-3 times a week.) that would be the minimum contribution. I don't think that's too much to ask.

In reality she gets home from work tired, spends some time unwinding with her smartphone, and then spend 1-3 hours with me watching netflix or other activities. Then she'll often stay up late on her phone again, and I go to bed early because I get up at 4:30 and start work. She gets up late, gets ready and goes straight to work.

The dishes pile up, the kitchen, floors, and surfaces get dirty and accumulate junk. It gets worse all week until near the end of the weekend when she finally makes an effort to do something about it. It's a good week when the apartment is relatively clean by the time the next week begins, but that's rare. She cooks about as often as I do, which is maybe once every two weeks. I got fed up last weekend and spent a couple hours vacuuming and packing things away, but I really don't have time for that.

If she can't pull her weight now, how would things be when we have children together? When we have a larger place and all the demanding needs of children? The thought terrifies me because I can't take any additional responsibility, and I'm scared I'll end up having to carry most of that alone too. There's no take-backs on the decision to have children.

I need things to change soon and gain some level of confidence that I won't be alone in this before it comes time to start a family. I don't know how to approach it. We argue over this a couple times a year but nothing ever really changes. There are some short term changes, and then that terrible smartphone comes out again and things start to degenerate until we're back to where we were.

I know it's hard to paint an accurate picture of a marriage in just a few words, and harder still given you only are getting my side of things. But I'm really at the end of my rope here and I don't know what else to do.

How can I ask my wife to share more of our responsibilities, in a way that encourages long-term changes?

  • Have you had a discussion about task sharing when you both are calm? – DaveG Aug 18 '18 at 21:19
  • @DaveG it starts off calm, then there's a lot of denying there's a problem and accusing me of not appreciating what she does. Which I do appreciate, I just don't think it's enough. In the past I would try to convince her by some form of pointing out how much larger my contribution is than hers. That goes over as well as you can expect and starts a real fight. Step 1, I need a way to talk to her and get her to agree that she needs to do more, without comparing, accusing, or putting her on the defensive. Step 2, I need some way of holding her accountable to that goal over time, without nagging. – Dan Aug 18 '18 at 21:57
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    Dan, a question for you: Is your priority that these things get done (possibly by magic gnomes, whatever) or that your wife is the one who does them (therein displaying personal responsibility)? – Andrew Aug 18 '18 at 22:22
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    @Andrew that's a very good question. I've already considered employing a maid to ensure the things get done - but that wouldn't help me with the feeling that my wife doesn't share in the responsibilities. Is it a strange to say it matters to me that she does it, more than it matters to me that it gets done? Or that she contributes in some other way? My wife has offered to do more around the house if I pay her to do that, but I find that similarly unsatisfying. I feel like I'm contributing enough, and that she's getting a free ride. I think the unfairness of that irks me more than anything. – Dan Aug 18 '18 at 23:04
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    Maybe it's my lot in life for being born a man, and I should just shutup and be happy that I can provide for my wife. But I can't escape that feeling that it's unfair, or shake my worry that if she can't manage the responsibilities we have now, how will it be once we have children? – Dan Aug 18 '18 at 23:09
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I'm going to take the "tough love" approach and start out by being brutally honest: You can't.

Or rather, there's nothing you can do that will guarantee she will change her ways. You can try (and you may have tried) bargaining, bribing, coercing, nagging, arguing, tricking, and flat-out begging -- but either she will or she won't, based on what she chooses to be her priorities in life.

Moreover, it has little to do with so-called "gender roles" or other "traditional" family patterns. Some people choose to take care of the house they live in, either because they were brought up that way, or because they like things neat. Some don't, and choose to expend their energy in other ways.

So I would let go of the entire idea that things have to be a certain way in your relationship. It would certainly make your life easier if your wife did help more, but it sounds like you two are muddling along somehow regardless. Let go of that stress -- hope for an improvement, but every time you notice yourself starting down that cycle of frustration and anger, stop yourself, and recall all the reasons you married your wife in the first place, and how much you enjoy being with her.

After all, you two won't always be living in a small apartment, working long hours. I'm sure you plan to move up to jobs where you work less but get paid more, and you move into a larger space. And, as you say, you might choose to have children -- think of all the chaos that will bring into your home. Would you rather be eternally frustrated by all that's wrong in your life, or eternally grateful for all that's right?

Ok, that being said, here are some things you can try:

1) Hire someone to come in and clean your apartment every week or every two weeks.

Do this because you want a clean space, and you both clearly don't feel like managing that chore. This is for yourself, with no consideration or frustration about what your wife is or isn't doing.

The greatest gift I gave myself, twenty years ago, was to get a housekeeper to come by every two weeks and do all the chores I hated doing as a kid -- cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming, dusting, changing sheets, etc. I'm married now, and the housekeeper still comes around like clockwork to make sure my house doesn't get too messy.

This way, at least once a week, you'll remove the frustration of dirty corners and piled-up dishes and make sure the mess never gets out of control. You can enjoy the cleanliness, at relatively small cost.

2) Talk with your wife and agree on a set of rules and tasks you do together. Some examples:

  • Have a mutually-agreed on rule that "no dishes are to be left in the sink". Either wash them or put them in the dishwasher (if you have on)e. This goes for both of you. If need be, you both get up and wash them together.

  • No clothes lying around. All dirty clothing goes in the laundry basket.

  • Set aside days of the week for different chores. Sunday might be "laundry day". Monday "grocery shopping day", Tuesday "cooking for the week day", and so on.

  • Institute a "Henny Penny" rule, something like "If you don't help shop and you don't help cook, then you don't help eat." Helping can be as simple as chopping or mixing, anything to show a willingness to participate in necessary chores.

and so on. The key is these are things you do together, so you both get in the habit of getting them done, rather than arguing about who is supposed to do them.

3) Mutually agree to put away the phones when you are doing anything together -- eating, watching a movie, even driving.

This can be a tricky since it's such a habit to be constantly checking messages or Twitter or Facebook or whatever mind-suck captures your attention, but it helps if you both recognize that it's damaging to your relationship.

I, personally, dislike it when I'm having a conversation with anyone and they stop to check something on their phone. I tolerate this from friends and other people, because what can you do, but my wife has learned that when she does it with me, I consider the conversation over and walk away. I can't control what she does, but I can choose not to wait around for her to finish whatever she considers more important.

There are exceptions, of course, and you have to work these out. We both work from home, and sometimes we get important emails or texts. Or we might be wondering about something and one of us will Google the answer. Also checking directions while driving, texting a friend we're going to meet ... all reasonable situations to use the phone.

It may take a while for her to get used to this change in behavior. It helps if, at first she physically shuts down the phone so that, in order to look at it, she has to turn it back on and wait for it to start up.

Eventually she can break the habit and start paying more attention to you when you are home -- but this means you should be attentive back, and not distracted by some thing you find interesting. It takes discipline from both of you.


There are any number of tricks and tools marriage counselors use to get couples to talk to each other without argument. The one I've heard most is to phrase everything as an "I" statement. This sounds hokey, and in the beginning it can be, but the key is again to shift your attitude away from what the other person is doing wrong, and toward how you yourself feel about that behavior. Examples:

When you pick up your phone and start texting with friends when we're alone together, I feel frustrated to be shut out of the conversation. I want your whole attention because we only get a short time together each day.

When I come home late and there's nothing in the house to eat, I get annoyed because I'm hungry and I don't want to have to take the time to cook. I would like to be able to sit down and have dinner with you right away.

Also, ask your wife for her suggestions

How do you think we can manage this?

What do you need from me to make this happen?

How do you think we can work together to achieve (outcome)?

And so on.

Also, do your best to find out what motivates and de-motivates her from doing certain chores. For example, my wife gets frustrated if I put dishes in the sink, or stuff on the kitchen counters, right after she's cleaned it. I would rather have them in the sink than lying on tables around the house, but for her, it's discouraging to go to all the effort of cleaning only to have it become dirty again.

I can try (and have tried) try to explain that's what happens with kitchens -- they get dirty, they get cleaned, they get dirty again, day after day. But it's possible for me to find a compromise by paying attention to when she has cleaned, and then trying to keep things clean as long as possible.

Eventually you might want to do things like create a division of household chores ... but again, if your wife is the sort of person who isn't motivated to do them on her own, it's unlikely she'll be more motivated to do them because she has to. This might be something you have to wait for her to suggest herself, rather than bring up.

I can tell you from personal experience that it is possible to get your spouse to change, but it takes time and patience. In the meantime you're better off trying to figure out why the situation upsets you as much as it does, and getting rid of old or unnecessary thought patterns that create unwanted stress.

  • I tried 1) about the bi-weekly maid, and she didn't go for that. But it's at least on the table as a possibility. Some of the ideas in 2) were pure gold. We're going to do the no dishes in the sink thing, and also laundry in the basket. I'm not going to add pressure on her to cook, instead I'm just going to budget a small amount for both of us for eating out alone, and anything else is out of our personal spending money. Food in the house is free. I'm hoping Adam Smith's invisible hand will come to the rescue with the cooking (we're cooking together today, so maybe it's already working.) – Dan Aug 20 '18 at 0:12
  • Also the "I" statements is excellent advice. I do that already (maybe I read it somewhere) but I could stand to apply it more consistently. Thank you for all the much needed advice you shared with me in your answer. Cheers! – Dan Aug 20 '18 at 0:16
  • @Dan glad I could help. Although I do think you should try the maid, "just once to see how it goes." You both might be surprised at how much you enjoy having your place thoroughly cleaned by a professional. I know my wife loves it, and actually my long-long-time housekeeper is now very friendly with my wife, more so than she ever was with me :) – Andrew Aug 20 '18 at 4:27
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As I see it, the usual deal when two adults live together is that they each do half of the housework. So we start there.

I'm going to assume that if you both worked forty hours a week and made the same amount of money, you would agree that it's appropriate for you to cook half the time, clean half the time, do the laundry half the time, and so on.

What if you both worked forty hours a week and you earned more per hour? Would it be fair to say that she has to do more of the housework because your salary is higher? I would argue that, no, it's really not. This is not a roommate situation, it's a marriage. In the marriage, her time should be regarded as just as valuable as your time.

She works 35 hours a week and earns much less than you. Could the two of you survive on double her income? Is a life where you both work 35 hours a week, you both bring home identical paychecks, you both do half the housework, and you spend much more time together, a plausible one? Sure, it would be a much less luxurious life, but could you survive?

If that life is a plausible one, then let's look at why you're not living that life. You have a career. You're successful at that career. Do you enjoy it? Is it what you wanted to do with your working life?

You say: "I have no life or friends outside of work and marriage. It's hardly balanced, but I'm happy enough like that because I know I'm working towards an early retirement and secure future for my wife and I and our future kids."

But is that the only reason? Do you get no enjoyment or gratification from your career? Is it purely and entirely a sacrifice that you make for your wife and theoretical children? If you weren't married, would you drop that career immediately? Is your wife delighted that your life is not balanced? Does she have zero desire to live a balanced life with her husband?

I think you're seeing that you work extra hours, there's more money accessible to her, and she should pay back for that money by doing more housework.

But it seems to me that it may be possible that she sees it as you working extra hours at a career that interests you, she's deprived of much of her husband's time, and she's supposed to pay back for...that deprivation?...by doing more housework.

"No, I hardly ever get to see my husband, but the bonus is that I get to spend extra time mopping floors and scrubbing pots."

You see how that may be iffy?

I'm also concerned with the idea that you "give" her a stipend. This is a marriage. Doling money out to her like she's an employee feels odd.

Many people, in this situation, would combine the 1X and the 10X, decide on a specific and EQUAL amount of "play money" for each spouse, and then make mutual decisions on what gets done with the rest of the money. The 10x earner wouldn't get 10 votes--they'd get one vote, and the 1X earner would also get one vote.

And the couple would also spend some of that money on household help, so that one person isn't doing two people's worth of housework.

4

You say you don't mind the current situation, but it sure is not healthy and it can lead to burnout sooner or later.

I believe that chores should not be split equally or based on the money each one of you brings home, but in order for both of you to have the same amount of spare time. Just think housework as an extension of your job. Doing half the housework when you have already worked more hours than her is not ok. Sharing them based on money is not a good idea either: it's like paying your spouse for their work - it just doesn't feel right, in a loving relationship both parts should contribute in order to make the relationship work, not because of money .

So, in your specific situation your wife should be doing more housework than you, but she doesn't even do half of it. Well, as far as I can tell she learned that she should expect you to do most of the housework. You have conditioned her to think like that. But this can change if you both want to.

Try cleaning only your clothes, cooking only for you, making your own coffee and stop doing the things she expects you to do (like refilling the coffee machine). Just don't ever do it again and then that will become your expected behaviour.

This is not to be done to antagonize your wife. It is so you have more time for yourself and your wife and less arguments and that's the way you should put it when she notices and asks why you stopped doing this or that. It will be hard at first but then it will turn to your default behaviour, your wife will learn to accept it, it will help her take care of her own things and the time you spend together will increase in amount and quality - you won't be beaten up on every day basis any more.

Other strategy you can try is to have a specific day of the week that you do all the major chores like dusting, vacuuming etc. It is important that you both decide which day. This will help you organise and share them better. For example, my partner and I have chosen Fridays, so we can have a chore-free weekend and we have decided on doing 'sets' of chores alternately each week (dusting, vaccuming is a set and cleaning the kithen and bathroom is the other). Organizing every day chores can help too ('Hon, I did the dishes yesterday, so I think it's your turn.').

In some point you say that she argues that she is not contributing enough. She can understand how much she does so by writing the chores she has taken care of in a list (it can be a whiteboard or a paper on the fridge or something). You should both write them down so you can compare and organize them better. You can also write the weekly chore program (both discuss and write it down, it could even be fun) and just tick them when you've done them. In order to make it more interesting and enjoyable, write not only chores, but ways of recreation too e.g.

  • washing dishes
  • watching Mindhunter on Netflix
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    Reason for downvote??? – clueless Aug 20 '18 at 17:43
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It sounds like what you are saying is that you want a feeling that you two are working together. It's very difficult when you feel like you are expected to be doing most of the work, and that work isn't appreciated.

I don't think you can resolve this one on one. I think you need an impartial mediator that can help you two sort through reasonable expectations on each side. I say mediator rather than counselor because this sounds like more of a negotiation case. A mediator can help you agree on a cleaning schedule. Or if your wife doesn't want to clean she can decide to take some of the stipend and pay someone.

The main thing is that you both get to a common understanding. I've seen good mediators in action and it is possible.

1

Just a small answer concerning your financial concerns: From your paragraph, I get the feeling that you are enabling her. You pay for everything and even give her a stipend. I found it very helpful to start a joint account for finances that pays for all common expenses. Each puts in a monthly amount (50/50 or depending on financial ability) and it pays for house, vacation, food etc. That really took my mind off the feeling I was the one constantly paying for everything. Additionally, the financial burden will create a sense of responsibility for the house etc. (As a German saying goes: If it costs nothing, it's worth nothing).

She might not want to do this (I had a few discussions with my partner because she is more risk-averse financially). In that case, you will definitely have to reconsider if this is the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. It is very important to be on the same terms financially with your future spouse once the throes of passion have subsided and you have to juggle mortgage, kids and other expenses.

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I'm not trying to make a long-distance diagnosis, but what you describe makes me think that your wife likely is having problems with depression, and I think you need to deal with the possibility. Symptoms include irritability and disturbed sleep schedules. Speaking for myself, the endless time spent on trivial activities and the shirking of responsibilities sound awfully familiar.

Giving her a talking-to, as some of the other answers suggest, isn't going to work if she'd depressed. What you're going to accomplish in that case is to make her feel guiltier and more stressed and generally worse. Try to figure out what's going on with her and then talk about responsibilities.

There are online tests for depression, but the best thing probably would be to get her to a doctor for screening. (Given your description of finances, you've either got good health insurance or can pay for good care.)

It may take a long time to get out of depression (it did for me) and it's frustrating to live with a depressed person (ask my wife), but knowing more or less what's wrong may help, and if she starts making progress things will get better.

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Let's do some back of the envelope calculations, presuming you live in the US. You say your wife is working on a low salaried job for 35 hours/week. At US minimum wage (7.25$/hour), that's around $14k/year. You on the other hand make 10x as much, so your income is at least $140k per year before tax. Therefore presumably you're not a poor household by any measure.

With those numbers in mind, let's solve your issues.

The dishes pile up

Why not buy a dishwasher? The really nice ones even dry the dishes for you so there's minimal work involved. Add a kitchen sink disposal unit and dishes are extremely easy to clean.

kitchen, floors, and surfaces get dirty and accumulate junk

Buy a Roomba vacuum robot, call the maid once a week, and your issues are solved.

I handle the garbage, the supermarket,

Why spend time at the supermarket rather than ordering groceries online? You can even set up an Amazon subscription for the most common items to save you the time.

kitchen, floors, and surfaces get dirty and accumulate junk

With grocery shopping, cleaning and washing dishes no longer in the way, cooking would become a lot easier for both of you. Same with other chores such as taking out the garbage and laundry.


I presume your wife is otherwise a good person, or else the two of you wouldn't be together. I also presume that you don't want to break up over house chores. So why not use the money you work so hard for on something that would make your relationship easier? If that's the only problem in the relationship, throwing money at it is guaranteed to make it go away.

Best of luck :)

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