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My partner is bad about keeping up with small chores, like putting away the dishes after eating, which results in them piling up and turning into big chores, which then turns into a big problem for both of us: We both work and have busy lives so it is hard to find the time for major clean up operations that take hours, like washing a giant mountain of dirty, dried dishes.

We've spoken about this and we both agree about the necessity of keeping up with our chores. The problem happens at the compliance level, my partner seems to often forget to do them anyway. I don't think the forgetting is malicious, it's just that habits are hard to break and reform. It doesn't help that I occasionally skip out on my chores myself, but I do it much less frequently and "catch up" with missed chores much sooner. It is a lot harder for me to keep up with my part when the house is already messy as well. Mess in our house seems to have a way of begetting more and more mess. And the lingering mess creates stress for both of us.

I don't wish to be a nag and just remind me partner about every dirty dish, every loose sock, every little bit of paper, etc. Frankly, I wouldn't have the energy to exercise such vigilance: The constant badgering about tiny chores would be a chore in and of itself to me! Even if I were able to have the tenacity to nag about every single thing, this still doesn't help with chores skipped when I'm not around, or when a chore has been skipped but my partner won't be home for a while.

There some similar questions posted already, but they seem different from mine in that the chore-dodger does not want to be doing the chores in the first place. I view my situation as the next level of this: My partner does want to break the bad habit of not doing chores, but it is proving difficult in practice. So what steps can I take that would be effective in helping my partner accomplish this goal?

Note: This has been going on for more than a year, and although there's been some improvement, it's very little in the grand scheme of getting from a messy house that requires devoting every other weekend to "spring cleaning" to a not-messy house which requires a more modest amount of maintenance. So I wonder if "just hang in there and be supportive" is perhaps not a sufficient solution by itself.

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  • The duplicate mark is incorrect. My question is not about asking my partner to do more of her responsibilities, a careful reading of the question will reveal that I have already navigated that issue successfully. – Loppost Aug 28 '18 at 22:27
  • I agree that this question should be reopened. The "dupe" involves discussing how to share responsibilities. This question is different: the discussion has taken place, both partners have agreed on how to share them, but now one partner routinely forgets to do their share. That is a different question. The money quote is right at the beginning of the second paragraph: "We've spoken about this and we both agree about the necessity of keeping up with our chores. The problem happens at the compliance level, my partner seems to often forget to do them anyway." – Stephan Kolassa Feb 2 '19 at 12:52
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My partner is also neglecting his houshold duties. We also spoke about it many many times and although he totally agrees that he needs to do more, it is hard to actually make that happening.

We are better at keeping up now although not (yet) where we want to be. My experiences so far are that these are important points:

Commitment to well defined goals

You didn't go into specifics so I want to point out that it is important to mutually commit to well defined goals. You wrote

we both agree about the necessity of keeping up with our chores

Between you two you should definititely formulate that in a lot more detail in order to make progress towards a goal. Have a look at SMART goal formulation. I find it especially important that you mutually agree on who should do what how often and be honest about if what you agreed on is something that is important enough to you that you really want to keep the promise and that you think that you are able to keep the promise.

Defined routines on WHEN to do it

What improved the situation for me/us is when at one time my partner told me: "I really need fixed duties and routines for this". He has two daily chores (feat the cats and clean the cat toilets in the morning) and two fixed chores that are irregular (unload the dishwasher and put away dried laundry). What I noticed is: routine is key. He does his daily chores reliably during the week but neglets them on weekends because the routine is not the same. He has troubles to do the irregular chores and I think it is because the time WHEN to do it is not fixed. Even if I tell him: I hang the laundry today, we agreed on that you take it off within two days afterwards so I expect that I can do another laundry the day after tomorrow." - he says yes and forgets the schedule the next minute. I think that he never has any idea how long the laundry is hanging on the line. I now tell him when he needs to take it off, but I think the best would be to have a visible token hanging on the laundry line (which he passes several times a day) and when he sees it he knows he has to take it off today or I'll get angry.

So either put chores to routines that are already established (each time after brushing your teeth, collect all your socks in the living room) or have a timeschedule, chore board, ... something very visible that makes itself important in their head instead of having them to make the chore important in their head themselves.

Don't do it for them

This is important too. Because each time you do their assigned chore for them, their chore will become less important in their head. They will know that at some point you will do it. Instead, remind them about it and support them in reaching their own goals. If it doesn't seem to work then check your goals again. Does your partner really recognize the goal as important and still wants to meet it? Is is doable for them? Do they know when they are supposed to do them? What was keeping them from doing it?

Agree on roles

It doesn't help that I occasionally skip out on my chores myself, but I do it much less frequently and "catch up" with missed chores much sooner.

This may sound a bit strange or overly technical, but I think it is useful to agree on roles in the household. At work my partner is a project leader for a bigger project with several people working under him. At home I am the project leader of our project "household". He has assigned tasked and we both expect him to keep up with them. I do whatever I see as most important, keep an overview and remind him of his tasks if he didn't do them. This doesn't mean that he is not doing anything else except his assigned tasks, he does still decide by himself that he will take out the trash today for example, but it does give him the structure he needs to complete fixed chores and me that power and freedom I need (for managing the household project). My partner can accept this because it is clear to us that I am doing more chores and he knows by experience that simply taking decisions and keeping an overview takes time and energy as well.

(Also I want to add: since we agreed that it is important to swipe the floor but nobody acutally wants to do it because it consumes so much time in one piece, we now have a housekeeping lady that comes once every two weeks to clean the floor.)

Hope something here helps a bit. Good luck with improving your housekeeping!

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  • Very good answer but I would advise against remember your partner to do their task (unless it's occasional). If you always remember your SO of their task, you will take their mentale load (english.emmaclit.com/2017/05/20/you-shouldve-asked) and you don't want that. Don't really know what to suggest instead. Maybe just do nothing and let your SO "suffer" for the consequences of their non-action. – Ael Aug 26 '18 at 12:22
  • Yes it is not good to remember your partner often about their chores because soon the routine will be to do the chores when you say it has to be done now. But setting up routines is hard and takes a while. So I think an occasional reminder can be helpful. Suggestions: remind when you see that your partner misses the key time for setting up a routine (e.g. you just did X and now start Y. Did you forget we said you should do Z right after X to set up your routine?). Or point out "you forgot Z again this (sunday) morning. Please do it now and find a way to integrate Z in your weekend routine too" – Meera Aug 26 '18 at 17:21
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As the person in my relationship that's more messy, I can sympathize with your partner but I recognize that I need to improve my cleanliness skills. Some of my suggestions are things my partner's tried on me before.

The best way to address this situation is to be direct. Tell your partner that you value having a clean and tidy living space, and that you feel they are not pulling their weight in achieving that. Explain to them that this has been bothering you for over a year, and you're fed up with it. Tell them specifically what they need to improve on. Also ask why they dislike doing chores and what gets in the way of them getting chores done.

You might want to work together to form a new system of doing chores. Ask them which chores they like doing best (or at least, dislike the most) and let them do those chores. Maybe they would be more motivated if the two of you did chores together at the same time and could maybe create a more enjoyable experience out of it. Maybe you could create some sort of reward system for completed chores to motivate them extrinsically.

However you decide to go about this, I urge you to address it directly and as soon as possible. The longer you go without addressing it, the more upset you're going to get, which has the potential to manifest in other areas of your relationship. I really don't recommend taking a passive aggressive approach and stopping doing your chores, that just makes it worse for both of you.

Best of luck!

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This issue goes to the very heart of your relationship. You sound both committed to your weekly work, but neither of you seem to be committing to clearing up the devastation caused by that weekly work.

It calls for an equal amount of will, a mutual desire to please one another and a mutual realisation of one another's standards and respect for one another, and shared feelings of what is appropriate.

From what you have stated, you have not attained these mutual qualities or at least they are not operating.

If you do not reach agreement on this fundamental issue then other more serious issues requiring mutual agreement will never be resolved and your relationship will suffer. With this in mind, it is imperative that you should both sit down and agree again on how to go forward with behaviour that is mutually satisfactory.

I suggest that you just clear up your own dishes for a week before bringing it up - just leave the other dishes to one side so that your partner can see that you are angry. The let them raise the issue. Just go out a couple of times when it is really untidy so that they are faced with their own mess.

I say this because you cannot just go on being angry and resentful without taking this on. Do not offer any ideas how this may be solved nor give in, just clear your own mess and wait until your partner comes around and demonstrates the ability and willingness to put their back into solving the issue for you both.

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  • This answer is founded on premises that contradict the question, such as "neither of you seem committed". – Loppost Aug 28 '18 at 22:32
  • That comment is not correct - as well as listing the problems caused by his partner he also admits to making the same transgressions - but believes his corrective action to be quicker. So - both parties slip not just one, and the problem has to be faced mutually not form one sitting on a pedestal. You should read these things more carefully before criticising. – Elsdon Ward Aug 29 '18 at 11:42

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