41

Background

I have been living with my boyfriend for three months. Both of us are working as trainees in different companies, but while he has 2 hours of daily commuting, I can reach my workplace within 15 minutes with my bike. Regarding this disparity, we decided that until we go back to school (i.e. in two weeks), then I would do the cooking. I totally agreed on this because I come home 1 hour earlier than him plus I love cooking, while it's just another chore for him (he wouldn't mind doing it though, it's just that he's not interested in it). For the other chores, we shared them in a more or less fair way (we did almost all chores at weekends, so I'd say I was doing 60% of the chores).

Situation

A week ago, his sports training began (2 hours three times per week, so one thing leading to another, he gets home 2h30 later than before). He has no choice in the date and time of his training, but I do for mine (I train at the gym 4 times per week, 1h30 each workout), so I adjusted my trainings to match his, but I still come home an hour earlier than him. Naturally, I persisted in cooking our meals. The problem is that since he gets home later, he does less household chores than before. For example, now I am always the one sweeping the floors, cleaning the windows, ... while we used to share these tasks before.

Last weekend, he said he noticed than I cleaned the whole flat while he was on a holiday with his family (I also had a party this weekend with my friends who moved to another city. I woke up earlier on Sunday before joining my friends to do the housework so as when he gets back after so many hours on the road, he finds a clean place). He thanked me, and said he was sorry that he didn't do that much for housework the week before. I said it was ok, but we're now in the middle of the week and he's still doing few chores. Yesterday I did the housework and gave him 3 fast and simple things to do for when he comes home, but he takes so much longer than me to do them so I wanted to help and he got mad. In the end I stopped helping him and he did not do one important task I asked him, though I know that if I had done it, he would have remembered and maybe again told me that it was his job. I feel guilty about this.

About us

He has never refused to do any chores, in fact he's willing us to fairly share the load. He never takes any initiative though. On the other hand, I'm the "if there's a chore to do which is not part of my job but I have the time to do it, I will take care of it" kind of person. Not really because I don't like living in a dirty place, more because I don't want to bother others. Just for the record, this is not a relationship problem, I used to act the same with my former flatmate.

When we moved in together, I suggested that we make a schedule for the chores: who does what and when, but the idea fell by the wayside. To add further details, we earn the same wage (to be precise, he earns 20% more than me but I have equivalent benefits in kind) but we do not have a joint account. We pay 50% of the groceries each.

What I want

For now, I don't mind doing almost all the housework (90%). What I am afraid of is that it becomes a habit that I handle all on my own, and I do not want this, because I'm afraid I'll get exhausted and we'll fall into a huge fight - he never refused to help after all! I think that sharing the load more fairly is the only way to avoid this problem.

How can I politely tell him we need to organize for doing the housework?

We're a couple from Western Europe, both in our 20s.


Update

Thank you all for all these valuable answers, it helps a lot. I had a chat with him yesterday, explaining the situation (he comes home late, I'm currently doing most chores and don't mind but wouldn't like this to become a habit, and so on). He totally understood. We agreed on creating a schedule and assigning ourselves to each chore, regarding our willingness to do it (for example I don't like wiping crockery and he doesn't like cleaning the composter) and the time we spend at home. We also agreed on a frequency for each chore (e.g. sweeping the floors twice a week) and that if the time planned does not suit our actual timetable, we can postpone it. It's not very precise but knowing my boyfriend, I know we can make this work. So I'll still do more than him in terms of quantity, difficulty and duration but it's fairer and it's something we agreed on so it's totally okay. More, based on threetimes' piece of advice, we'll review the scheduling anytime our timetables significantly change (i.e. in our situation when we go back to school, by the end of the month).

Thanks again y'all.

38

I am a little unclear on his "sports training", as in if it's a hobby or if he is on a college team, or? I will get to why it matters.

If I wanted to, I could work full time as I used to (60hrs with commute) and work out 5 days a week (so another 10) and join a gardening club and take a dance class, etc. But in the end, those would be the way I set up my life. So I likewise cannot then say to my partner that they would "logically" fill in the gaps. However, this is variable. My spouse and I have both gone to school while together, while working, etc. In such cases, that has to be respected, because that is an investment that is short term for the long term benefit of the person and possibly (if all goes well) the couple. So when I was in school full time and working full time, my spouse did nearly all things, but I also was gone almost every day from 8am-10pm and the one evening I was home I usually went straight to bed after work and weekends were homework crunch time. Likewise I have done the same for him.

What we have done that has worked well for us under a million different situations in 25years now is sit down and write up a contract. We actually make a contract we live by, we write it together and it covers not just housework, but other things that don't seem to be settled. We had a contract ages ago that stated you could not bring up anything that happened more than 6 months ago in an argument. It was needed. It helped us, a LOT.

I have told others we do this and had people try it. Some think it worked great, others not at all. In the cases that it did not work, in every case, they simply did not live by it. No contract works that you don't respect and treat it like it's serious. So my best advice if you consider it, is only do it if both people will hold themselves accountable. You also have to be flexible. Maybe you want laundry done on Wednesday and Saturday but he thinks it can all wait until the weekend. You have to remind yourself that if that person lived alone, they likely would opt to live on a different routine and yours isn't inherently better than theirs, it's just yours. So if you are looking to get them to agree to something and then follow through, also look to try to work with what they find agreeable in the first place.

And for what it's worth, unless he is gone 90% of the time, I agree that you doing 90% is a bad idea. While you may not mind now, you might going forward. So do not start a pattern of behavior you do not want to always do (again, unless it's something pretty severe, like when I explained the school/work schedule - which was temporary anyway). If someone gets used to you doing pretty much everything, it can very easily become a source of tension, and you want to avoid those.

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    To make it clearer, he's not working as an athlete but he does belong to a very good team which regularly plays across the country (almost every weekend). In the end, I train longer than him per week but his evenings are shorter than mine, even if we're both exhausted the same. – avazula Sep 20 '17 at 11:10
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    All that matters is that it works for you two. My husband makes dinner every single night, and weekends. We do it for two reasons. He is a picky eater and he enjoys cooking. I am home, so it would usually make more sense for me to cook as it could be done before he gets home. It works well for us this way though and we like it, so again, as long as it works, it's a great system, however that ends up looking for any couple trying to balance and share duties. I always do clean up. I do not mind that at all. I prefer that to cooking. – threetimes Sep 20 '17 at 11:12
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    "We had a contract ages ago that stated you could not bring up anything that happened more than 6 months ago in an argument. It was needed. It helped us, a LOT." Wow. Kudos to you for making this statute of limitations actually work! – Mehrdad Sep 20 '17 at 20:34
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    This - every word of it - is the God's honest truth. When you have a partner that refuses to live up to any of the contracts he makes with you, you know you have... a lemon. – anongoodnurse Sep 20 '17 at 22:32
11

You should both take a day to devise a clear plan of:

  1. What chores need to be done
  2. When/how often they need to be done
  3. How much they take to be done
  4. Who is more appropriate to do them

Such as you will be able to make a physical chart where you assign chores for each other. In this schedule, you will attribute him chores that are most convenient for him to do, which albeit there will be few, and you will take the rest. And so this will achieve the following:

He will see on paper how much work you're actually doing, making him realize that it's the chores you've agreed upon for him are the least he could do. Having a written plan, specific chores and hours, will make it more probable for him to do chores

It may be hard in the beginning for him to get used to periodically doing things, but slowly it will become a habit for him. That will not only help you but help him in the long run.


I am talking from experience, since my boyfriend and I are both in our 20s and living together. Using this system has helped us a lot in the last few months since when we first moved together he was reluctant to doing anything around the apartment.

  • thanks for the tip! I admit I find it rude, to me it sounds like a way to say: "look at everything I do, what do you do?". I'm afraid he gets offended. – avazula Sep 20 '17 at 9:33
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    Ah, I see your point. I imagined you'd use a positive approach and reassure him you're completely ok with doing more since you have more time. And whenever he does his chores that day/week make sure to thank him and let him see you appreciate the help and it makes a difference for you. I wish you the best of luck none the less! – Alina Cretu Sep 20 '17 at 9:39
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    @avazula Aren't you afraid that you might gradually get more and more annoyed because you end up picking up more and more chores? And that some day you'll explode and then he'll be really offended? I'd find it healthier to establish equitable rules sooner rather than later to avoid that. Also, please figure out for yourself: If he can't get over having to do his share of the chores, is he really relationship material for you? – AllTheKingsHorses Sep 20 '17 at 10:26
  • @AllTheKingsHorses "Aren't you afraid that you might gradually get more and more annoyed [...] nd that some day you'll explode and then he'll be really offended?" That's exactly why I'm here seeking for advice on how to approach this issue. – avazula Sep 20 '17 at 10:30
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Basically: what threetimes said ;-)

But I'll try to add to that, expanding on my comments:

You both have good intentions and made a rational decision to split housework equally - but we humans don't always follow through with rational decisions (see also: New Year's resolutions).

If you don't discuss splitting the chores and write up a contract / fixed plan /etc., you'll both likely fall back into learned emotional habits you picked up at home during your childhood. And I'm guessing that for both of you, your moms did the majority of household work and that's why you're used to "the woman does the housework". (I'm assuming you're a woman...) To be clear: being used to something doesn't make you (or your boyfriend) a bad person - but it's a habit to conciously break out of if you want to change.

Societal expectations likely have trained you to take care of others and to feel guilty if you prioritise your own needs / desires. But as an adult you need to look out for yourself, too, and not only for others. You're not a bad person if you do that.

As threetimes said: Currently, you seem to be accepting the status quo as a given - and I'm not so sure it is. To me it sounds like there's plenty of choice, but you need to choose conciously. For example, it sounds like your boyfriend chose a hobby (sport) that's time-intensive and has a fixed schedule - while you chose a hobby (sport) that gives you flexiblity. But your boyfriend could chose differently - and then he'd have more time to help with the chores. Similarly, you might choose to pick up a time-consuming hobby with a fixed schedule - would he then pick up the household chores?

This is also about incentives: If you just silently accept the responsibility for the household and never mention it because he might get offended, there are next to no incentives for him to do something. From his perspective, everything is fine: he has food on the table, a clean flat, and a caring partner. Yeah, there's this nagging feeling that he should do more, but since you don't say anything he's gonna assume that you don't mind so much...

On other hand, if he comes home hungry and you're not there because you're at your new dance-class that runs three times a week, he may have to buckle up and cook. (Or give you an earful about it, but then you know that he's not interested in an equal partnership like he claimed to.) Hunger is a strong incentive ;-)

I'd recommend to lay out a plan in writing of what needs doing how frequently and who does it. But the person doing it has some autonomy on when and how. If he's too tired after work, he can decide to do his chores only on the weekend. He'll have a different way of loading the dishwasher - don't insist on yours (unless all dishes are broken ;-)).

I'd also recommend that you both get in the habit of thanking each other for chores done. To be clear: that means that he also thanks you for doing your share. You might say "but it's normal do do your chores, no thanking required!" (like my partner did when I asked for this). But then: does it hurt? It's a positive interaction, sets a good mood, and it makes the thanking partner mindful of work done and effort required. Why not do that as an investment in your relationship?

  • Thanks for the anwser! Just a point: I do have a hobby that is equally (and maybe more) time consuming than his. I just come home earlier than him. It makes perfect sense we schedule our chores now. – avazula Sep 20 '17 at 11:59
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Speaking from experience as the 'lazy one' in a household relationship (I'm not actually bona fide lazy - but my partner is infinitely more productive than me when it comes to housework) if you are the type of person who, as you say

I'm the "if there's a chore to do which is not part of my job but I have the time to do it, I will take care of it" kind of person.

Then you are letting yourself in for disappointment if your partner is not also this way. You can try asking your partner to be more like this, but it is certainly more of a trait than a skill which can be learned.

Half the arguments between me and my partner around housework are because she cleaned up something I hadn't noticed. The problem wasn't that I hadn't done it, but that I hadn't noticed it. It's a difficult balance to keep. You could experiment by waiting a bit longer before doing something, to give him a chance to do it instead.

6

This might be a less popular perspective but here are my thoughts, from a lazy male.


Expectation Vs Reality

As a basic rule of life, wants are infinite and resources are scarce. As a concrete example, I want my apartment to be vacuumed every day but I don't value that level of cleanliness enough to actually expend that much time and energy. There is some point at which my desires cross my willingness (where demand meets supply). For vacuuming, that might be every two weeks or every month.

If we were living together and you sat me down, telling me that you want the apartment vacuumed every week and that you expected me to do it, I'd hear something else: you want the place vacuumed every week but you're unwilling to expend that much effort yourself to attain it.

My conclusion is that your demand (wants) is higher than your supply (commitment). It's worked for me to not vacuum every week; why is it my burden to meet your demand with my supply if you seem to not care about it as much as would be required for the work to be done?

That's a cynical case, at least. In the real world, you probably don't want him to do everything but merely want him to pitch in. That is, maybe you really did vacuum every week when you lived alone but, now that you have to spend extra time/energy cooking for two people, you don't have the time/energy to vacuum as frequently as you used to.

That leaves you two options:

  1. Reevaluate your priorities. Do you actually care enough about vacuuming every week to incur the cost to yourself or your partner?

  2. View the issue as a scheduling problem.


Scheduling

You both made it to this point in life on your own schedules. Now that you're living together, it sounds like you expect those schedules to be comparable in both/either time and energy. But that's a bit inefficient, at least in terms of social capital you might spend continually convincing your partner to perform work.

Rather, you could view this as an opportunity to reduce your own work without lessening your own comfort. For instance, if you are in the habit of doing laundry twice a week (Wednesday and Saturday) and he's in the habit of doing it once a week (Saturday), don't try to force him to do laundry twice a week. Instead, let him continue doing laundry once a week (Saturday) and you reduce your laundry schedule to once a week (Wednesday). You each might have slightly more laundry to do (since there are two of you) but he gets to continue only doing the chore once per week and you actually halve the frequency you're doing laundry. The same work for half the effort and no need to convince him of anything.

In the end, though, what that means is your work loads might not be comparable. If you simply can't live in a place that isn't dusted every day and he goes six months between dustings, you're going to end up dusting far more often than he is. However, the effort put in reflects your different expectations. You're the one who cares so much about dust that you're willing to put in that much effort. And you were doing it before, when living alone. So why would it be necessary for you to expect him to start dusting every other day? It might be nice of him to do but I doubt that level of charity will keep for a lifetime relationship.

Conversely, you shouldn't feel the need to rise to his expectations. If he wants a home-cooked meal every day but isn't willing to perform that work himself, he clearly doesn't care enough to justify the expenditure of time and energy. If you can't cook as frequently as he wants because you don't share that desire, it's his responsibility to meet his own needs.


Wants Vs Needs

Many chores fit into this bin of "wants". Things like vacuuming, cleaning windows, dusting, washing bed sheets. These are all things that might be nice to have done but aren't actually critical to your overall happiness or health (barring any medical conditions or neuroses).

Needs might be things like balancing a budget, paying bills, auto maintenance, and buying groceries. These are things that simply need to be done to maintain your current quality of life. If no one buys groceries, everyone goes hungry.

I'd go through your list of expected chores and figure out what is a want and what is a need. Then, I'd spend a lot more social capital convincing my partner to balance each person's contribution to fulfilling needs before I'd even bother them with wants.

If we're both equally using a car, it should be equally each person's responsibility to take it in for oil changes because it simply has to be done. Even though we might be equally using a bed, it might not be equally each person's responsibility to wash the sheets every 4 days because the bed doesn't stop working if the sheets only get washed every 14 days. That's a subjective valuation that might differ between you two.


Solve Root Causes

A lot of times, people create more work for themselves than is necessary. As someone who is interminably lazy, I prefer to spend effort solving root problems than a myriad secondary problems.

For instance, I rarely run my dishwasher. Rather than deal with a lot of dishes, I reuse the same bowl, plate, fork, and spoon for every meal. Then I wash those items immediately after I use them or before I use them again. In either case, I have a small unit of work that never gets out of hand (That is, I never have to convince myself to go through the lump sum effort of emptying the dishwasher).

Similarly, I reduce the amount of time needed to scrub my countertops by not cluttering them with unnecessary things in the first place. Or reduce the amount of vacuuming I need to do by not wearing shoes around the house. Or reduce the frequency of grocery shopping by buying in bulk.

It sounds like this might be a good opportunity for you two to optimize some of these chores by eliminating root problems. He'd probably be more willing to stop wearing shoes around the house than he would be to start vacuuming every week, for instance.

In a similar vein, if neither of you is willing to do a chore, you might ask if you really want whatever is causing it to be in your lives. As stated above, if neither of you is willing to put in the energy to vacuum every week, do you actually care if it drops to twice a month? Or if neither of you is willing to weed a garden, do you care enough about the garden to keep it around?


TL;DR

Incorporate his natural schedule of chores to reduce your own workload but don't demand that he increase (or decrease) his workload to reach parity with yours only to satisfy an idealized sense of fairness. Each person's input should match their individual expectations or wants.

Or, to counter an oft-cited argument, even though he may benefit from you dusting every day, it's no more work for you to do so now than when you were alone and it's for your benefit that you dusted every day to begin with. It's merely "new" benefit that he's enjoying, not "stolen" benefit from you.

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    This ignores much of the detail provided in the question, specifically He has never refused to do any chores, in fact he's willing us to fairly share the load. Also, there's a complete difference between two people sharing a space and having a discussion that ends in an agreement to do chores on a specific schedule and one person commanding that they be done on a specific schedule. Your answer ignores the possibility of the former. – Catija Sep 20 '17 at 21:24
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    And yet, the "wants vs needs" is a pretty critical piece, IMO. Sometimes the evaluation of what is needed vs what is wanted is different between the two people in the relationship. – PoloHoleSet Sep 20 '17 at 21:32
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    The answer comes from my own perspective (ie. if I was her partner). I try to be very accommodating towards those around me, like her partner is, but my psychology is still as described above. While I'd go out of my way to, say, vacuum every week, if she asked, I'd still run my own evaluation of whether or not she valued that task enough to warrant my expenditure, if she wasn't willing to vacuum every week when I stopped. Given the examples she provided (cleaning windows and sweeping floors), it sounded like she has higher expectations for cleanliness than he does. So it's worth considering – Siegen Sep 20 '17 at 21:44
  • that she may need to be introspective about what she expects him to do. It sounds like she may have her own standards that will only be met by her own investment. Expecting him to clean the windows every week when he only cares to clean them every 4 months makes it sounds more like she is his mother rather than that she is his equal. The blind spot my answer has is with quid pro quo relationships (ie. specialization of labor). However, she stated they don't want to have a traditional relationship (where he works and she cleans). – Siegen Sep 20 '17 at 21:47
  • @Siegen I'd like to outline that we have equally high expectations of cleanliness in our flat, that is naturally very, very dusty. We already discussed this point together. The fact is, I just spend more time at home, so it'd appear fairer that I do more, even though I can be home busy with my own activities. – avazula Sep 21 '17 at 7:24
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I'm in agreement with the answers about the need to formally work something out that is agreed to by both of you, but there is an aspect of this I feel is missing. Maybe it's a non-starter for you, or both of you, but consider it as a different perspective.

You are both very busy, active people. Your boyfriend, with his commute and now his added sports season in full swing, is physically active that much more, and seems like he's a bit exhausted and wants a break instead of diving into chores.

You are also tired, though you have a bit more of a friendly commute, and that tiredness is made worse by you picking up a larger and larger portion of the chores.

All of the answers are based upon finding a way to get him to do more, which is fundamentally fair.

I have to ask - how clean do you keep your place? Is it immaculate? How often do you vacuum, do laundry, do the dishes, clean the toilets, sinks, etc?

How would it look if you did less? Could you dust less often? Maybe let the dishes sit once in a while until the next meal? You'd still need to have a discussion about how a reduced workload is shared, but if the volume is less daunting, it might be a lot easier for him to pick up his share without prompting, going forward.

Is there a level of reduced tidiness that would be acceptable for the trade-off of having less chores to do, more "nothing" time to recharge your brains or spend just being with each other?

If not, maybe take a look at activities and make a conscious decision to pare some of that back.

I'm horrible at over-scheduling activities. My house is usually in a state of piles. My ADD doesn't help. Since I'm on my own, I've accepted a certain level of clutter that I'm sure most people wouldn't accept, but maybe there is a level of minor-clutter that might work for you guys.

If you get more job responsibilities or get married and have kids, the "too much to do in too little time" is only going to get worse. Getting a handle on that now is important beyond just getting the place clean. This sometimes becomes a huge wedge issue with couples.

1

You mentioned a few important things:

  1. He's your boyfriend
  2. You live together
  3. He doesn't shy away from doing things but doesn't take the initiative
  4. Your ideal situation would be that both of you share chores 50-50

What you expect is perfectly fine and the best thing is that he's aware of your extra burden, but he's short of time.

The best way to start would be to determine the chores which interest him. Especially since you are doing most of them on the weekend, he should not have a problem with that.

From your description, it sounds like he won't take any offense to you telling him that there are many things he needs to do. In fact, he will appreciate that you choose only things that interest him.

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    I wouldn't say I want us to do 50% each in terms of quantity, but rather of duration. I know I'm much faster than him for almost all chores so I don't mind doing "more" but it would be great for me to have as much free time as he does. Even if he gets home one hour later, because during that time I do household too, so it's not leisure time. – avazula Sep 20 '17 at 9:27
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    I just want to note that you may only want to spend the same amount of time for chores, but intensity is a very important factor too. Being exhausted is not only a matter of time spent on a chore, so it will not be fair either. – clueless Sep 20 '17 at 9:48
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    @avazula While agreeing to spend the same time doing chores sounds equitable at first glance, it doesn't give him any incentive at all to do it efficiently. Worst case scenario: he just dawdles around for an hour instead of really cleaning and then you have to pick up his slack in your hour. – AllTheKingsHorses Sep 20 '17 at 10:21
  • @AllTheKingsHorses I understand why you raise this concern but I do not share it. It's not my bf's type: he wants to help. He knows I've been raised by a very traditional family where it's the woman job to do everything and we both agree we don't wanna live that way. – avazula Sep 20 '17 at 10:29
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    @avzula : Sorry for being blunt. But you cannot put everyone else's interest ahead of yours and also expect them to contribute (emotionally/physically) as much as you do. You've to be a bit vocal for your share of things. Luckily you said your partner is understanding and don't mind doing things. Also you can ask of him the same when he has more time than you in future. – Vishnu Dahatonde Sep 21 '17 at 5:43
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There are many point to make in situations like this. Given the intensity and duration of the chores are of the same importance (exhaustion derives from both, not just the duration of the housework and also light housework can be done in less time than heavy), there are many things you could do.

  • Do most of the housework on weekdays and have him do the equal amount of time on chores on weekends. Isn't that fair enough? Doing the chores on his own can make him master them sooner, so he can contribute even more in the long term.
  • Ask him to help you with little things, then get him involved in more.

Can you please help me peal the potatoes?

And after this is done

Would you mind putting the onions to the pan?

Or

Please dispose of the garbage for me. It's already full.

Maybe he'll get used to it and ask you if there is anything else to do by himself.

  • Adding a pleasant and motivational note to chores is always a good idea. If he likes games and competition, this will more likely work. More motivation means more willingness and initiative to get things done.

Let's see who's best at making omelettes.

Remember to compliment him for his work, but not thank him. This may make him believe that it isn't his obligation to do housework (or for that amount of time or intensity) - which isn't the case and may cause problems with motivation as well.

0

Why's it your problem? Either he really doesn't appreciate shared chores as much as you. Or he does but is lazy (perhaps unintentionally.) If it's the first you need to decide which is more important to you (this bf v. shared chores) If its the second, sorry, its also up to you to decide which is more important.

I'm aware my answer makes it seem like "it's the woman's problem". But I intend it as "It's your (whatever sex) personal choice"

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