Upping Your Housework Game for Men

The holidays are once again here, and things are going to start to get busier – and more stressful on both you and your spouse. If nothing else, contributing domestically through giving more time and energy to chores and responsibilities might make the difference between your marriage or relationship sailing through the holidays, and one that gets stuck in conflict through the winter and beyond.

If you’re not helping out around the house (and beyond), it may benefit you to reconsider why not. It may be a bigger issue than you’ve understood it to be (or rationalized it to be). You may not be creating a “team spirit” between you and your spouse, as much as you may want it or profess that you have it in your marriage.

Stepping it up in simple ways that benefit your wife or girlfriend, your family and your household may be small or insignificant to you, but crucial to your marital well-being. We’re going to look at this through better communication, being proactive and dealing with learned helplessness around domestic responsibilities.

Communication about Housework and Responsibilities

Making assumptions that your wife or girlfriend “has this handled,” or that she is in control of the holiday festivities, or of the house and kids for that matter, can erode the positive marital relations between you and your partner. She’s probably got a lot on her plate already, and the thought of doing extra this holiday season may feel overwhelming and burdensome to her.

By assuming those things, you keep yourself from sensing the urgency that she may be experiencing. When you don’t check it out with her through communicating together, you fall victim to those assumptions, which leave you disconnected and ripe for conflict.

Be proactive instead of reactive, and step up and initiate a conversation about how you can help more around the house or with the kids. It will go a long way. If your wife, girlfriend or significant other feels that you care, and you’re expressing that through being attentive, helpful and giving, that’s going to make a huge difference in your marital bliss.

Seek out things on your own that you could do to contribute both to her well being and the household/family’s well being before she has the chance to ask you to do it. You’re not attempting to “read her mind,” and neither should she to you, but if you can anticipate things that need to be done, that she might do herself, those are bonus points for you to make her happier with you and the marriage.

Examples of things you can to do step up your housework game proactively, if you’re not already:

  • Vacuuming
  • Laundry: cleaning, folding and putting away; ironing clothes
  • Dishes: cleaning and putting away; running and unloading the dishwasher; not leaving your dirty dishes in the sink for her to clean
  • Taking the trash out when you see it needs to b
  • Cooking dinner for you and her, or for your kids, or picking it up in anticipation of a busy night
  • Running errands or picking up household items
  • Dropping off or picking up kids, as to not inconvenience your wife or to anticipate her schedule
  • General home cleaning
  • Caring for pets: feeding, walking, grooming
  • Shopping (clothes, food) for yourself, or for your kids or family
  • Paying bills: being the lead on the finances, or taking some of it on
  • Fixing things that you can fix, or calling and arranging a maintenance person to do it
  • Planning an upcoming vacation, or a date night (planning/calling/organizing sitter/execution of it)

Dealing with Learned Helplessness, and the Strain on Your Marriage

Just because you don’t know how to do something, or never learned it growing up, doesn’t excuse you from learning how to do it and stepping up to try to do it. Old dogs can be taught new tricks, contrary to the saying.

Growing up as kids, a lot of guys have never learned how to do their own laundry, or fix things around the house (or generally be self-sufficient), and putting that responsibility on your wife for things you never learned may be contributing to potential problems in more ways than you think. If you don’t know, learn. YouTube can teach you any and everything you need to learn, and if that doesn’t work, there are dozens of other apps or resources to help you learn how to run a household.

Learned helplessness – the passivity that often comes after we’ve faced problems that we can’t control – can look like laziness, in that we resign to not doing things because we don’t know how to do them, or are too lazy to figure them out. Our spouse then ends up, over time, getting stressed and burdened. She may have just accepted that that is they way things are, which is dangerous for your marriage, because it may be contributing to unspoken anger or resentment at you, which may play out in other ways, such as in the bedroom, passive punishment, or through your general marital happiness suffering

Keeping up with housework doesn’t have to be a chore (literally). If you can find the place within yourself that wants to enjoy a clean living space and a functional home environment, it becomes effortless. It has to begin with your values and desires, and you have to motivate yourself from the inside, not necessarily from the outside (your wife complaining). The marital benefits should come as secondary, but if you’re motivated by that solely, then you can still find reward in doing more. It’s just more sustainable if it comes from within you.

About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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