Housework: who really does more?

Last week I was being interviewed by a producer for the CBS Early Show. She asked, “What percentage of the housework do you do?”

“Probably 70 percent,” I answered.

“That’s interesting,” she said.

“Why? I think most women probably do more, don’t you think?”

“No, it’s not that,” she said. “When I asked your husband the same question, he told me that he did 70 percent. No, wait. I think he said he did 80 percent.”

I busted out laughing.

“70 percent?! He thinks he does 70 percent?! Did he really say that? Are you sure?”

She had to wait while I got all of the chuckles out of my system. Then I said, “I’m happy that he does any housework at all, but he definitely doesn’t do 70 percent of it.”

Later that day, I asked my husband, “Do you really think you do 70 percent of the housework? Or were you just saying that because you wanted to look good on TV?”

“How do you know I said that?”

“The producer told me. Do you?”

“Yee-ah,” he said slowly, bracing for a fight. Fortunately for him, I wasn’t angry at all. I found the difference in perspective amusing.

“Do you even know what I do around here?”

“Um, yeah?”

“What do you think I do?”

“You put the clothes away?”

“That’s all you think I do?”

“Um, yeah?”

“How about dealing with the mail? Paying the bills? Clipping the coupons? Buying the groceries? Doing our accounting? Taking Kaarina to and from school most days of the week? Cooking 90 percent of the meals?”

“That’s not housework, though,” he said.

“Paying the bills isn’t housework?”

“Nope. Housework is cleaning. You don’t clean that much.”

“I dust.”

He gave me the eye.

“Okay, so I don’t do dust all that often. But I dusted our bedroom for the TV cameras. And the camera man told me that I was a good duster. I also clean the bathroom once a week, and scrub out the toilet whenever there’s mold in it. And I clean the kitchen once a week. What do you do?”

“I vacuum. I pick things up. I do laundry,”

“But I put the clothes away. It takes longer to put the clothes away than it does to shove them in the washer.”

“No it doesn’t.”

“Yes, it does.”


Reader: I feel the need to inject here that this was a playful conversation. We were smiling the entire time and occasionally poking one another. I threatened to stop doing all that I do around the house just to see if he would notice. But I didn’t really mean it, and he knew I didn’t really mean it.

The following day, I was sitting at our dining room table, which has basically become a desk that I use to sort the mail into 6000 piles that only make sense to me (coupons pile, stuff that needs to be shredded pile, bills pile, Mark’s mail pile, etc).

“I’m sorry that I didn’t think of that as housework,” he said. “I see that it takes a lot of time.”

I hugged him. “By the way, cooking takes a lot of time, too.”

After this discussion, it occurred to me that many spouses probably walk around with this simmering resentment about their partners who seemingly do so little around the house. Little do they know that their partners have the same resentment about them. Fascinating, right?

So maybe the first step in solving the housework debate centers on this difference in perception. Who does more? If you both think you do more, then one or both of you is in dire need of a reality check. But which of you needs the reality check?

So I’m curious. Who does more housework in your home? Think about that question and then ask your spouse the same question. Let me know if you and your spouse suffer from a similar difference of perception as I did with mine.

Note: My appearance on the Early Show was bumped to next week, so those of you who thought you missed it really did not. I believe it’s supposed to run on Tuesday, but I’ll post an update closer to the air date.

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What to do about a passive aggressive spouse

And how to break the cycle if you are that spouse

We all like to blame other people for being passive aggressive. I know I do. Me? Passive aggressive? Nah. That’s something other people do.

It’s like that.

Still, it’s my belief that we all practice this ineffective communication strategy from time to time.

Even I have done it. There. I copped to it.

Technically, you are behaving in a passive-aggressive manner whenever you agree to do something that you don’t really want to do—so you passively resist what you just agreed to do.

For instance, a passive aggressive spouse who has been hen pecked into washing the dishes will do a crappy job washing them.

A spouse who has agreed to trim the bushes in the yard will continually put off the job. “I said I would do it!” such a spouse will say, but saying it and doing it don’t ever seem to match up. Or such a spouse might continually blame his bad memory. “I’m sorry. I just keep forgetting to do it!” he might say.

A spouse will agree to have dinner with the in-laws only to sigh, roll her eyes and behave negatively the whole time.

A spouse will say she’s not mad that you didn’t call when you were late, but then she’ll dock you later for the misdeed when you want to get frisky.

You get the idea.

Procrastination, inefficiency, slipshod work, and negativity are all types of passive aggressiveness.

It’s important to be able to see this behavior in yourself before you can address it in your spouse. Few people – communication experts and therapists aside—are such good communicators that they never act passive aggressively at one time or another. If you can be honest with yourself and get at the reasons youdo it, it will be easier to confront such behavior in someone else.

How to Break Yourself Out of the Cycle

  • Remind yourself that passive aggressive behavior rarely, if ever, gets you what you want. If anything, it usually hurts you more than the person you are directing the behavior toward. If you don’t believe me, keep track of the end result whenever you act this way. Usually it just annoys people and drives them away from you.
  • Remind yourself that confrontation might seem scary, but it’s a lot easier than the subversive tactics you’ve been using. More important, it’s a lot more likely to get you what you want.
  • See yourself as a work in progress. Whenever you notice yourself feeling resentful, examine the emotion and think about what is going unsaid. Then be assertive and ask for what you need rather than pretend that nothing is wrong.

How to Break Someone Else Out of the Cycle

  • Don’t reward passive-aggressive behavior. You might be tempted to continually ask the person, “What’s wrong?” Whenever you do that, you are rewarding the ineffective communication strategy. Instead, simply say, “It seems like something might be wrong. If you want to talk about it, I’m here.” Then shut up and don’t bring it up again.
  • Don’t fix your spouse’s work. If your spouse did a poor job on purpose, live with it. Eat off the scummy dishes. Allow everyone in the house to walk around in wrinkled clothes. This won’t be easy, but it’s very important not to reward your spouse by doing the job yourself.
  • During a good moment (ie when you are not fighting and when you don’t think your spouse is already ticked off about something), mention that you’ve noticed a trend of your spouse agreeing to do certain things that he or she doesn’t seem to want to do. Explain that you would much rather get a firm “no” from your spouse than the resulting behavior. Ask your spouse, “Are you scared to confront me? I will love you no matter what. You know that, right?” Ask open-ended questions and try to truly understand what is driving your spouse to act this way.

Have you successfully addressed passive-aggressive behavior in yourself or someone else? Share your advice here so others can learn from your success.

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