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5 Ways to Deal With a Lazy Partner

Figure out what works, then build off that.

Key points

  • In relationships, one person is often more comfortable with decision-making.
  • The less comfortable partner can often over-rely on their mate to make decisions that have a shared impact.
  • One creative solution to help motivate your partner is to observe and build on patterns of what already works.
Adrian Swancar/Unsplash
Source: Adrian Swancar/Unsplash

In committed relationships, over time, people tend to fall into particular roles. These can create a division of labor that's not always even, which often results in one or both partners being unhappy with the roles they've fallen into.

Here are five psychologically-focused tips for addressing the problem if you think your partner is lazy and leaves too many shared tasks to you.

1. Empower your partner to make decisions.

Making decisions is one of the most cognitively-exhausting aspects of modern life.

In relationships, one person is often more comfortable with decision-making. The less comfortable partner can often over-rely on their mate to make decisions that have a shared impact. This problem compounds over time. When the less-confident person makes fewer decisions that will affect both people, they become even less confident deciding and doing it even less.

Observe the pattern that happens in your relationship. My spouse takes charge of some tasks in mine but always comes to me to ask, "What do you think about...?" because she's nervous about making the final decision without my input. I say, "The value to me in you doing this task isn't you making the perfect decision. It's me not having to be involved in it." Example: This happened recently when she looked at second-hand dressers on Facebook Marketplace. I didn't especially care what she purchased. I just wanted the task to be on her to-do list and not mine.

Other people aren't mind-readers, so if you don't care what decision is made (perhaps under certain parameters, like under $300), then be explicit about that, and remind often!

2. Give up your "shoulds" and assumptions about how the problem of your lazy partner will be solved.

We often have hidden assumptions about how problems in our lives will be solved. This principle applies to our personal problems and our relationship problems. For example, you might think your problem will be solved by convincing your partner they should recognize your current roles as unfair and feel inherently motivated to correct that unfairness. Or, your assumption might be that they should want to show their love for you by doing more to help you.

When you radically abandon your assumptions and "shoulds" about how a problem will be solved, it allows you to think much more creatively and broadly about potential solutions and workarounds. If there is a task neither of you wants to do, for example, perhaps you could consider hiring it out.

We can either live in a world of shoulds and ideals or one of reality and problem-solving.

3. Treat the problem as requiring creativity.

In committed relationships, understanding each other's specific strengths and weaknesses will allow you to find creative solutions. There aren't one-size-fits-all solutions to how people should manage their lives and relationships. Your best solutions to your relationship problems will be your quirkiest, most creative ones that wouldn't suit other couples and their relationships. (This post has a detailed example of a couple creatively solving a relationship problem by recognizing each other's strengths and weaknesses.)

4. Observe and build on patterns of what already works.

If I strip the sheets and pillowcases off the bed and put them in the washing machine, my spouse will wash them, hang them on the line, bring them inside when dry, and dump them on the sofa. If I insisted on my spouse stripping the bed, that would never happen. If I didn't pick the sheets up off the sofa and put them back on the bed, they'd still be sitting on the sofa at midnight.

When you find a cooperative system that works fairly well, experiment with whether elements from it would work for other tasks. Extrapolate generalizable principles to create personalized systems (I teach how to do this in Stress-Free Productivity). For example, the generalizable principle is that if I start a task, my spouse will pick it up and do some steps. Another generalizable principle is that I avoid parts of tasks that disrupt my focus, like listening for when the washing machine has finished. But my spouse is more willing to do the parts of tasks that involve waiting and monitoring.

You'll need to radically abandon your shoulds and assumptions for this approach to work and riff off what works in reality. You also need to get good at observing patterns and extracting principles and creating personalized systems from this.

5. Help your partner see specific tasks as an expression of their strengths and values.

People like doing tasks more when they see those acts as an expression of their strengths and values. For example, one of my strengths is sequencing steps in a large task, and it's easy for me to see the logical order they should go in. My partner's strengths include attention to detail and doing tasks very thoroughly.

When it comes to values, we both value homemade food, which means more dishes. So, we can try to see doing more dishes as an expression of valuing homemade food.

Don't push poop uphill by appealing to a value your partner doesn't have. For example, if they're clutter-blind and don't care about "visual serenity," that's not likely to be an appeal that works for getting them to put items away. Again, we're circling back to point #2 about giving up on shoulds. You can think your partner "should" care about clutter, but if they don't, they don't.

Occasionally, you may be able to find an alternative relevant value and appeal to that instead. For example, if they care about inefficiency, you could help them mentally link clearing clutter to reduce wasted time looking for items.

There aren't one-size-fits-all solutions to improving relationships or influencing others' behavior. However, there are general psychological principles you can use to discover your own creative solutions that work for you and your relationship.

Facebook image: B-D-S Piotr Marcinski/Shutterstock


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