The Art of Getting Hubby to Do Half the Work

Diplomatic ways to share household work and still preserve domestic tranquility.

Posted Nov 30, 2011

Are you a woman who is trying to get the man in your life to help more at home?  Forget it.  Getting him to help you with housework implies that the work belongs to you to begin with.  How to communicate with your spouse in a way that will lead to a better arrangement can prove challenging.

Change the paradigm to determining division of labor in your shared business of running a family.  The business includes household management and child care.  With that perspective you can decide together who does what at home so that the tasks on his plate and on yours will be well-matched for the realities of both of your lives.

What not to do

When women ask their spouse, "Could you help me with the laundry please?" they are in a position of beggar, and their husband may or may not decide to be generous in response.  

When women skip the asking and demand help, bad feelings begin accruing. Who does what at home becomes a sensitive topic.

Negative energies accumulate even more quickly if requests and demands give way to complaints.  "You don't do your fair share!" may induce guilt but it's unlike to build a positive attitude toward the work a husband then reluctantly agrees to perform.  

What's an alternative strategy?  

Sit down together and talk through as a team how you would like to manage your home front.  Clarify the full list of work that needs doing to run your home and care you're your family.  Then determine together who will be in charge of what by each volunteering for the tasks you prefer doing.

After the volunteering phase of the discussion, look at what tasks remain.  Figure out how to divvy those up or to dole them out to others. 

Be sure that throughout all these discussions that your communication habits stay cooperative. Getting adversarial, as if you are opponents instead of teammates, will undermine the whole project.

 

Who will be in charge of what?

Traditional role assignments would have the husband as CFO, managing the finances, and wife as CEO, overseeing all aspects of home management and child care.  Many couples find these traditional management roles a handy starting point.  

These starter management roles can be modified if by temperament or preferences your household corporation would run more smoothly with a different delegation of management responsibilities.  For instance, men increasingly seem to be taking on the role of CNO, chief nutritional officer in charge of meal planning, shopping, and cooking.

Who will be the CCCO, the chief child care officer?  More often than not Mom wants to hold onto that role, but even that designation is worth discussing.   Some parents for instance divvy up the responsibilities for kids by time period, say with Mom in charge of kids up until dinnertime, and dad in charge for evenings and bedtimes.  

Be sure also that you have a CSO, that is, a chief social organizer.  With one person in charge of inviting dinner guests, planning evenings out, and getting together with friends, the odds go up that you'll enjoy an active social life with strong community connections.

Management is a separate issue from workers.  

Management is who decides on overall strategies and where the buck stops.  Managers need to be open to input, for instance on how to handle kids' challenging behaviors, or on what foods to eat for dinner.  At the same time, they have final responsibility for making the decisions.

Workers by contrast have specific tasks that they are responsible for accomplishing.  If Dad, for instance, is overall the CNO in charge of food, Mom may still take on the responsibility for weekend meals.  She can decide what to cook, what to order in, and when to take the family out for supper on the weekends if those tasks are clearly on her plate for Saturdays and Sundays.  

Or, with regard to childcare, Mom maybe be the overall CCCO, but dad may be in charge of specific tasks like handling morning wake-ups, bedtimes, making and driving kids to doctor/dentist appointments, helping with homework, or coaching sports teams.  

Someone needs to be CEO in charge of house upkeep.  The traditional division of management for houses is that Mom is CEO indoors, and Dad is responsible for outdoor upkeep like lawn care and gardens, but these roles can certainly be designated in other ways.  Again, with regard to labor, that is to the specific jobs that needs doing under the overall management of one or the other of you, these work assignments then need to be allocated out, with landing on the plate of each of you. 

As to who takes on what specific worker tasks with regard to house upkeep, division of labor tends to flow best when it is designated on the basis of who chooses which tasks. When couples allocate work on the basis of who signs up for which, partners are often surprised to discover that dad, for instance, is fine with vacuuming, which mom does not like doing, or that bathroom cleanups are ok with mom even though dad finds them anathama. 

Clarity about who has taken on which tasks is helpful.  Then if after-dinner clean-up, for instance, is on dad's plate, Mom can decide to help from time to time, but dad has ultimate responsibility for accomplishing that specific chunk of work.  Similarly, if mom is in charge of house decorating, Dad can certainly add ideas for artwork, colors to paint the walls, and furniture arrangements.

Some jobs are great to do together, especially with music on to keep the tone upbeat.  Folding laundry can be a time for couples to hang out and talk as they fold.  After-dinner kitchen cleanup is another time that can work well as a couple activity, or alternatively as a full-family hangout together time.

In these times of economic stress and unemployment, keep in mind that there's a huge labor pool outside of your family.  

Out-sourcing often proves to be a useful option for businesses, including for the business of running a household.  If you really don't like raking leaves, hire a teenage neighbor or a lawn service.  If laundry gets overwhelming, put an ad on CraigsList to find someone who would hugely appreciate the opportunity to earn extra money doing the tasks that feel like overload in your family.

In sum

A well-functioning household with clear and fair division of labor has highest odds of being a happy household.  Organize together as the co-owners of this business, and enjoy the benefits!

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Susan Heitler, PhD, a Denver Clinical psychologist, is author of multiple publications including From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two.  A graduate of Harvard and NYU, Dr. Heitler's most recent project is an interactive marriage skills website, PowerOfTwoMarriage.com, that teaches the skills for talking over tough issues without fighting.