As a stay at home mom, I felt like my only job was to keep the house immaculate & tend to the kids. It was the least I could do for the husband who worked all day to provide. Yet, it was something I failed at all of the time. I would spend hours organizing a closet, tidying up one space or another, all while trying to take care of my kids. In the days when the babies would take several naps in the course of the day, it was easier. When they became mobile it was trying to brush your teeth with oreo cookies.
And despite my best efforts, it seemed like my husband was never happy. This created a spirit of resentment in my heart, because I felt like I couldn’t ever do enough to please him. He would complain about simple things while totally disregarding all the work that I had accomplished. It was absolutely infuriating to me.
One day, I was trying to figure out a more effective cleaning plan for the house. I had written down a list of every task in the house, categorizing them into daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal chores. For whatever reason, that day, I decided to ask my husband for his input. I wanted to know what was most important to him in regards to the general state of the house.
I was shocked to find out that I had been wasting time working on “projects” that meant absolutely nothing to him, and I was skipping over the things that mattered most. It wasn’t even an issue of “cleaning” either. I was angry with my husband all this time for disregarding my work. The truth was, we simply didn’t have clear communication about the subject. I assumed what a clean house would look like, and he had his own assumptions.
For example, something that many of us mothers will do, I would use the foyer area as a staging zone. I would keep my purse, the diaper bag, stroller, etc by the front door. It was where I needed it, and it wasn’t strewn about. As I began to volunteer at church for various things, I would often stage by the front door the things I would need to bring with me. Neat and tidy, but yet all in the foyer area so that I would have everything ready to go.
To my husband, this was cluttered. When coming home from a long day at work, the last thing he wanted to do was to maneuver around my staging area.
That makes total sense. Yet, he had never expressed that to me. The words he chose were ones that made me feel as if I wasn’t doing a good job cleaning. Simple word choice made a huge difference. At the same time, we had been married for many years… two children born… before I would even ask him about it.
He didn’t care if I vacuumed daily. He liked the counter clear, so he could put his stuff away. I was spending time organizing closets, and he would have preferred something entirely different.
Communication in marriage is HUGE and it shouldn’t be just over the big things. I believe most of our biggest squabbles come from poor communication.
The second thing I assumed was that once I knew this about his preferences, that they wouldn’t change. Many years passed by of my doing the same things, we moved into our current home. It never really dawned on me that a new home might result in a change in his preferences. It never dawned on me that as his job would change, that it would influence his perspective on what made his home comfortable.
Over time, I noticed he was complaining again, but that I had been keeping up on the things that mattered to him. That would start breeding a familiar resentment. This time I caught it, and we were able to communicate sooner. It was through our conversations that I realized that his needs or priorities had changed. What he really would have appreciated for that relaxed at home feeling had changed.
The foyer was no longer an issue for him. Perhaps, because it is now a habit for the whole family… it’s never a mess or crowded. It could also be that where he retreats as soon as he comes home from work has changed. Before, he would put his stuff in the closet by the front door. In our new home, he took it all the way to the bedroom. Simple things like keeping the bedroom chair clear, so that he could have a place to sit and take his boots off … that was a blessing to him. After working all day in environments he wasn’t always thrilled about, something as simple as having fresh clean towels and a clean pair of socks to change into were
One of the things I have always encouraged new wives to do, is to ask their husband what their expectations are of her (and vice versa). In fact, it is better to do this BEFORE you get married. Seventeen years later, I know that this is not a one time deal but an ongoing process. I recommended revisiting it every time there is a major shift in the family (new child, quitting job to stay home, moving to a new house, etc). If those things are staying pretty much status quo, make a point then to revisit the topic every 3-5 years. Don’t assume things won’t change for him, or for you.
These Three Things
Begin by writing down everything that is a chore or task that must get done, starting with your daily duties. Sit down with each other, and put a star next to the three things that are the MOST IMPORTANT (chores/tasks) to each of you. These are the three big deal items that you like to have done daily/regularly that make you feel relaxed and comfortable in your home. You now have a daily task list of just six things that are your MUST do items for the day, or at least on a regular basis.
Go through this list and talk about each item, do you LOVE this chore… or do you HATE it. What about your spouse? For example, my husband finds sweeping cathartic. I actually like cleaning off and wiping down tables. I hate sweeping and mopping, because as a mom… I know that it is going to be dirty with in seconds of the kids coming home.
This simple task will help you identify what is important to each other. These six things need to become the priority in your daily to-do list, at the same time you are also identifying WHO will complete the task. If you hate it, but your husband loves it… then let him do it! And if you love doing it (or even don’t mind)… then take that one for yourself.
Both hate it? Take turns. Both love it? Do it together.
After you have established your daily must do list, go through the rest of your list of chores/tasks. Skip choosing priorities, and instead identify your love or hate for the chore. Put a heart next to what you love, and an X next to the chores you just hate doing. If you don’t care, leave it blank.
Then begin to evenly distribute those chores between the two of you. If you are both working, this is equitable. If one of you is staying home with kids, the load should accommodate for their schedule. We can’t expect our spouse to accomplish a task that can only be done during their working hours. The list may not be evenly split in the end, but it will still be a fair list.
The great news about this process? As you have kids, you can renegotiate the distribution as they reach milestone ages where chores become age appropriate.
It is a great process to start the communication between spouses about expectations, eliminating assumptions. When I know what is important to my spouse, that becomes my priority. The rest can wait.
Some other things to consider, outside of household chores include:
- Repair/ Maintenance Appointments for the Car (If you hate dealing with the mechanics, sales people, etc. this could be a great one to hand off to your spouse.)
- Attendance to Family Events (You could find that Easter is more important to his family, and Christmas is more important to yours. This info eliminates trying to fit everyone in on a single day.)
- Planning Vacations (Perhaps you are limited to one vacation per year, list your three bucket list destinations, and your spouse does the same. Alternate year to year on the destination from that list.)
- Major Purchases/Decisions (When buying a home, selecting a school, etc. you can each list the three things that are most important to you. Use that list as your buying guide or litmus for making the decision against.)
These are just a few other ways the “Three Things” process can help you communicate better with your spouse. Clear communication of clear expectations puts everyone on the same page, dissolves assumptions, and sets any couple up for success.