Relationship Q&A: My Husband Doesn't Help at Home

Expert answers to your relationship questions.
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Q. I've been married 10 years and have three boys -- 14, 10, and 2. My husband and I always said that our marriage would be a partnership, but the reality is anything but. He thinks he does most of the work around the house and with the kids. From my point of view, I might as well be a single parent for the help I get. I work full-time as an office manager, and then come home to my second full-time job. My husband thinks he deserves a medal if he empties the dishwasher. I know his hours are erratic -- he's a computer consultant with private clients. But how can he possibly think that he's pulling his weight? We've been bickering about this for a long time with no resolution in sight. What do you suggest?

Nanette Berman Cohen, MSW, an individual and couples therapist in Merrick, New York, answers:

A: It sounds like each of your perceptions of how much you do is skewed by the fact that you both feel overwhelmed and unappreciated. You're clearly in a stiff competition that each of you is trying to win. The trouble is, when you focus on winning, you're not putting resolution -- or your relationship -- first. Before you can find a way out of this continual conflict, you have to call a time out. This won't be easy, considering the simmering tension and resentment you're both feeling, but I do have two suggestions to get you going: First, figure out when the two of you can spend some time together. What do you enjoy doing together? Getting dressed up and going out to dinner? Walking along the beach and having a picnic? Going for a bike ride? I know you're probably thinking, "Why would I want to go on a picnic when I can't stand being in the same room with him?" Well, if you start re-energizing the fun part of your relationship, it will help you both remember that there is a reason you have been together for 10 years. The key is to be mindful of the moments in which you do connect. It will also make talking about your feelings much easier.

Second, each of you should make a list of what your partner does around the house. This is not a list to hold up to each other and say, "See how much I do?" Rather, think of it as an appreciation list. When we're stressed out and exhausted, it can be hard to see the world through your partner's eyes. Read what you've noted out loud and thank each other for making the effort to keep the family running smoothly.

Once the immediate tension has eased, and you're both ready to discuss the tough issues, start on a soft note. Without being negative or judgmental (remember those appreciation lists!) begin a conversation with something positive. You might say: "It's important for me to know what you're feeling, so we can find a solution that works for both of us." This shows that the relationship is your priority, and you're trying to be sensitive to his point of view. Mention the tasks you find most difficult to complete and ask if your husband can find a way to take some of them off your list. Then, suggest ways you can help with his list. By negotiating, juggling, and compromising, you should be able to find a way to even the load you both feel.


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