How To Talk About Housework Standards Without Starting A Fight

Two people talking

The Standards Challenge (Part Three)

Talking about standards for housework can be a significant source of conflict at home. But how do you talk about it without starting a fight? The first post in this three part series examines why standards might differ between household members. If you missed Part One, read The Standards Challenge: Are they Half-Assing Housework To Get Out Of It? (Part One) about why standards might differ. Part Two covers The Standards Challenge: Agreeing the Housework ‘Definition of Done’ (Part Two). In this post, we’ll look at how to approach talking about standards for housework to keep discussions more collaborative and less combative.

Where to start talking about housework standards

Try to focus on high level requirements, and tasks that are a source of friction now. Don’t open by criticising the way things are currently. It can be good to start by expressing a solution mindset that prioritises the relationship. For example, you could open with something like, “I want us to be able to communicate openly and work together to make sure we all get what we need.” Then introduce what you’d like to talk about, and ask if they’d be open to trying a new approach.

Aim to start by having a conflict-free discussion and try for gradual improvement. If things get tense, try asking questions to understand the other person’s views. How often does a task need to be done? Do we need to change the sheets on the beds weekly? Or is once a month ok? If one of you prefers weekly and the other monthly, why not try fortnightly as a compromise? It’s perfectly reasonable to test an approach for a month or two and then discuss again once you’ve tried it.

Set a date for when you’ll review the new arrangements so the next discussion is planned. Put it in diaries so others are aware that it’s coming. Experiment, and try to make sure both of you are willing to be flexible about what’s necessary. One person shouldn’t always have to be making all the concessions. And just because you’re starting the conversation, that shouldn’t mean you get your way necessarily.

Approaching the Conversation

When you’re ready to talk about different standards for housework, here are some tactics to help you prepare, focus on finding a solution, and prevent getting drawn into conflict.

  • Be Collaborative: One of the hardest parts of broaching a topic like this can be how to start. A tone of collaboration can be a good way to start.
  • Be Fair: It’s always best to avoid accusations. If you think your partner or household member is not being fair, try to give them the benefit of the doubt and ask ‘why’ instead of assuming. You might be surprised why they think what they do.
  • Know What You Want: Think about what specifically you want to get out of the discussion, and the specific friction points you want to address. It might be that you don’t want to have to remind your partner to do the grocery shopping, because they’re not owning the whole task. Or that you would like them to do one load of laundry per week to share some of the workload, and you’re flexible on when as long as it’s the same day each week. It’s always easier to find a solution and keep it simple if you know what you want to get out of the discussion.
  • Think about impact: If you have a problem with something but don’t know how to explain why it’s a problem, try thinking about impact. Does the current approach impact someone else adversely? Having to remind people to do things they’re responsible for impacts the person doing the reminding because it creates work. Not ordering groceries on time might mean the kids run out of healthy breakfast options. Not doing laundry until you run out of clean underwear might mean the kids run out of clean clothes.

Be willing to compromise, within reason

It’s helpful to know what you want going into a discussion. But don’t assume you need to get your way for the conversation to be successful. If you like doing a weekly grocery shop because you want to stick to a budget, and your partner wants to shop everyday, you’ll want to be open to middle ground options.

If your partner suggests three shops a week, with a fixed budget – and they’re happy to do them, that’s reasonable. It satisfies your budget concern, and reduces the daily trips. Even though it’s more time than you’d like, it uses their time, not yours. It’s a good opportunity to suggest you trial it and review after a few weeks to see if it improves things.

Further Reading

If you’re still struggling with how to have a conversation with a member of your household about different standards for housework, there are some excellent books on this topic. I personally found Fair Play by Eve Rodsky great for explaining the differences between household types that can impact these conversations. It also proposes a system for how to distribute and manage household work in a fairer way. Rodsky gives lots of accounts of different household and personality types from her research, which can be helpful to understanding the different challenges households face.

If you want to understand more about your household work, you can try the ThirdShift app. It helps you measure, manage and value the work in your household. Start by completing the ThirdShift Quiz that gives you an overview of your current workload. More complete data helps you understand who is doing what, and find a fairer balance. It’s completely free, and you can then choose whether to signup for a more comprehensive solution. Start now.

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