Worried that inviting your partner to take the quiz will start a fight? Read this first.

Relationship conversations & housework fights

A common response to the Multi-Player Housework Preferences quiz is worry that it will start a fight. The last year has not been a great time for many relationships – between lockdowns, school closures, cabin fever and social isolation, we’re all feeling a bit frayed. And housework can be fertile ground for conflict. Many of the people we spoke to when we launched the latest quiz were worried that if they asked their partner to take part, it might be seen as provocation. That is, their partner would interpret it as an exercise in point-scoring and start a fight.

While housework disagreements might spark a fight in a relationship, the housework itself may not be the actual problem. This post looks at how to have the tough conversation and come out stronger.

Why Housework is emotional: It’s not just about making the bed

It’s rarely just about making the bed

When a friend of mine and her partner went shopping for a new bed, they had a disagreement. He wanted a super king. She felt that changing the sheets on a bigger bed would be a pain, and she’d be the one doing it. He told her that if they got the bigger bed, he would change the sheets from then on. On that basis, they agreed, and they got the new, bigger bed.

Once the new bed was at home, things didn’t go quite as she expected. He started adding new conditions – if she wanted him to make the bed, she should wash the sheets, fold them, and place them on the bed. She was frustrated, but did as he asked. Next, he told her that she needed to remind him to make the bed, because he wouldn’t remember otherwise. Frustrated again, she started reminding him. He then put the sheets on the bed but didn’t put the duvet inside the cover. As you might expect, this led to a series of fights about making the bed.

What was at the root of this fight?

This wasn’t just about making the bed. The underlying problem was about trust and respect. She believed that he would start making the bed, as they had agreed. He then changed the conditions of that agreement and required reminders and help – all creating more work for her.

The real issue at play was that she didn’t feel appreciated or that her time was respected. He expected her to facilitate his bed-making, and in doing so he was valuing his time more highly than hers. He was also reinforcing her role as the one responsible for remembering, reminding and delegating the housework (ie the mental load). All of these dynamics triggered deeper issues for them.

What is your housework fight really about?

Just like the case of the fight about making the bed, as Esther Perel has explained, often fights in relationships are not about what you think they are.

“What most people don’t realize is that you’re not actually fighting about money or commitment or who does the housework. What you’re really fighting about is feeling a lack of affection, respect, power…or some combination of all three.”

Esther perel

Housework fights are common and can tap into hurt or insecurity about something deeper. It’s worth pausing if you do feel worried about starting a fight, to ask yourself why you feel that way. Is the way you manage housework really the problem, or is it triggering something else – and if so, what?

Where to begin?

Before you start the quiz, it’s worth thinking first about the three dimensions Esther Perel identifies that are hidden under most fights:

  • Power and control
  • Care and closeness
  • Respect and recognition

If you take some time to consider why you’re feeling worried about your partner’s reaction or starting conflict, you may find that there are persistent issues that are framing your feelings. As Perel says:

“If our partner not looking up from their iPad when we get into bed with them triggers us, it’s not because they didn’t look up. It’s because it falls into a pattern we experience as neglectful. If our partner makes time every week to play tennis with their friend, but doesn’t show interest in planning a weekly date night, it may trigger our insecurity that they don’t actually want to be with us or that we’re not enough for them. In both cases these triggers act as a funnel to our senses of abandonment and failure. And when these triggers compound over time, it creates a lens through which we view every interaction.”

Esther Perel

Understanding the way our reactions tap into our experience helps explain why talking about what housework we like and dislike, could make us worry about starting a fight.

Are you really worried about feeling appreciated?

The actual housework itself can be a source a conflict – particularly if there is an imbalance at play. It may be that one person feels that they do too much already. Perhaps the other person doesn’t agree and gets defensive at the suggestion that they’re not doing enough. But this may not wholly be about how much you do, it may also be drawing on deeper anxieties about your sense of worth, security in the relationship, and whether you feel like what you do is really understood, respected, and valued by your partner.

When we interviewed people about how they handle housework in their relationship, the most consistent thing they identified they wanted from their partner was more appreciation for what they do.

Before approaching any topics to do with housework or your balance at home, take a moment to think about the things your partner does that you really appreciate. If you can start a conversation by recognising what you appreciate about their contribution, and telling them how you feel, you may be able to prevent conflict and instead have a constructive conversation that makes you both feel more appreciated.

Use the quiz to appreciate how much your partner does, and a starting point for finding more balance

What many of us may not realise is that much of the work we do is invisible to our partner. But the reverse also applies – a lot of the work our partner does could be invisible to us. The Household Balance Calculator is designed to give you a way to visualise these invisible differences, and the questions are designed to get you to stop and think about the things you and your partner do – as a way to appreciate their contribution, as well as your own.

The Housework Preferences quiz is different – it’s designed to help you and your partner find a simple and practical starting point to discuss how you could make things better for both of you. Getting them involved will help you both think more deliberately about how you share the work, and start to find ways to make adjustments, if you need them.

There is no right answer, only what’s right for you

When we aim for household balance, there’s no one right answer. It doesn’t have to be 50/50: the goal should be based on what works for you. Depending on how much paid work each of you do, you might aim to share the unpaid work equally, or you might prefer to share an equal number of total work hours – or one of you might enjoy certain household activities and be happy to take more on.          

Final thoughts before inviting your partner to the multi-player quiz

When addressing any topic that might spark a fight, think about where being upset stems from: care. If you’re worried, it’s because you care about your partner and making your life together work. If they’re likely to get upset about discussing housework, that upset comes from a place of care as well. And that’s something you can use to help.

“It’s hard to remember in the heat of the moment, but when someone is extremely angry or deeply upset, it’s usually because they care. That care can be better utilized.”

Esther Perel

If you would like some tips on how to navigate relationship and housework fights better, check out this video.

If you’re ready to start the Multi-player Housework Preferences quiz, you can start now. But if you are still worried how your partner might react to being invited to take part, share this post with them.

Ready to start creating equality in your home?

Knowledge is power – the first step to solving the problem is understanding it. Take the ThirdShift Quiz to start understanding what your work is worth.