Sharing the Emotional Load of Housework

by | Mar 29, 2019 | Marriage | 20 comments

Sharing the Mental Load of Housework

Many of you resonated with the post on Tuesday about playfulness and creating margins–specifically, the paragraphs on housework.

And a lot of your comments were around the same topic: the emotional (or mental) load of housework. It’s Rebecca (Sheila’s daughter) chiming in today! We’ve had some health issues this week (nothing serious, we’ll be back on our feet for next week) so Sheila (my mom) backed out of the podcast this week and my husband Connor and I recorded a mini-podcast where we discussed how we managed to shift the emotional load of housework off of my shoulders so that we both began to carry it. Think of it like an extended “millennial marriage” segment! Check it out: For those of you who don’t have time to listen, (it’s less than 20 minutes this week!) here is a summary:

1. We both realized that Connor was just as capable as I was when it came to cleaning.

We used to have a chores list that broke down room by room what needed to get done. So instead of “clean the bathroom,” it was a list of the 17 tasks that go into cleaning the bathroom. I didn’t need the list, but Connor sometimes forgot things if they weren’t specifically asked. So we tried out the list. Eventually it got really really frustrating to have to remind him of little things because I realized: Connor is just as capable as I am. I just had more training.  I may have started off with more knowledge, but there was nothing inherently superior about me that made me better suited for housework. He just had to be trained, like I was trained! So after using the list for a bit, I started just having to ask “Can you clean the bathroom” and he knew exactly what to do.

2. We had to change our mindset to understand that housework was something we did for US

Before, when Connor did the dishes or swept he felt like he was doing me a favour. I felt guilty asking him to do too much, and I felt guilty when I got mad at him for not seeing things that I saw. We eventually realized that housework wasn’t just one spouse’s responsibility–when I asked him to do the dishes, it wasn’t for me. It was for our family. The dishes simply have to get done, whether he was married or single. So there was no reason for it to be “MY” job simply because I was the wife. This single shift made the biggest difference–and it was a mindset shift both of us had to have.

3. I stopped hovering and gave Connor more autonomy around the house.

I used to literally hover over Connor’s shoulder and watch him as he did dishes. Literally breathing down his neck. It’s pretty hard to take ownership of the job you’re doing if you aren’t given any independence. Since I knew that Connor was just as capable as I was and he also agreed that cleaning was a family issue, not a Rebecca issue, I had to learn to trust him and give him space in this area. So when we have a friend coming over, I can just say, “Time to clean up” and he says, “Which rooms do you want?” not, “What do you want me to do?” because he’s also taking ownership of wanting to have a clean home to invite his friends into. Then, when he’s done cleaning, I don’t inspect it. Because I’m not his manager–we’re partners. And I can trust my partner, because if it’s not up to good standards he’s the one who did it wrong, not me for not managing him better. These simple mindset shifts have helped not only take some of the stress off of my shoulders, but also have given Connor a chance to show me how much he loves me. I’m an acts of service kind of person, so coming home to the dishes being done is a huge deal. But it wasn’t until we figured out these three things together that it all “clicked.” So that’s what we did! What about you? What did you do? Let us know in the comments! And do listen in to the podcast–it’s a bit of a different one this week since it’s just Connor and Rebecca and not Sheila, but it’s a fun one. And it’s short!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Bethany

    I’m excited to listen to this! Mental load is such a big deal and I’m so happy you’re talking about it!!

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I hope you enjoy it!! This really has been one of the biggest breakthroughs of our marriage, and both of us are much happier for it 🙂

  2. neverendingchores

    This was interesting. Specially the part to why one helps with chores. Me helping at home happened because of several reasons but hearing this I wonder if all my motives were or are right.

    Right now I work but also do 98% of all chores at home. My wife studies. Some days she has to travel to the city where she studies which is a 1,5 hour commute. Some days she can study from home. We have a babysitter right now but I take one of our daughters to kindergarden 3 days a week.

    I had decided before marriage that I wasnt going to be like my dad who let my mother do almost everything. But I wasnt good at doing chores. I got better after reading things that said that “sex doesnt start in the bedroom but in the kitchen”. So I had a bad motive to start doing chores. I wanted more sex.

    But the more I read about being a good husband and about loving my wife as Christ loves the church I started to do it just because I wanted to show my wife love.

    So in the end I took over all chores. Most days I wake up early to either make breakfast for my wife before she leaves for her studies, then I do the dishes if there are some over since yesterday(because I usually do them in the evening), then I hurry to swipe all the floors in our home, I do the bathroom, the kids rooms and etc. I do this even when my wife is home so she doesnt have to do it when she wakes up. If the babysitter comes I ask her to maybe make breakfast to the kids. Then I go to work. I work as a teacher. When I come home I start with the laundry. Feed the kids if its necessary. PLay a little but continue cleaning. It takes time for the kids to go to bed. My wife sleeps with them and she doesnt really care when they go to bed. But we put them to bed and my wife falls asleep too. Then I continue with the chores I didnt finish during the day including cooking food for the next days. Some days I go to sleep 1 or 2 am. and get up at 6 am. to start over.

    And I usually have the mentality that I am doing this for my wife. Hoping that it will make me more attractive. Hopefully make me more of a keeper( my biggest fear is that she will leave me). But I guess thats a wrong motive. I just want to be a good husband. Sometimes I get tired. I dont do anything “fun” anymore so I can serve my wife and kids. We rarely have dates(my wife doesnt have time) so my life persist of doing chores. I often feel that the only value I have as a husband is that I am very good at doing chores. If I am not good at doing that, what am I good for? I get stressed just sitting on the couch if I havent been doing chores. I only let myself rest if I can prove to myself that I have done enough chores or at least more than my wife(this got way more deeper than I thought) . I guess what I wanted to say was that I maybe need to change my perspective and reason to why I am doing almost all the chores and this podcast helped me think about that.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I’m so glad this helped you. (Also great on you for supporting your wife while she’s in this busy time.) I just want to encourage you and say that you don’t need to PROVE your worth in your marriage–I understand the fear of having someone leave you, but learning to trust and believe when they say, “I love you and I will be with you forever” is SUCH a freeing thing! Your value isn’t based on what you bring or what you do, your value is in your identity in Christ. And your wife loves YOU–not just the fact that the dishes get done 🙂

      Thank you so much for commenting your journey–I hope it helps others, too!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, dear. I am so sorry. That sounds like you honestly must be exhausted, and I think in the long run this isn’t a healthy situation.

      There are certainly seasons of life where people are busier (when you’re studying is definitely one of them). However, I’ve always operated by the guideline that we should each be doing roughly the same amount of work, so that we each have leisure. Now, that work isn’t just chores–it includes paid work, garden work, car repairs, errands, etc. But we each should be looking after the home.

      If you’re doing absolutely everything, plus working full time, that’s not a healthy situation. It’s not healthy for your kids, either. And I am concerned about your wife sleeping with the kids and not with you. Can you sit down with her and say, “I want us to feel like a team, but I don’t feel that right now. Can we talk about it?”

      And it may be worth going for some counseling, too, just to talk this out, because it does sound like you’re carrying a lot, and you have a lot of fears, and that’s a heavy burden to have.

      • endlesscleaner

        I had felt the exhaustion a little and then I listened to the podcast and trying to write my comment everything came out. Didn’t know I felt this way.

        I just don’t know how to deal with this the right way. I guess counseling would be good because I get anxious thinking about sitting down. The fear of not being good enough haunts me then.

        I think my wife has gotten so used to me doing everything that I don’t know what will happen. She just leaves things and if I don’t do it there is a chance that she won’t do it because she falls asleep with the kids and then nothing happens. But maybe I will have to use the techniques that are mentioned in the podcast.

        Yeah the sleeping thing sucks at times. It’s hard to stay close emotionally when we don’t have any time and I sometimes feel the resentment growing. But I have to find a way to make my voice heard, I struggle with that too. I just keep my mouth shut and hold it inside.

        Thanks for your comment.

  3. Laura

    Wow. This sounds awesome. But also, honestly, impossible to have that level of communication. And makes me realize how dysfunctional my own marriage is.

  4. Kate

    I naturally keep a clean house because i’m a minimalist by nature, also it helps that i grew up in a developing country where we don’t have a lot of STUFF. As a result i carried that naturally with me when i immigrated to the USA. The less stuff you have the less stuff you have to clean. It’s wonderful! The same rule will apply when i get married and start a family. “A cluttered house is a cluttered mind.” Most mothers i see complaining about cleaning can make their life easier if they just got rid of all the unnecessary material possessions clogging up their homes.

    I see this in my married girlfriends houses. As soon as i step in i’m overwhelmed by the amount of STUFF and junk strewn ALL over the place. No wonder they find my apartment so peaceful and prefer to hang out at my place rather than the place they chose to make home. My apartment looks like one of those minimalist apartment videos you see on YouTube. I designed it using Pinterest, and found all the items i needed at discount stores and garage sales. To make cleaning enjoyable here are my two tips: 1). Own less stuff and 2). Get the kids to help out withe chores, if you have kids.

    Great podcast!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Love both your two pieces of advice, Kate! ABsolutely. I try to purge a lot, but we still have too much stuff. But I’m always getting better.

  5. Phil

    Hi Becca and Conner. I have personally been working on keeping up my end of the hosue work for quite sometime. Years ago Grace told me she was out with the ladies and they were talking about what there husbands did around the house. The one lady responded. He mows the lawn. The other ladies were like that’s it? The first lady said: well if he is home when it snows he shovels the snow. I heard that message loud and clear. So since then I have really tried to pick up my end of the bargin. My wife works 20-24 hours per week from home. And I am full time. So she has about 16 hours a week to do what she wants. Our kids go to piblic school. The main purpose of our arrangement is to be able to care for our children before and after school and not have child care doing it for us. Plus ofcourse childcare bills. So my wife has the bulk of the lod around the house I would say most times it is 35 me 65 her. Which sounds bad but I do as much as I can like helping with dinner and always clean up afterwards and I am the dish guy. Especially pots and pans. My weakness is laundry but I will fold once in a while and we all put our own clothes away. Vacuming and cleaning are usually a joint effort I do most of the outdoor work but she pitches in too. I am more famous for getting the kids involved more than my wife. She thinks its easier to do it herself than to get a kid to do it. Me, Im a slave driver I guess. I usually set it up like this: Get xyz done and then you can play until X time then we will do xyz and then you are free for the day. I like what Conner was talking about doing the chores for ALL. I have held the montra of making the bed for Grace or doing the dishes for Grace. Cuz honestely the bed could stay messed up and wouldnt bother me. The dog loves it that way too! LOL. So that thinking will be helpful. One other thing that is maybe off topic a litte but is important is that my wife likes to add in to the day and or take away margin if you will. Sometimes she does it and doesnt tell me other times I agree to it. What I mean is she will add in a play date or something that adds running my kids to an event that we didnt plan and now all the sudden this is what we are doing. What I do with that is this: if she communicates it with me and I agree then how can I help out. If she springs it on me with no prior communication then I’m out and she is on her own. Anyway, the other day I may have come across snippy and well..:I suppose there is resentment laying there. I introduced margin (not realy knowing what term that was) but overall reducing outside activities and increasing family time and one on one time with my wife. I am all about playing…and always look forward to gettin on with it after the work is done. Have a great weekend and hope y’all fee better.

  6. Ngina Otiende

    This is sooo good Rebecca! Our biggest fights used to be around chores. Like you I am an acts of service girl and being served is huge! My husband hated chores and it didn’t help that I controlled and sulked and demanded.

    Took YEARS to finally find a working/happy medium. One of the things that works for us is expressing gratitude for what we contribute individually (while keeping in mind your #2!)

  7. EM

    Loved this podcast! As the stay-at-home mom, I definitely carry the mental load of housework, but I don’t mind it. I really do treat my role as household manager like a job, so I try to enjoy it. My husband is a CEO so he works long hours and his job is pretty stressful, so I try to keep our home a relaxing place so we can enjoy our time together when he is here.

    That being said, there are times when I am working (after taking care of the house and 4 kids all day) and he is just watching TV and that’s when I can start to get resentful. I have tightened up my boundaries lately and it is helping. He has always left laundry on the floor, and I have always asked him to pick it up, but if he didn’t do it I would just clean up after him. Now I leave it there until he deals with it, which may be a few days but he does it. I still wish he would take it straight to the hamper but at least I’m not taking responsibility for his messiness anymore. And as I’m finding my voice, I am trying to ask him to get up and help me finish the dishes instead of just doing it myself and thinking terrible thoughts about him lol. Overall he is a helpful guy – he will take all 4 kids for the weekend so I can get a break, and sometimes he stays up late and cleans the whole house without me asking. It’s just something about that after dinner hour that can get really lonely if we don’t do it together. Communication is definitely key!

    As the kids have gotten older, (my oldest is 11), they are finally starting to take responsibility for more and that has helped a ton! It’s so great to see all of the training FINALLY paying off. I’m proud of myself for training my boys to do their fair share of housework, so hopefully they will be great partners when they get married! My husband grew up on a farm so he wasn’t expected to lift a finger in the house. The boys only did outside chores. Sigh.

    • EM

      I also forgot to add that my husband carries the mental load of our finances…we make the decisions together, but ultimately being able to put our kids through college someday, help my mom who is widowed, having a nice house to live in, is all on his shoulders and I definitely don’t take that for granted! So when both spouses are working it’s a different story, but for us I am happy to take my mental load since he has his own.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Sounds like you’re doing awesome, EM! I was a stay-at-home mom, too, and I did most of the housework willingly, since Keith worked such crazy hours (usually not by choice). But he always played with the kids a ton when he was home, and he did give me time to myself, which was so important. But the big thing was that I taught the girls to clean up, too!

  8. Trisha Moller

    Hi Rebecca! We did this too years ago and it helped us to “not think”, esp when babies came. Now that boys are older (8&10), we ALL CLEAN since we are all part of this family. We will clean a room together and check off the list as each task gets done. (Put printout list in a clear plastic sleeve so easy to wipe after using erasable markers.) This makes it fun AND so much faster! We can clean a room in 10min and be done to having fun again.
    ALSO I made a rotational weekly schedule of room cleaning (so each room, besides bathroom, is only cleaned once a month). This breakdown also made life easier. This system worked for us and hope it helps others!

  9. Becky

    I feel like my husband and I have had to work through this in reverse– since we married later, I lived at home to save money prior to that, and he spent several years beforehand living solo, he’s actually much better at keeping up on chores than I am! (To add to Kate’s comment, he’s also naturally more of a minimalist than I am, though I’m trying to get on board. As long as he doesn’t mess with my books or sewing supplies. 🙂 What’s ended up working for us is he does the bulk of our laundry and I do the bulk of the food prep, since he gets more annoyed by laundry piles and I enjoy cooking more. He’s good at picking the slack in situations like when pregnancy leaves me unable to stomach cleaning the bathroom (where we are now), and I’ve gotten better about making sure to help our young kids pick up the bulk of their toys before he gets home from work so he’s not irritated by a messy house as soon as he gets home. I think a big part of it is learning what irritates the other most when it’s left undone, and prioritizing those chores.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Seriously SUCH an important point. Connor and I have “zones” that are non-negotiable and that made it a lot easier for him to notice when it’s messy because only a few zones require heightened attention. Everything else is done on a schedule. 🙂

  10. Anonymous

    My love language is acts of service and I tend to be OCD. Because my wife has developed health issues, like chronic fatigue, over the years, I tend to do the majority of the chores. Depending on the circumstances, every couple, as a team, needs to work out the dividing of the chores.

  11. Kari

    This is great if you can get your spouse to think the same way. I am a stay at home homeschooling mom and my husband works full time. Most of our biggest arguments have been about chores, specifically because I do them all and when he helps it’s because I ask. Which he is always willing to do but I don’t enjoy having to ask all the time. On top of that, when he does a chore, he almost always does it only halfway which drives me crazy. He’ll “do the dishes” but all the pots and pans are still in the sink and crumbs are on the table. After 10 years of marriage and 2 kids I have mostly resigned myself to being the one who has to take care of the house. I just can’t get him to change his mindset or be more conscientious about housework. In his mind, his job is to go to work, and he does work hard, and to take care of the yard. My job is to take care of the house and the kids during the day. I will say he is very good about splitting childcare with me when he is home and he takes care of bath and bedtime every night. But then he sits on the couch after that while I busy myself working. He does not at all understand the mental load of being the one taking care of house and kids and meals and social events and homeschool and everything. He’s a loving husband but this is the most difficult thing about our marriage.

    • Meagan

      YES this is spot on! I’m a SAHM of three little people, I do all the housework, all the finances, all the schooling, pet care, doctor’s appointments, and I’m responsible for traffic control of the calendar.

      In the past I made a list of the big tasks I had assumed (because husband just never stepped up), showed it to him, and asked if there was any area he thought he could help with. Well, aside from the dismissive remark about “That doesn’t really seem like a lot”, the only thing he would agree to on a regular basis was dinner dishes one night a week. Even that job has to be reminded over and over to the point where I feel like it’s still my responsibility. I don’t know how to convey the “mental load” that these things require. Seems like the only room he has in his brain is for his own business (he’s self employed).


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