Skip to main content

Do you argue in your relationship because of chores?

This blog is a relationship workshop to help you avoid conflict when it comes to shared work, also known as chores.

  • We’ll identify 5 conversations you can have to create clarity between you and your partner when it comes to chores.
  • I’ll give you some sample scripts you can use.
  • And I’ll give you the two words that help prevent conflict.

Note: This is a transcript of my podcast. If you’d prefer to listen, click here.

Where do chores fit in your relationship?

When David and I got married I asked him, “What makes you feel like a family?” The answer was easy for him: vacations. But for me I feel like a family when everyone is gathered around a singular task and we are working together for a common goal.

I feel like a family when everyone’s sharing a chore like chopping veggies for dinner, or taking 15 minutes together to do a household spiff. If there is a snack time, or bubblegum involved, even better.

Do you see chores as a place to bond, or do you see them as a task to complete and quickly move on? You might answer this question differently depending on the chore in question.

There are several factors that will cause you and your partner to argue over chores. Let’s take them one by one.


#1 Relationship & chores: Don’t be the dope who doesn’t see the work

The first reason you and your partner might argue over chores is a simple reality check. If your partner has never done a particular chore, the time and effort that chore requires are invisible. Consequently, your partner never notices.

What tasks are you oblivious about?

I had a client who cleaned out the fridge, wiping every surface and cleaning up all the condiment bottles. It took him a long time and said to his wife, “Check it out! The fridge looks new again!” He was so proud because they bought that fridge 7 years before and he thought he’d just done the once-in-seven year clean.

Truth be told, his wife had started a new, more demanding job about six months prior, and, while she was still maintaining some of her chores, cleaning the fridge hadn’t made it onto her list. I think she would have been grateful for the clean fridge had it not been for her husband erasing her work for the past six and a half years.

“That’s great,” she said, “I’ve been doing that job monthly since we bought the fridge,” she spit at her husband.

Don’t be embarrassed later

It’s embarrassing to realize there are tasks you’ve been benefitting from for years, and you never once knew your partner was taking care of that behind the scenes.

This is the typical tangle when one person is oblivious to a particular task. You can imagine that an interchange like this one is really bad for a relationship because now my client, who just spent two hours cleaning the fridge and was so proud, is now demeaned and erased.

In fairness, his wife feels like her work of the last six and a half years feels invisible: like her work for all those years doesn’t count. Neither of these people feel like they won, even though the fridge is now sparkling clean.

Even worse, the clean fridge, rather than being something they celebrate together whoever cleans it, now becomes a site of friction for the remainder of the time they share it. When I heard this story, it was five years later. They’d still been holding onto this moment, with the toxicity of their exchange poisoning their marriage.

This is not what you want. The first task for gaining harmony when it comes to sharing chores is to see each other’s efforts. There’s many ways to do this and we’ll talk about a couple today and more in future episodes.

Shared work is unavoidable if you live with your partner. You both use the same front door and toilet, so how do you divvy up responsibilities like cleaning, shopping, cooking, and more when you both benefit?

Even more importantly, how do you become aware of everything your partner’s doing that you’re getting the benefit of so you don’t have a refrigerator moment, feel like a fool, and poison your relationship for years to come?

All at once? Or bit by bit?

Some people like the Marie Kondo Method where you get everything on the table all at once. Other people like to take things in small chunks.

In this section of the podcast, you might want to download my worksheet to help you navigate this discussion. You can download it at

If you’re using this podcast like a workshop, take a moment now to discuss with your sweetheart if you want to proceed with the Marie Kondo method of everything, everywhere all at once, or if you’d rather proceed slowly with maybe the 3 most argue-producing tasks, then circle back later to continue the discussion.

If you want to dive into the deep end to create a list of all the chores in your household, it will help if you and your partner each make your own list of all the chores. This will help you in later sections of the podcast.

I’m gonna take a moment to set the expectations. This kind of conversation often produces hurt feelings, conflict, and more. So decide now that:

  • You’re both gonna arrive with your most open mind.
  • That kindness is the most important element of the discussion.
  • And create an abort! Abort! Agreement so that, if the conversation gets overwhelming, you’ll circle back.

Next, I invite you to put a time on both your calendars that you’ll return to this discussion. This way, if you need to abort, you already have a time chosen when you’ll circle back. You might be tempted to skip this step, but don’t.

If you’ve been arguing about chores for some time, the person in your pairing who feels like they do the bulk of the work will want to stay until the entire conversation is completed. “I’ve been waiting and waiting to do this! We’re gonna finish!” You need to remove this pressure.

When there is a space reserved to circle back, it’s much easier to not over-reach, and cause a fight because either one or both of you burned out.

And here’s a caveat: if chores have been the MAIN source of conflict in your home, and you want to get a little WIN under your belt before you go tackling chores that have caused huge division, here’s my suggestion:

Start with 3-4 of the simplest, least contentious chores you have. Maybe you say, “Leaving cabinet doors open is a pet peeve of mine (even though I do it too). Sweetheart, would you be willing to be the cabinet door police and make it your job to keep our home feeling more buttoned up by closing cabinets?”

I know this sounds ridiculously easy. And so small as to be inconsequential. But if you’ve tangled over chores for years, you have some patterns to undo and a small win can really help to navigate your way around the tough conversations.


#2 Relationship & chores: Don’t be the schmuck who benefits but doesn’t lift a finger.

When it comes to arguing over chores, you don’t wanna be the dope who doesn’t see the work.

The second thing that will help you stop arguing about chores is to examine who benefits from a chore getting done.

For many years I loved decorating for Christmas. It’s a big job, but it made me happy. Since I bond by doing chores together, I wanted help hanging lights on the tree and stringing popcorn. But those jobs didn’t appeal to my husband. He didn’t enjoy doing them and this job felt like drudgery.

There were years I felt lonely doing the Christmas tasks by myself, but I would have felt more lonely not doing them at all. I realized that I benefitted from the task undertaken, so it was worth it for me to do it alone.

Then one Christmas, I ran out of steam. I didn’t decorate much, and our house lacked that Christmas Cozy feeling. That was a pivotal year for my husband. He realized he had been benefitting all those years from living in a house that felt special occasion and tended.

But, because he’d never gone without that feeling, it hadn’t really occurred to him to help with a chore he didn’t particularly like. Once he spent a Christmas without decorations, he’s been happy to help ever since.

Meanwhile, through the years, Dave realized he valued a cleaner bathroom than I do. He’s a tool guy who thinks everything that’s wrong is fixed with the correct tool. He realized he wasn’t gonna walk to the other end of the house to get all the cleaning supplies, so he bought an extra cleanser, sponge, and toilet brush to keep in the bathroom and scrubbed when his radar alerted him.

The bottom line: notice what benefit you’re looking for and largely try and solve those yourself.

However, it’s also important to notice what benefits you’re reaping without effort. When your partner has a higher standard than you do, you’re gonna benefit from your partner’s hard work. So don’t be the schmuck who rides on your partner’s coattails without contribution or gratitude.

But the worst offence you can make in this category, is to be a saboteur. Wanna know if you’re likely to be a saboteur? Here’s a quick quiz.

When your sweetheart asks you to participate in potting plants to make the porch pretty are you most likely to say:

  1. Why would I do that?
  2. I’m not a porch person. Or, for that matter, I’m not a potted plant person.
  3. That sounds like fun…for you…but I had other plans for my day. Can I be the person who makes a fancy cocktail so we can celebrate your pot garden at the end of the day?

If you typically give an “1” or “2” type answer, you are veering into schmuck territory.

You don’t need to join every chore your partner suggests, but be kind

Be appreciative that your partner is making your home—and thus your life—more lovely, more convenient, or more prized.

To avoid tangles when it comes to chores, ask yourself who benefits? You might realize you’re the person who likes potted plants on the porch or twinkle lights at holiday time, and maybe those things aren’t so valuable to your partner.

If that’s the case, do the task because YOU want to do them. Enjoy the beauty you’re growing in your home. When you notice yourself, you keep resentment at bay.

However, if you notice that you benefit, but you’re not very willing to participate, then I suggest you join in. You may not be thrilled your partner wants to clean the bathroom every single week! But you never have to dodge the mold spores as you shower. So suck it up and be grateful your partner provides the motivating force to get a task tended and completed.

In general, it can work for people to specialize in the area that matters most to them as long as grave inequities don’t accrue.

If you’re using this podcast like a workshop, pause here and add to the worksheet you downloaded here. Fill in the column about who benefits from a particular task, or simply answer the following questions:

  •  As you look at the list of jobs you created in step one, now determine who benefits?
  • Is this benefit something I value?
  • Ask yourself and your partner how you’d I feel if it never got done?


#3 Relationship and chores: The neutralizing power of thank you

At the beginning of the podcast, I promised you two words to help prevent conflict. Those two words are Thank you.

Whether the job is invisible or you’re not sure you benefit, a thank you goes a long way to creating harmony in your home.

So the third reason you and your partner might tangle over chores is that there simply isn’t enough gratitude. In order to reduce conflict, say thank you more. A LOT more.

Sometimes I get self-conscious because David and I are constantly saying thank you. Is our marriage a festival of sappiness? I ask myself. But we’ve consciously grown those thank you’s over time.

I realized a long time ago that I don’t mind doing most of the chores I do, but I want credit. The thank you from him shows me he noticed.

I thank my husband because it keeps me from keeping score

When I thank him, he benefits sure, but it’s also a way for me to tell myself, “Rebecca, you’re not the only one contributing here. There’s lots of things David is doing. You’re just not seeing them all.” When I thank him, my brain—that’s tempted to keep score—relaxes and his invisible work shows up on my radar.

If I sound like I’m only thinking about how thank you’s affect me, that’s on purpose. The fundamental tenant I use in my coaching practice is to STAY IN YOUR OWN BUSINESS. This avoids 90% of conflict.

If you’re using this podcast like a workshop, pause here for another discussion:

Possible script:

Here’s the thing, I want to be more thoughtful and grateful for the wonderful things you do to make our life nicer. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that there are lots of things you do that I don’t see (this is powerful!!). Could you tell me 2 or 3 things you do that feel invisible, so I can be sure to up my appreciation game?


#4 Relationship & chores:  Your timeline is not the UNIVERSAL timeline

When it comes to work flow, you are not the boss of the universe.

Let’s review: We’ve talked about three things you can do to reduce conflict when it comes to chores in your relationship:

  • Don’t be the dope who doesn’t see the work. In short: eliminate your oblivion.
  • Don’t be a schmuck who benefits but doesn’t contribute. Most importantly: don’t sabotage your sweetheart’s effort.
  • Say thank you. A lot. I absolutely cannot overstate the power of this habit.

This brings us to number 4: You are not the boss of the universe.

Ugh. I’m so sorry to inform you of this one. Wouldn’t it be great if your partner would just hop to it anytime you said, “Let’s get this done?”

But really, truly, be honest here: would you really want a partner who was that malleable? Isn’t it nice that your partner has a life of their own? Except when you want the bathroom cleaned, right?

Your partner might approach chores differently than you do.

My husband wants to get jobs done as quickly as possible. I like to plan out the day not just so that the chores were clear, but so that we were making a memory as we hang those Christmas lights.

Two different people will have two different lists of what constitutes a life well lived. Consequently, while you might think it’s easier to keep up regularly with the kitchen, someone else might like to wait and do one, big clean. Chores are neither right nor wrong. What will make for a happy life is mutual respect.

You and your partner may not be on the same page in this regard. Being aware that your style may not match your partner’s is important. Mess tends to wage more stress in a relationship than neatness does, so if your goal is a house filled with harmony, consider ways to accommodate the tidy person in your home (but not completely 🙂 ).

Sometimes tidiness is a coping strategy for other stressors. Some people can’t control much in the outside world, so they compensate for controlling a LOT at home. If you live with someone like this, I’m not recommending you accommodate that behavior.

Instead, put your focus on making your partner feel loved and safe.

When people ask me what makes a successful marriage, my answer is some version of my favorite wedding vow: “Outdo one another in showing kindness.”


It’s human nature to keep score,

You worry about what is fair. You see things through your own lens. If you focus, instead, on kindness (and not just when you’re happy, but kindness when you’re cleaning the toilet) you will grow toward one another and deepen your love.

If you’re using this podcast like a workshop, pause here and answer these questions:

  • When do you like to do particular chores?
  • Are you a keep up or catch up sort of person?



#5 Relationship & chores: shared work builds your relationship

Every chore has a relational aspect. The fifth reason you and your partner might argue over chores is about preferences when it comes to your relationship. I get lonely making dinner by myself, do you? But if I’m vacuuming or cleaning bathrooms, I want to be left alone to listen to a podcast while I clean. How about you?

What chores beg companionship for you? When do you feel like help isn’t all that helpful? Do you use chores to savor time alone? Chores to connect about your day?

Everyone has a chore they don’t mind too much, or maybe even enjoy. I like grocery shopping. I also like cleaning the kitchen. But I will do absolutely anything to get out of sorting the mail and handling any paperwork.

When I told my husband this, he said, “I don’t mind getting the mail.” Hooray!! I think about all the years and all the hated paperwork I did, and all I needed to do was voice my distaste for the task.

What jobs do you absolutely hate?

What are the jobs you don’t mind? Can you and your partner do some bargaining to divvy up jobs according to preference?

But here’s the thing: there are some tasks that absolutely no one likes to do. At our house that includes spinning the lettuce and washing ziplock bags. Everybody knows that these are the two dreaded jobs, so anytime someone is willing to do either of these jobs, they make a big announcement, “Hey! I’m spinning the lettuce.” And we all cheer because we all know that job is at the bottom of everyone’s list. It’s amazing how much nicer it is to spin the lettuce when I get a cheer squad to give me my gold star.

If you’re using this podcast like a workshop, pause here to have the following discussion:

  • What chores would you prefer to do alone?
  • What are the chores that you’d rather not do unless you have a companion?

David and I used to argue about chores a lot.

These five things help us and have helped many of my clients to transform arguments into real discussions filled with kindness and curiosity. You can have real conversations about chores too, without it being a source for conflict.

When I speak to widows and widowers, it’s that luscious feeling that life is shared that they most miss. Regular chores are a huge piece of what makes them miss their sweetheart.

I believe in your ability to cultivate connection when it comes to shared work.

Try this: Do your partner’s chore

This week’s habit for your happily ever after is to do a chore that your partner typically does.

There’s no harm in having chores assigned to each person, so long as everyone in the household feels good about the way chores get divvied up. But here’s the thing, we all like it when we get a week off from our regular chores.

If your partner typically cooks, announce that you’ve got dinner covered tonight. Even if you don’t cook, I’m betting you can open a jar of pasta sauce, boil a pot of water, and chop up some veggies for a salad.

If your partner is always the one on carpool duty, maybe you could use a mental health day at work to take on that job.

The reason I’m recommending you do one of the chores your partner typically does is so you’ll appreciate your partner more. When you do the job, you see all the details involved. You notice how icky the stove top gets when red sauce splutters, and that inspires you to be more self-aware in the future.

Or you realize carpool is a great time to chat with your kiddo, and you bond better because you got to hear about the details of the lunchroom drama.

One warning here: beware the unintended consequence. One time David did my laundry and didn’t know I hang things to dry instead of using the dryer. As a result, my clothes shrunk. It was a sweet idea, but had negative consequences.

If you’re taking over a chore, make sure you’re clear that you can’t mess something up as you try to do a kindness.

Try this date night discussion: 

This week, when you have ten minutes to connect with your spouse, tell your spouse your story of comfort.

Number 1: Don’t be the dope who doesn’t see the work.

  • What invisible job do you do?
  • What invisible jobs does your spouse do?

Discussion #2: Don’t be the schmuck who benefits largely, but never lifts a finger.

  • As you look at the list of jobs you created in step one,  who benefits?
  • Is this benefit something I value?
  • Ask yourself and your partner how you’d I feel if it never got done?

Discussion #3: Harness the power of thank you in your relationship

Here’s a script you can modify for yourself:  “Here’s the thing, I want to be more thoughtful and grateful for the wonderful things you do to make our life nicer. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that there are lots of things you do that I don’t see Could you tell me 2 or 3 things you do that feel invisible, so I can be sure to up my appreciation game?”

Discussion #4: Work flow. You are not the boss of this relationship universe

So ask your spouse:

  • When do you like to do particular chores?
  • Are you a keep up or catch up sort of person?
  • What other work flow questions to you want to entertain?

Discussion #5: Chores as a relationship builder.

  • What chores would you prefer to do alone?
  • What are the chores that you’d rather not do unless you have a companion?
  • How can we best be companions for each other when it comes to chores?

Want to listen to this blog? 

Click here to listen to the podcast: episode #20

What invisible jobs to you see now? How is thank you helping you avoid conflict?  Text me today at 970-210-4480 and let me know.

Want to stop arguing and start connecting with your spouse? This FREE e-course will offer you habits to improve your marriage communication so you can smile more and fight less. Sign up to improve marriage communication.

Sign Up to Improve Marriage Communication