The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Their chores are split evenly, but the mental load is not

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
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Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn: My husband and I have been married 10 years. Over this time, a pretty even breakdown of chores has emerged. These are the daily and weekly things such as groceries, laundry, lawn care, etc. That all goes smoothly, and we’re both pretty happy with the breakdown.

Where things are not even, and when I’m getting more and more frustrated and run-down, are the non-regular things that are still part of normal life, such as a broken washing machine or switching banks or a problem with a utility bill.

My husband just cannot seem to deal with these things. He will ignore whatever the issue is until it is so huge that it takes 10 times longer and 10 times more money to deal with. Every. Single. Time. I can ask repeatedly if he's gotten around to whatever it is and the answer is always “Not yet.” Eventually I just take care of it and seethe internally that once again I'm having to do it.

We both work full-time, yet I’m the one who takes care of all the unusual chores. When I’ve tried to talk to him about this, he gets frustrated and says things like, “I guess now that I’m an adult I just don’t get to ever have fun anymore.”

I’m not asking him to never have fun, I’m just asking that he take maybe one hour a month to deal with whatever the task is. I just want him to be an equal partner and not shift every nuisance onto me.

How do I approach this with him? Am I just doomed to being the adult in the relationship while he gets to spend his days off watching ESPN? (Our days off don’t line up, so it’s not like he is in the house watching me take care of this stuff.)

I know in the past when someone refuses to do their part, you’ve advocated for just not doing it for them — like only cooking for yourself instead of grumbling and making dinner every night. But that really doesn’t work for a lot of this. The billing issue has to be fixed. We need a working washing machine. Thanks.

— Tired of Being the Responsible One

Tired of Being the Responsible One: “I just don’t get to ever have fun”?

That’s more broken than any washing machine can be.

But there’s still a basic fix that can bypass that bigger problem. Right now you have a nice, even distribution of daily chores: You do ABCDE, and he does VWXYZ. Expand that to nondaily chores and you have this:

You: ABCDE plus all time-consuming nuisances.


With his cooperation, you can fix this by reallocating the daily stuff:

You: ABC + all nuisances.


He would have to agree that nuisance management adds to your overall regular schedule, even though no one thing happens regularly. It’s reasonable, though, to build in a “nuisance allowance” because there’s always a nuisance somewhere. Plus, being the first responder and the last word is a mental load to carry, so it’s legitimate.

The “I guess now that I’m an adult I just don’t get to ever have fun anymore” thing is part of your nuisance load, by the way. Holy *. I’ll hope for everyone’s sake that was a momentary lapse.