Dear Carolyn: My sweet husband loves to cook and almost always has something bubbling away when I arrive home at the end of the workday. The problem is that 9 times out of 10, what he has prepared is practically inedible. Then, owing to the whoever-cooks-doesn't-clean-up rule, I'm left with a tremendous mess to deal with. Pots, pans, graters, presses, measuring utensils are everywhere, and every surface — including the surrounding floor — is littered with slops, spills, skins, peels, etc. It takes me the better part of an hour to load the dishwasher, hand-wash piles of other dishes, clean the counters and cooktop, and tidy the floor. Often all I want to do when I get home from work is grab a bowl of cereal and chill out.

I know, I know. A husband who cooks for me every night? Aren't I lucky? And I am! He's an amazingly loving and caring soul who is easily hurt.

How do I gently tell him I'd like this routine to change? I've tried suggesting we take turns making dinner, but he insists it's his passion and he gets great joy from cooking. He knows the food he prepares isn't great but chalks it up to a learning experience. He carefully adds recipes to a binder he keeps while I am horrified he'd ever make some of these dishes again.

We have a healthy marriage and communicate easily and freely. This one topic, however, seems to be especially touchy for him, and I'm truly at a loss on how to broach it. Help!

— Left With the Mess

Left With the Mess: You are lucky for another, entirely different reason: You can address the bigger of your problems without having to touch the third rail of his cooking-skill problem.

You love that he loves cooking! No really, you do. But you don’t love being on the hook for a long hour of cleanup after a long day of work. You can say this verbatim because it doesn’t put his chef-feelings in play.

Ask him for relief in the form of, let’s say, dishes every second or third night vs. nightly. You can present this to him in the most lovingly-love-loving way as a choice between two options: for him to cook on fewer nights, or do his own dishes on more nights.

The I-cook-you-clean rule is about fair distribution of chores. If he’s going to frame this as his passion, then the math changes; the work of cleaning up after his hobby wouldn’t devolve to you if he sculpted or gardened or tinkered with cars. Since you dine on the results, you can say you’ll sign on for some cleanup, but not all.

That’s the specific answer. The general one: Don’t be afraid to have this out in your usual, maritally healthy way. Just keep your opinion of his cooking completely, utterly and meticulously out of it. It’s a separate issue, for one; feelings will only bring pain and distraction to a straight-up fairness problem; and it’s the kind thing to do.

Not to mention, smart — all this practice could make perfect cooking techniques . . . eventually . . . and you don’t want even justified skepticism to stand in the way of that. Maybe you can suggest some, ah, “favorite” recipes for him to try?

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