Dear Carolyn: I love my partner. He recently moved in. I’ve had so many roommates over the years (I’m pushing 30, so think 12-13 years of various roommate situations) and I’m so tired of people who won’t clean up after themselves and leave it until I do it.
I made it very clear to my partner before he moved in that it was important to me, and I thought it would be easier because I can ask him to do things that wouldn’t be appropriate to ask of a roommate. But I’m already tired of asking and I’ve been reading about “the mental load.” Like last night: I was stressed and headed to my second job and he asked what he could do to make me feel better (sweet!) so I said, get wrapping paper and a card and wrap your sister’s wedding present. And when I got home later, he had!
But. The box was left out instead of recycled, the couple of dishes I used to feed us before I went to work weren’t done, the living room was a mess . . . he just doesn’t see it. Like he didn’t “see” the emails his sister was sending about wedding activities. Like he didn’t remember to buy her a present until I reminded him three times.
I can see down this road. I’ll resent him and hate myself for being a miserable nag.
Is there any way to fix this? We’ve talked about kids and he wants more than one, but I just can’t picture it as anything but a trap. Help?
— I’m Already Tired
I’m Already Tired: Your understanding of the “mental load” has changed since your partner moved in. So, give him a chance to change his understanding, too.
For him and for anyone else wondering what we’re talking about, I offer the comic by Emma, “You Should Have Asked”: bit.ly/SoxOnFloor. One excerpt as summary: “When a man expects his partner to ask him to do things, he’s viewing her as the manager of household chores.”
Management plus chores equals a double workload to his single one, which you’re right to refuse. But just as you didn’t enter this arrangement as an individual untouched by cultural forces, neither did he.
And his “sweet!” offer to contribute says he’s not (fully?) comfortable letting you carry the household while he reaps all the benefits of your management skills. So reopen the conversation while talking is still talking — as in, not yet a wrenched-open hydrant of pressurized resentment.
A practical suggestion for dividing the load: Unless you thrive amid inefficiency and dysfunction, someone has to lead. However, the same person doesn’t have to lead everything. A household has some naturally occurring silos: food (purchase, preparation, cleanup); clothing (purchase, upkeep, storage); calendar (social, appointments, occasions); finances; home, indoors (decor, upkeep); home, outdoors (landscaping, upkeep); you get the idea. If instead of just splitting chores, you two divvy up leadership of the various silos, based on each other’s strengths, then you share the mental loads they entail.
Try it. Road test whether your partner can carry half of the weight without prompting from you.
If not, though, then listen to yourself — “I’ll . . . hate myself for being a miserable nag” — and recognize no amount of love will make it healthy for you to stay.