How to Split the Chores With Your Partner (& Keep the Peace!)

couples guide to splitting chores Photo: Thinkstock

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When I first moved in with my fiance, chores were a pretty fraught topic. Suddenly, an empty can of soda left on the nightstand had me wondering if I’d signed up for a lifetime of empty cans of soda all over the bedroom. And as we tried to do the chores while also making time for our careers, our hobbies, each other, and our friends, neither of us felt like we had time to do more. (And it was clear that both of us felt like we were the one doing more chores.) But after a few meltdowns over dirty dishes in the sink, we’ve finally gotten to a good place. Here are some tips for splitting up the chores and avoiding drama.

Figure out what chores need to be done and discuss your expectations for each. Everyone has different definitions of “clean,” so there may need to be some negotiating on this. Both of you will probably have to deal with a few things you’d rather not to make the other one happy.

Remember, chores aren’t just about cleaning. Things like paying bills, sitting on hold with the cable company, doing the meal planning, and buying birthday gifts for family members take time and effort, but they are easy to forget about. If you leave these things off the list, one person can easily get stuck doing the bulk of them on top of the other chores he or she has to do.

Come up with a fair way to divide the chores. Some couples prefer the chores together (which can actually be fun). If you decide to split the chores evenly, start by assigning chores based on which things you each enjoy (or just don’t hate) and which things are most important to each of you you. Then try to divide up the remaining tasks evenly. Just remember to note how much time each chore will take so no one is burdened with several extra hours of work each week.

Be wary of dividing things up based on who is better at a task. At first I fell into the mindset of “I’ll just do the dishes, the cooking, and the cleaning because I’m faster and the results will be better that way.” But how will anyone learn without being taught or getting a chance to practice? Both of us had to relinquish a little bit of control and give each other a chance to learn some new skills. And don’t criticize or redo things because you don’t like how they were done. As long as they meet the expectations you’ve already established, leave it alone.

Don’t get in the habit of doing each other’s chores or expect credit for chores that weren’t on the list. Things like picking up clutter (his shoes, her mail, etc.) or running errands are easy to just do yourself — and then get resentful about later. And while doing little things for your partner from time to time is always appreciated, don’t do them and then get upset if he or she doesn’t appreciate it or do extra chores for you in return. When one of us finds those little tasks are starting to add up, we talk about it and work them into our overall plan for chores.

Come up with a way to check in on each other. Make a schedule, set deadlines for chores (right after breakfast each day, clean the bathroom on Tuesdays, do all chores by the end of the week, etc.), and write it all down somewhere. Next, find a way to check in with each other without nagging. Getting a reminder from a to-do list app or a calendar on the fridge can be a lot more pleasant than hearing it from a partner. (And having to remind someone to do something can make it feel like you’re responsible for the chore too.) Then plan a time each week or month when you can check in together to see what was done and what was missed.

Add a little motivation with incentives. It can be so hard to get motivated to do chores, so give yourselves some incentives! Make a fun playlist for the times you’re cleaning together or follow up an afternoon of chores with a fun outing. And agree on the penalty for skipped chores in advance. Maybe whoever skips the most chores has to do the most thankless one-off task of the month, or each skipped chore means you have to add $10 to a joint rainy day fund. (Which you can use to hire a housecleaner to deep clean a few times a year!) And reward yourselves for chores well done at the end of the month with something special you’ve been wanting for your place. If there’s one thing we learned growing up it’s that it’s a lot easier to get your laundry done if you know there’s a shiny new toy in your future!

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