I've Lived With My Husband for 5 Years—He Does All the Cleaning. Here's How We Split Chores to Avoid Fighting

Photo: Alexandra Hayes Robinson

Follow my husband Brian for the day, and you'll find him fluffing pillows that I recently lounged on, rearranging coffee table books so the spines are aligned, and wiping the bathroom mirror as I'm flossing my teeth.

"I don't understand how you get this so dirty," he'll mumble, holding a bottle of Windex.

On Sundays, he asks me to leave the house so that he can commence on what he calls "Deep Clean Day." 

For many couples, cleaning is the most dreaded household chore. A majority of women (59%) say they do more chores than their partner, while 6% say their partner does more, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

But in the five years that we've lived together, Brian has always preferred to do the cleaning. Why? Because he likes the way he does it. (Case in point: I haven't done a full load of laundry in five years.)

How we split household chores

We came up with our division of chores together by asking four questions:

  1. What do we each enjoy doing? Brian likes organizing our tchotchkes and doing the laundry; I like tending to the garden and making fancy lunches during the workweek.
  2. What are we each particular about doing in our own way? He has a specific dish-washing style to conserve water; I'm stubborn about the organized mess on my nightstand.
  3. What do we each hate doing? He hates grocery shopping; I hate putting things back where I found them.
  4. Where do we need to compromise? He'll make himself lunch if I have back-to-back calls; I'll wash the dishes when they're grossing me out. But our biggest compromise can be summed up by Brian's signature phrase: "Respect the deep clean."

I liken our responsibilities to a chore wheel at summer camp — only the wheel never turns. And it doesn't need to, because we assign ourselves to the tasks that we can stand, and avoid the ones that we dread.

Brian's cortisol spikes when he steps foot in the grocery store, for example, but I enjoy wandering the aisles, admiring all the ways one can market a hot sauce. If he had it his way, we'd be scrounging in our kitchen for dinner every night. No thank you. 

As for me, if I lived alone or with someone who lacked Brian's unique brand of neatness, the tables would always be sticky, socks would everywhere, and handbags would hang on thumbtacks all over the walls.

It's about dividing tasks fairly, not equally

A big inspiration for how we split up our responsibilities came from an exercise created by Eve Rodsky, an organizational psychologist and bestselling author of "Fair Play: Share the Mental Load, Rebalance Your Relationship and Transform Your Life."

In her Fair Play system, there are 100 cards, with each card representing a household chore. Rodsky interviewed more than 500 men and women from all walks of life to figure out what the "invisible work" in a family actually entails.

In addition to main tasks like cleaning and cooking, some of the invisible tasks include:

  • Hosting guests
  • Laundry
  • Estate planning, life insurance
  • Checking homework (we don't have kids, which makes things a lot easier)
  • Booking dentist appointments
  • Getting the mail
  • Returns and store credit
  • Money management (paying bills, taxes)
  • Keeping track of birthdays
  • Vacation planning

You and your partner deal the cards based on your individual preferences and capabilities. If you hold a card, you're fully responsible for the task. No reminders.

The goal isn't to each take 50 cards and call it even. One card isn't necessarily equal to another — because, say, picking up the kids is not the same as taking out the trash. 

You also don't have to use all the cards: Couples decide together which cards to keep in the deck by removing the ones they don't value (e.g., writing thank you notes or collecting coupons).

While doing this exercise, Brian and I were shocked to see just how many invisible tasks it takes to run a home. Something like birth control? We'd never considered that as a household responsibility, but seeing it written on a card was illuminating.

For that one alone, Brian will take out the trash for the rest of his life.

Alexandra Hayes Robinson is a writer and content consultant based in Los Angeles. You can find her telling stories and sharing lifestyle and relationship advice on TikTok at @hellohayes. Subscribe to her newsletter here.

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