The dishes aren’t done…again…and I bet he hasn’t started anything for the kids’ dinner either…yep, sure enough! Okay, I’ll get that done, as usual!
Having these thoughts occasionally is completely normal for most couples. The trouble comes when you feel like it’s always unbalanced, and you are responsible for taking care of most of the day-to-day chores and activities in the relationship.
You look around and see each thing that needs to be done: laundry, food, errands, and you do them because, well, they need to get done!
Time passes and slowly you start feeling more and more frustrated and angry— perhaps you even start to resent your partner for not helping more, and it’s easy to start believing they simply don’t care that these things need to be done and don’t care about your sanity.
Let me state the obvious here: resentment is not good for a relationship. It erodes the feeling of mutual support and respect that is crucial to a healthy relationship.
Here is the good news: this is fixable, and there are some very simple strategies you can use to start bringing balance back into your relationship.
Try these four strategies to improve the quality of your relationship and reduce resentment and burnout between you and your partner.
1. Be clear about when you need help
It’s important not to assume that your partner can read your mind and see when you are overwhelmed and stressed. It may seem obvious to you, but not necessarily to everyone else.
Be clear about both when you need help and what you need help with.
It’s easy to assume that the things that feel important and obvious to you should feel that way to your partner, but each person has different priorities and a different tolerance level for messes, etc.
Be willing to accept that this won’t match up perfectly with your partner’s idea of what’s important, and recognize that that has nothing to do with how much that person cares about you.
2. Allow your partner to do things their way, not yours
If you are the person who is most aware of things like messes around the house, kids who need baths, or when the bills are due, you are most likely to step in and take care of those things first. This may be because they bug you more, or simply because you’ve gotten into the habit of paying attention to them and taking care of them regularly.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that those issues are not on your partner’s radar, but they may jump out as important for them later than they do for you. Also, you’ll likely have different ideas of what it looks like to do a good job on those tasks.
So, if it hasn’t been done yet, or it isn’t going to be done “right” you might as well do it yourself now, am I right? While this attitude is understandable, it makes the cycle of getting burned out and overwhelmed worse.
Getting balance back means letting go of some control and allowing your partner to figure out their way to take care of things. This may mean they don’t do it as soon, as quickly, or as efficiently as you feel you could, so you will have to make peace with that if you want the help. It took you time to work out how to do each of those things so well, and the same goes for your partner.
3. Don’t try to split everything up evenly
Interdependence is not a dirty word. It’s not a bad thing if you and your partner to rely on each other for certain things.
The term codependent has gotten a lot of attention in psychology over the past few decades. It gets thrown around alot and, frankly, misused and misunderstood in casual conversation. This has made it difficult for people to understand that interdependence, or people relying on and supporting one another, is part of being human and not unhealthy.
Healthy relationships are not made up of two people who split everything evenly—they are made up of two people who have figured out how to split responsibilities in a way that makes sense for them and doesn’t feel like too much of a burden.
For example, if you hate budgeting and your partner is good at it and doesn’t mind taking care of it, let them! Be involved in financial decisions and understand your finances, but there is no need to split that task 50/50. Work with your strengths and share the tasks that neither of you particularly wants to do.
4. Talk about improving your relationship when you aren’t fighting
One common mistake I see couples make is to only address issues while in the middle of a fight. It’s so tempting to tackle problems head-on while in the heat of the moment, but it’s rare that you make much progress while you’re both mad and defensive.
Any suggestion you or your partner make when you’re both angry is likely to get shot down pretty quickly. Instead, try bringing it up another time, when you are both in a good mood and doing something you enjoy, like going out to eat or relaxing on the couch in the evening.
Try starting the conversation by being curious about how to make the problem better, instead of listing the ways in which your partner could improve, or pointing out how they are doing things wrong now.
For example, “I feel really overwhelmed by the housework lately, and I’m trying to figure out how to change that.” You can follow this up by asking what your partner is willing to do more of, rather than focusing on telling him or her what they don’t do enough of. You might be surprised how open your partner is to your suggestions when they are posed in this light!
It’s important to remember that a relationship is a blend of two unique people, both of whom need to be invested, flexible and open to change for it to be successful.
It’s your responsibility to ask for what you need and make space for it to be possible to help you, but it’s your partner’s responsibility to be open to listening and making changes when necessary.
These skills aren’t complicated, but it takes some practice to incorporate them as a natural part of your relationship. If you can practice communicating what you need in a caring and non-attacking way, and share responsibilities according to what you both are good at and willing to do, you can help keep anger and resentment out of your relationship for the long haul.