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Carolyn Hax: Her partner uses a new job as an excuse to dump all the chores on her

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 9/28/2021 Carolyn Hax
© Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: For the four years my significant other and I have been together — I am female, he is male — it has fallen on me to take care of 90 to 95 percent of the household chores.

I know this is cultural conditioning. He does help when he’s asked, most of the time. But he demands to be asked first, and sometimes I’m just too tired to delegate tasks rather than just do them myself. He also seems to resent it regardless, even though I’ve been the primary breadwinner for the past 2 1/2 years and thus worked the most hours outside the home.

Now, he has snagged a lucrative position that is very time-consuming, but the paychecks will — supposedly — be big. He made it clear he is now absolutely under no obligation to do anything around the house. His solution is either to wait until we’ve paid off all our financial obligations and then just hire someone, or it’s just my problem because I’m clearly the only one who cares whether we have a sink full of dirty dishes (until, of course, he needs a clean one). I just hate looking at them, but I guess that’s just my problem.

I’m exhausted. I already do so much. Even if we hire someone, what happens if the floor needs to be swept midweek? I’m tempted to tell him to use paper plates, if he’s so insistent he’s not on the hook, but it does seem unfair. I feel selfish since he is, in fact, working more hours than me.

— Tired

Tired: His utter lack of respect for your time, labor and human value means he is a burden, with very little benefit that I can see in your letter. And he’s burdening you not just with the physical work of household chores, but also the emotional work of feeling imposed upon but not empowered to say so or correct it.

Why is he so special that you have to do the chores of basic living for him? Why are you so insignificant that your exhaustion is okay with him? How are you “selfish” after 2½ years of primary breadwinning and housekeeping?

The only advice I have for you in good conscience is to get out before your self-worth is so depleted that you don’t feel able to leave. That you can describe all of this and come up with a diagnosis of your selfishness says counseling is in order, too. Not couples counseling, but solo, for you, to help you restore your sense of self-worth.

Carolyn: I also admit I allow myself to get over-irritated with him, and he’s admitted he’s done the same with me, too. Everyone is snappish. We do communicate well, generally, and when we don’t, we have a cool-off period, THEN communicate well. But when I think about having to do everything, everything, everything, week after week, I’m so tired.

— Tired again

Tired again: You avoided the central issue: He’s fine with you doing all the work. He is a close-up witness to your misery — which he helped create — and feels no inclination to make any effort to ease it. How is that not a dealbreaker?

There are great people out there. No housekeeper can clean up a toxic one.


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