Carolyn Hax: The dreary chore of having to ask the spouse to do chores

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: So I get the concept of splitting chores and agreeing who will do what in advance. But I’m struggling on how to do that in daily life. My husband tends to overlook the garbage can running over, the dishes piled all over the counter, the front door left wide open as bugs and leaves blow in, empty soda cans and food wrappers randomly around the house, etc. His thing is that if something bothers me then I need to tell him to fix or clean it up. But I’m bothered by having to ask him to do basic things that amount to essentially the courtesy and respect of living with other people.

Yet I also see this is a pattern: My adult stepkids do no chores or help around the house when they are with us unless specifically asked. And that means they will do the dishes but only if you ask, every night and every single time. They will just expect others to clean it unless they are specifically asked.

So should I just start negotiating with my husband for what needs to be done — e.g. you will pick up your own used, half-full and three-day-old Starbucks coffee cups — knowing he will do it for a day then stop and insist I ask him again every time if I want it done?

Struggling: Chore-sharing fails when someone skips their share. It’s really that simple, and hard to live with, I’m sorry. Here are two suggestions.

1. Make it clear that you consider it a chore to point out chores, therefore, if he insists on your doing it for him, then your share of other chores goes down. Sit there with pen and paper, together, and write down every job toward running your household. Each of you chooses jobs till the whole list is assigned. Again, make “point out chores” one of yours, if he is too stubborn or oblivious to notice a full trash can.

2. Put things on the calendar and, correspondingly, on his phone in the form of reminders. Alarms can be set for every X day at Y time with the label “take out trash.” Set your phones at this list-dividing session.

Try this at least. It’s probably never going to be perfect because “door wide open” suggests attention issues, and if his issue is obliviousness with a neurological origin, then it’s not easy to change. Also not personal, if that helps.

Re: Chores: Seconding Carolyn’s advice to set multiple phone alarms as daily task reminders. My husband is the same way. He was recently diagnosed with executive function disorder. Once I understood he was basically waking up every morning with a paralyzingly blank slate in his task-brain, we tried a few ways of breaking down the chores list before arriving at the one that didn’t overwhelm him further: phone alarms. He actually now enjoys setting them for the next day before he goes to sleep, because it gives him a road map of what his next day is going to look like. There is hope, I swear!

Anonymous: Thanks for this. Executive function deficits are often mistaken for passive aggression, when in fact they are not a choice, and they typically drive the people who have them to a deeper frustration than they ever could drive the rest of us who are just wondering why the trash bin still hasn’t been emptied.

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