“My husband doesn’t help around the house at all anymore. He’s getting older, and not in the best physical shape or health, so he doesn’t do the heavy lifting he once did outside—from trimming the shrubs to mowing the lawn. I have taken over much of this burden, with a little paid help. But I also still do all the indoor chores and cleaning. I’m not mad he does less than he used to, but I am mad he does nothing at all, and resentment is starting to build. He could offer to do easy things like fold laundry or vacuum, but he doesn’t. How do I communicate my needs?”
It’s good that you’re conscious of your mounting resentment. Most of the time, one spouse will wait until a breaking point, snap and unload their grievances in a heated moment, causing the other partner to react defensively. You can preempt that by voicing your concern directly, and agreeing to a plan of action. But I think there’s something more you need to address here.
It’s important to remind yourself that things change. Bodies change, and as such, we have to learn to change right along with time.
I want you to get the most out of this conversation with your husband, and I think you need to identify exactly what you want to change. Is it the number of chores he does? Or is it the number of chores you have to do? These are different things.
Ask yourself these questions.
Would your husband’s help make a difference in how you feel?
Maybe you’ve got the housework and maintenance routines down pat, and you’re mostly looking for a gesture—the sort of gesture that shows your husband notices all you do.
In this case, you should articulate that you’re happy take on what he can no longer do, but you need him to take something off your plate. Give him a laundry list of examples (say, dishes and clearing the table), and tell him that it’s the gesture that counts. You don’t need all the work to be “equal.” But you’d rather not come in from organizing the garage to find a full dishwasher and a husband on the couch.
Can you pay for help that will lessen your load?
There are a lot of people out there who do not like chores (myself included; whoever found gardening cathartic?). If watching your husband do less has made you feel resentment about doing all the chores without him, I think that’s a separate problem.
If your budget allows, talk to your husband about paying for better help. Maybe that’s a lawn care service to garden and maintain the outside, someone to mow grass during the spring and summer, a cleaning service to deep clean your home a couple times a month. If you can afford it, it could be money well spent. Especially if it eliminates growing resentment.
Are your expectations too high for this stage of your life?
Is your home becoming too much to maintain? I get it. I grew up on ten acres of land in a four-bedroom home and just watched my retirement-nearing parents downsize substantially. They were spending the vast majority of their free time and energy doing chores, and it wasn’t exactly the way they planned to spend their twilight years. I’m so glad they bought a condo, where they won’t have to overexert themselves.
Maybe you need to adjust your expectations, and ask yourself if there are easier ways to maintain your current home—shrink back the garden, eliminate the landscaping or look to downsize the acreage. If it saves your energy and sanity, what’s the hurt?
Ask your husband if it’s time to adjust your expectations. Perhaps he’s ready for it, and has been waiting for you to seem ready, too. The older you get, the less you want to spend precious time on non-essential things.
The one thing that’s not OK is for you to continue to do all the housework, indoor and outdoor, unless you actually want to do it. If all these chores do not spark joy, then it’s time to make a change.
Jenna Birch is author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love, a dating and relationship-building guide for modern women. To ask her a question, which she may answer in a forthcoming PureWow column, email her at email@example.com.