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Dividing the chore list — and its mental load — with new husband

Carolyn Hax
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Dear Carolyn:

I am extremely Type A — organized, motivated, mind always on. I am also very particular about things around the house — an unfortunate trait I inherited from one of my parents. My husband (of one month) is much more laid-back, a trait I otherwise prize in him. He is extremely willing to help me around the house and asks me nearly every day what he can do to help.

What I really need is to not have to tell him. I need him to share in my mental load and take responsibility for things without having to be told. I recognize my own role in this as someone who is so Type A and overbearing that it’s probably hard for him to find his way.

How do I let go and let him step up? I thought about making a list of all the tasks that go into running the house just so he could see it laid out, but that just felt like more work to me.

— Faithful Reader

You both do the housework so you both write a list.

And neither of you ever uses the “help” construct for chores, because that codifies the imbalance. You do, he helps? No. You contribute, he contributes.

So, two lists, not just one, written separately, and include preferred schedules. Bathroom cleaning, for example — daily, weekly, monthly, when you hear screaming and it’s not human? The comparison will be illuminating.

When your list comes out longer than his — I can say “if,” if you’d like — you can then talk about what timing might be excessive and whether those extras are even necessary.

This can’t be, after all, just about his contributing more to make you happy. This is a shared life you’ve just embarked upon. You also need to expect less to make him happy.

Even if it means getting help-help.

The lists will also reveal what each of you sees as a priority. He can certainly take charge (entirely) of his top list items for both of you, on a daily or weekly or as-needed basis, without asking you what he needs to do today.

Delegating to reflect priorities can also neatly — and naturally, which is ideal — address the issue of his needing reminders, if you let it. A spouse without clean underwear does laundry without being asked, no? And hungry spouses buy food. The chores that come with urgency built in are his; the tasks a laid-back person can conceivably ignore forever are yours.

One more chore I recommend you tackle, if you haven’t already: unpacking (pardon the thera-speak) all that Type-A-very-particular stuff. You aren’t going to change who you are or how you’re wired, and shouldn’t; the world needs its alphas, betas and omegas. But you can (BEG ITAL)understand(END ITAL) who you are to a greater depth than “an unfortunate trait I inherited,” especially if you’re going to bring it to bear on another human, in what is his home and happy place as much as it is yours.

Specifically, if there’s unexamined stress or under-managed anxiety driving your need for towels folded just so, then examine or manage it, please, professionally, enough to mitigate its effects. It might insist otherwise for years, and even sincerely believe it, but, trust me: Love hates being told what to do.

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook or chat with her online at noon each Friday at washingtonpost.com.

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