Ask Anna and Ant: Housework

Happy Thursday, readers, and welcome to another Ask Anna and Ant, the advice column that cuts through all the bull and tells you how it really is (with a bit of nice).  When this letter dropped into my inbox, I knew Mr K would be all over it. Division of household chores is a big issue for so many couples.  I’m lucky – Mr K cleans and irons, I do the washing and the food.  I  do clean, but I need persuading.  Forceful persuasion.  I’m not a natural.  I used to be a fecking nightmare to live with.  And so, Tearing Her Hair Out, many of us will feel your pain.  
Readers, give us your thoughts:  

Dear Anna and Ant,

I have a problem which is driving me mad. Please help.

I’m engaged to the man of my dreams. We have our wedding booked for April next year. We met through work and were friends first and it developed into something more…I’m lucky because we’re absolute soul mates. He really is the best. He makes me feel amazing and he loves me so much. We have a wonderful time together and we share similar values on everything. Everything except running our home…

We moved in together two years ago and I soon realised that he doesn’t see the need for housework and chores to be carried out on a regular basis. I’m no clean freak but I like to have our house tidy and in order. He would far rather let dishes stack up and do them at the last minute. He will not hoover unless I ask him to. He will not voluntarily clean the bathroom or toilet. If he cooks he leaves mess on the hob and grease in the oven and pans.

He’ll leave it there until he needs to cook next time.

This has got worse over the time we live together. I believe he doesn’t see things that need doing but at the same time his attitude towards me over it has got worse. I have to ask him more than once. He rolls his eyes about it. I’m not a nag but this is turning me in to one!

Also when I do the housework, he doesn’t thank me or even acknowledge it.

This is where I need your help. What do I do about this? He’s making me feel guilty for asking him to do housework, but we’re both in full-time jobs and I can’t do all the chores on my own. Friends have suggested hiring a cleaner to remove the need to do it but I still worry that this won’t solve the problem. What about when we have children and there are nappies to change, toys to put away, bottles to sterilise?

AAAAAH! It is driving me mad. What should I do?

Tearing Her Hair Out, of Berkshire.

Anna AND Ant’s advice

We actually agree on this answer.  But the conversation that got us there will tell you more than a nicely scripted paragraph ever will:

Ant: That Ask Anna and Ant you sent me is really easy.

Anna: No it’s not.

Ant: Yes it is.  She just needs to talk to him and tell him to do the cleaning.

Anna: She’s already done that.  It hasn’t worked.

Ant: She hasn’t done it properly, then.  Either she’s asked him in a faffy way and he hasn’t understood how important it is to her, or she has been incredibly clear and he is still refusing to do it, in which case their relationship is impossible and won’t work.

Anna: I would hardly say a dispute over cleaning makes a relationship, one which is leading to marriage, impossible.

Ant: It’s like you love Ryan Gosling, but your love is impossible.

Anna:  It’s nothing like that!

Ant: It’s simple.  She needs to set out her parameters  and expectations – what she wants him to do, how often, and how important it is to her.  Has she told him clearly that helping out with the cleaning is really, fundamentally important to her, and that dude, I’m not your maid?  He needs to show appreciation for the housework she is doing, recognise her efforts, but also participate.  This needs to be discussed in a calm and logical way.  If after that, he is still refusing to help, it shows that he’s unwilling to compromise.  That doesn’t bode well for a marriage and she should get out now.

Anna: I don’t think marriages fail on cleaning issues.  If I were to give him the benefit of the doubt, I’d say that some people are just really naturally bad at cleaning, and he may not realise that his laziness is inconsiderate.  I agree they haven’t communicated properly.  She needs to tell him that him not helping is making her upset, and ask him how they can resolve this.  He needs to recognise there’s a problem, and that her getting upset isn’t just female hysteria, there’s a genuine reason behind it.  The bit that concerns me is the bit about him rolling his eyes and making her feel like a “nag”.  That is not, under any circumstances, okay.  That shows a phenomenal lack of respect.

Ant:  If she’s feeling not listened-to now, and like a nag for what is a reasonable request, what’s it going to be in five, ten, fifteen years time?  If all the responsibility remains on her, there’s no way they’ll be able to successfully raise a family.

Anna: A further issue is, what if it’s perfect in every way other than this?  It’s easy to advise someone to “get out now”, but she’s marrying the guy, she loves him, she said they’re soulmates, you don’t just leave someone when you’re having communication issues for feeling hard done by.  You work on them.  If he was, at his core, genuinely uncommunicative and selfish, she’d have picked up on it in other areas.  Is this issue restricted to housework, or is it symptomatic of a wider problem?
Next steps, Tearing Her Hair Out:
- talk to him, calmly and logically  Set your parameters.  What do you expect him to contribute, and why?
- he needs to recognise and appreciate your efforts around the house, and participate.
- if this isn’t working, ask yourself whether he acts like this in other situations.  You deserve someone who’ll listen to you and understand your worries,and who is willing to make changes in his behaviour for you. This is not unreasonable, Tearing.
Good luck!
Anna and Ant x


Categories: Ask Anna, Ant and AOW, Family, Friends and Relationships
22 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted February 23, 2012 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    We both hate housework (and avoid it where possible) but over the years we've established a nice equilibrium whereby we each do the tasks we least loathe and that cuts things roughly in half. We also share the cooking on a 'who is least knackered cooks' basis.

    Question for Tearing – is it his mums fault? James's parents still find it utterly mind boggling that we share the household chores despite us both working full time. It took a while for me to make clear that my job was not to look after their son!

    (NB we've decided that this is the year we get a cleaner!)

  2. Posted February 23, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    I had exactly this problem! My oddball husband is allergic to cleaning. When we first met he had moved into his new house by himself. Six months later he hand't cleaned the bathroom once. He is a SLOB. It's laziness, but also because he just doesn't see the mess. He just doesn't see it. It doesn't bother him, it doesn't seem important. He's a mad scientist type, he likes building and making chaos. It never occurs to him that it might need cleaning up.

    So after a year or so of living together and me doing all the cleaning apart from the bit I nagged about, I felt ready to pop too.

    Until I started to think of him as a completely different creature to me, like a messy alien. Like a child, actually (sorry that sounds awful, but bear with me – it works out in the end).

    So I made him a contract. I told him how much it was upsetting me. Then I told him that every day when we both get home from work, on a weeknight, we both clean/tidy/laundry etc for half an hour. It doesn't matter what we do, and at the end of 30 minutes, we stop. I've made it into a game, and one where we both still have control over the tasks we take on. If he decides he wants to go wild and tidy a drawer while I wash up, it doesn't bother me because we're both doing something. It's the thought of him sitting on his arse while I work that annoys me more than what he actually does.

    Weirdly enough, I've found him getting into the habit now, and he washes up and tidies off-schedule now, as things need doing, WITHOUT ME ASKING. He's on the same page as me now, perpetual tidying motion.

    Our house is still a bit cluttered (and it always will be – we're both hoarders), but it's clean, it's no longer a health hazard and I don't want to kill my husband anymore.

    And we lived happily ever after (ish). True story!


  3. Anonymous
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    This is more fundamental than housework. This is your home and how ever much your earning power grows, however much bigger your house gets it has to be a place of calm sanctuary. This is how you live, it is so much more critical to how well your realtionship will move from heady romance to turbulent, tiring parenting to eventual companionship and enduring love.
    Either you resign yourself to the role of carer/cleaner for life – because this will get worse not better – and accept it. ( This is not a bad thing – my sister has never knowingly washed up or cleaned in her life) Or there has to be an ultimatum if you can't live like this.
    Having been married and divorced I can identify my ex-huband's refusal to do most household things as a power struggle and a determination to hold the reins. An illustration of this was broken garage door that remained un-mended for 5 years. It started as a joke, threatened to decapitate me everytime I used it, and eventually saw off our marriage.
    A new lovely partner saw this and said 'that's bloody dangerous' and fixed it immediately.
    I think what I'm saying if this is driving you mad when your relationship is fun think how grating it will be with extra pressures such as kids, money, career issues etc.

  4. Posted February 23, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I had another thought, Tearing. I think there's something to be said for being considerate. Perhaps if you make your point with that as the driving argument? If he's a good, kind person he should get that, right?

    Penny – your "half hour of cleaning" solution is brilliant. Just brilliant.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Am anonymising because I am feeling guilty! I am one of those people who just doesn't really notice or gets fussed by mess, I'd rather save things up until they REALLY need doing instead of washing up every evening. My poor husband does nearly all of the day to day housework (although in my slight defence, he gets home 2 hours before me most evenings, and we do share the big weekend cleaning e.g. bathroom, kitchen, hoovering) and after reading this and the comments I am feeling pretty bad… I may suggest something along the lines of Penny's solution (although with a shorter cleaning time – we only have a one bed flat and I cannot think of what could possibly need doing for half an hour each per day – although maybe that's the problem?!)

    Going back to the original question and answer, I think it's the not listening/not responding to requests to help that are the problem, and not valuing Tearing's contributions – not the actual messiness. At least I hope so!

  6. Posted February 23, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I love Penny's solution. I'm the messy one in mine and Mr G's marriage – I like cleaning but I'm untidy and a hoarder. I think the half hour a day solution is perfect- even in a 1 bed flat, Anon! ;-)
    Penny what do you do about housework on non-work days and for bigger cleaning jobs? I know housework can be a mundane topic but I'm loving the discussion x

  7. Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    OMG, this is like me and Andy but role reversal.

    It started with him doing about 90% of the housework. I come from a family that are allergic to housework. It's not just my mum, but her sisters and mother (my granny) too. When my granny talks about her childhood, they had a couple of girls in to do the housework. When she and her mother got back from a day's shopping, the girls would have prepared them afternoon tea! My granny could not afford to have girls in (like her parents), when she got married in 1952, but never did get the hang of doing it all herself, and preferred to get by with the minimum. She preferred playing the piano in the evening, and her daughters prefered looking after their ponies. My mum and her sisters, all continued the trend of bare minimum housework. They do not notice the washing up building up, dust, windows needing cleaning, clutter, that clothes need ironing etc. They don't worry what people think. We're not smelly or surrounded by junk, just not house proud.

    Andy comes from a family that are terrifically house proud, and live in immaculate homes. He notices that stuff needs doing, before I do, and ends up doing it. He nags too, and for a few weeks, I pull my weight, and then it slips, and he ends up doing the majority again.

    Gradually it is getting more even, with the chores, and now we are up to me doing about 35% of the housework. He just grinds away at me. One day we'll no doubt get to 50:50.

    It's not that I don't appreciate him, it's just I don't appreciate what needs doing. I think of hoovering as a once every other month job, not once a week. I can live in a less than perfectly clean house.

    When we went to Tunisia, Andy had the upset tummy, I was fine, and we ate the same. I thought it was because I was used to bacteria, and had a hardier stomach, from my mum's housework allergy, and aversion to dettol.


  8. Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    This is good.
    Amy – I agree on the parent's role & family history. Warmth's father does alot around the house. I have a sister who up until the age of 17 was very happy to tidy & clear up. I've married a man who likes things tidy and neat, that's not me though.
    I like that we have set jobs – I can then get satisfaction from achieving. We've talked about which jobs we like/don't like doing. Warmth hates doing the washing and unpacking the shopping so I always do that & I like that I'm doing something for him. He tends to cook mid week – but then he enjoys listening to the radio so it's not all hardship.
    Penny – We tried the 'half hour an evening' thing. It did work but somehow we've let it drift.
    We've haven't got it perfect, we still talk about a cleaner & have moans about the house but the one thing that made the difference to me, as the messy one, was when Warmth explained how it made him feel when I was untidy. I didn't want to be the person who caused upset to the person I love the most & so I attempt to change.

  9. Frances
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    This is a great topic to discuss! Like others above, I find that I am the less tidy one in the relationship, although I clean more, if that makes sense? Apart from washing up. I really dislike washing up! Luckily Mr Frances likes it (possibly something to do with the cakes that result from the slight mess!). We are lucky enough to be able to have a cleaner, which really does help when we both work long hours during the week.

    Otherwise, Penny's idea is brilliant – had a giggle at the image of someone pottering away tidying a drawer though! :-)

  10. Gem
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    I am the untidy one in our house. I am 100 times more untidy than my husband. I thought because I was clean (I wash up, I clean the kitchen etc, I just don't tidy) that was fine. I don't see mess. However it really bothered him, and once I found out just how much, I started to make a really big effort, and it was an effort, I'm not sure why the thought of unplugging the hair dryer and putting it back in its drawer once I'd used it seemed so anathema to me, but now it has become habit. We now have a cleaner (for reasons other than my dislike of it, but it's the best money we spend every week by a long way), but I still have to remind myself to put the hair dryer away, and it still makes him smile when he sees I've done it. It's the simple things and all that!

  11. Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Does anyone else have a different notion of 'mess' to their other half? James can be happily ignorant of crumbs, used glasses and a dirty bathroom but the shelves being a bit haphazard (or my clothes being everywhere) drives him nuts, and i'm the complete opposite, I like clutter but I also have to scrub the shower down each morning.

  12. Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Penny, we do the same as you. We have a 30 minute period every day in which we do…. something. Usually the washing up or hanging out the laundry. Sometimes I clean the bathroom (I love cleaning that bathroom). We had to implement this rule because we both work stupid hours, and we're both naturally extremely messy, and the constant bomb-site nature of our flat was getting us both down. 30 minutes each day doesn't seem too onerous on top of a working day, and it keeps us vaguely on top of things. Every month we have a massive deep-cleaning blitz, just to do weird things like clean the cupboards and de-mould the walls in the damp spare room!

    Just at the moment G is working 18 hour days so I'm doing the 30 minute stints alone, because I can't bear to make him tidy at 10pm at night, when he's only just eaten. He is highly appreciative of this though, and he knows how hard I'm working to pick up the slack. I think that's why I don't mind doing it so much.

    I think the key thing is, as Anna and Ant said, to make sure he really does understand how much it bothers you, because if he doesn't notice the mess then he might not really comprehend how upset it's making you. Once you've communicated that, and suggested a solution like Penny's, you've done as much as you can. He needs to meet you halfway. With a mop.

    K x

  13. Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    This post would make my husband laugh so much, as this is effectively the same as our relationship, but the other way around.

    Over the years, I'd honed the art of avoiding cleaning. Before he came along I was like a happy little pig in a stye: I'd wash up only when I ran out of crockery, wash my clothes only when I had no others (and assisted this process by buying new clothes so I didn't need to launder as often), and generally thought haphazard stacking of papers and books was an effective form of filing.

    When we moved in together he started making sly comments about it. I, quick as a flash, had an excuse at the ready: my dissertation's due next week/we don't have enough storage/it's your turn (I don't know how I got away with that one). But after a few months I spoke to him about it, and explained that if he made sly comments, I'd only see that as part of the challenge (I lived in a house at uni where we played washing-up jenga – if you could put your plate on the pile without it falling over, you didn't have to wash it up – and yes, sometimes I disgust myself). I explained that if he wanted my behaviour to change, he has to talk to me about it outright. Not confrontationally, but bluntly and openly. This was really good for us, as it gave us a method for dealing with issues like that.

    As for the washing up… well, it's his turn.

  14. Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Frankie-I reserve the right to 'call in' emergency half hours when guests are coming or we'be been away and things have slipped a bit. Generally speaking, an hour between us five days a week is enough, even in a sizeable house where both of us are currently home during working hours.


  15. Becca
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    I'm a messy pup but I go through moments where "everything" in my life "needs to be clean" and I'll strop.

    For us, its become about what makes our lives easier. Spending Saturday morning traipsing around a supermarket isn't fun, so Ocado and Tesco deliver (not Asda after their "we forgot everything but won't refund your delivery money" stunt). For me "Cleaning" is different from "Tidying".

    Cleaning is scrubbing the bathroom, the fridge, empying the bins and cleaning the oven. This we have a cleaner for because £10 a week isn't worth getting a divorce for (FYI Anon I would have just called someone in to do the garage door rather than argued about it for 5 years). If anyone lives in North London I would completely recommend our cleaner. She cleans the skirting boards WITH A TOOTHBRUSH (that is what I call clean!)

    Tidying is picking up after yourself. We have two nights a week where we "Tidy" (and its usually me that does it because I make the mess) – Wednesdays and….Fridays (SAD). Friday is because then I have the rest of the weekend to not have to do anything. It works for us. But because I am PATHETICALLY UNSOCIAL on a Friday night. It takes max 30 minutes a night.

    Its about finding something that works for you – and if that is spending £20 a week on delivery and cleaning so be it. £10 each a week is one or two lunches out. And you get all that extra time together. You can't buy time.

  16. Posted February 23, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    We are lucky enough to have a cleaner here, and I recently announced that if we lost all of our money, and had to cut out all luxuries, the cleaner would be the very last thing to go. After food.

    I swear, having a cleaner removes 90% of reasons for spousal arguments. Our marriage is vastly improved by removing the need to discuss whose turn it is to clean the bathroom.

  17. Kate
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    I do the majority of the housework but the OH does help out when he has a (rare) day off or if we are tidying up for guests arriving. He does 100% of the cooking though so I think it works out pretty even and as he works more (and earns far more) I don't feel underappreciated because it is kind of like I'm getting paid for it albeit in meals out and holidays rather than hard cash!

    We're quite compatible in our tolerance of messiness levels so I suppose that's why this works for us. I can imagine it would be frustrating if this wasn't the case and I would defintiely advocate a cleaner to even things out!

  18. Posted February 23, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Well, I can tell you how it works in our household. He works 12 hours shifts as a commis chef at a restaurant. I work 10 hour shifts as an AID worker and then free lance english teacher.

    We are both home for so little that the cleaning sort of gets done whilst we are there. Sometimes, I will do a massive tidy up and organise up – is it just me or do Men tidy up but they dont organise anything?

    We take turns to do most things, although he cooks and the kitchen is his domain so he cleans it nearly all of the time and I wash the clothes (yes ladies, I wash all our clothes BY HAND. even his chef whites.)

    We have a weird bathroom that means I can shower and also clean it at the same time (picture naked showering in rubber gloves!)

    The bedroom consists of just our bed and not much else, our clothes are stuffed into drawers and boxes and now his sister has moved into our living room she sorts this space out.

    I sweep up outside (the amount of Guava fruit we have in the yard at the moment is horrifying and attracts a lot of wasps) and he takes out the bins – I can never remember which day they come.

    Anyway, thats life over here between us! Im pretty sure the routing will change if we go back to England and will involve more hoovers and less brooms and scrubbing brushes!

  19. Posted February 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    God I loved reading this – I can't wait to meet Ant – can totally see why you two are together!

    I think it's about respect and she needs to ask him to show her some – its not ok for her to be his cleaner, but if he genuinely doesn't get it, he should be reconsidering his attitude because of the fact it upsets her, regardless of what kind of pigsty he's happy living in. Thats what marriage is about. Adjusting yourself to make someone else happy. As long, of course, as that doesn't make you unhappy. The flip side of the issue.


  20. Posted February 24, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    I think she needs to get her and her partner to a counselor who specializes in couples counseling, not because their relationship is doomed (couples counseling is not just for doome couples, it's awesome for everyone!). We struggle with the chores thing, except it is me who does way less around the house. The counselor is super helpful. Ours both helps us talk about it better (goodbye nagging, hello healthy communication), and change it. He helped us talk about the reason I find dishes gross is when they are all hiddly piddly and soaking in food and water in the sink. I don't want to touch it. But if we make a schedule, and make it less gross for me (gloves! Rinsing dishes and stacking them neatly!), I'm willing to do it for him, I just forget to do it. I also tell him every thing I do around the house, and ask for acknowledgement for it. It's what it takes for me.
    So I highly recommend a counselor, because they are awesome (when you find a good one).

  21. Posted February 26, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Having just moved house and our lives are around and up to our ears right now I very much understand.

    Bean and I are naturally untidy – add in a lazy brother and this makes for a chaotic house which is not a home yet. Hmm time to rethink out strategy. I love the 30 mins a day thing. May try and make this happen!

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