I recently had the chance to interview marriage and family therapist Hal Runkel, and posed what I thought was a pretty innocuous question:
How do you get your partner to help with household chores?
Runkel’s answer: You don’t.
“Whenever we start off a question with, ‘How can I get someone to do more of this?’ we’ve started off on the wrong foot,” he said. “Because already, we’re trying to get manipulative, literally trying to manipulate this other person to do what we actually need them to do. And it will always backfire.”
Nobody wants to be told to make the bed, or wash the dishes, or put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket. Inevitably, Runkel said, “They will fight us on that.”
Plus, if you really think about it, you don’t want to tell your partner to be a responsible adult, either.
As Runkel put it, “you want them to want to do the dishes.”
Fat chance of that happening, right? Well, maybe. It depends on how you communicate your frustration.
Runkel shared specific language you can use: “It hurts me when it seems like I do more than you do. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that, and I don’t know if this is some unspoken arrangement, but I’m not going to do more than my share anymore. What you do after that is up to you.”
Runkel said he speaks from personal experience. At some point, his wife told him, “You’re a grown man. I’m not going to tell you to make the bed.”
Then she added: “I’m just letting you know that when you don’t make the bed, it makes it harder for me to want to climb back in that bed with you later that night.”
“I had new motivation for making the bed,” Runkel said. But there’s a twist.
Runkel went on: “I realised one of the reasons I wasn’t making the bed is because there’s no reason to have 52 throw pillows on top of the bed. It should not take an hour to make the bed. So I’m going to make it … at the level at which I think it is made. If you want to come back and put more on it, that’s great.”
If there’s an overarching theme here, it’s the importance of honesty — being truthful with yourself and with your partner.
If you’re disappointed because your partner treats you like a housekeeper, say so. If you’re frustrated because your partner insists on having chores done their way, say that, too. It’s better than letting the resentment brew until you end up blurting out something unkind.
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