I and my husband both work full time outside of my home. We have three children, all school-age. We both come home from work at a similar time, but I find when I come home from work, I'm the one who cooks dinner, sets the table and cleans up after, in addition to taking care of all the laundry and many other household chores. The only household job that my husband readily takes responsibility for is the garbage, and changing light bulbs! I'm very unhappy with this division of labor and feeling exhausted from my jobs inside and outside of the home. How can I get my husband to help out more?


Dear Overworked,

You resent that when you come home from "work," it's to start a second job. Whereas, when your husband comes home, he relaxes and plays. You feel it's not fair – and you're right.

Maintaining a family requires much effort and each partner—husband and wife—must make equal contributions. An equal contribution does not mean each must do the same thing. It means that the total effort should be approximately equal. Thus, hard and fast rules as to who does what and how much cannot be made. It's the "total" effort at the end of the day that counts. And if it is not balanced—there will be resentment.

From your question, I understand that outside work is equal, but the housework is not. Your resentment is justified and must be corrected. If it is not, it can cause conflict and spread to otherwise healthy areas of your relationship. You are smart wanting to address this injustice.

Here are four steps on how to communicate to your husband your feelings:

1. Request a meeting. Tell your husband you have something important to discuss with him and request a time to talk. Select a time when you won't be interrupted by the phone or the children. Tell him you won't need more than ten or twenty minutes. If it goes beyond this amount of time it will likely lead to an argument. If you need more time, then request a second meeting.
Resistance. If your husband won't agree to talk, or agrees and then doesn't follow through, tell him in just a few sentences something like this: "Tom (replace with the correct name), I resent your insensitivity to my feelings. I want to talk and you are ignoring me. I feel distant from you and the longer this goes on the more apart we will become. I hope we can avoid this." Hopeful he will get the message and sit down and "talk."

2. Calmly describe your feelings. If you are angry—don't talk. Request another time. Why? Because if you are angry, your husband will only react to the "anger" and not the legitimacy of your point. He will not hear your request for "fairness." Your anger can trigger return anger from him. Your will end up arguing and accomplishing nothing. Without anger, express your feelings by talking about yourself. For example: "I feel it is not fair that I do most of the housework; I resent that while I am cleaning the kitchen and bathing the kids you are reading or talking to friends on the phone." Make sure you stay on topic. Avoid discussing other areas of discontent.
Resistance. If you find your husband becoming defensive, arguing or explaining himself, tell him to listen for a couple of minutes without interruption, and then it will be his turn to talk to you.

3. Tell your husband what you want. Now is your time to be assertive and say what you want. Avoid saying what you don't want. Stating what you want is always more powerful than saying what you don't want. Saying what you want is clear, decisive, and unambiguous.
Resistance. If your husband will not accept your feelings or denies your request for equality, tell him: "Tom, if you ignore my needs and feelings, I am going to feel distant from you. This is not how we want our marriage to be. I think we can do better."

4. Negotiate a plan. Assuming your husband is with you at this point, together make a "plan of action" that expresses your agreement to share equally the housework. Write it down so there is no misunderstanding.
Resistance. If you sense your husband is not sincere in his commitment to cooperate, suggest a follow-up time to discuss the implementation of your "plan of action." This will inform your husband that you are serious and that you intend to hold him accountable.

I sincerely hope your efforts will achieve the success you are seeking. If you run into a snag, likely you are having a problem with one of the above four steps. Reread it and try again at another time. Don't give up or get angry. If all your efforts lead to disappointment, get help from a trusted and competent advisor.

Wishing you and your family the best.

Rabbi Avrohom Kass, M.A., R.S.W., R.M.F.T.