How Can My Partner And I Stop Fighting About Chores?

It turns out, we’re more territorial than we give ourselves credit for. Not unlike a dog peeing on lampposts, we tend to mark our territory within relationships. If you don’t mind folding laundry and your partner finds washing dishes cathartic, it’s likely that you’ll fall into a routine. Sounds harmless, right?

This is where it gets tricky: sometimes we don’t rope off our territories equally… settling for closer to an 80/20 split rather than a 50/50 split. Additionally, territoriality can lead to something called gatekeeping, and it’s a pretty frustrating habit that can be easy to form and hard to shake.

Not familiar with the term? Here’s your crash course in gatekeeping:

R = Relisher P = Partner

R: "Hey hon, can you load the dishwasher?"
P: "Yeah no problem." (Starts loading it)
R: "Wait, why are you putting the bowls on the top rack?"
P: "...To make more room for plates?"
R: "But that’s where the glasses go, bowls have to go on bottom."
P: "Okay…" (Starts putting bowls on bottom)
R: "You know you have to rinse them a little more than that or they’ll come out dirty, right?"
P: (Gets frustrated and throws in the towel - literally)

We know what you're thinking - and no, gatekeeping doesn’t just exist in the kitchen. If your partner asks you if you’re going to send out Christmas Cards this year, and then checks back in every day to see if you’ve started - that’s gatekeeping. If they start a load of laundry but you ruin the moment by asking “Hang on - did you use the good laundry detergent or that other stuff?” - that’s gatekeeping. If they ask you to start dinner but swoops in to art direct the garnish presentation… that’s definitely gatekeeping.

Obviously, no one likes to be micro-managed and criticized. It’s not fun for anyone, even the critic. But gatekeeping can quickly set a pattern that breeds hostility and resentment. We want the opposite of those things, so here’s how you can put a stop to this nasty habit ASAP.

Step 1. Think About It.


Why are you playing zone defense about the dishwasher? Like, really? Do you really want to disincentivize your partner from helping out outside their “normal chores?” We’re guessing no.

Step 2. Reward The Effort.


It’s not about perfection, it’s about progress. Plus, would YOU be eager to do something if every time you did it - you got nit-picked and critiqued? Of course not! Conversely, you would be eager to do something again if your partner had noticed your (albeit imperfect) laundry efforts and said “Nice folding technique!” It’s all about lifting each other up… even when we’re miles outside our comfort zone.

Step 3. Let It Go.


In the words of Elsa from Frozen: “Let it go, let it go!” It’s not worth it. Who cares if the corners of the bedspread aren’t up to hotel regulations? What would it really matter if your dishwasher was top-heavy with bowls? Is it actually that big of a deal? If you learn to live with things - yes - just a tiny bit less than complete and total perfection, you might notice a big change in your happiness… and your relationship too.

So, we’ve made some really groundbreaking efforts towards self-actualization in the last 5 minutes. Proud of us. Proud of you. Proud of your relationship. Just proud.

Gatekeeping can make a sinister appearance even in the happiest of relationships, it’s something that weasels it’s way into your home and somehow spins mundane things like chores into opportunities for power play. But if you apply these steps:

  1. Think about it (no, really think about it)
    1. Reward the effort (say a quick thank you)
    2. Let it go (put it all in perspective)

Then you’ll be able to keep chores from becoming more than what they are.

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