The One Conversation That Always Turns Into A Fight (& How To Make Peace)

Radical relationship problems demand radical solutions.

unhappy girl sitting on couch next to boyfriend - Yuri A / Shutterstock

In my career as a professional organizer, I am privy to the ways married couples speak and think differently from each other regarding the arduous work of what I like to call, “household management". The type that some people might call “women’s work” — which is based on the historical myth that “women are just better at it.” 

Not so. But I hear this anyway: 

Wife: I’m overwhelmed with all the household work. It seems like it's never-ending, and I can never catch up.


Husband: I don't understand why you're so stressed. I mean, you're a stay-at-home mom, right, and you do it so well. How hard can it be?

Wife: Yes, but it's not just taking care of the kids. There's cooking, cleaning, laundry, and everything else that goes into running a household. I feel like I'm doing it all by myself.

Husband: Well, I do my fair share when I'm home. What more do you want me to do?"

Wife: I just need you to understand that it's a lot of work and that I need your help and support. Can we please work together to find a solution?

But finding solutions isn’t easy because so much of the work of household management is invisible.


It is the thinking about what’s coming up, what needs to happen, how to look into the future to anticipate birthdays, school permission slips, family meals, holiday dinners, do we have enough toilet paper, how come we don’t have any more ketchup?

Granted, all of these little tasks individually are easy to do but as a whole, they’re supremely important to the functioning of a well-ordered home and to family happiness.

And when that order breaks down, or when one partner carries an unequal burden? Feathers are sure to fly. But it doesn't have to be that way.

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Why it seems like the work is never done

Emotional labor explains why the work is never done. At home, it involves loving, caring actions with invisible mental load dimensions and zillions of concrete tasks. When you stop to think about it the list that includes everything we have to do at home is breathtaking in its enormity. The work keeps coming. It. Does. Not. Stop. 

And so it is no wonder that the primary caregivers of the household (predominately women) are absolutely and unequivocally overwhelmed, angry, frustrated, depressed, and anxious. 

Well-meaning husbands seek to help their wives with “the chores” without fully recognizing that they unconsciously believe that the entirety of household chores, coupled with the mental load of emotional labor falls squarely on the shoulders of their wives. When was the last time anyone at home had a glance at the household to-dos? 

Some of these tasks are weekly, some daily, and all are important to the functioning of a well-ordered home. Take another look and you may notice that many of the tasks associated with household management are also invisible. For instance, scheduling a play date means not just sending a text, but also thinking about who’s available for pick-up and drop-off. Making a dental appointment for a 5-year-old involves finding the right dentist, polling friends, and reading reviews.


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The weight of invisible labor

The weight of this invisible labor continues to be part of the lives of wives and not so much the experience of husbands. Sure, a husband may ask to help make the appointment but if he doesn’t acknowledge the invisible steps involved in making the appointment, a wife may respond by saying, ‘Oh the hell with it, I’ll do it myself.”

Here are things no husband likes to hear from his wife:

  • I can't take it anymore! Why can’t you just notice what needs to be done?
  • Why do I have to remind you to do everything? 
  • I am not your mother. I am your wife.
  • I give, and I give, and I give. And what do I get? 
  • I don't want a helper. I want a partner. 

These are not isolated comments. Every day they emerge from the mouths of women all over the country — once, twice, sometimes five times a day. 


Matthew Fray, the author of This Is How Your Marriage Ends: A Hopeful Approach to Saving Relationships writes in that funny but not funny way about the demise of his own marriage which I can distill down to this: His divorce happened because he didn’t listen to his wife about what mattered to her because it didn’t matter to him. And he didn’t care to notice the volume of household labor happening all around him 24/7.

When listening and noticing aren’t happening, partnering is off the table. 

RELATED: The Top 12 Things Married Couples Fight About, Ranked From Least To Most Common

Strategies to flip the shared labor narrative

Noticing everything around you is a huge cognitive skill. Husbands who share in the household work, and the mental load of emotional labor are doing so because they notice both the visible and the invisible. Ultimately, partnering with their wives on household labor strengthens the family unit and creates a happier and more harmonious home life and a chance at true gender equity at home. This is not a secret. 


The solution? Radical delegation

We raise the bar of household equity when we make the invisible, visible, and then become champions of “radical delegation."

Think of and list all the invisible components required for every damn thing we do at home in order to get to the goal, like, for example, getting it together to bake cupcakes with a 5-year-old. Making the invisible visible is an invaluable step, and will serve as the foundation for household equity.

As lists of tasks unfold, and the invisible becomes more obvious, I encourage the next step — to embrace the art and practice of radical delegation.  

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Delegate the work radically

Coined by thought leader Judith Kolberg, radical delegation is a new way forward. The delegation, as we understand it, says the work is done by the person best suited to the task. Since women are traditionally raised to do household labor, it’s neither fair nor equitable that the bulk of household labor falls to them. 

Radical delegation is delegating to get work done because it needs to be done! It is the work of the brain, not of the person. It’s not based on who’s better at it. It’s based on the fact that it needs to be done whether you’re great at it or not.

The sooner we realize this, and do something to change it, the sooner women will feel relieved of their guilt, anxiety, frustration, and shame. The radical delegation will lead to improved relationships, better-functioning households, and, dare I say, a paradigm shift. Radical delegation is essential for true social and gender equity.


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Seeking an equitable outcome

When husbands partner with their wives on household labor, it not only benefits their relationship but also improves the well-being of the entire family. By sharing the workload, wives will have an easier time integrating opportunities to pursue their interests without the ridiculous amount of guilt that is often involved even about a gal-pal weekend, training for a marathon, or reading for three hours straight. Good mental health will abound.

Children benefit from seeing their parents partner on work of the home, redefined as household management and learning along the way that there is no such thing as "women’s work." It's for everyone.

The sooner we realize this — and do something to change it — the sooner women will feel relieved of their guilt, anxiety, and frustration, and stands as an essential component for true social and gender equity.


RELATED: 5 Reasons Your Husband Doesn't Help Around The House — And What To Do About Each

Dr. Regina Lark is a Certified Professional Organizer (CPO) and a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization (CPO-CD). 

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