When my boyfriend and I first moved in together, I made it clear that I was not some magical cleaning fairy that would wash the dishes and vacuum the carpet whenever dirt would appear. We were now sharing the same space, and I expected both of us to pull our weight and our chores to be split evenly and fairly. But not long after we settled into our place, I found myself constantly following him around, picking up the dirty clothing he carelessly dropped on the floor. That quickly turned into me resenting my partner, shrugging off his affectionate advances, and grumbling under my breath constantly.
My boyfriend isn't insensitive to other people's needs, but now that I'm a bit calmer after the dust (pun intended) has settled, I can admit that there were definitely things I did wrong, too. I left water on the bathroom floor when I got out of the shower, which drove him nuts and to which I'd respond, "You care about that, but you can't pick your dirty clothes up?" Eventually we both realized we had habits that needed to change if this was going to work.
The reason some people seem helpless when it comes to housework isn't because they consciously believe their partner will do it. Subconsciously, once habits have been ingrained, many people often just don't "see" what needs to be done. There's even some evidence that messiness is in our DNA! I was raised in a home where clutter was an absolute no-no. However, I had a bathroom to myself when I was younger and almost never had to answer for my splashy showers since the water had often dried up before my mom ever saw it (the mold was a different story).
But back to our new apartment. If there was one thing that got us through this difficult period, it was compromise. We calmly and reasonably discussed how we both worked the same eight hours each day, therefore, we should divide the housework more evenly. We attempted splitting the chores up 50/50. My boyfriend readily agreed to the responsibility of running the recycling to the sorting center twice weekly, vacuuming the carpets, sweeping off the front and back porches, and — yes — picking clothes up off the floor.
I handled the daily counter wipe downs, mopping two to three times per week, and cleaning the bathrooms weekly. We also agreed upon hanging a white board on the kitchen refrigerator with a list of housework we wanted done, as well as by when, and I must admit, having the sign right there in front of us every time we reached into the fridge for a soda helped a lot.
Another big piece of advice I have for new couples moving in together is to consider downsizing your home and belongings. Having less space to clean makes it that much easier to tackle, and having less stuff to pack, unpack, and dust off is a huge win during this new and often stressful time period.
We bonded and opened up a lot to each other during this time period as well. He let me know that my penchant for perfection made him feel incompetent, and my constant "my way or the highway" mentality made him feel like no attempts to please me were ever good enough. It was equally important that I work on changing myself as well. I had to let go of the comfort I had established while living in my own element for so long. During this trial-and-error period, I learned what mattered to him in a clean home, as he did with me. I also had to learn to show appreciation for what he did do, instead of constantly focusing on what had yet to be done. He did the same.
You learn to pick your battles, because, let's face it, learning to live with another person isn't easy. Ever. However, living together as a couple is a lot different than living with a roommate. There's a vested interest on both ends to make it work, which is a positive. But a potential negative is that there's also a comfort with a partner that will probably be a bit different than what you had with your roommate in college. It's easier to jump to anger and say things you don't mean with someone you're more comfortable with. Understanding this was the first step to fixing our daily interactions at home.
Those who find themselves in a similar situation may want to try the following:
- Focus on positive praise, not negative criticisms.
- Communicate openly about what's needed from your partner.
- Address feelings of resentment immediately — bottling up feelings leads to contempt, which murders love.
- Learn to let the little things go — as in, prioritize.
Is my relationship with my boyfriend now perfect? Of course not. No relationship is. But have my boyfriend and I mastered the art of compromise? I think so. Every relationship involves both give and take, and spending less than five minutes weekly wiping up the bathroom floor is a bit of labor I don't find at all burdensome if it means not finding his shirts all over the bedroom floor. Communication and appreciation kept our relationship alive during this transitional time, and our bond is now stronger than ever.