The Secret to Healthy Communication About Cleaning

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With Valentine’s Day around the corner, it’s the best time to talk to your partner about the most romantic of topics: cleaning. I know, talking about cleaning is not something that turns on most people. But, you don’t want your dirty laundry ruining your relationship. Not your secrets, because you should have none of those, but your actual dirty laundry overflowing in the hamper.

According to a Yelp survey, 80% of people living with a partner have regular disagreements about housework: how to do it, when to do it, and who should do it. Usually, one person ends up doing a disproportionate amount of the household chores, and it can take a serious toll on your relationship. 

I know cleaning can be a touchy subject, so I’m sharing my secrets to healthy communication about cleaning with your partner. 

Talk About Priorities and Expectations

The first step is evaluating your cleanliness compatibility. Ask your partner how they feel about an unmade bed or dusty shelves, or a grimy toilet. Having a messy home might not bother some people (while seeing one dirty dish drives you absolutely up the wall). If you or your partner have any cleaning expectations for your home, you need to share them. 

I’m not saying neat freaks need to settle down with neat freaks, but I am saying that you will both need to compromise. Someone’s got to give, whether that’s the messy one becoming cleaner or the cleaner one letting some things go. As a team, you need to pick your priorities. 

Divvy Up the Tasks Equally

In my experience, it’s best to delegate cleaning jobs from the get-go, so both partners know what they’re responsible for. 

Make a list of the chores you absolutely hate and refuse to do. Ask your partner to do the same. Then compare your lists. Your partner might be able to tolerate the job you can’t stand (or vice versa) and that chore will belong to them. For example, your partner can do the dirty dishes while you unload the clean ones. Or, you might be cool with scrubbing the bathroom while they can sweep the floors. In the odd event that you both hate the same chore, you can take turns doing it or do it together as a weekend activity. (I know this is an unpopular opinion, but cleaning can actually be fun! Grab a mop, put on some good tunes, and you’re in for a great afternoon.)

Now, let’s say your partner agrees to clean the toilet but really drops the ball, leaving you no choice but to do it yourself. If this is the case, pull your head out of the toilet and stop. 

I often think, “If you want something done right, do it yourself,” but this isn’t always true! If your partner made a promise, they need to keep it. And if they can’t, you need to sit down and reevaluate the division of duties. 

Don’t Nag

Have you ever heard of the rule of reciprocity? The theory goes that people pay back what they receive. So if you yell or nag at your partner to do the laundry or shovel the driveway, your partner is probably going to respond by throwing that attitude right back at you. Then nothing will get done and you’ll just end up resenting each other. (And don’t, under any circumstance, call them lazy.)

On the flip side, when you notice your partner picked up a cloth and actually cleaned something, acknowledge it! Better yet, compliment it. A little positive reinforcement goes a long way. If they know their work is appreciated, they are more likely to keep doing it. 

If you’re a perfectionist and notice your partner missed a spot when cleaning the stove, take Elsa’s advice and just let it go. A mediocre job is better than no job at all, so pick your battles and give them an A for effort.  

Discuss Hiring Help

If both of your lists are piling up and you can’t find the time (or desire) to clean your home, consider hiring help. Sit down with your partner to determine a budget and do some research so you can spend less time dusting, washing, or vacuuming and more time focused on each other. 

Melissa Maker is an entrepreneur, cleaning expert, founder of Toronto’s most popular boutique cleaning service, and star of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube (but she still hates to clean!). Every week, Melissa delivers new videos dishing expert advice on cleaning products, tools, DIY substitutes, and practical, timesaving solutions to everyday problems. Melissa has appeared on the Today Show, and has been featured in InStyle, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens.