Why Won’t My Spouse Do the Dishes?

I love my morning routine. I wake up, work out, get ready for the day, eat breakfast with my daughter, and walk her to school. I love this routine because it allows me to consistently take care of myself and connect with my daughter. For the most part, there is nothing that disrupts this daily rhythm. Except when I walk into the kitchen and see a counter so full of dirty dishes, I’m not sure there is even a counter underneath them. Maybe you can relate. There is something about a messy kitchen that can send life into chaos. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but even if life is going great at work, at home, and in the family, a messy kitchen has the power to put me in a tizzy.

Check your reaction

Usually, my reaction to the disaster is predictable and comes in two waves. The first wave is self-frustration. I begin to get mad at myself by thinking, “Why didn’t you finish the dishes before you went to bed last night? Was that next episode really worth it?” When I’m finished reaming myself out, the second wave hits. I turn outward and think, “Why do I always have to do the dishes? Why didn’t my spouse do them? She never does the dishes!” As you can imagine, this kind of thinking does not lead to a productive conversation about household chores. Instead, when she walks into the kitchen to get her breakfast, I’m already huffing and puffing and making it very clear that I’m annoyed as I clean up the kitchen. She asks me, “Are you okay?” I respond, “Yeah.” I continue to empty the dishwasher. She says, “Are you sure?” I say, “Well, I’m just mad the kitchen is a mess.” I don’t offer a solution, I don’t ask for help, I just make sure she knows how frustrated I am.

How do you respond when you are tired of doing a household chore? Do you lash out like I do? Do you give the silent treatment? Do you blame your spouse or your kids? As mundane as household chores can be, they are critical for helping a home run smoothly. So, when chores are neglected or when one person is carrying more of the workload than others, resentment can begin to creep into the relationships. A chore may have brought you joy to do in your first year of marriage, but ten years later, you’re tired of doing the same thing. You used to not mind picking up your son’s things when he was two, but now he’s twelve and it drives you crazy to see how messy his room is.

How does following Jesus change the way we deal with resentments towards those we live with? Should we continue on in bitterness or is there a better way?

Begin with confession

If you are fed up, then start with confession. Your anger doesn’t need to lead to something bad. Instead, it can be a cue for you to be more honest with those closest to you. Instead of holding all of that frustration inside and letting it come out in outbursts or passive-aggressive comments, take time to confess how you are feeling to the person you are angry with. After you acknowledge what you are feeling, you can ask for their help in finding a way forward, so that you are a stronger team. 

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). 

The Holy Spirit does something powerful in us when we are vulnerable enough to confess our emotions and our needs to those we live with. It may be scary at first, but over time, you will find that you’ll grow closer in your relationships and feel less resentment.

Move to gratitude

Use all that emotional energy taken up by resentments for gratitude instead. After confessing how you’re feeling and asking for help, think through and communicate the things you are grateful for in your spouse or kids. My frustration about the dirty dishes in the kitchen got in the way of me seeing all the things my wife was doing for the family. From going to work, to making dinner, to reading with our kids before bed, she contributes so much to helping our family function well. I need to give thanks for all that she’s doing. Of course, gratitude is not a means of erasing the need to ask for help, but it helps nurture a spirit of cooperation and partnership in the home. As Paul writes, “...always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). He writes these words in the context of avoiding debauchery. Instead of spending your energy on something sinful and unhealthy, focus on practices that will build you up like gratitude.

Assume the Best

Giving your loved ones the benefit of the doubt may be the most gracious thing you do today. Regardless of the fact that we live with these people, we don’t know everything going on with them. They may be doing everything they can to do their part in the household chores, but then they had something come up that prevented them from doing them or they just ran out of energy by the end of the day. Assuming the best of one another is remembering we are all human. I think that’s why Paul adds it to his list of what love is: 

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). 

Assuming the best means keeping no record of wrong and always trusting your loved ones. When we are willing to love like Paul, we may find that resentments melt away, vulnerability becomes the norm, and our loved ones assume the best of us just as we do of them.

About the author — Rev. Travis Jamieson

Travis Jamieson pastors a church in the heart of Silicon Valley and hosts The Faith (In)Forming Podcast. He’s married to Annie and they have two beautiful red-headed children

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