A Marriage Therapist’s POV on Chores

Marriage Musings

A Marriage Therapist's POV on Chores, Deb Owens Counselor, Chestnut Hill PAAs a marriage counselor, I think a lot about communication. Men and women seem to differ in how they view the essence, yes I said essence, of chores.

I realize these are considered to be gender stereotypes, however, from my point of view as a marriage therapist these are valid observations.

One member of a couple, often a female, gets irritated that her spouse or partner leaves dishes in the sink, socks on the rug, toys laying around, you name it.

The reaction seems disproportionate. Over the top.


Frequently, the interpretation is that “he” just doesn’t care.

Let’s say that a person is a committed relationship has their radar up. So they notice household duites left undone. Their brain interprets this behavior as if the other is saying “I don’t care” or more specifically “I don’t care about YOU”.

Based on over two decades conducting marriage and couples counseling and my own long term marriage, I’d like to challenge that assumption.

Marriage Counseling Data

The evidence from studying how couples interact around conflicts associated with tasks or chores suggests it is not that simple. What if “he” didn’t see the mess or it just did not register?

How can that be?

One half of a couple, often the female, feels stressed seeing these tasks left undone. She may not feel she can relax until everything is in some type of order.

Meanwhile, “he” doesn’t see it that way. For the other half of the marriage or relationship unwinding is associated with a completely unrelated activity. One that seems far more appealing than dirty dishes that can be dealt with “tomorrow”.

What he sees as “out of order” is the “nagging” and that message gets interpreted as:

You are incompetent

You aren’t a good partner or spouse

You are a failure.

Whatever you do won’t be “good enough” for your partner.

For most people being a target of our loved one’s fury does not translate into a desire or urgency to do more. Instead, there can be a sense of futility, why bother, resulting in withdrawal. Giving up.

This leads to at best a disconnect.  At worst, a level of petulance that erupts into full blown tension.

Marriage & Conflict

Understand that the fight is usually not over the mess but over the interpretation of its meaning on a deeper level related to the core sense of trust and commitment in the relationship.

The key questions of:

“Do you have my back? Can I count on you?”

Are the dirty socks telling me you don’t care or is it just a dirty sock?

Next time, try acknowledging the differences in how you each view the “duties” of maintaining a household.

Engage in a dialogue about solutions.

Try doing so with compassion and a little humor.


Deb Owens, is a Chestnut Hill based Therapist & Licensed Professional Counselor “Helping People Live & Love Well”  at her counseling office in Lower Gwynedd and Philadelphia. Deb is a Licensed Counselor offering F2F, phone, and on-line counseling or coaching. She specializes in relationships, marriage therapy, anxiety, and those concerned about their own or loved one’s alcohol use. 215-802-6521 www.debowens.com