Tips for Cleaning as a Couple

When couples move in together, conflicts inevitably arise. One of the biggest sources of tension I hear about is cleaning. How clean should they keep their space? Who should do what? Here are some tips on how to reframe your expectations about cleaning as a team and how to execute the necessities more gracefully:

1)  Recognize that your partner may have different standards of cleanliness than you do. This may seem obvious, but I often hear people take it personally that their partner leaves dirty dishes in the sink or clothes on the floor. Even though it is not your ideal, your partner is probably not doing it to upset you – they may just have different preferences (and most likely their own set of expectations).

2)  Make requests without criticism. It’s easy to assume that our partners know what bothers us, but often they don’t. Either way, it is helpful to make requests directly to avoid confusion and build respect in your relationship. “Can you please not leave your socks on the floor?” is very different and is received better than a more critical statement like “I hate when you leave your socks on the floor! Who does that, anyway?!” With criticism, the underlying message is “What’s wrong with you?”  Most people do not respond well to criticism and it decreases the likelihood of getting the outcome you want.  Instead, try making a request about what you want the other person to do.  Be specific, pick one thing at a time, and recognize that you are making a request – not a demand.

3)  Pick your battles. There may be a lot of differences in cleaning preferences between you and your partner, but some will seem more important than others. Making requests about those issues first and not everything all at once can ease the transition. There also may be some issues that you can let go of when you adjust to your partner’s differences.

4)  Come up with a cleaning routine that works for both of you. Some couples use a chore chart, some couples take turns. One great method is to set aside time to clean together, each partner doing the tasks they prefer or are of the highest importance to them. It is crucial to find a method that works for both people, so that one partner does not feel resentful if the other takes the lead.

5)  Realize that it’s not always going to be equal. Distribution of labor in a couple is rarely going to be 50/50. One partner might take out the trash more often and the other might do more dishes. That is OKAY!  What is important is that you both feel valued and that you each are committed to working together on the same team.  If the overall cleaning distribution is feeling unequal, it is probably time to reevaluate and start making some requests (see #2 above).

6)  Reward yourself and use praise! After you clean (which, let’s face it, is not all that fun) do something nice as a couple. Also, remember that using positive reinforcement in the form of “thank you’s”, acknowledgement or compliments is often the best way to ensure that your partner will want to heed your requests again!