I took out the garbage last time!
It's a fight that has come up a thousand times.
"Why am I always the one who has to [do the dishes, take out the garbage, plan our vacations, make the dinner reservations]? I feel like I'm always doing EVERYTHING!"
In relationships, one of the hardest things besides learning how to communicate with each other, is figuring out how to divide tasks and responsibilities in a way that works for everyone.
What makes this difficult is that you're aiming for a moving target. The process of finding a balance is one you will engage in over and over. It's a river to be rowed, not a mountain to be summited.
To complicate matters even further, each person is bringing in their own ideas, narratives, and biases that influence things like:
how they define things like who's role it is to do certain tasks;
what an equitable divide really looks like, and;
the meaning and prioritization they place on various responsibilities.
Often, all of these factors go unspoken, and couples will instead build up a sediment of unvoiced resentments, or a series of negative patterns of interaction. You start not to feel seen and heard in the relationship and it becomes harder to listen to your partner. It starts to erode the trust you have built up with them and becomes harder to give them the benefit of the doubt. At those times, the last thing you want to do is sit down and have an open conversation.
However, that's exactly when it's most important to communicate.
To get the the root of what's behind the breakdown in communication, begin with the following:
Try your best to pick a comfortable space and a time when neither person is going to be plagued with outside responsibilities or distractions. Then alternate between having each person answer the following questions, while the other person listens and then reflects what they're hearing.
In your eyes, what responsibility is the highest priority?
How do you imagine the ideal breakdown of responsibilities?
In your mind, who's role is it to do X? Why?
If you could have more help with one task, what would it be?
Where do you think you have the most leeway to change how and when you do things?
One thing that would make me really happy if you would do more is X?
What do you think would help you feel more comfortable doing X task?
Even though it's difficult, try not to get held up on the answers to a certain question. Remember, its about learning more about where the other person is coming from.
Finally, sit with your partner and propose a trial run that includes the following:
For two weeks:
[Person 1] will take on the responsibility of x [x number of times a week]
[Person 2] will take on the responsibility of x [x number of times a week]
**During those two weeks, each person will have one golden ask, where they can ask for the other person to take on one responsibility that wasn't previously discussed (i.e. Could you make/order dinner tonight? Could you do the grocery shopping this Thursday? Could you put in that load of laundry for the weekend?)
After the two weeks, regroup and debrief together.
Ask each other:
What did you learn over the last two weeks? What are you most grateful for?
How do you think you did at completing X task? How did it feel to be doing more of X?
How did it feel for you to see me taking on more of X?
What feels sustainable and what feels challenging about this new dynamic?
This is definitely not the only way to open communication back up between a partners, but it's one place to start. Each partnership will find what works best for them to reconnect or find ways to hear the other person.
If you're finding that you're getting blocked when you try to have these conversations with our partner, it could be time to discuss working with a couples counselor to help facilitate the conversation.