It’s been two hours since your partner said he’d help you take out the trash and he’s still stationed on the couch, fully engrossed in a game of sudoku. Do you: A. Remind him of the task or B. Sigh loudly, grab the bags and drag them out the door begrudgingly.
If the latter is more your M.O., you might be what we call a chore martyr.
What’s a chore martyr, you ask?
It’s someone who takes on all or most of the household duties in order to make the point that they are, well, taking on all the household duties. While every marriage and partnership has its own rules when it comes to the chore wheel, the martyr usually appears when one person feels that the IRL distribution of the work is not fair and, in their head, it’s easier to just take care of it than to have a confrontation.
So how can we prevent this negative behavior from screwing with our relationships in the long-term? We tapped neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez to find out how to stop our martyring ways once and for all.
So what's really at play here?
According to Hafeez, chore martyrs go out of their way to avoid confrontation. And we get it. Bringing up your grievances (aka that pile of dirty dishes in the sink) can feel like you’re picking a fight with your partner. But Hafeez finds these honest convos are the only way to avoid problems down the line, especially since resentment and chore martyrdom go hand in hand.
"Confronting a situation within your relationship that is annoying you or stressing you out can lead to clear expectations being set. The longer you wait to address a problem, the more strain it causes on you and subsequently the relationship," she points out.
While martyrs may think they’re keeping the peace by sweeping the floors in silence, they’re really building tension within themselves and their marriages.
How is this affecting our relationships?
If you’re shouldering all of the responsibilities at home, it shows you can’t rely on your partner to help out. Hafeez notes that this breakdown of trust can go beyond chores, spilling into other areas of your marriage like finances and fidelity. “Frustration over household tasks and inconsideration can infect other issues and when it all blows up, couples are left with so many grievances, they don’t know how or where to begin untangling their troubles,” she explains.
Yikes. So how can we stop?
The first step: Remember your spouse isn’t a mind reader. Per Hafeez, "We tend to send signals to our partner that their actions are not making us happy, but the signals are vague, passive-aggressive and do not account for the fact that your partner’s radar might not even be reading into your signals.” So chances are those subtle sighs, eye-rolls and mutterings under your breath are either confusing your partner or going completely unnoticed.
Instead, Hafeez suggests taking one of these phrases out for a spin the next time your S.O. neglects to help out:
“It makes me feel like I don’t have someone to count on for the little things.”
“I want you to keep your word when you say you’ll do something. It is overwhelming when I have to do more things than I should.”
Here’s why these phrases work: You’re openly expressing your expectations and how it makes you feel when they aren’t met. “It is completely valid for your partner to not prioritize the same things you do, especially details and chores,” Hafeez explains. “But the point of being in a relationship is learning to compromise, validate and contribute to improving the things that concern your partner.”
The bottom line: Be clear about your needs from the start. Remind your spouse or partner when those needs aren’t met. And show gratitude when she follows through. Because two (rubber glove-clad) hands are better than one, trust.