Ask a therapist: 'My boyfriend won't help around the house and it's becoming unbearable'

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Living together is becoming unbearable but, at the same time, we have a strong core relationship...


Dear therapist,

I’ve been with my boyfriend for about 14 months. We moved in together after six months which, on reflection, was probably too soon. The first few months were such fun but now we’re arguing almost every day about household chores.

Our habits are beginning to irritate each other. He doesn’t help with the laundry and he leaves half-drunk cups of coffee all over the house.

He thinks I’m a nag and he says he can’t relax in the evening because I’m always cleaning around him. I bring this up almost every day and he hasn’t changed his behaviour.

Living together is becoming unbearable but, at the same time, we have a strong core relationship. We see eye to eye on just about everything else.

I have a tendency to throw out the baby with the bathwater and I don’t want to do that again. I’m thinking we could maybe try a few sessions with a relationship counsellor. My question is if it’s way too soon to introduce it?

How soon is too soon for relationship counselling?

Dear anonymous, 

Thank you so much for getting in touch. What you are going through is really common. Many relationships, when they enter the stage of domestic union, find themselves in difficulty.

There are a number of reasons for this and a number of ways that you can overcome these difficulties. 

You are still in a quite new relationship. Just over a year together is not a very long time. There are still many ways in which you do not know each other and you both need to remember that some of the emotions and situations that only come to the surface on rare occasions (like grief, workplace stress, friendship turmoil) have not been experienced by you as a couple yet.

In fact, what I read here is that some of the more common emotional experiences and situations have not yet been shared by you both and this is causing some of the difficulty between you. The manner by which you relax and the level of hygiene in your home are issues that are causing daily conflict.

His reluctance to ‘help’ with laundry causes me to wonder why his laundry is being done for him and how this situation evolved.

I wonder whether you both have lived independently before. I am thinking particularly of your partner as there is a level of immaturity to his reticence around what you describe as ‘household chores’. How did his laundry get done before he lived with you, for example?

His reluctance to ‘help’ with laundry causes me to wonder why his laundry is being done for him and how this situation evolved. When moving in with someone, at times it can be useful to view the house as you would a flatmate situation, rather than the building of a home together.

This can help with leveling out some of the difficulties around the structure of the space that you want to share. What would each of you do if this situation were arising with a flatmate?

What could help is for you both to have a conversation that begins with an honest assessment of your individual levels of happiness within the relationship. Overall, are you happy with each other? Do you want to be in this relationship?

If you both answer those two questions and then take a step back from the shared home that you both are building, you can assess your shared domestic situation as you would with a flatmate.

Establish ground rules around the dull, boring, domestic stuff that is currently causing conflict. Buy into these rules. Don’t allow one partner to lay all of the rules, but ensure that both parties feel heard and understood in their establishment.

From this, you can spend more emotional energy on your relationship, rather than getting caught in conflict around issues that neither of you really want to engage with. This final point leads me to one other flag that is being raised for you.

Do you need conflict in order to feel engaged and connected?

You both need to ask yourselves whether this domestic conflict is in some way meeting a need within you both as a couple. Do you need conflict in order to feel engaged and connected? If this is the case, then yes, I would look at relationship counselling. If you both feel assured that this is not the case, then less invasive interventions will likely make a great difference. 

Finally, I hear you saying that you have in the past thrown relational connection away when difficulty arises. I do feel that this is something that you want to deal with. What are you aware of that you wish to resolve? Do you experience discomfort when you feel truly intimate with someone? What about yourself or your self esteem gets triggered within this space? 

Do some thinking, feeling and reflecting. If you wish to, a therapist can really help with this kind of stuff.Best of luck to you in your relationship.

Overcoming initial difficulties is a measure of the level of commitment and security that partners feel and I really hope that these difficulties unite you as a couple going forward. 

Lorraine Hackett is a therapist with MyMind. If you have a concern that you'd like to share with a therapist, email MyMind in confidence at [email protected]  MyMind provides affordable counselling and psychotherapy online or face-to-face in their Dublin, Cork and Limerick centres in over 15 languages. Visit www.MyMind.org to book an appointment or call 076 680 1060. 

Read more: Ask a therapist: 'I'm worried that I might be the cause of my four-year-old son's anxiety'

Read more: 5 signs your relationship has run its course, according to experts

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