What to do when your partner isn’t pulling their weight

Kinderling News & Features

Resentment toward your partner when it comes to ‘pulling your weight’ is one of the most common problems in marriage and relationships, second only to financial disagreements.

Ginny Lindsay is a psychotherapist and couple’s counsellor at From 2 to 3 and she talks us through how to effectively communicate with your partner when you feel they aren’t picking up on your subtle (and not-so-subtle) hints.

Remember different perspectives

It’s important to remember (and to not eye-roll as you read this) that each partner sees things through their own lens. While you could be feeling like you’re holding everything together by the skin of your teeth, you partner may feel like they are doing all they can. This comes down to expectation, something Ginny says we need to understand in order to change.

Share expectations

What we expect from a partner covers everything from basic domestic duties to affection. Unfortunately, research shows that women aren’t very good at asking for help outright. Instead, women often ask for help by dropping subtle hints and suggestions. But to the other partner, these throwaway comments are taken at face value, not requiring decryption with a sypher.

It comes down to expectations and what you feel the role is that your partner should be doing. This is where speaking up comes in.

Ask for help and be direct

Ginny says that unless you ask directly, you won’t get what you need. So ask your partner: “Where are you at today? Can you help me with this task please? What happens is because we don’t ask and we do it more subtly, that’s when the resentments start to build,” she explains.

Listen to Ginny of Kinderling Conversation:

Make time and talk openly about your roles

Ginny says to make time to sit down with your partner (but not on a date night!) and discuss what each of you see as your role in the family.

“It’s really about sitting down and discussing ‘who does what’ and how you each can help each other to lighten the load.  That can be quite interesting because that reveals quite a lot about what the other partner really didn’t have an idea about. [That way] you'll find that there’s differences so it’s then trying to find a common ground where the two of you can meet. It’s also being realistic that you’re not going to be aligned on everything.”

Avoid resentment

Having the conversation out loud about expectations is the first step in ditching the resentment that comes from bottling it up. “The resentments are [like] the little stones... they start to turn into bigger things and then before long something that’s innocently been done is getting a side slap and it doesn’t deserve the side slap,” Ginny says. 

Resist making throw-away comments

Snide side-comments made in the moment can be angry, hurtful and ultimately unhelpful.  This, Ginny says, is the golden rule. Don’t bring it up when you’re reactive.

Ginny says, “If you want it to fail, that’ll fail. If done like that, we’re not going to get the response that we’re wanting which is to be heard, which is to be validated, acknowledged, and to get that appreciation.”

Use 'I', not 'you in your discussions

Ginny suggests framing your frustrations in the ‘I’ and not the ‘you’. If you make the conversation about your partner, i.e. “You’re not doing XYZ”, you’re giving them criticism which is judgement and blame. And you’ll get a reaction, but not the kind you want.

Instead try speaking in first person. Ginny offers, “Say 'I feel I’m doing this, this and this and I’m starting to feel really tired and really resentful. I think I would be a good idea if we sat down and just talked about the different roles that we’re both playing.  Let’s see if there’s a better way we can support each other and to be able to work out who does what, because at the moment it’s not working for me.'”

By doing this, you’re owning the whole conversation without stirring anger and judgement up in your relationship, and your partner doesn’t feel criticised. “Your [partner] will not want to see you suffer so [they] will then step forward and meet you. You’re going to get a much better response if you set it up,” Ginny says.