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‘I love my husband but I’m also so angry at him all the time’

Ask Roe: My husband and I keep fighting over housework and guests, and I’m starting to resent him

Dear Roe,

I’m a woman and I’ve been with my husband for seven years, and we have a three-year-old daughter. I love my husband so much, he’s kind, funny, and easy-going, but since our daughter was born, we’re fighting a lot. The things I used to love about him are driving me mad. I’ve always been the organised one and have some people-pleasing tendencies, so I always try be a good host when people come to the house, and keep on top of our friends’ birthdays and milestones and getting them gifts etc. I’ve always liked doing that type of social organising, but since we’ve had our daughter I’ve found it much harder, and get much more anxious. He has a large family who live close by, who I love, but they drop in a lot. I always feel stressed that the house is messy or I’m not really in a space for guests. I’ve asked my husband for more help around the house and he just tells me to relax and that we don’t need to put on a show for family. He’s always been relaxed about it, but I’m getting really resentful that I have to take on the work while he’s happy to let it all slide. We’re stuck in a cycle now where I get upset and emotional, and because he doesn’t like conflict, he just shuts down. I love him and we’ve never fought like this before, but I’m also so angry at him all the time and I’m terrified of what happens if we don’t fix this.

I can feel the stress buzzing off your letter, and I understand why. Having your first child is such a transformative experience and demands such huge shifts in your life and routine, and for someone who values some order and control, that’s a lot to deal with. Throw in disconnection and arguments with your partner, the one who usually makes you feel calm and supported, and it’s completely natural to feel scared and destabilised. But I do think this is fixable if you and your husband are both willing to look at your own behaviour and also start really listening to each other.

You write in your letter that you feel “resentful”, and that’s always a flag to look out for. Resentment can build quickly and block communication and connection, because it shuts down our curiosity and instead makes us armour up with judgment, blame and criticism. We hold on to resentment because we feel wronged, angry, and justified in our anger – and because we feel justified, we start seeing the person in front of us as the problem instead of seeing them as someone on the same team, trying to tackle a problem together. Resentment can make us shut down instead of reach out, and in that silence, resentment festers, constantly keeping an ongoing scoreboard – and in that atmosphere, no one wins.


The good news is that resentment is allergic to honest and vulnerable communication. You and your husband need to start thinking both about the source of these feelings of resentment, and how you can tackle the problem together.

Resentment can often hide under superficial reasons and specific actions, and contain a much bigger emotional truth. You write that having a clean house, being a good host and maintaining the social calendar of your life is important to you, and so it makes sense that in your mind, you want your husband to take on some of the work of these responsibilities, like cleaning up more and taking on hosting duties. And, for the record, he should. The concept of the mental load, also known as cognitive labour or invisible labour, is the management of domestic life; the never-ending checklist of knowing what is needed to run the household, when it needs to be done, how, and then completing or delegating these tasks as necessary to ensure everything gets done.

A study by Allison Daminger published in the American Sociological Review describes the mental load as the responsibility of “anticipating needs, identifying options for filling them, making decisions, and monitoring progress”. In heterosexual relationships, this work is still overwhelmingly done by women, can be exhausting and as it is invisible, it’s often taken for granted.

You write that you’ve always liked being a good host and managing your social calendar, and I’m going to guess that the mental load of that work probably involves being very aware of the cleanliness and appearance of your home, and doing the associated cleaning, as well as having food and beverages in, not only for you but for guests, and doing the associated monitoring, shopping and preparing – and that’s just the prep work, not including the emotional energy it takes to engage with guests.

It’s the same with your social calendar – there’s a lot of keeping track of important dates, thinking of and buying gifts, organising dates to get together, and arranging childcare if necessary. It’s a lot of mental energy, tasks, chores and social management. Even if you enjoyed doing this before having a child, it’s understandable that you now have less time and energy for it – but you are still holding yourself to the same high standards, and are feeling angry that your husband isn’t helping you more to fulfil them. And so you focus on the chores.

But something that’s interesting about resentment is that, often, we resent people for doing things that we don’t feel like we are allowed to do – and that pressure could be external or internal. If we don’t feel allowed to rest, we could get angry at those who make time for themselves; or if we don’t feel like we get to say no to people or set boundaries, we can resent those who set boundaries easily. I wonder how much of this could be true for you, particularly as you mention having some people-pleasing tendencies?

People-pleasing can often come from not feeling like we’re good enough and not trusting that we will be loved and valued unless we’re perfect and constantly being in service to others – like, for example, being the perfect host. Could some of your resentment come from seeing your husband trust that he doesn’t have to put in so much effort to be liked or respected? Could it come from him saving his mental energy and doing only what he wants to do, saving himself time and effort by not worrying too much about what other people think?

Could there be a way of reclaiming some of your time and energy, by healing the parts of you that feels the need to be perfect and saving more energy for yourself? What would it mean to have people over and trust that they’ll be fine without an elaborate spread? Or what would it mean to simply excuse yourself from hosting, either by placing more boundaries on when people can unexpectedly drop over, or letting your husband play host while you excuse yourself and do something that’s more relaxing?

Have an open and honest conversation with your partner, explaining why these situations cause you anxiety, and ask for support – while also promising to look at your own attitudes towards these tasks, and explore whether they’re actually beneficial to your happiness. When speaking, both of you must commit to not being defensive or attacking. When issues have been brewing, it can be easy to go into protection mode and enter conflict and conversation defensively, ready to attack and blame the other person. Instead, commit to entering the conversation with an aim to connect.

Don’t focus on what the other did or didn’t do, but focus on your feelings and needs, taking responsibility for your own role, and asking for their help and support. Listen to each other with the aim of understanding and figuring out how to tackle the problems together and importantly, assume each other’s good intentions.

Good luck.