A partner with narcissism will try to manipulate and criticize you into doing all the housework. Here’s how to handle it.
Splitting housework can be tricky even among the most easy-going of partners. After all, we all come to the table with certain expectations, habits, priorities, and energy levels.
But as long as two people are willing to work together — and genuinely care about each other — they can make it work. But what if your partner has narcissistic traits?
A person with narcissism is more likely to engage in manipulative tactics and exploit or use you for their benefit —and housework is no exception.
When it comes to housework, narcissism can manifest in numerous ways.
Some narcissists will avoid housework like the plague because it’s “below” them. Others will do plenty of housework just to make you feel continuously indebted to them. And some will non-stop criticize everything you do, making you scared to wash a dish in front of them.
But regardless of how it manifests, the underlying characteristics of narcissism are a lack of empathy, an over-inflated sense of self, and an intense need for admiration.
In other words, your feelings may not be considered, and all of their actions will likely be motivated by a self-serving purpose and a need for power.
Here are a few ways that symptoms of narcissism can manifest in housework responsibility:
- Lacking empathy. It doesn’t matter if you’re sick or if you’ve worked overtime this week compared to their 4-day workweek. If the dishes are dirty, it’s affecting their life, and you will likely hear about it.
- Unrealistic sense of entitlement. Narcissists can become unreasonably angry when they feel criticized. If you suggest they fold the clothes a different way to save space, they may snap at you for acting like they’re stupid, and quickly point out everything you’ve done wrong this week to make it even.
- Needs to be the center of attention. A narcissist doesn’t simply do housework to have a clean house — they do it to be thanked and praised for being such a great person. If they vacuumed before you got home, and you don’t notice it right away, they may angrily bring it to your attention.
- Displays arrogant behaviors and attitudes. For some narcissists, housework is below them. They have far more important things to do and may list several reasons why it’s your job and not theirs. Or they’ll simply hire a maid before they will help around the house.
- Exploits and takes advantage of others. Narcissists can be highly manipulative. They will insist that you’re the only one who makes messes, so you need to do all the cleaning. Or they’ll never let you forget that they did the dishes two nights in a row when you were sick. Now you will owe them for life.
- Uses every opportunity to criticize you. Narcissists gain power over you by making you feel worthless. If you get up to clean, they might accuse you of making them look bad. If they start cleaning, and you’re already in the middle of something, they might accuse you of making them do everything. They may even ridicule the way you wipe the counters down.
- Gaslights you. A narcissist might insist that they took the garbage out last night, when you know for a fact that you did. But they will keep pressing their story until you feel completely crazy and second-guess your mind.
Do narcissists view chores as beneath them?
Some certainly do, but not all of them. Narcissists have an over-inflated sense of self-importance, but this can manifest in different ways.
For some, cleaning and doing housework is a job they consider too demeaning for them. But some narcissists who work in the cleaning or service industry might simply believe they clean better than everyone else. Or they can be highly critical or cruel to co-workers or employees.
Here are a few tips that might come in handy when you’re trying to split housework with a narcissist:
- Set firm boundaries. Don’t let yourself become a doormat who does all the housework. Let your partner know your expectations. Do your best to be loving and fair but firm.
- Let them pick. Narcissists like to be in control. So when you’re discussing splitting up the housework, it might be helpful if you say “What days work best for you to do the dishes?” It will rarely work if you assign them a certain day to clean.
- Make a list and put it on the fridge. As you’re working out who will do what, write it down in pen and put it up for display. This way, they won’t be able to insist that it’s not their day to do the dishes.
- Don’t put yourself in a bad situation. If your partner is highly critical of your cleaning, it might be best to do your chores when they’re not around. Or if they’re always accusing you of not cleaning, clean while they’re around.
- Praise their efforts. Narcissists often live for praise. If you want to encourage them to keep cleaning, continue to make a point of thanking them for their work. If the floor looks great after they mopped it, let them know.
- Explain what’s in it for them. Narcissists can be highly self-centered and won’t be motivated by your feelings. Explain how a clean home will benefit them: They can invite friends over more often or feel relaxed when they get home from work.
- Discuss this with a therapist. It can be hard living with a narcissist. If your partner is willing, discuss the housework issue with a therapist. This brings in a third party to keep an eye on things and help prevent you from being manipulated or used.
If you let them, a narcissist may completely use you for their own gain. A 2002 study found that a narcissistic partner is more likely to engage in manipulation and game-playing. Over time, they can manipulate you into doing everything for them — and make you feel guilty when you’re not.
To avoid this, make sure you set clear boundaries from the beginning. Know your value and speak up about your needs. If they continue to manipulate and walk all over you, consider that this relationship isn’t worth your happiness and self-esteem.
If your partner has narcissistic traits, creating a loving, give-and-take relationship can be challenging. If splitting housework is a major issue, then other aspects of your relationship are likely unhealthy as well.
Remember that your happiness and your needs are important too. If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, consider reaching out to a therapist to discuss your specific situation and how best to handle it.