“You should have asked!”

Men who need to be told to help around the house aren’t taking full responsibility for themselves. This is a problem.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

I recently came across a comic about what the creator calls the mental load. It’s worth a read.

The gist is that men too often sit back and assume their wife or girlfriend will keep track of the house for them. Men believe it’s enough to wait to be told what to do, so long as they do it. This isn’t enough, though. Men who need to be told to help around the house are failing to take responsibility for their own home.

Men refusing to do their share of housework is a common problem. It’s even a statistically quantifiable one. Studies show women still do more unpaid work — often in the form of extra housework — than men.

The problem goes beyond just the raw hours of extra work women do. There is an additional amount of overhead mental labor being done by women who are stuck in the position of de facto household managers. This is what author of the above comic calls the mental load; it’s the cognitive burden of having to keep track of what needs to be done around the house, which is a cost in addition to actually getting it done.

Being a project manager is a full-time job for a reason: it’s a lot of work to figure out what needs to be done and when, and how to prioritize often limited resources to complete those necessary tasks!

Despite this, the mental load is often invisible to the men avoiding it. They assume that it’s enough to be ready to do whatever they’re told. They might even think of it as being generous to allow their wife to have control of the house. This ignores the work involved in managing the home and the stress dof having to take responsibility for it.

A man should never respond to a household problem with “You should have told me!”, but instead should say “I’m sorry I didn’t notice or act when I should have. This is my fault, as well.”

Even to think of it as a man helping with the housework is a problem, since it implies the woman is the executive house project manager who bears ultimate responsibility for the house. This means if something goes wrong, as in the comic, the man gets angry at his wife for failing to keep the house in order, as if it were solely up to her. He might say ‘you should have asked!’, as if he had no responsibility to keep track, as if he were a kind of domestic employee rather than half of a shared household.

This is unfair. Even doing equal hours of housework isn’t truly equal if the mental load of managing the house, and the weight of that responsibility, falls more heavily on the woman’s shoulders.


Aspiring good men have got to take a shared responsibility for domestic responsibilities. Men need to take the initiative in their home to make sure things are running smoothly. This means keeping track of supplies and replenishing them without needing to be told. It means cleaning when something is dirty instead of waiting for it to annoy his significant other enough that she asks him. Responsible men coordinate with their other half as equals. They do not sit back and wait to be told to clean up.

A man who wants to do it right needs to understand that if she has to ask him, he’s already made a mistake. He should have been on top of it enough to know it needed to be done. He needs to take responsibility of his house, not sit back and act like a kid who needs to be managed.

A man should never respond to a household problem with “You should have told me!”, but instead should say “I’m sorry I didn’t notice or act when I should have. This is my fault, as well.”

Men often pretend like household chores are ‘small’ things that shouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s a huge deal to leave your partner with more work and more responsibility than is their due. That is not respectful. It isn’t loving. Men who love their partners must assume their share of the mental load.