Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi, Carolyn: I’ve been married a year, and my husband and I are very happy together overall, but I struggle with the balance between discussing an issue and criticizing. For instance, I feel like the majority of the household duties are left to me even though we both work full time. I’ll mention here and there that I need his help or would like him to pitch in, and my requests go ignored until I get upset/overwhelmed. He’ll feel bad, go on a cleaning/cooking spree for a few days, and then gradually leave the duties to me again.
He is very laid-back while I tend to be a bit more uptight. I’m wary of being overly critical. What is the balance between criticism and healthy discussion?
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You “mention” you need “help”? No no no no no. Cover any tender ears: This is @#$!+.
Discussion vs. criticism is not the question I’m going to answer, because the fact that it has to be discussed/criticized is @#$!+. He wears clothes, so he does laundry. He eats food, so he buys, cooks and/or cleans it up. He uses the rugs, tables, bathrooms and bed, so he vacuums, wipes, scrubs and makes. He uses household items, so he puts them away.
What is there to talk about? Nothing.
So talk about that. “Here I am worried about sounding critical, but you know what? This is about human value, and mine equals yours, so I’m through doing most of the housekeeping just because you won’t. Sure, I have higher standards. But you either need to be a full partner, to a standard we both agree on, or be prepared to explain to me why it’s OK for you to let me do it all.”
Put as much padding on the hammer as you think necessary.
Next, you split the responsibilities based on what each of you hates least, exploiting one key advantage to coupled life: Each helps the other carry life’s weight, and your differences allow you to bring a strength the other lacks.
Write down every chore there is, including who handles it now — a good exercise for you both, since it’s possible he’s doing more (or even less) than you think — then figure out who’s better suited to it. What is and isn’t equivalent is for each couple or each set of roommates to determine.
Then, each of you works independently on assigned chores.
Maybe you’re not feeling draconian yet. Fair enough. Bring this up as you see fit — but please, don’t mince around, asking for “help.” There’s just escalating misery down that road.
Re: Discussion: What do you do when your spouse doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain? My husband took on paying bills, but always forgot. I ended up having to take over.
You switch assignments to give him things he can’t function without. He does laundry, for example, or has nothing to wear.
Earth can get scorched on this path — you cook for one, say, and wash only the dishes you use, not his — so include professional help in this solution: housekeeper and therapist both. It’s fundamentally difficult to keep loving someone who chooses to make your life harder than it would be if you were alone.
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