Last week I published a post entitled How Not to Ask Your Husband for Help. Several readers left comments and I would like to respond to some of them today.
Cairogal wrote: Here's the rub, for me, anyway. I feel that when I have to ask my husband to share the responsibilities, that somehow that makes it a favor. I don't like to have to say, "Babe, would you mind taking out the rubbish?" because really, that sounds like I'm asking him to help me, rather than assume a shared responsibility.
This was followed by an anonymous comment: Cairogal's comment struck a chord. I have felt like that too. What softened it for a while was saying thank you to whatever help was given, but soon that took on the same feeling too, like it was still my responsibility but thank you for helping. Now I just don't say anything (which still doesn't feel good) but just quietly consider it a nice bonus when something gets done.
I have seen this type of dynamic before. "Why should I have to ask him?" many women will say. "He should just know the work needs to be done and pitch in on his own. If I have to ask, it ruins it."
There is no such thing as a "one size fits all" solution, so if Cairogal's approach works for her, then more power to her. I wonder if it truly does, though. She wants her husband to assume a shared responsibility, but it sounds like that has not happened. If it had, then asking versus not asking would no longer be an issue. Clearly the anonymous commenter is not getting the level of support from her husband that she would like.
The issue here is that we all tend to interpret the world in terms of ourselves, and women and men have different approaches when it comes to cooperating and helping out. Women are more likely to sense need in others and give without being asked. To them, this is a normal expression of supportiveness.
Men, on the other hand, like to view themselves as competent. An unsolicited offer of help is sometimes welcome, but also may be taken as an insult. Don't believe me? Wait until the next time your husband is struggling with some task. It could be anything -- assembling a toy, finding someplace while driving, whatever. Put on a sweet smile and ask him, "Would you like some help?" More often than not you'll get back a grumpy, "I can do it."
Okay, now put these two people together in the same household. Unfortunately society has taught many of us that housework has traditionally been the wife's responsibility. This is often no longer practical given that dual-income households are now the norm, nonetheless this historical bias remains. So the helpful wife starts off doing more than her share. She waits for her new husband to do like she would do -- to recognize her need for a full partner and to pitch in on his own accord.
He, on the other hand, interprets her actions on the basis of what he would do, which is to handle a task until he can no longer do so and only then ask for help. Since she has not yet asked for help, he assumes she neither needs nor wants it. He believes all is well, while her frustration is building. Eventually she explodes into the "criticize, blame and demand" mode I discussed last week, which puts him on the defensive and lessens his desire to help. She now concludes that nothing works. After all, she tried waiting him out and then asking him, and neither had the desired effect. So she gives up and "considers it a nice bonus with something gets done."
Men are more likely to ask for what they want, while women are more likely to offer help to others without being asked. Men assume women will ask and women assume men will offer. The result is an impasse. You can’t fight Mother Nature – just ask him! The keys to doing this successfully are how you ask and how you react to his various potential responses. Some people seem to intuitively know how to do this effectively (and perceive their spouses as helpful), while others struggle with these skills and achieve less satisfactory results. I'll post more on this later.
Finally, Walker wrote: I have noticed that gender doesn’t matter anymore especially with more women in the work force.
True, my articles about equitable sharing of housework do have a gender bias, but there is a good reason for this. I have met couples where the husband does most of the work. Statistical studies continue to show, though, that women still bear the brunt of the domestic workload in our society and that this is a source of marital strife in many homes. The guys will have to excuse me while I address these articles to the majority.