Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Responding to Comments

A few readers have responded to recent articles with comments that include excellent questions. I thought I would address some of them today.

In How to State a Request for Help, I talk about a few of the pitfalls to be avoided when asking a spouse to help out with the housework. Here are a few of the comments:

Shari said...
I prefer not to even have to ask and to have an understanding about responsibilities in the household in which he understands what he needs to do and I understand what I need to do. This removes the whole notion that the housework is for women.

Cathouse Teri said...
I was reading over the scenario again, and then reading some of the comments. All good comments, btw. But, Doc, exactly what sort of circumstance would require me to have to ask him to sweep the floor anyway?

Kacey said...
Uh --- I thought that women were liberated from the drudgery of housework when they were permitted to go out and earn half the living. When are men going to take over half the home chores so the women can stop feeling inferior? And, why is the dirty floor hers in the first place?


The common theme of these comments is, "She shouldn't have to ask her husband for help." You are all absolutely right! Men should just intuitively understand that domestic work belongs equally to household members. Women should be able to count on support from their husbands. In my view (and obviously in yours as well) we should all treat these as fundamental underpinnings of reasonable relationships.

The problem is that the exact opposite happens in many, many households.

I have found that this issue polarizes people. Those who haven't lived through this issue or who moved past it easily in their own relationships sometimes find it hard to understand the difficulties others encounter. Shari offers an excellent approach ... if, that is, you and your husband buy into the idea of mutual supportiveness in a concrete way, have a considerable tolerance for clutter, and tend to work out differences rather easily. Not all couples are that fortunate.

The dirty floor should not be hers in the first place. To many people that is self-evident. What good does that viewpoint do, though, to the woman who has lived twenty years in a household where for whatever reasons all the dirty floors, dirty diapers, unhappy children, and uncooked meals have been hers? She has complained about this, pouted, and demanded help over and over again (perhaps even screaming "Why should the dirty floor be mine?"), and yet the situation always returns to the status quo. My experience has been that wives in this situation are either desperate for any information that might offer them relief, or have given up in despair years ago, believing this is just "how it is for everybody" and that nothing will ever change, at least not in her house. These are the women for whom the series entitled "The Hunt for the Vacuum Cleaner Gene" is intended. My goal is to uncover the many reasons why such situations develop in the first place, and to offer a strategy for climbing up out of the darkness. Many of you may find you don't need this type of advice (and thank goodness for that!) but trust me, there are many others who do.

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Yesterday I posted Dismaying Story #87: Sisters Who Need Each Other, in which Sister #1 says she was abused by her father and Sister #2 (who wrote to me) finds this difficult to believe. I advised Sister #2 to open up her mind, her heart and her arms and talk openly about the issues. She wrote this anonymous comment:

Andrew, thanks for posting this. I have come to the same conclusion regarding my sister and dad. However, what do I do? How do I choose between the two? Do I have to promote the conversation between them? I don't want to be in the middle. I can't give up my sister and I can't abandon my dad who is virtually alone now as well as in poor health.

Dear Sister #2,

You are taking too much of this situation onto your own shoulders. It is not your job to promote reconciliation between your sister and your father. You can control only what you do, not what they choose to do. Sometimes you can influence others, but even that shouldn't be your goal in this case. You sister has suffered a trauma. Her path to healing may or may not include contact with your father. She needs to do what is right for her, and you shouldn't try to influence that for the sake of trying to make everyone get along.

You seem to be assuming that the only two options are (1) everybody gets along with everybody, or (2) you must choose between your sister and your father. There are other possible outcomes. Your sister has reached out to re-connect with you. She has asked to talk. One possible topic of conversation is your father, but aren't there other topics about which the two of you should catch up? What would you talk to her about if this issue with your father didn't exist? I suggest you do so. Talk about what has been going on in your life. Tell her you love her and have missed talking with her. Tell her you would like the two of you to be closer regardless of any issues with your father.

She may put pressure on you to abandon your father. That doesn't mean you have to do so, nor does it mean she will reject you if you choose to keep seeing both her and your father. There are such things as forgiveness and tolerance in this world, and your sister may surprise you in terms of how much she can extend in your direction.

Some people who have suffered abuse (not all, but some) eventually reach a stage in their healing process where it is therapeutic to forgive their abuser. Your sister might reach that stage at some point, at which time it may be easier for her to see you maintain a relationship with your father.

You may even feel differently about some of these issues after talking with her.

So my advice remains the same -- give her a hug and talk to her. You may be surprised where you end up.

All the best,
Andrew

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