During the first several years of our marriage, I found myself constantly waiting for my husband to develop the ability to read my mind. Having never been married, I figured that’s just how it worked in successful relationships—if you knew each other well enough, expectations could be communicated non-verbally and all would run smoothly without the need for angry side-eye or tension-filled silences.
In those early days, we didn’t yet have kids and it was customary for us to get home after 7 PM, fresh from the gym or a long day at work, in need of a shower or a drink, dinner still an afterthought. Hungry and tired has always been a disastrous combination for me—I’m like the “before” version of those Snickers commercials until a scoop of peanut butter returns me to my default settings—so I was constantly on edge the moment my husband walked through the door. I’d see the crusty dishes still in the sink from the night before or smell the garbage that didn’t get taken to the curb in time for trash pickup that morning and instantly morph into a passive-aggressive ball of resentment.
I’d slam around the kitchen while I made dinner, my paring knife stabbily hacking at a bell pepper, sighing loudly and waiting for my husband to take out the trash of his own accord or dive into the pile of dishes with unbridled enthusiasm. Except he didn’t know I was thinking that, so instead, he’d go grab a shower or mix himself a vodka tonic while wondering what crawled up my ass.
And on and on it went like that for years. Me never communicating my needs and my husband still without the ability to read minds. Angry side-eyes abound.
Then our son was born. And life got way more chaotic. There was more of everything and less time to do it all. The first few months of his life were full of tears (me) and eggshell-walking (my husband.) Sure, I was home all day, but I was pumping every 2 hours, folding basket upon basket of clothes and burp cloths and ponchos for our Exorcist-style puker and just basically trying to keep my head above water.
I didn’t have time to do it all.
And on one particularly awful day, I FINALLY came to the realization that I didn’t have to.
I had a spouse—a very helpful, willing partner—who was just waiting for me to tell him how he could help me. We talked and got to the bottom of it: I felt overwhelmed and he felt useless, never quite getting it right, as he put it. Here I had this very obliging husband and I was blowing it by playing the martyr, thinking I was better off doing it all myself and then resenting him for not pitching in.
So I vowed that, from that day forward, I was going to be upfront about my needs and communicate those very directly to my husband. (And, in turn, listen when he communicated his needs to me, too.)
No, our system doesn’t always work perfectly (because we’re both imperfect people) but it’s worlds better than the way things used to be. So here are a few tips if you’re currently stuck in the “before” version of the Snickers commercial and want to get to the “after” (AKA: 5 Tips for Communicating Expectations if Your Spouse Isn’t a Mind-Reader):
- ASK (nicely.) Your spouse might be more than willing to pitch in, but he/she is not your hired help/slave/minion and deserves respect (and a thank you. Or a sexual favor. Or both.) Try to phrase requests as a question rather than a demand. “After you get changed from work, will you have a few minutes to vacuum downstairs?” “Could you pack the kids’ lunches tomorrow morning before you head out? It would make my morning go a lot smoother.” Some phrases to avoid: “No sex until you dust that fan.” “Wash these dishes or I’ll make you go see Les Miserables with my sister and I next week.” Ultimatums aren’t cool, people.
- Set priorities. This one is still a work-in-progress for me, as my husband recently brought to my attention that I tend to ask him to do a bunch of things at once and make them all seem like they need to happen yesterday or the world will implode. There’s only so much time in a day, especially if one or both of you works, so decide together what’s most pressing and what could wait until the next day or the weekend when you have more free time. That said, it’s also important to respect the other person’s priorities even if they’re not the same as yours–maybe having clean towels is not high on your list, but he hates wiping off his body every day with a towel containing the funk of 40,000 years. Compromise and see what you both find important.
- Involve your kids. If you have older kids who are capable of helping out around the house, assign them tasks. Not only will it make your life easier, but it will also have the added benefit of teaching them about responsibility and contributing to the household. Plus, the faster you can get through the not-so-fun stuff, the faster you can enjoy other things you’d all much rather be doing.
- Make lists. I make lists for almost everything (I even schedule showering if I think it might reasonably happen) but I find this especially helpful when we’re planning for a specific event or entertaining guests. Since my husband doesn’t typically plan tasks out this way, I often make a master list of things that need to get done and then write our initials next to each one we’re responsible for. It helps us both know our marching orders so, that way, there are no surprises when it comes time to carry them out.
- Cut each other some slack. Chances are, you’re both tired at the end of the day, whether you spent it working or wrangling kids or a little of both. There are times when tackling that pile of dishes or unswept floor is literally the last thing you want to do after bribing your offspring to eat dinner, mopping a gallon of bathwater off the floor and reading six “NO, I want SEVEN” bedtime stories. Give yourselves a break and realize that some things are better left for a new day when you have more energy to dedicate to them.
How do you divide tasks in your house? Is your spouse a mind-reader or do you have to talk things out to get your needs met?