In our work with couples, we often see situations where a member of a couple is frustrated and angry because their partner has not done some task or activity– despite not being asked by their partner to do so! For example, someone may get annoyed when their partner doesn’t do the dishes or pick up something on the way home without being asked.
This frustration and annoyance is often expressed by passive-aggressive actions such as excessive sighing or huffing, being very loud or sudden in actions. This kind of communication is not helpful or productive – partners are left confused as to why their partner is frustrated. In some cases, and particularly where the expressions of frustration are subtler, they remain completely oblivious that their partner is frustrated or in a bad mood. This only increases the frustration and anger of the first person.
We most often see this when there has been a change in the status quo in the relationship. For example, if a couple has a baby, or if one partner changes their working arrangement either by going part time or starting a new job.
So why does this happen?
When you're in a committed relationship, there can be a tendency to assume that as a result of your close emotional, physical and mental connection, your partner should be able to know exactly what you want or are thinking without being told. When we think about this rationally, it is clearly unreasonable.
While your close relationship may mean that your partner knows and understands you better than anyone else, it does not make your partner a mind-reader. Clear communication means being explicit, and saying what we need. It’s important to remember that we’re all busy these days: our partners probably have a million other chores to do and things to think about. So politely, clearly asking for what we want – and offering a listening ear in return – is much better than just relying on each other’s non-existent psychic powers. This is important to maintaining long term relationship satisfaction.
While it is reasonable for us to expect our partners to have an equal share of the tasks and chores necessary for running a household, we should not rely on them to intuit exactly what we want them to do. Rather, couples should be clear and expressly state or define what responsibilities each person has. Whether this is done through a more formalised discussion, or just a daily balancing and negotiation of chores, doesn’t matter provided that you are both on the same page.
Once you’ve agreed what tasks your partner will complete, then it is time to butt out and let them do the task their own way and in their own time. If you think the task is urgent, make sure to give a solid reason WHY they should drop what they are doing to do the task right away.
Lastly, show your appreciation. A thank you goes a long way for a person not to feel as if they are being taken for granted
When your household or family situation changes, for example due to having children or changing your working arrangement, your expectations of how your partner "pitches in" to the household tasks may change, but you may not necessarily communicate this to your partner. In this case, they may continue to do exactly the same chores as they did before the change in your situation.
It may seem obvious to you that the change in circumstances means that they should pick up extra chores or try to lighten the work load that you have, but it may not be obvious to them.
If you're finding yourself feeling frustrated or angry that you are doing more to maintain your household, don't lash out at your partner, or engage in passive-aggressive actions. Rather, recognise that you may not have clearly communicated your expectations and set aside a time to have that conversation.
Enjoy the surprises!
If your partner happens to surprise you by doing extra chores or going above and beyond their set tasks, great! Accept and acknowledge the kindness and thought in that action, and appreciate your partner and the support they provide.
If they don't, that’s ok too! Provided that they are doing their side of the household tasks as you've both agreed, your relationship should stay on track.
It surprises many people how often couples relationship problems stem from a failure to clearly communicate each others wants and needs. If your relationship is unfulfilling or stressful, call Sue today on 0439 94 532 to put in place immediate steps to improve your relationship.