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Discussion Starter #1
I just mentioned this issue in a thread about surviving with a newborn, but I've had trouble with it in many areas of life. I'm hoping to discuss it with people who can relate and might have some more strategies for me.

PLEASE, no responses like, "You're being stupid, just quit doing it, or seek therapy." I've had some therapy, which helped, but I'm still working on it. Please respond only if you can relate to this problem yourself or if you've found helpful ways to work with someone you love who has this problem.

I feel like I'm supposed to take care of myself. If I need something and it is possible for me to get it myself, I ought to do it, even if I am overwhelmed and it might take me a while to get to it. When I consider speaking up for my needs (or worse yet, my wanting things I don't outright need), especially if there is any possibility that doing something for me might inconvenience anyone, I get this feeling like, "Who do you think you are, some kind of princess?" and I feel guilty and frightened.

I want people to take care of me without my having to ask. I want them to look for what I need and offer to help or just do it. That's what really makes me feel loved. We have a friend staying with us right now, and last night after dinner he just calmly cleared the table and started washing dishes. I almost cried because I was so grateful not to have to make two trips carrying my dishes in one hand and my baby in the other while asking my son to bring his dishes to the kitchen.

Often, I will not ask for help and will push taking care of myself to the bottom of my to-do list for a long time until I suddenly freak out and/or something goes physically wrong with me. Just one example: When my daughter was a newborn, I stepped barefoot on a tiny bit of gravel that had been tracked into the house, and it stuck in the skin of my foot. I kept meaning to get around to picking it out, meanwhile spending many hours holding my baby and rocking from foot to foot, plus carrying her in the sling for longer walks when she was fussy. By the time I sat down with my foot under good light and both hands free, I couldn't get it out with just my fingernails or even with tweezers; I needed to soak the foot to soften the skin. But everyone else was asleep, and if I went upstairs to the bathtub leaving the baby alone, she'd probably wake up. So I didn't do it for about two weeks because I kept "forgetting". When I finally said to my partner, "I need you to hold the baby while I soak my foot and dig this thing out," he did it right away. I had to remove a sort of plug of hardened tissue from my foot. Then the spot filled in with even more hard stuff, and it hurt, but by the time I admitted it needed professional attention, I was back to work, so I just kept walking on it until I felt like I had worked my regular schedule long enough that I could come in late one day. The podiatrist had to dig a hole about 1/4" deep in the sole of my foot. It did heal properly after that, but it was raw and painful for several days, during which I kept walking as much as normal because my partner didn't offer to drive me.

Am I wrong in thinking this isn't just about me? I mean, sometimes, not always, but sometimes when I ask my partner to do something for me, he's all like, "But if I drive you and the baby to childcare, that'll take half an hour of my work day!" and then I feel terrible like I shouldn't have asked. But he's "working freelance from home" which so far has meant he works on various programming projects but never actually finishes anything and gets it into the app store to earn money--and his argument is that he'll never be able to finish anything if he doesn't have plenty of uninterrupted workdays, but it seems to me I deserve some support for my role as the breadwinner and mother of an infant. He is doing more housework now than he had done for years, and that's great! But it's something for him to rub in my face some of the times I ask him to do more, and what I hear is, "How dare you ask for that? You're already getting more than you deserve!" (that is much harsher than he ever actually says it) and it makes it harder for me to ask next time. Even though at other times he does do exactly what I ask, promptly, I'm still always afraid when I ask. We have talked about this, but I feel like we're missing any really effective strategy for breaking the pattern.

So...does anybody know what I mean? What helps you?
 

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Yes I have issues with asking for what I need as well. But over the years, things have changed and I've moved myself up on the list. I probably would have put the baby down for a couple minutes to deal with the gravel in my foot as soon as it happened- knowing the long term effects out weight the short term ( healthy foot vs unhappy baby).
My kiddo is a bit older than yours but I've trained him to be helpful. THere is no reason a 9 yr old cant clear the dinner table. In my house the expectation is I make dinner, kiddo cleans up. ( he is 14) Maybe in your house the expectation is you make dinner, kiddo and dad clean up?- it may not be to your standards but it will get done.
There is nothing wrong with asking for help. The more you ask for help, the more those around you realize what you need and in turn, you end up asking less (make sense?)
 

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The expectation in my house is that each person will bring his/her dishes to the kitchen after eating. We have been trying to teach the kid this since he was about 3, but he persists in "forgetting" 90% of the time unless told to do it. Until about 2 months ago my partner also often delayed taking his dishes to the kitchen. It was really bothering me, and I had said so before without effect, but this time I pointed out that when he had made a new house rule that we can't set down anything on chairs (because he was sick of the kid piling junk on all the chairs and never coming back to it, and felt that my temporarily setting down groceries, etc., was setting a bad example) he got instant near-complete compliance from me; I wanted to make "no dirty dishes on table" a rule and have his compliance. Now he is cleaning up his own dishes always...but I'm still working on the kid, and my partner's apparent inability to notice that the kid has left a messy plate on the table (when I'm not there) is not helping.
 

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This sounds more like a matter of you doing more than others in the family rather than you getting what you need.

To be honest, and I don't say this often, "that's mothering."

I'm not trying to tell you get over it, seek therapy, etc - just telling you, yeah, it really really sucks, a lot of the time. This is why no one in society wants the job and why child-rearing has always been at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. If we weren't living in patriarchy it would be a little better but probably not much because of the nature of child-rearing and communal living.

I was and sometimes am still overwhelmed with only one child and never wanted more than one for this very reason.

What I had trouble with and still do is keeping up my motivation to keep on keeping on. Now that my child is an adult it's late night phone calls, spur-of-the-moment visits and errands, biting my tongue when "I told you..." is about to pop out.

The daily grind is obviously so much easier on me with an empty nest. I did teach basic housekeeping skills to my family and that helped (my husband needed guidance in this regard also). If I met with too much resistance or avoidance and couldn't work things out I just sucked it up for the good of the family. I don't expect that others will necessarily comply with my guidelines for the household. Most of the time they do, but if they don't, now I just let it go if we can't work it out. I also have no problem asking someone, every single time, in a pleasant respectful way, to do something or follow some routine. But if they don't I just deal with it.

Most of the "help" I've gotten in parenting and household management has come from me: making the housekeeping easier and more effiecient.

If a family member knowingly takes advantage of another - that's on them, I feel. My stance is that I'm in this 100%, no matter what. I don't expect ever to get rewards, help, or acknowledgement for the work I did and do.

It took me awhile to understand and accept this.
 

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I see your point, but no, this is not just about my doing more than others and not just about my being the mother. This has been a problem since I was a child. One thing I finally uncovered in therapy was that because MY mother was afraid of being oppressed as a mother and therefore encouraged my brother and me to do many things for ourselves (she's very conscious of this and speaks of it proudly) I learned that my desire to be dependent and nurtured is a bad thing, oppressive, anti-feminist, deserving of scorn and resentment. The only time after 2 years old that my mom was really nurturing of me was when I was sick--interesting how I had recurrent strep throat as a child and then, after ending that with a tonsillectomy, began having migraines. I also was bullied a lot in school and given the impression, from my parents and teachers, that this was unfortunate but there was really nothing to be done but keep forcing myself to go to school.

This is the part of your post that makes me feel you really don't get it:
I also have no problem asking someone, every single time, in a pleasant respectful way, to do something or follow some routine.
I do have a problem with this. It takes me a long time to work up the nerve to ask in the first place. If the person's reaction is at all negative, I feel ashamed that I asked and disgusted with myself. When I have asked, they have agreed, and then they don't do it, I feel betrayed. It is even harder for me to mention it again. This doesn't apply to reminding my CHILD to do routine tasks--except when he's acting really over-the-top clueless and disrespectful--but with adults, it really bothers me. Say you agreed to mop the floor once a month but you haven't done it for six weeks, I expect that the need to mop the floor is on your radar, and I try to think of whether you've been unusually busy or sick or injured and therefore deserve extra slack, but you haven't and the dirty floor is bothering me and I feel you're not doing your part, not taking care of me. I start to think about how I might mention it tactfully. I think about it every time I notice the floor, which is like twice a day, for a week or so, meanwhile working hard at being perfect in every way so that I deserve a clean floor. I finally say, "Hey, this floor is really bad. Would you please mop?" and you say, "Yeah, I'm planning to do it Saturday," and now I know that I can't ask you for anything on Saturday or you won't mop. Saturday, I make sure I picked up all my things off the floor, I take the kids to the library out of your way...and when I get home the floor isn't mopped and you're just hanging around reading. I want to strangle you. But I try to be pleasant and respectful as I say, "I thought you were going to mop today. When are you planning to do that?" and you say, "Oh...yeah...I guess maybe after dinner..." and my heart is pounding and my mind is racing with fears of your yelling at me if I persist but I'm almost tearful with dread at the prospect of trying to cook in our kitchen, so I say, "Speaking of dinner, it's my turn to cook tonight, and I need those dirty pots out of my way. They've been piling up since Tuesday." and maybe that gets the dishes washed, but you and I both know that you're supposed to wash them every other day, so why have I had to ask? Why can't you just take care of me? Why are you punishing me for asking by demanding that I keep the kids out of the kitchen now and not make coffee (even though I need coffee to prevent headache) and oh no, what if an hour from now you tell me you can't mop because you're too tired from washing dishes and you're going to take a nap instead of holding the baby while I cook?

It just spirals out of control. The consequences of asking are unpleasant just often enough that I am very apprehensive about asking, seeing as I have trouble believing that I have any right to ask in the first place. Because I feel that I must be either perfectly caught up on everything I'm supposed to do or undeniably physically incapacitated before I can ask for help, I tend to drive myself too hard until I break down dramatically. My partner says, oh, just ask earlier before you get overwhelmed, but when I ask and it doesn't happen, or I ask and he says he can't do it unless I take on extra work to make it easy for him, or I remind him that he's supposed to be doing it now and he yells at me for "nagging", or he doesn't do it when he said he would and doesn't apologize or even acknowledge that it isn't done, or he's supposed to be doing it now but he calmly tells me he's going to bed early and just walks away leaving me with all my responsibilities plus his undone task...I just feel like he doesn't love me, and I'm angry at him for being a jerk, but I also feel that there must be some reason I deserve to be treated this way.
 

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I also have no problem asking someone, every single time, in a pleasant respectful way, to do something or follow some routine. But if they don't I just deal with it.
I guess the last part of that phrase makes me think you may not understand what I was saying: That I don't let it bother me. I work around it. I mop the floor myself for awhile until I figure out a solution so that 1) the job gets done and 2) I lower my personal stress level.

The issue of sharing housework is very common but really troublesome for families.

I hope you find some resolution to this soon.

Puma
 

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I can say, unequivocally, YES, I do feel this way! I'm not sure where my own fear of asking for help comes from. My childhood was pretty good, but my teenage and early adulthood was clouded with difficult relationships. My inability to ask for help is probably related to my inability to say no. I'm learning to do both, but I too am discouraged by any negative response to my request.

Just lately I've been ruminating on this, thinking of exactly what I would say if someone were to ask me, "is there anything I can do to help?" Usually I dwell on these thoughts as I'm clearing the dinner table while holding the baby. I think it would be nice if a friend, spouse or sibling would just offer to help out and give me a little break once in a while, but it just doesn't seem the right thing to ask for help. For one thing, they all seem to be at least as busy as me, with whatever they've got going on in their lives. For another thing, I know I'd feel like a whiner the moment I open my mouth.

I think it would be nice if DH would do something small-- just clear that dinner table-- to make my job a little easier. But he would tell me how much harder his work is and that I just shouldn't let myself get overwhelmed, and try to appreciate what I have. I know his work IS more mentally challenging and stressful, and, no, I wouldn't be able to do his job. But somehow, hearing that doesn't make me feel any better, or motivate me to do more. I find myself thinking, other people have time to chill out and do nothing every so often. Why don't I?

Now, DH does do some cooking and housework, and will do the occasional task that I ask him to. He'll hang up the laundry, chop firewood, provide lots of family entertainment, and bring me a glass of water while I'm in bed nursing the baby-- usually without my asking. He tries to be helpful, but doesn't like to be told to do something. So I try to be mindful of the situation, not martyr myself and just hang in there until things get a little easier. I hope I can teach my children to be helpful around the house without it becoming an issue for them. Reading what you wrote about needing to feel nurtured has given me pause for thought... my children need to feel nurtured more than helpful right now while they are so little!
 

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This discussion also reminds me of the boyfriend I had in college. He would say, "In my family, the rule was that the person who got the lowest grades would do the dishes."

So, I'd say, "Well, I've been getting better grades than you, so why am I doing the dishes?"

"I'm in a more difficult program."

Uh huh.

After convincing him to do the dishes, he'd pile them all up in the sink, fill it with water, then go to lie down with a traumatized expression on his face.

"Why aren't you washing them?"

"They have to soak."

*roll eyes*

Next morning, water is cold and greasy in the sink, dishes still piled up. I go to class, then to work, then come home and wash dishes before making supper.

Glad I didn't marry him.
 

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I can relate. I have grown a great deal in this area over the years, but I still have a little bit of a tendency toward this type of thing.

For me, it goes back to my childhood. My parents made it really clear that I didn't deserve anything and that asking for ANYTHING made me bad and selfish, and I also grew up with a deep fear of conflict because my parents were verbally and physically abusive when there was conflict.

I used to drive myself until I was ill. The only way I stopped or asked for help was if I was too sick to continue.

My DH isn't a bad guy, but he brought his own bs into our marriage, and it created this dysfunctional dance with my baggage. For us, moving *mostly* past this became possible only after I made peace with conflict. I think that a lot of time in marriages, we are attracted to people who will push our buttons.

A self-help writer I've found very helpful is Louise Hay (and she has videos on You Tube). She helped me learn to pivot my own thinking about myself to truly believing that I deserve to feel loved and supported, to treating myself with love, and to finding some balance in what I expect from myself and others.

I'm pretty much OK stating calmly to my DH what I need, and what I would find helpful in situations. And he has developed the ability to hear it and respond, instead a seeing it as nagging. For us, some couples counseling was very helpful. He didn't mean to be a sh*t, but he didn't realize how what he said effected me. We developed new skills together, and both made changes. For him to change, it did take me getting to the point of "I do not want to live the rest of my life this way."

None the less, I can't honestly say this issue is 100% behind us. There is something right now that I'm having a hard time being up front with him about. His travel schedule is completely off the rails, and I feel very lonely and disconnected. My emotional and sexual needs aren't being met. But I don't want to talk to him about it because I know he is under a lot of pressure at work and I don't want to add to it.
 

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I just wanted to empathize with you about having a work-at-home, self-employed, programmer husband. Mine is working on a long-term project right now (has been for a couple of years already) and we won't see any money for it until it's finished. It's really hard. He has other projects that are finished that bring in our income, though he still has to work on them sometimes to keep things up to date and in working order. We are skating by on our current income, but we really need to up it to be able to get rid of the debt we have, so the more dh works and the faster the current project gets done the better. With him working at home, sometimes it feels like he's never actually home all the way. He'll come out of his office for dinner and go right back in afterwards, even though it's only 10-15 minutes before I need him to come back out and help with the bedtime routine. It drives me kind of batty sometimes, and sometimes I feel like the kids and I are an inconvenience, but I do want him to finish his project.

Programming can be a pretty attention-heavy activity, and it was helpful for me to read some things about that to really understand how long it can take a programmer to recover focus from even a small interruption or quick question. So we try to make sure he gets some good hours of uninterrupted working time so he can work efficiently. But for me, it's really helpful to know when to expect him to "come home" for the day and be my partner parent. If him needing to work all the time is getting in the way of you getting the help you need, maybe you can talk about setting some clearer expectations about his working hours and his "at home" hours
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Thanks for your input, everybody. I feel less alone.

Pumabearclan wrote:
I guess the last part of that phrase makes me think you may not understand what I was saying: That I don't let it bother me. I work around it. I mop the floor myself for awhile until I figure out a solution so that 1) the job gets done and 2) I lower my personal stress level.

The issue of sharing housework is very common but really troublesome for families.
It's most often and most recently about sharing housework (especially if you include errands, hiring contractors, and doing things with kids in "housework") but that is not the only area of life in which I have this problem. One of the reasons migraines were so incapacitating to me for years was that I wouldn't treat them when I first noticed symptoms if there was any way in which my getting what I needed could possibly inconvenience anyone, and also because I was embarrassed about malfunctioning.

It's great that you don't let it bother you. I wish I could stop it from bothering me. Just telling myself, "Don't think that." does not work; I need alternative things to think to take the place of the angry and self-punishing things.

Sometimes I have been successful at lowering my stress level by getting to work getting the job done. Then at least the mess is not bothering me anymore, and at least I've made progress on something, and the physical work may help my mood. But it doesn't solve the underlying problem that I'm not getting the care I need and I feel unable to trust that I will get it in future and I feel guilty for asking. In fact, in the long run, doing a task myself that I had (with difficulty) asked someone to do but he didn't do it, can make things worse if he either doesn't notice that it's been done or he now takes for granted that I will do it from now on so he doesn't have to take me seriously when I ask him.

I have a tendency to just DO WHAT I HAVE TO DO I HAVE TO HAVE TO PEOPLE ARE COUNTING ON ME that, when I'm stressed, is often the only thing that keeps me going getting all my stuff done. Taking on someone else's stuff, as well, can give me a power trip that is actually kind of sick, like it's making me feel superior to the other person by destroying me, almost like anorexia or something. At times when my own responsibilities require more time than I have (if I were to sleep >6 hours per 24), responding to someone else's irresponsibility by just doing the job myself can be a really bad idea.

Head4thehills, everything you wrote resonates with me! My partner is not as bad as that ex of yours, but he can be almost like that at times. This is an interesting point:
My inability to ask for help is probably related to my inability to say no.
I do not think of myself as a person who can't say no, yet I often find that I feel obligated to do something because someone has expressed something that sounds like it might be an expectation. I encountered a good example just last night but fought it off successfully: Saturday, my son was cleaning the bathroom mirror and accidentally splashed a drop of water into the light fixture, causing the bulb to explode. My partner cleaned up the glass. (Ooh, let me use this also as an example of how they DO sometimes do housework! :thumb) The kids' bath toys were in a mesh bag hanging below the light fixture, so he carried the bag down to the basement and put it in the side of the laundry sink that doesn't have the washing machine drain hose and told me he'd done this "because they'll have to be rinsed individually to make sure there's no glass on them." I understood that he couldn't do it right then because he was going to run some errands before the stores closed. Well, last night I was doing laundry and noticed an awful smell which I eventually traced to the bath toys, and when I slightly lifted the bag I heard sloshing noises. When I got back upstairs, I asked him, "When you told me that the bath toys need to be rinsed, did you think you were asking me to do it?" He said no, he planned to do it but hadn't gotten to it yet. I told him that the smell needed immediate attention, and he went right away to rinse out the yucky water. (We think that some water got over there from the washing machine drain hose.) I am much happier with this outcome than if I had assumed that being told this task needed to be done meant that I was expected to do it. All I had to do was ask calmly. Of course I wish he'd dealt with the toys days earlier, but the fact that he didn't still doesn't make it my job.

The article Are You an Asker or a Guesser? has been ultra-helpful to me in understanding why I sometimes feel like I'm asking for something when actually I have not directly asked (usually, I've complained, hoping that someone will step in to save me) and why I sometimes feel obligated to do something just because someone has asked. I've been working on how to respond effectively when I feel asked to do something I really don't want to do. Last week, I was going to a dinner meeting for which the hostess made the main dish and arranged for the guests to bring side dishes, and she asked me to bring mashed potatoes. I'm not a big potato eater, and when I do make potatoes I usually bake them; I don't recall ever making mashed potatoes, although I do have some idea how it's done. I wrestled with the idea that "I don't want to make mashed potatoes" was not a good enough excuse, but ultimately I did explain my lack of potato-mashing expertise and suggest bringing bread instead, and that was fine with her--and I planned to make a nice yogurt-dill bread, but it turned out that my baby barely slept for several nights and I didn't have time, so I bought a nice bread from a bakery and stomped down all feelings of guilt!

Linda on the move wrote that after working hard at it
I'm pretty much OK stating calmly to my DH what I need, and what I would find helpful in situations. And he has developed the ability to hear it and respond, instead a seeing it as nagging. For us, some couples counseling was very helpful.
We did some couples counseling two years ago, and it was helping for a while, and then we had this awful session where the counselor told me I was being unrealistic expecting a man to do housework and needed to accept that there are gender roles and it's not always fair--without saying anything like that to my partner, like that it's unrealistic to expect a woman to support the family financially while you don't even look for a job--and I tried to talk about how my partner had decided to work freelance without ever consulting me, to which the counselor told me to stop bringing up the past and move forward! It was so bad that we decided we couldn't go back. Instead, we worked through the book Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix; it was very helpful.

I think it's realistic that a major issue like this that originates in childhood will never be 100% behind you. My goal is just to come up with strategies that let me cope as much of the time as possible. I also think it's important to acknowledge that there are seasons when we don't insist on having every need met because the other person is having a tough time; the problem is if the tough time goes on and on so that you feel it's never your turn. I hope your husband's job stress is resolved soon so that you can ask for AND GET what you need!

Angelorum, thanks for your thoughts about being in love with a programmer. We have finally reached a more consistent understanding of the hours my partner can expect to be working, the hours he can work if we don't need him, and the hours when I really need his presence so I don't feel abandoned--but it took many rounds of my speaking up to get to this. He can be really dense about it.
Programming can be a pretty attention-heavy activity, and it was helpful for me to read some things about that to really understand how long it can take a programmer to recover focus from even a small interruption or quick question.
I actually do kind of similar work (managing data from a research study; a lot of my work involves writing code to rearrange information or run statistical tests, but it is simpler code than "real" programming) but I am a far better multi-tasker than my partner is. I get interrupted kind of often at work, so I've learned all kinds of strategies to recover and not lose my place in what I was doing. But yeah, I try to avoid interrupting during those "hours he can expect to be working", for instance by sending email rather than calling if I want to tell him something that's not urgent, and telling doctors, etc., to call me at work instead of home.
 

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Your post is very thoughtful. It seems as though you have been dealing with this issue in many ways for awhile now.

Something I have never understood is the parenting concept that by having a partner you only have to do 50%. Ideally, to me, each person would spend close to 100% of their time developing the household in various ways, including personal development that enriches relationships and opportunities.

When I stopped nagging and complaining I got more help around the house and it continually improves as the family grows and matures. I also personally have gained self-respect and dignity in that I live in a clean house and do not keep score within my household.

When I said I viewed care-giving as 100% that means that I am prepared to do all the toy-rinsing, floor-mopping, dish-washing, earning, and care for myself and my household. If you assess that your husband has become your dependent and you don't like it, and you don't trust him not to take advantage of you, then you can think about what needs to change while you mop. My sister-in-law affectionately calls her mop the "thera-mop" as she says she gets most of her brass-tacks realizations while using it :)
 

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Something I have never understood is the parenting concept that by having a partner you only have to do 50%. Ideally, to me, each person would spend close to 100% of their time developing the household in various ways, including personal development that enriches relationships and opportunities. ...

When I said I viewed care-giving as 100% that means that I am prepared to do all the toy-rinsing, floor-mopping, dish-washing, earning, and care for myself and my household.

I've heard the idea before that each partner gives 100%, and I understand the idea behind it. But the way it played out for me and my DH during the early, dysfunctional part of our relationship is that I gave 100% to the kids and home, and he gave 100% to his career. Neither of us practiced self care, and we didn't tend to our relationship. We scratched that idea when it become apparent that life is more complicated than "giving 100%". We now strive for balance in the various areas of our life, and we keep coming back to the balance concept because it is very difficult.


I also just don't see how, on a practical level, one person can do everything, including earning a living, with no help and no support without driving themselves into the ground. I have, over the years, done the bulk of the childrearing and home running because my DH is often gone. So do lots of military wives. None the less, over the years, these arrangements tend to be very hard on women, manifest in chronic health problems, and frequently destroy the marriage. And that's when there is a solid reason for dad to not be helping more, and there is a base of love and respect in the relationship.

I'm not buying that years of one parent not doing their part while the other parent feels guilty when asking for help is going to end well. To me, the OP's husband isn't doing his share -- he isn't contributing financial and he isn't sharing in the responsibility of the baby. When he does do something around the house, it still is a project for mom (such as the mopping example).

I've never gotten more help around the house. What finally ended the issue for us was me deciding to hire a cleaning service to come in once a week and do the big stuff. Problem solved. But, I did have to state what I wanted, and I had to be willing to have conflict over it.

I guess how I made the progress that I've made on this issue was by realizing that my level of unhappiness with the status quo was bigger than my discomfort on clearly stating my needs and wishes. At some point, the balance tipped. Does that make sense?
 

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The OP and her children shouldn't have to live in a messy house amid marital conflict.

One immediate step is to do the cleaning and disengage until something else happens (the OP and her husband cooperate, he just has a change of heart, she decides that she is just going to do more and not get upset about it, or any other solution that she can work out). Since the cleaning isn't getting done and the circumstances (unfair, probably) have made this her problem it will be up to her to solve it any way she can.

What I see in the OP's posts is obviously hurt and frustration (well warranted, it seems) but also the expectation that someone else (the husband) should participate in solving the problem and take care of her unhappiness, when he is clearly not interested much of the time. As adults and mothers I think that we need to be taking care of ourselves and solving problems for ourselves to the best of our ability. If asking the husband isn't working, why keep putting your faith in asking?

If the situation has come to a breaking point, the OP could just hire the cleaning service herself to come once, occasionally, or regularly... telling her husband that this is the solution that works for her since he hasn't been very involved in the housework and it's too much for her. Or she can find ways to lighten her responsibilities so that it isn't too much. For example I do not have any carpets, streamlined food prep, and had an outdoor shower installed among other initiatives so that housekeeping would be minimized to a level I could manage.

We can always change ourselves, not other people. A lot of adults and parents didn't get the parenting they needed. Unfortunately, we have to work around it. My partner, children, friends, etc aren't responsible for taking care of me because my parents didn't. To fill that deficit we have to learn to love ourselves and take care of ourselves no matter what, do things that build esteem (emotional regulation is usually part of that), and assume personal authority. So I'm not entirely understanding, perhaps, this idea of "asking for and getting what you need" from other people. Maybe asking for what you want, but not what you need - what you really need you should be able to provide for yourself through various creative problem-solving.
 

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I can see how I've given the impression that he does almost nothing around the house or with the kids. Let me clarify that he DOES do some things 99% reliably: makes coffee; packs son's lunch; supervises son after school until I get home and makes sure he does his homework, music practice, and daily chore; cooks dinner every weeknight, puts away leftovers, and cleans up after his cooking; does his own laundry and the sheets and towels; takes out the trash. Almost every evening he spends about an hour with the baby while I am eating or doing chores, and if she is fussy while I'm reading our son's bedtime story he cheerfully takes her out in the stroller. Where we have conflict is over the chores he is supposed to be doing more frequently than he does (dishes, cleaning floors, dusting), the amount of time he spends actually doing stuff WITH our son vs. just keeping him in line while doing his own things, the amount of time he gets to relax vs. what I get, and the errands and repairs he says he'll do but often delays. We've done 3 overhauls our who-does-what list since the point when I realized I'd become the sole breadwinner, and the one shortly before the baby was born was by far the most successful. Finally, I actually feel that if he did all his stuff as agreed he'd be pulling his weight! And he really is spending more time with us than he used to, both by being just around when everyone's home (he used to hole up in his home office unless I specifically asked him to come out, and would go back the moment he stopped seeing an obvious need for his presence) and by taking care of the baby so I can have one-on-one time with my son.

It's because the routine is better now that I've become more aware of how difficult it is for me to ask for anything more. Inside my mind, it's like, "Don't complain! You know it could be worse. Appreciate what you're getting and don't push it." There is a certain logic to that. But when I can see how his doing something for me would make my next few hours much less miserable, I'd like to be able to ask him to do it without feeling so frightened. Example: We had just come back from a long walk. I was thirsty from walking and even more so because I was getting over a cold, but baby was very upset and hungry, so I sat down to nurse as soon as I had my coat off. Partner drank a big glass of water, poured himself the last of the coffee, heated it up, and headed for the stairs. I didn't know whether baby would go to sleep and stay asleep after being set down or would require an hour of rocking; what I wanted to do was let her sleep in my lap while I relaxed with a hot peppermint tea; it's hard to make tea while holding a sleeping baby or occupying an awake one. So I said, "Wait! Could you make me some peppermint tea?" He did it and didn't act like it was a problem at all. He even remembered to place a coaster within my reach. But it was really hard for me to make myself ask because I felt so afraid that he would say I didn't deserve it or act resentful about the extra effort.

Linda wrote:
I guess how I made the progress that I've made on this issue was by realizing that my level of unhappiness with the status quo was bigger than my discomfort on clearly stating my needs and wishes. At some point, the balance tipped. Does that make sense?
Yes! That's where I hope to get. I think I'm moving in that direction, but anything you can say to coach me along will be much appreciated. :)

Pumabearclan wrote:
What I see in the OP's posts is obviously hurt and frustration (well warranted, it seems) but also the expectation that someone else (the husband) should participate in solving the problem and take care of her unhappiness, when he is clearly not interested much of the time. As adults and mothers I think that we need to be taking care of ourselves and solving problems for ourselves to the best of our ability. If asking the husband isn't working, why keep putting your faith in asking?
Ah. Well, you see, it's because he keeps telling me that I "just" need to ask, that seeing as he's not a mind-reader, I need to tell him specifically what I want him to do. That makes sense, except

  • It's hard for me to ask, especially when I can argue with myself that what I want is indulgent rather than a genuine need and/or that it's too much to ask of him.
  • Any time he responds as if I shouldn't have asked is a big setback for me. Not only do I have to do it myself or do without, but I also feel so guilty for asking that I'm tempted to do something extra to make it up to him.
  • When we have already discussed and agreed that he should be doing a particular thing at a particular time, I feel he should do it without my reminding him.
  • There are times when I am so overwhelmed that I can't process what specific thing I most need and really want to say, "These things are wrong. PLEASE HELP!!!" and have him share the responsibility of deciding what needs to be done first. His expectation that I will analyze and manage the situation all by myself and summon him only for assistance makes me feel like the only adult in our family.
Also, he gets really bent out of shape if he feels I'm being critical or rude in my tone or choice of words. The more stressed he is, the more sensitive he is about this, and just getting up in the morning is an occasion of stress for him, even on days when he gets to sleep as late as he likes. He expects that I will approach him only at a time when he feels calm and receptive, to ask politely that he do a specific thing. Sure, sometimes I can do it that way. But the times when I can't ask because he's in a bad mood or I can't ask because I'm in no condition to plan exactly the right words to say or control my tone of voice, add significantly to my stress, because he's telling me that I can have his help if only I ask, but I can't ask!!


I agree that it seems "he is clearly not interested much of the time" in being a helpful, loving partner to me, yet every time we talk about it, he says, "Just ask. Please just tell me what you want. I can't do it if I don't know." He is right that I too often assume he will not help without even trying to get him involved. He is right that I too often take the approach of explaining what I'm afraid will happen and why, instead of saying what I do need or want. Here's a thing I wrote about it back when we first identified this issue:

http://articles.earthlingshandbook.org/2010/05/05/how-can-i-ask-for-what-i-need/


So I'm not entirely understanding, perhaps, this idea of "asking for and getting what you need" from other people. Maybe asking for what you want, but not what you need - what you really need you should be able to provide for yourself through various creative problem-solving.
Aargh. I need water because I'm sick and nursing and I've been exercising; I want the water to be in the form of peppermint tea because it will help decongest me and warm me up from the cold weather. So you're saying I can ask for the tea, but I ought to just get the water by balancing the baby on the Boppy and staggering awkwardly into the kitchen? What??


Hair-splitting about whether I really "need" it or I only "want" it is one of the ways I talk myself out of asking. If it isn't absolutely necessary, I'd better just take care of it myself. But if somebody else needs me, it's going to have to wait. Oh well. I don't deserve it anyway.


Yes, I can take care of myself and meet all of my genuine needs. But because I am taking care of other people, I would like to feel comfortable asking other people to take care of me, too. Early in our relationship, years before children, my partner was working on something and casually, politely asked me to bring him a glass of water. I did, but I was angry that he felt it was okay to ask and sad that I didn't feel allowed to do that--not because of anything he had ever done or said but because it just would not occur to me that it might be okay to do that; I would work until I could pause and go get myself a glass of water. I don't do that because I enjoy being independent; I do it because I feel I'm not allowed to ask, and that feeling is painful for me.
 

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But because I am taking care of other people, I would like to feel comfortable asking other people to take care of me, too.
That makes sense, however it isn't the reality for most adults as these issues arise so very frequently in households, especially over chores.

I do think that if you want tea and you don't get it when you ask that you should get it yourself if it's that important for you. It would be nice if you received what you ask for but it isn't happening. It's not that uncommon, as Linda pointed out many people are basically single parents (or are actually single parents) with no one to hold the child while tea is being prepared. How often this happens in your marriage and how stultified, frustrated, or powerless you feel in the asking and not receiving what you ask for (you even said that you feel shame, that you didn't deserve it) can be improved by helping yourself to get what you want out of life and feel good about it rather than focusing on what your husband or other people are not doing, and of course it starts with looking at how you are not getting what you need/want, as you are doing now.

Is your husband emotionally abusing you by shaming you if you can't "do it all" or ask and remind him of things? Telling you that all you have to do is ask and then putting you down when you do? Telling you you don't deserve what you ask for? If so that is a very different issue than what I've been addressing in my posts.
 

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Looks like this topic really resonates with people! I haven't caught up on all the posts yet, but I wanted to add some thoughts.

I wonder how much of a person's inability to ask for help is related to the responses he or she would frequently get in the past (including childhood), or how much is related to one's ingrained personality? This question could probably be debated quite a bit, and I can't figure it out, even looking at my own past. I know I sometimes get what I would see as an unreasonably negative response when I ask something of my DH, including a long-winded explanation of how much he has to do and how much he helps me already. And that leads me to say, "Forget it. Sorry I asked." But I don't always get a negative response. I know I am very sensitive to anything negative (except maybe my own attitude), so I try to avoid things that could possibly cause that bad feeling in me. Could be some people are simply less sensitive, or have trained themselves to be more immune.

I've also found ways to work around the possibility of a negative response while still getting at least some of my needs met. This morning, I really needed a shower, but knew that DH would find it inconvenient for him to supervise the children for the half hour I needed. I spent much of the morning mentally grumbling over how I, too, have the right to be clean and should not have to ask to have a shower. In the end, I didn't ask. I sort of set things up so that I could take the time I needed without putting DH out too terribly (DD was napping, DS was peacefully playing, DH was enjoying his morning coffee), then simply told him I'm taking a shower on my way into the washroom, and didn't give him the opportunity to object. It seems crazy that I have to think this much about some simple piece of self-care that most people take for themselves without thinking twice, but maybe that has more to do with me than anyone else in my family.

I often put off self-care because I get caught up with looking after the house and the children, or I have to choose one item of self-care over another. When it's late at night and I've just finished the dishes and cleaning... do I have a shower, watch a movie with DH, work on that piece of art that's been on my mind every day, or go to sleep? Often, I choose sleep. Because that's what my body needs the most.

EnviroBecca, you are both the breadwinner and the child-care provider, and I find it shocking that the counselor you were seeing didn't grasp that fact. My father, who is pretty old-school, did a lot of child-care while my mother worked (pregnant, her broken foot in a cast) in the family business. There was no question of whose role it was to change the diapers. They both just did whatever needed to be done at the time.
 

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It seems crazy that I have to think this much about some simple piece of self-care that most people take for themselves without thinking twice, but maybe that has more to do with me than anyone else in my family.
See, I don't think that this is at all unusual for anyone who is a caregiver. I think that this is normal (including the grumbling). This is what I meant when I said "that's mothering." We are limited in options in passing on and spreading around that responsibility to others. Just because something needs done doesn't mean that everyone invested is going to work, especially if there is someone else who might. There is almost always someone in a social structure who can't or won't pull their weight. Accepting this is important to solving this problem, and it's mainly a problem for women, since we still do most of the caregiving in society.

I think that there are a lot of inaccurate and dangerous messages in society, such as that modern parenting is 50/50, it's not, not even close, although there are exceptions and improvement. I've known marriages to break up over this issue of woman=home even when there were no children. So I think we as women have keep our eyes open and help ourselves every way that we can so that we can improve this problem on a personal and societal level.
 

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I wrote:
But because I am taking care of other people, I would like to feel comfortable asking other people to take care of me, too.
to which Pumabearclan replied:
That makes sense, however it isn't the reality for most adults as these issues arise so very frequently in households, especially over chores.
I do think that if you want tea and you don't get it when you ask that you should get it yourself if it's that important for you. It would be nice if you received what you ask for but it isn't happening.
No, that's not what I said. Please read the story about the tea again. This was a time when I did ask for what I needed and because I asked I got it!!! This thread is not intended to be whining that I don't want to do the housework and I want my partner to do it for me without my even having to ask. It's about my struggling to overcome the feeling that I'm not allowed to ask for help.

I understand that some people don't have co-parents to help them. I don't see why that means I shouldn't ask for help when there is a person around who could help me and has actually stated that he wants me to ask. I didn't say, "Because I am taking care of other people, I deserve to be taken care of exactly as much," I said I would like to feel comfortable asking for some help sometimes.

So is it your intention to tell me that I should suck it up, assume that nobody will help me, and not even ask?

Is your husband emotionally abusing you by shaming you if you can't "do it all" or ask and remind him of things? Telling you that all you have to do is ask and then putting you down when you do? Telling you you don't deserve what you ask for?
For the most part, no. The trouble is the maybe 5-35% of incidents (it varies; some seasons of our lives have been worse than others) in which he reacts negatively when I ask or remind are the ones that come to mind more than the good ones when I'm again thinking about whether to ask for something. It is fairly common for him to sigh heavily and roll his eyes while doing a chore, to respond to a request by listing all the other things he's done recently as if those mean that this new request is frivolous, to respond to a reminder by snapping angrily that he's going to do it soon, or to respond to my thanking him for doing something by complaining about how difficult it was. I wouldn't call any of those things abusive, just discouraging. Less often, but several times a year at least, he really flips out and starts screaming at me and slamming doors. At those times I feel abused, but then I am very sensitive both to loud scary tone and to anything that even suggests I am disappointing someone I love.

More recently than the above-mentioned couples counseling, we went to family counseling hoping for some help with our son, who clashes with his dad frequently; it's a long story. That was some help, but ultimately the counselor said my partner needs individual therapy for emotional self-regulation and resolving his issues with authority. So far he has refused to go.

(I'm over my cold now. Thanks!)

Head4thehills wrote:
I know I sometimes get what I would see as an unreasonably negative response when I ask something of my DH, including a long-winded explanation of how much he has to do and how much he helps me already. And that leads me to say, "Forget it. Sorry I asked." But I don't always get a negative response. I know I am very sensitive to anything negative (except maybe my own attitude), so I try to avoid things that could possibly cause that bad feeling in me. Could be some people are simply less sensitive, or have trained themselves to be more immune.
Yes, exactly. What I hope to get out of is expecting the negative response instead of the positive one, and feeling sorry that I asked as if it were my fault.

Your strategy for getting a shower is one that I find surprisingly effective when I try it. It's the same thing that I find shockingly presumptuous when my partner does it: The kids are clamoring, chaos is everywhere, and he says, "Welp, I'm going to take a shower," and just walks upstairs. I think, snidely, "I wish I could get away with that!" but the fact is, I can, usually, if I'm willing to try.

EnviroBecca, you are both the breadwinner and the child-care provider, and I find it shocking that the counselor you were seeing didn't grasp that fact.
I find it shocking, too, but I do want to make sure you didn't misunderstand the child-care situation: I pay for baby care while I'm at work. My partner cares for our son on his own for about 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. But we are still working our way out of the assumption that I'm the Parent On Duty for both kids whenever I am not at work unless I specifically delegate otherwise. My partner is doing pretty well at taking the baby while I spend time with the big kid, but it's always been rare for him to take the kid(s) by himself while I do something on my own. Anyway, it's true that I do most of the diaper-changing and all of the nighttime parenting, and I certainly feel he ought to give me credit for that.
 
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