Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Are constant reminders doing more harm than good?
Anonymous: Discussions of abuse got me thinking: Am I an abuser? My partner cannot or does not remember where stuff goes in the kitchen cabinets, and similar minor things. This drives me batty. She does not remember that you have to wash the outside of a pot as well as the inside.
I remind her where stuff goes. I let her know when I have to rewash a pot. I try to do it gently. I've let go of some stuff, but not all. I won't let my pots be ruined by incorrect stacking that scratches up the insides.
So I end up saying critical things a lot. I honor her in lots of other ways, and am gentle about the criticism. Is this abuse? She does let me know when it is too much.
Carolyn: I'm not going to make that call, but I will ask you, is it working? Are your "gentle" criticisms teaching her how to wash and stack pots? Or is she too absentminded for any lessons to stick, despite a desire to please you?
As long as it occurs only infrequently over the course of a relationship, I can make a narrow argument for saying a painful thing to address your own needs. For example: "I need a little more alone time in my day than I've been getting lately."
When nothing changes though, and you respond by stating and restating your case, then what do you have to show for it? Frequent pain, zero progress.
That's when you need to ask yourself which you'd rather do: break up, or stay with this person knowing your pots will suffer? Sure, it's annoying, but when you know she's this way, you can accept it and make accommodations — by delegating differently, buying tougher pots, whatever.
In other words, it's time to acknowledge she isn't changing and to get off her back. Being with the right person emotionally, and caring for that person, means letting go of the things you can't change. Unless you can't let go, in which case, you two just aren't a good match.
Va.: Re: Pots: If after several years "she" cannot wash the outside of the pots, why does "he" have to give in? Why can't "she" suck it up, make the effort and get it right?
Carolyn: Because "she" didn't write to me, "he" did. No good answer involves changing the behavior of someone else. When we don't like a situation, we then change our approach to it, period.
If we still don't like the result, then we make another change, and so on, until it becomes apparent there's no way to make it satisfactory — at which point it's time to get out of the situation entirely.
The moment you start viewing a situation as someone else's fault, and (this is key) demand that others change to make you happy — and you stick around demanding and demanding and demanding change, without changing your own behavior — then you've taken the first step toward being an abuser. You're standing fixed while expecting others to bend to you. Either you wind up alone, or surrounded by Gumbies. Congratulations, you win.
Should "she" learn to do dishes? Sure. But "should" is fiction, when all that matters is fact.