Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Making space for each other, noticing one another
Thank You for Doing Your Chore: Yesterday my boyfriend told me he would stop taking the trash out if I keep not thanking him for it. (Seriously?!?!) I told him I'd stop doing the laundry if I didn't start getting a thank-you card for each clean load!
Carolyn: I do wonder sometimes if all these things can be traced to getting cut off in traffic or dissed at work or some other petty insult beyond our control, which motivates us unconsciously to seek perverse and petty justice in the one arena where we feel comfortable.
Good answer, by the way.
Anonymous: Re: Your Traffic Theory: I would totally believe this. My husband, generally a sweet, supportive guy, can get nasty or unreasonable for seemingly no reason, and when we finally talk it through, often it ends up that he's still reeling from some outside influence (traffic problems especially seem to be a culprit).
These are the kinds of things we're supposed to let go, after talking and apologies, right? But I find it really hard sometimes, because I feel like I'm getting sniped at for something that is not my fault.
Maybe I'm being oversensitive, especially as I can recognize the source has nothing to do with me. On the other hand, since he also figures out it has nothing to do with me, shouldn't he be more gentle with me? I.e., why am I, his wife, getting the worst side of him?
Carolyn: Those are both legitimate lines of reasoning. As the person who knows him best, you're in the best position to anticipate when his bad mood isn't really about you; that's one of the great gifts one partner can give to another.
And also, as the person who shares his life and home with him, you deserve the best he has to offer. That, too, is one of the great gifts one partner can give to another.
In fact, I would argue it's your duty to each other as well. We owe it to the people closest to us to be kind to them, and look after them. Call it simple gratitude for their keeping us in their lives. Because they let us take them for granted, we thank them by not taking them for granted.
The best way to find a balance between the two, to my mind, is to understand that some taking for granted is inevitable — but when it displaces kindness and gratitude, then you need to speak up. If you can learn to anticipate him, then it's reasonable to ask him to anticipate traffic and other triggers.
No way to guarantee that he'll do it, of course, but it's important that you ask.
Maryland: Re: Chores: Maybe this is too hokey for your taste, but my fiance and I do thank each other for taking out the trash, doing the laundry, etc. I would never say it's expected (and certainly not demanded) and it probably doesn't happen every time, but it is nice to have the verbal gratitude.
Carolyn: It's not hokey at all. Appreciating each other is the best thing a couple, two friends, two colleagues, two neighbors, etc., can do to invest in long-term goodwill.