Concerned Client: My husband wants me to fold his clothes but not in my way, he wants me to fold them his way. I am not big on folding clothes in any special way. I do it the way I was taught which he thinks is “too messy,” or “incorrect.” That is what I know. It doesn’t bother me that my clothes are folded this way and my kids could care less. I could learn the way he wants me to fold, but it seems pointless to me. He is losing his patience and I am growing frustrated.
He could just fold his own clothes himself but it takes him a week to get to the basket and by then it is overflowing with clean, unfolded, wrinkled clothes. I at least want to get them into the dresser, out of the way. It makes no sense to me why he is ok staring at a basket of unfolded clothes for a week but not ok with me folding and putting away his clothes. He says he doesn’t care if it doesn’t make sense. He just wants me to fold the clothes his way. He says it is “my job” to take care of the laundry and I should do it “his way.” What the hell? He works full time and expects me to all the stuff around the house, the cooking, the cleaning, and all the laundry to his standards. I am ok doing it my way, but why does it have to be his way?
Mabel: Before I make the assumption that this is a misogynist behavior, I need to get a bigger picture. What is the implicit or explicit agreement that you currently have with your husband in terms of division of labor (i.e. you take care of all the stuff in the home, while he handles the stuff outside of the home)? Do you expect him to adhere to certain standards when it comes to the yard work? Or taking care of vehicles? Why he expects you to fold the clothes his way may be his way of executing what he thought might be an agreement. Have you ever talked about an agreement of who does what and how? Sometimes couples assume an agreement and really they need to discuss it with each other.
There is this underlying fear that many people struggle with surrounding emotions of anger, being mad, or disappointed with another. The belief is that if we are mad at our significant other, then we are not ok. If we are mad, there is no love present. In fact, that is not the case at all. Emotions and love can coexist together.
Not perfect all the time
In many cases, the more love we have for another the more these emotions affect us. We are not as likely to feel intense feelings of anger if we don’t also have intense feelings the other way. In relationships full of love, there is going to also be anger at some point or another. It is when we stop caring that things are more likely to not be ok. When we stop caring it can mean we also don’t want to try anymore. Whereas if we are angry, then we want things to be fixed. We want to come to a resolution.
People that have this fear of making others angry have a desire to always please each other, to make other people happy. We become deathly afraid of getting people mad. But how healthy is that? Ask yourself what that really means for you? Are you hiding your emotions? Are you ignoring your feelings? Are you pushing your needs to the side for others? While it is important in any relationship to have a desire to please the other, it is important that you recognize things are not always going to be perfect all the time. There will be arguments, there will be things he/she does that anger you because you are different people. That does not mean you don’t love or care for each other in very big ways.
When disagreements occur, are you quick to jump in and say “I am sorry”? Even when you might not really be sorry. Maybe you don’t even think you did anything wrong, or maybe you were upset by something the other person said or did but rather than addressing it, you say “sorry.”
It is possible to say “sorry” too much. It can be a quick way to get out of conflict, to avoid the disagreement from extending into another. It is avoidant and it is not healthy.
Conflict isn’t bad.
Every relationship has some kind of conflict. It is healthy and helps your relationship to grow and strengthen when handled in a constructive way. By constantly apologizing, even when you don’t really mean it, you are creating unhealthy boundaries. You are not addressing things that might be a problem for you. You are not airing your grievances and in turn are likely building resentment. And, you are showing the person you are in conflict with that you can be walked on because you won’t stand up for yourself.
By immediately saying “sorry” you are closing the door to the discussion. You are eliminating the space to make changes that could help you feel happier and help your relationship.
It is common for people who are not confident in conflict-resolution skills to apologize too much. It becomes a knee-jerk reaction. But, the best way to improve those skills is to try them out and gain confidence. Not only will discussion help to strengthen and grow your relationships, but it will also help you to feel better about yourself.
The first step to ending the cycle of the chronic apologizer is to first recognize and acknowledge it is a problem. Then next time you are faced with conflict don’t jump to the apology, instead take the time to share your side, express your needs and your feelings. You won’t regret it, and even if it doesn’t go as well as you would have hoped at least you are making strides in the right direction.
It might sound funny—fighting well. I mean, isn’t fighting something you just shouldn’t do, something that should be avoided, how do you do it “well?”
Fighting in and of itself is not a bad thing. It is an effort to make yourself heard, to voice your unhappiness at a situation, and it can be a time to grow and learn. But there are good ways to approach fighting, and ways that are hurtful and harmful to your relationship. You have the ability to build a bridge through communication, or you could build a wall.
THE WALL OR THE BRIDGE
A bridge is built when both parties have a level playing field. They each have a chance to contribute to the situation, and the argument is not all about one person putting the other person down. When you build a bridge, you uplift each other, you work as a team in the midst of your argument. For example, a husband and wife are fighting over all the housework and not being able to get it done. The wife wants more help from the husband and the husband doesn’t think the wife notices what he is doing to help. In most arguments, both parties have contributed, in some way, to the problem. Maybe the husband needs some thanks and appreciation from the wife to feel like his efforts are being noticed, and the wife needs the husband to acknowledge that he should be stepping in to help. The key to building a bridge is being able to disagree and come back together as a team. No one gets along all the time, and people are not supposed to. By working together to correct the problem, you will strengthen your bond.
On the other side of the spectrum, a bridge cannot be built when one side is higher than the other. This creates a wall. If arguments, or fights, frequently turn into one person putting the other person down or having a “I did not nothing wrong” approach, a wall is being established. When a wall is built communication is cut off. The person who feels “lower” than the other will likely stop trying to communicate, they won’t want to come to an agreement because they feel they are in a hostile environment. Chances are that person will want to get away from the situation altogether because who wants to feel like they are on an uneven playing field. If you find yourself in the process of building a wall, take a step back. That might mean it is a good time to take a walk and continue the argument later. Think things through and come back to the table when you are ready to open your ears to both sides of the story.
Fighting is part of human nature. It can be good and healthy for a relationship if done fairly. It is not easy but if you focus your energy on building a bridge—instead of a wall—you will strengthen your relationship.