Dodging Resentment

Used to be, when my husband was out late, or sick, or just busy, I did the dishes for him. The dishes are his job, and he’s really good about emptying and reloading the dishwasher every night, but the bigger dishes pile up in the sink until finally there isn’t enough space to rinse stuff or fill up the Brita filter. At that point I generally stepped in, emptied the dish rack, washed the pile of dishes and went about my business.

In that moment, I felt good about helping out my husband, because I know what a relief it can be to get home and find a chore you’ve been avoiding has been done for you. But then, as  I was left alone to do everything for longer stretches, the resentment started to simmer. He never does a load of laundry when I’m late, or feeling shitty–Why was I always the one making his life easier, when he never did the same for me?

So, a couple months ago, when we had one of our coming to Jesus talks about “the order of things,” I stopped doing the dishes. I didn’t point out that I used to do it, nor did I declare that I was going to stop. I just don’t do the dishes anymore. No matter how late he comes home, or how many nights he has other commitments (and he had A LOT in December), I NEVER do his dishes. Of course, if I have to clean a pot or pan so I can use it, I do (and without comment), but I never step in and empty the dish rack or deal with the mounting pile of dishes (and some days it gets high).

I wonder sometimes if he’s even noticed that something has changed, that I stopped helping him out, but I never broach the subject because I know I’ll say it wrong. So I go about my business, trying to prevent resentment in the only way I know how, by giving less instead of wanting him to give more.

And you know what, I don’t feel so much resentment anymore. It doesn’t bother me as much that he NEVER steps in (nor has he) and does a load of laundry, or any other chore, to help me out. If we’re both not doing things for each other, it hurts less.

This week my husband has been sick, and the dishes have piled up. I feel like a bitch leaving them, but the fact that he has never stepped in and given me the space and time I need to get better when I’m sick, keeps bubbling up. When I’m sick I’m expected to suck it up and soldier on. Who my expectations of him be different? On the one hand, I don’t feel like this stuff should be quid pro quo in a relationship–I only give if I get–and yet, if you’re the one who always does the giving and rarely, if ever, gets anything in return…

I did the dishes for him today, and I know he appreciated it. Honestly, I miss helping him out sometimes. But I know that eventually, when I get frustrated or angry, the lack of reciprocity will come to a boil and the resentment will start to simmer. I wish I were a bigger person, and could just give without feeling I should get back. And I wish we had the kind of marriage where we did things to help each other. But I’m not that person, and we don’t have that marriage, and I’m trying to accept that, without feeling like the biggest bitch that ever walked the earth.

12 Comments

  1. I think it’s good you’re doing this. Whenever I’m tired or not feeling well or overwhelmed, I’ll apologize to K for the house being a mess, and he’ll say “that’s okay.” But he’ll never clean it. I wish he would. But I have learned that at least if he doesn’t mind it being messy, he is trying to somehow give me a break. So I try to appreciate that. It sounds like maybe your husband doesn’t mind when the dish pile gets high, because he knows it’s his job and he’ll do it. Or maybe he feels that if you help with the dishes, it’s because you want to, and if you don’t want to help you won’t. That’s what my husband would think!

    1. I am similarly lucky in that my husband doesn’t get upset if the house is a mess. I do appreciate that. Sure, I’ve wished, many times, that when I’ve said that the state of it is really stressing me out, he would clean up it up. But he doesn’t. It I come out and ask him for help he’ll do a little bit, but I honestly don’t know if he can work out laundry machines. Even when I was away for a long weekend once and left instructions on how to use them, he didn’t do any loads. I asked him how he’d feel if I’d come home and done no dishes for four days and he looked at me like the two couldn’t even compare. I just think he sees the whole thing in a completely different way. Not doing the dishes is my way of extracting myself from the discrepancy, in the hopes that it will frustrate me less. 😉

  2. Avoiding resentment is really helpful. Avoiding guilt at the same time is good mental hygiene. Good mental hygiene is really hard for women in our culture to develop ~ much less maintain. You are moving forward.

  3. I used to solicit advice from long time seemingly happily married couples. The absolute best advice I got was this. “People think a good marriage is splitting things 50/50. In reality, both people have to be prepared to give 80%. There will be times when your partner can’t give 50% and you have to be okay with picking up the slack.

    That advice has helped me keep from being resentful. My husband and I both used to travel a lot for work so when one of us was gone, all chores got left to the other…so we don’t really have a “my chore” vs “your chore” list.

    1. I understand and appreciate the sentiment here, but in my marriage I DO 80%–the dishes and feeding the cat are his only chores. The vast majority of the child care falls to me. We both work full time jobs and yet I do most of the work at home. So I’m already doing way more than my husband (he agrees). This isn’t about trying to make it fair, it’s about trying to keep from feeling like I’m being taken advantage of.

      I guess my question would be, is it okay for one partner to follow that advice while the other isn’t? Is it okay for one partner to do 80% all of the time while the other never does?

      1. I think it might be ok for 1 to do 80% if you both agree you are satisfied with the division of labor and are happier than not. I can do 80% or more at home but I make everyone miserable doing it so we have a messier house than I want and the laundry is never folded. It’s a compromise that keeps us both sane and slightly unhappy but more or less happy with things. It sounds like your strategy is working in that you are less resentful and hopefully also happier so this is working for you. Huzzah small victory!

  4. As an ancient person who has known many many marriages… of others having only had one of my own……….. Severe inequity generally leads to tremendous unhappiness and often divorce….. or hoping for an early demise of self or other.
    But the inequality as cause of divorce etc is more than just in tasks, it is a totality of life.

  5. There must be some way for your husband to step up more. One chore or task a day or week that would take a bit more off your shoulders. While I have some resentments in my marriage, all of them stem from the fact that he gets a break (daily) from the constant demands of parenthood. And, for some reason, doesn’t see that I need a similar break. We’ve been talking about it, trying to work it out (slowly), but it’s hard to get people to change on basic levels. What would happen if you just told him that from now on, he’s in charge of X or Y….would it get done?

  6. It might help you to shift your thinking and use your own happiness/comfort, rather than your spouse’s, as the metric you use to decide whether to do/not do something. For example, if it is my spouse’s job to do dishes and the dishes have been sitting on the counter for three days, instead of asking myself “why isn’t he doing these dishes? I guess I’ll have to do them since he can’t be bothered” I ask myself “are a clean counter and sink worth it enough to me to do his dishes? Yes, so I guess I’ll just do these dishes.” With the former mindset, if I do the dishes, he doesn’t notice or show appreciation and I get resentful. With the latter mindset, if I do the dishes, it is simply because I value cleanliness and it is worth it to me to do someone else’s work if it means things are cleaner. No resentment in this scenario, because I’m doing it for myself, but he also gets to enjoy the benefits of my extra work as positive externality that eases his burden.

  7. This whole situation is really challenging. I would feel exactly the same way, I would struggle mightily with resentment. It’s so hard to avoid checks and balances when 1 person is consistently doing more than the other. In the absence of that changing, I agree that changing how you respond to it is a good option.

  8. I understand your resentment. When he’s sick, I have from found myself giving little sympathy, pointing out what he still expects me to do when I’m sick. I hate doing that. And I try not to. But occasionally, it slips out. When I came home from four days in hospital after surgery, I found the bathroom hadn’t been cleaned. It wasn’t filthy, but I would have loved him to clean it! I would have done it for him. But his mind doesn’t work that way.

    I remember my sister-in-law talking about deciding to have children. Even before she was pregnant, she said to me, “I know I’ll do most of the work. So if I want children, I have to be prepared that I will do most or all of the work. Then, anything C does will be a bonus.” I remember that I was appalled at this! How could she deal with such an unfair division of labour? But then I realised that she was okay with this. It was the way she was going to get what she wanted. It was a very different way of looking at things than my things-always-have-to-be-fair mindset.

    I came to the comments section about to say too, what scantee said. If I’m sitting around stewing that “he didn’t do it for me, but I usually do for him,” I know I either have to ask him to do it (and he might not even notice it’s not done), or I have to do it myself, just to get it done. I have to remind myself what he does, that I don’t. And gradually, I’m learning to let go of the resentment. Though it still comes and goes.

  9. sigh. i really feel you on these frustrations and I wish I had the answers. I do almost every single bit of housework at our house – I don’t think he unloaded or loaded the dishwasher once in the first 6 months we lived at our new house, nor has he touched the laundry. He does do a majority of the outdoor work, though, which is a lot in the summer and nothing in the winter aside from the occasional snow plow which i have done twice already out of the 3 times it’s been needed this winter. It’s much different situation since I stay home, though, and i”m not in the rat race of work to home. I am feeling the urge to get back to work and marital discord is one of the top reasons I’m anxious about taking the plunge. I know I can feel the resentment already because I know I”ll have to keep doing everything I’m doing already as well as working full time.

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