Q. My husband never does anything I ask him to do around the house.
Sure, he goes, "Yes dear," when I ask him to fix something, take something outside or move something for me. But does it ever get done?
I don't want to keep asking because I sound like a nag. I usually wait for a day or two and if it isn't done I just do it myself. I am angry then and won't talk to him for a few days. To me, his lack of paying attention to what I ask means he doesn't care about me, he just cares about himself.
God forbid he should ever notice himself that these things need to be done. Sometimes I feel so alone in this marriage, and so unhappy. What should I do?
A. For starters, it is very important that requests for action are made directly and with a designated time-frame, much as you would do in a business when making a request of a co-worker.
The assertive request states, "The trash always goes out on Thursday. I need you to take out the trash and recycling tomorrow morning before 8 a.m. I would prefer if you would take care of it now so we know it's done."
This request includes the features of telling him that the trash has a schedule (every Thursday), there is a time limit (8 a.m.), and your preference for how the task is accomplished (now).
Try not to worry about acting like his mother and telling him what to do. If he acted like an adult and was responsible, you would not have to remind him.
You generate more emotional angst getting upset for his forgetting than you do just giving him a simple reminder and moving on. It is more emotionally economical to be annoyed for a moment, as you make an immediate direct request, than for an evening, as you watch him laze on the couch oblivious of the trash.
In this way, you take care of yourself by generating less emotional upset and negativity. Furthermore, you are controlling the only thing you can control: yourself.
Be wary of making the request with a sarcastic tone or a pitiful wail. Either one will signal a defensive response faster than the squeal of chalk on a chalkboard. Do your best to control your voice to a pleasant matter- of-fact tone, even if you feel inside like blasting him. It's understandable to want to blast him, the problem is, it just doesn't do any good.
If he totally refuses your request, you have some choices. First, give him three tries to comply. If you get nowhere you have some alternatives. One, you can withdraw "favors" you give him: making dinner, doing his laundry or going grocery shopping, until he partners up with you and gets on board.
Other drastic responses include putting the garbage pails by the door of his car in the morning where he has to move them, hopefully to the street.
Make sure any action is coupled with an explanation about why you are doing these things, such as not making dinner. Do not expect him to read your mind and connect the dots of no dinner to forgetting to put the garbage cans out. Either he won't notice that he has no dinner and make himself a sandwich, or if he does notice, the attribution he makes for why you didn't make dinner will be a far cry from your real reason, unless you tell him clearly, succinctly and frequently.
There is no substitute for clear calm communication in a marriage.
However, we also have the concept of an emotional bank account, in that you have to contribute energy, effort and caring in a marriage to get those precious gifts in return.
You have the right to discontinue making the kind, loving deposits into his emotional bank account, if he fails to make any into yours, as an effort to let him know how serious a problem this is. If he still doesn't notice, perhaps the direction of a professional psychologist will be of use.
Try this, as best you can.
Janet Hibel has a diplomate in counseling psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (561) 694- 6703.