For as long as I can remember, I have had a magical bedroom door. Regardless of where I live, the entryway to the room I occupy has always had distinct magical powers. Specifically, if I leave clothes I have worn in a heap beside one of these fantastic portals, within two or three days those same clothes appear washed, dried and folded in my dresser or wardrobe, ready to be used again. Admittedly, my long-suffering wife realized years ago that I lack the gene that enables me to locate the laundry hamper, and so has conceded to perpetuating the magical door myth. But she also knows that she will never have to mow the lawn or put out the rubbish. Why? Because they are my jobs.
It seems rather arbitrary when you look at it objectively, but as always in relationships, objectivity has very little to do with it. The expectations of who locates the laundry hamper and who hauls the garbage bags down to the curb are determined by history – specifically, our family histories. Growing up, it was always my Dad’s job to get out the mower, tinker with it a while and then sweat his way around the lawn while we kids tried not to get in the way. And similarly, Mom always took care of the laundry, to the point that it was vaguely mysterious to me what actually went on in that little room that smelled of spring blossoms and old socks.
After my wife and I met and eventually married, these things came into focus as conflicts waiting to happen. What rapidly became clear was that there were a myriad of roles that we had learned that might not mesh particularly well. In my family, Dad washed the dishes; Mom and the kids dried and put them away (dishwashers were still a little way off being everyday appliances back then). In my wife’s family, you did whatever was required. Those first few times I found the sink already occupied left me with a vague sense of disquiet, because it clashed with the role expectations I had inherited. Similarly, in my wife’s family, it was Dad’s job to carve the meat at dinner time. In mine, it was a shared role which I had never paid attention to. Our first time hosting friends for a roast dinner left me feeling remarkably inadequate as I struggled to meet an expectation I hadn’t prepared for.
The point is, when we come to a relationship we often assume roles according to what we have learned, usually from our own family growing up. What we need to recognize is that family traditions and roles vary widely, and just because we have certain expectations of the man or woman of the house’s duties, it does not mean that our partner will share them. So if your man finishes dinner with thanks and smiles but leaves the table looking like the remnants of a barbarian feast, it may not mean he is lazy and selfish – he may just be working off a family pattern that he has never considered changing. Similarly, if he won’t let you iron his shirts, it might not mean he doesn’t trust you or isn’t willing to let you care for him. He might have just grown up with a Dad who did his own ironing.
The thing to remember, as always, is that communication can stop these bumps in the road from becoming potholes. By explaining what you expect and exploring where both of your expectations come from you might be able to establish new family traditions that you can both work with, and prevent a lot of frustration along the way. And maybe the magical doors in your house will become magical laundry hampers instead. You can always hope.
I think the most important point to take from this discussion is communication. So many people believe that knowing their partner means, knowing what his favorite colour is, or all time favorite movie. More important things to know would probably be trying to understand who your partner is:
* what makes him tick
* how was he raised
* what his family is like, what is his mom like, what was his dad like, what was their relationship like
* and what his expectations of a household would be.
By having open communication in your relationship and learning these types of things about your partner, will help to prevent more future arguments, then knowing his favorite colour is blue. Most guys will never lose any sleep if you can never remember his favorite movie. Yet, If you do something that the way his mom used to do it, he will feel right at home. Of course to do that you must understand him and he must understand you. The only way that is possible is through communication.
P.S. Do you have a question you would like Dan to answer, or any of the other guys at Decoding Men:
1) Please be specific when you ask your question. Asking questions like “Why are men jerks?” is not enough information to go on, to provide a decent response. What exactly did this guy do to make you feel like he was a jerk?
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