Q: It snowed about nine inches last night. Before I went to work today, I had to get the kids up and feed them. (I have two children by an earlier marriage.) I shoveled the snow off the driveway and sidewalks. I put out the trash, put a pot roast in the slow cooker, straightened up the house a bit, as well as got ready to go to work. I had to get up at 4 a.m. to get everything done in order to get to work on time.
While I was doing all this, my girlfriend “Carolyn” – who lives with us – slept in until 7 a.m., then drank her morning coffee while watching TV until it was time for her to get ready for work. Carolyn doesn’t think she should help with anything because the kids are “my kids,” the house is “my house,” and she pays half of the bills.
When she first moved in, we didn’t talk about who was responsible for what. This was because I just thought that as time went on we would work it out. I expected that the household responsibilities that we each took on would be somewhat equal, especially since we are women. I thought we would be more sensitive to each other’s needs and wants.
But as it is, I end up having to ask Carolyn to do things that I need help with. She usually does them, but not without grumbling. And often I need to ask her more than once because she says she forgets.
Carolyn says I am just a “nag’; and no matter how much she does, I don’t ever let her off the hook. I can’t believe it. If I weren’t divorced, I would think I was having this conversation for the 100th time with my ex-husband. She doesn’t realize that I wouldn’t nag if she held up her part of the bargain. I thought being in a relationship with a woman would be different. I thought that, because it is so obvious to me, that two people living together should share responsibility and that we, as women, would both want things to be fair. Carolyn’s idea of sharing the responsibilities is that if she decides to help out, then I should thank her. If she doesn’t want to help, I should be OK with that and do it myself.
Other than this problem, Carolyn and I get along great. I don’t want to lose this relationship over housework, but I don’t know how much longer I can live like this. What can I do to help Carolyn understand that she should volunteer to do her share, so I don’t end up feeling like a slave?
A: It sounds like you had a lot of preconceived notions about what a relationship with a woman would be like. Unfortunately, just because you’re living with a woman doesn’t mean that there will be no problems or that you will both think alike. All relationships require talking about expectations. Both parties need to communicate their needs, feeling and wants, as well as listening to the other person; then it’s possible to come up with a plan that works for both persons in the relationship.
I suggest that you and Carolyn start over. Arrange to have a time when the two of you can sit down – without interruption – to discuss your feelings about the way household chores are currently handled. It’s obvious that you are both having some pretty strong feelings about the arrangement you have at this time.
When you listen to each other’s feelings and needs, the one who is listening needs to try to leave her own feelings out of it, while trying to understand where her partner is coming from – like a good friend would do. This process takes time. It also takes listening without judgment; it’s not easy to do but very necessary. If either person doesn’t feel heard or understood, you won’t be ready to move to problem-solving. (FYI: Understanding doesn’t mean agreeing, it just means that you understand how a person is thinking and feeling.)
After listening to each other’s needs and feelings, it’s time for problem-solving: Come up with a plan that you have created together and have both agree on. When both people are part of creating the plan and have agreed on it, it is much more likely to be successful. Good luck and let me know how it goes.