Relationships: Divide and Conquer
Updated: Feb 4, 2019
Moving from resentment to gratitude.
I’ve been mulling over the notion of “resentment” lately, as it seems like a cancer that sneaks up on relationships without us necessarily being conscious of it. My hunch is that an important source of resentment is how we allocate responsibilities within our romantic partnerships.
There are four beliefs undergirding this assertion:
1) We don’t spend much time doing things that make us feel calm, nourished, fulfilled, and joyful. (See my Nourish Framework, if you agree)
2) Many of us don’t feel appreciated enough in many domains of our lives.
3) Many of us feel stressed.
4) Time feels like a precious, fixed resource.
So, to break this down:
We want to spend time doing things that calm and fulfill us, but we don’t/can’t/won’t. We may feel unappreciated at home, at work, or in society. On top of that, we are often stressed, our bodies in fight or flight, which makes us on guard. Time is perceived as a limited, fixed resource, so people trying to steal our time are perceived as enemies (similar to how food might be considered on the savanna), even if these “enemies” are people we love very much.
To get really specific:
Say you really want to do yoga in the evening. It’s calming and fulfilling. You’ve just finished a day at work where your project got shelved. You feel unappreciated. You come home, thinking that you’ll have a quick dinner with the family and head out. But, your partner tells you they have to work late. You stay home with the kids, seething, feeling like your precious time was stolen.
Resentment mounts and chronic resentment becomes a cancer that begins internally and spreads to the relationship.
“It greatly distorts thinking - through oversimplification, confirmation bias [seeing only the information that confirms our pre-conceived ideas], inability to grasp other perspectives, and impaired reality-testing (inability to distinguish thoughts from reality). Over time, resentment becomes a world view or way of life.”
- Steven Stosney
So, what power do we have against resentment?
One option is to determine the sources of resentment. My observation (not scientific, for sure) is that a great deal of resentment comes from how every day household tasks are distributed between partners, especially once kids come on the scene. Often times, tasks get allocated to a person by default (i.e., someone just does it). Once that happens, there can be an assumption that the person will continue doing so.
Let’s hit the brakes on assumptions and have more intention. Carve out time when you and your partner are open, calm, and tapped into the joy and respect you feel toward each other. Instead of competitors on the savannah, can you see yourselves as partners in a bunker? Your thriving depends upon each other.
Here’s a process to play with. The word “play” is intentional. Have fun with it.
A) Discuss which activities and experiences you each find nourishing, fulfilling, calming, or restorative. How much time per day/week do you need for these things?
B) How much time, realistically, do you each need for work? Is this how much time you want to be spending on work? (This is an area of inquiry that a coach can help you explore)
C) Create a list of tasks that need to get done in your household. Each of you has a copy.
Here is a start:
Making the bed
Specialist appointments, if a child needs extra support
Signing up for kids’ activities
Planning fun family activities
Transportation to and from kids’ activities
Drop off and pick up from school(s)
Buying clothes for kids
Managing kids’ education progress: Are there any issues at school? If so, what’s the plan, is it being implemented?
Scheduling parent/teacher conferences
Scheduling babysitters or nannies
PTO meetings and/or volunteering at school
Instrument lessons and practice
Birthday parties: for your own kids (planning and implementing); for other kids (gift/card/scheduling/drop off/pick up)
Summer: camp/activities/child care
Caring for any animals: feeding, taking out 4-5 times per day (if it’s a dog), or litter box, fish tank, etc.
Planning date nights
Scheduling house maintenance and being there for the professionals
Monitoring financial security
Planning community service
Managing the family’s social calendar: extended family, friends, etc.
D) Discuss what each task entails. What does “done” look like? See this as an opportunity to create shared expectations.
E) Next, write down how much time you estimate it takes each of you to do each task (every day, week, or month).
F) Each of you circles the tasks that you enjoy (I like cleaning toilets. I know that’s strange, but I’m competent and there’s immediate feedback of a job well done. We all have our reasons).
G) Put a plus sign next to the tasks that are okay. They don’t make you crazy, and you don’t hate them.
H) Next, put a minus sign next to the tasks that are wretched and horrible to you. Of course, there’s always the option to shift your mindset about the task. If you’re up for that, go for it. If not, just give it a minus sign.
Now, you can have an open, curious conversation and make informed decisions and trade-offs about how to distribute the tasks. You may be surprised to learn which tasks you each love and hate. You are both empowered to carve out the time to do nourishing activities, too.