The Laundry Problem
I’m the primary laundry doer in my house. I wash, fold, and put away. It’s a time consuming and never ending chore. It’s not like cleaning the gutters, which is done once per year. It’s every week (or 2 weeks, if we let it pile up).
After a while, I began resenting the fact that my husband never said “thank you” or even seemed to notice that his underwear drawer was replenished on the exact day he would have otherwise run out.
I didn’t need him to take over doing the laundry (of all the house chores, it wasn’t one I minded doing), I just wanted him to recognize and appreciate that I had done it.
I caught myself, regularly, waiting expectantly for him to open his drawers and exclaim in gratitude at the sight of all his clean clothes.
Spoiler alert: It never happened. And as time went on, the resentment I felt grew, which leaked out in other unconscious passive-aggressive ways (as resentment often does).
I eventually told my husband that this was bothering me. To which he responded honestly:
“You’re right – I don’t really notice when you’ve done laundry. I know you’re the one who always does it, but I never actually see it. All I know is I never run out of clean clothes, so it’s not something I have to think about.”
He never sees it. That’s it – that’s the solution. He needs to see it.
The Laundry Solution
He couldn’t appreciate what he couldn’t see.
Armed with this new insight. I tried a different approach.
I washed and folded Steve’s clothes, but I didn’t put them away. Instead, I piled them neatly on his side of the bed where he would see them.
This accomplished a few things. First, the visual cue of the folded clothes told him exactly when laundry had been done (and over time the frequency with which it was done) and how much (the volume of laundry). Between his socks, underwear, and t-shirts alone, it wasn’t insignificant. Second, he had to physically put the clothes away himself before going to bed. This doesn’t take long, but it reinforces the fact that I had done the lion’s share of this chore for him, giving rise to a greater sense of appreciation.
Despite how it may sound, this wasn’t a passive-aggressive move. I told Steve what I was planning to do so he wouldn’t be surprised. He was fine with it.
How It Improved Our Relationship
I’ve received more THANK YOUs for doing laundry in the last few months since I stopped putting Steve’s clothes away than I have in the entirety of our 14-year relationship.
My resentment vanished and (more importantly) so did my bad behaviour that flowed from it.
It’s exactly what I wanted. And it was such an easy fix.
Making It Easy For Him To Thank and Praise Me
Thinking back, it was a bit unfair of me to get mad at Steve for not acknowledging the invisible laundry fairy. If I wanted her to be noticed, I shouldn’t have made her invisible in the first place.
If we want gratitude and praise from our partners, we should make it easy for them to give it to us. Putting the folded laundry on the bed allowed Steve to notice it had been done, and made it easy for him to subsequently thank me for it. Hiding the laundry in his drawer did the opposite.
Applying The Laundry Lesson to Other Things
I took this lesson and started applying it to other things.
Did I want feedback on my new hairstyle? Did I want praise for cleaning the kitchen? Did I want recognition for a work accomplishment?
I stopped saying:
“Do you notice anything different?”
Which, frankly, is a bit of a mean trap and fun for no one.
And started saying the following instead:
About a New Look
“Do you like how I curled my hair today?”
“Do my eyelashes look more VOLUMINOUS than usual?”
“Didn’t I do such a good job cleaning the kitchen?”
“Don’t the floors feel less grimy? I mopped them.”
“I got a great performance review – aren’t you so proud of me?!”
“I got so much work done today – aren’t you impressed?”
The easy (and hopefully sincere) answer to all of these questions is “YES”.
Or, if your partner doesn’t think your eyelashes are more voluminous than usual, they can say “NO”, and you’ll know not to buy that overpriced mascara again.
By asking your partner for the specific feedback you’re looking for, without playing a guessing game, you’re more likely to get it. He can pay attention to your question and give you an honest answer rather than worrying he’s going to fail some sort of relationship test.
Go Forth and Get Showered With Praise
Give it a try. Let me know how it goes.
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