If you and your partner have been fighting about chores and money, then this chapter’s for you. Up to now, you’ve probably just blamed your partner. She’s just a nag. He’s just lazy. You may have your unique version of blame, but it will be similar. Your partner is somehow defective.
Odds are that you both have had a hand in setting up the current dysfunctional system. Because that’s what it is. It’s a system. It’s dysfunctional, but it’s a system nonetheless. To understand how this is true, we’ll first discuss the most common syndrome that many couples unknowingly bring upon themselves.
The Delinquent Helper Syndrome
Slavery went out of style around 1865. If you complain that you’re not getting any help around the house, then that indicates that you’ve set up a dysfunctional system. Inherent in your words are the clues that you’ve done this. You’re expecting that your partner’s role is to help. What’s your role? To rule? Why is it that he’s expected to help you? The answer is subtle. It’s because you’ve assumed authority over what needs to be done in the household. Your partner has abdicated his authority over this kind of planning. He’s just a helper while you carry the main responsibility. You both have unconsciously collaborated to set up a system with unequal authority. You both did this because you wanted certain benefits. You wanted to nest and have a household that represents you at your best. You wanted the authority to run it exactly as you think it should be run. Your partner wanted something too. He wanted you to handle things at home so that he could focus on what represents him at his best. Perhaps it’s his career. He also wanted you to be his memory. He didn’t want the burden of tracking all of the domestic stuff. You could worry about that so his mind would be left unfettered. Please forgive the sex stereotyping here. The pattern will be true 90 percent of the time, but you can reverse the sexes if it’s more appropriate to your situation.
Now let’s look at the downside to the helper system you’ve created. While you get the benefit of directing that things should run the way you like, you now have a partner who doesn’t feel equal ownership of the household. He’s just a helper, remember? That’s one step up from being a slave. Helpers don’t have authority. They don’t feel ownership. You can translate that into lacking motivation. Ownership fuels motivation. “Helpership” stifles it. Your partner enjoys not having keep track of the domestic stuff. But when you tell him that you need his help, he now feels bossed around. While it’s convenient that you unburden his memory, he hates it when you remind him about what needs to be done. You get to be the nag. Doesn’t feel good, does it?