doing the dishes and not enough lemons

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The Breakup.

Very interesting movie. Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) and Gary (Vince Vaughn) have an argument that was so much like arguments I’ve had, that I’ve heard other people have, that it was unbelievable. Have you seen it? If not, it’s a good look at how couples fight in their attempts to communicate. Both were making valid points, but neither was really listening. (As a side note, this blog probably belongs on Relationship Rx but I’m posting it here because I’m inspired at the moment).

It started with a dinner party. Brooke had been working all day, as had Gary, then Brooke came home to cook dinner for their families. When Gary got home, he wanted his “guy time” and sat down on the couch to watch the highlights of the game. Brooke wanted him to help set the table, help answer the door, help keep people occupied while she finished dinner. Gary just wanted a few minutes to himself, to get his downtime.

After the dinner party, they had an all-out argument. Brooke wanted to Gary to help her do the dishes, Gary wanted to unwind from the rough day. Brooke kept at him until he finally said, “Fine, I’ll help with the dishes.” She looked at him and said, “That’s not what I want.” He said, “What do you mean? That’s what you just asked for!” and she said, “I want you to want to help me with the dishes.” “Why would I WANT to do the dishes?”

Why, indeed?

The argument escalated from there, but the salient point was made with that part of it, which happened right at the beginning. They brought up past fights, things “he should have known” and things she had said at the beginning of the relationship.

How many of you men have been there? “All I want is to come home and not be nagged to death, and have a few minutes to relax and be left alone.”

How many of you women have said to your best friend what Brooke did: “I just want him to care enough about this relationship to want to work on it.”?


I have SO been there. Men seem to think that women are satisfied with them doing things. Usually sexually. Women want their men to want to do those things. To women, the desire to help is what matters. It is the desire that means that the man truly loves them. Men are interested in the results. They figure that if they get the job done, that’s what matters.

Most women I know don’t enjoy being nags. Now granted, the women I know are pretty level headed. That being the case, I recognize that there are women out there who enjoy being with men that need to be reminded all the time (read: nagged) to do stuff – it gives them a sense of being needed or being in control or whatever. But I’m talking about normal, healthy women. So most women don’t like to nag. When they have to remind a man multiple times to do something, they feel like nags. When they have to nag, they feel like mothers. When they feel like mothers, they lose the girlfriend/wife feeling.

I feel like I need to apologize for directing this mostly towards men and how women feel, but unfortunately that’s the majority of my experience. Equally unfortunately, I don’t have much insight on why this happens. How to resolve a situation when women want desire and men want to just deliver the results?

I have a few theories as to why this happens, based on times when this has happened to me or my friends. I don’t know whether these are accurate or not, but here you go.

  1. The man forgets. The woman asked him to do something, and he just plain forgot. Other things like work or friends or down time got in the way. Maybe he didn’t realize how important it was to her, maybe she didn’t communicate it straight out and just hinted. For whatever reason, the man didn’t get it or he forgot.
  2. There are times when I am firmly convinced that men are capable of ignoring a woman’s requests out of sheer stubbornness. As if doing what she asks in a timely fashion would mean that she “won” and he won’t let that happen. Maybe he thinks it makes him look pussy-whipped. Maybe it DOES make him look pussy-whipped. Who knows? I don’t think it’s the woman’s intent to make the man be pussy whipped or to cause him to feel emasculated, but I would imagine that having a woman tell you what to do would be irritating and make you feel somewhat of a man-boy.
  3. They just don’t want to and don’t see the need to do it if they don’t want to. Maybe they resent being bossed around. Maybe the way she asked was rude or controlling, and the man is protesting with inaction.

I might be off base. But I can tell you that when the above happens (whether my theories are accurate or not), the following is what results:

  1. The woman feels like the man does not listen to her or appreciate her. That she has been talking and not being heard.
  2. When the woman feels like the man does not hear her, she feels totally unconnected from him. Women communicate with words and they directly relate words with feelings.
  3. When a woman feels unconnected from a man, she doubts that he loves her.

Obviously I can’t speak for all women. But that above is the biggest thing women are really fighting about when they complain that you didn’t do the dishes, or pick up enough lemons, or throw your socks into the hamper. It’s not about any of those things. Well, it is, but mostly, the underlying reason is, that they are afraid you don’t love them enough to care. Something you should know about women is that they are rarely fighting about what they are saying. They are fighting about what they are feeling.

Defusing an argument in which this is going on means that two things needs to happen. First, both parties just need to get real. Women, get real and honest about what you’re really needing right now. Don’t make it about the socks, or the lemons, or the dishes. Say what’s truly in your heart, and say it briefly. Don’t go on and on. Don’t make assumptions about what the man feels.

Men, just try hearing beyond what she’s talking about, and listening to what she’s saying. Women have a hard time sometimes just getting to the meat of the issue. We also tend to be a little overdramatic (don’t tell me you haven’t noticed) and sometimes we play little games like “guess what I’m feeling now”. I think most of us realize that this is ultimately unproductive but in an argument, common sense has a tendency to fly out the window and we end up falling back on what we know best.

Secondly, both parties need to just take a breath. Seriously, just breathe. This argument is most likely happening because of things you’re not saying. So take a breath, calm down, realize that you DO love this person, and say those things that you’re not saying. Make the conversation mean something instead of a bunch of blame and accusation. If you take this breath and you look at this person, and you can’t summon up the feeling of love or caring, then you need to stop the conversation and reevaluate where your relationship is at. Seriously, folks.

Honestly, most arguments regarding subjects like this are that we (women) feel unappreciated and unloved. That’s really what it comes down to. We want to know that you appreciate all the “woman” things we do for you: taking care of the planning, making sure you’re comfortable, bringing you a beer, doing little things to just take care of you. Generally we’re good at supporting, nurturing, showing you that we love you. We just want to know that you notice those things, that you appreciate them, and you don’t take us for granted. That you’re accepting and noticing the gifts we’re giving you. That’s how we get from “you don’t help me with the dishes” to “you don’t love me anymore”.

“I supported you, I loved you, I took care of you, I made all the plans anytime we did anything together, I took care of everything. And I never felt like you cared. I never felt like you appreciated me. All I wanted was just for you to show me that you cared.”

“Why didn’t you just say that to me?”

“Gary, I tried.”

“I feel like you might have said some things to imply that, but I’m not a mind reader.”

Been there?


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