A woman wrote in to ‘Dear Abby’ about her retired husband Bud, calling him a lazy slob because “all he does is watch TV or play on his computer all day” while she works fulltime outside the home. ““Our house has become a pigsty, she went on. “If I try to do some cleaning, Bud gets mad and says he’ll do it ‘later’ but ‘later’ comes and goes. Returning to a filthy house after work is driving me crazy. He doesn’t even do the grocery shopping; I have to do it on my lunch hour.”
Abby suggested the lady try getting her husband to articulate his ‘vision’ of retirement. “You may find that it’s very different from yours.
“Also, he may be depressed at the changes that have occurred in his life… If Bud was always a ‘lazy slob,’ then face it – that’s the person you married. However, if this is a recent, radical change in his behavior, you should insist he be examined by his doctor. “
Good luck getting any guy to see a shrink just because you don’t like his behavior, right? Still, Abby’s tips are good tips all the same – just not as good as this regimen that a reader of mine says she has used for her own husband and sons. She first wrote to me after reading a column I did about boundaries. We talked back and forth over the months and one day in came this email, from the lady I will here call Jan, whose last name I don’t even know:
I began realizing my effort to be a good person, wife, mom, and daughter were becoming a huge drain on me, so for a while I stopped doing everything around here. I redefined what was mine to do and let the rest go. Basically, I cooked a simple healthy meal and that was it. I gave them all their own sets of towels and dishes, all color-coded. I had to give them each their own color because that stopped them from being lazy and using someone else’s clean things ha ha! And wow what a breakthrough! I no longer wash dishes. My husband and sons rinse them off after they use them.
I no longer wash their towels or laundry either. If they run out, that’s their problem.
As time passed though, I saw that my husband worked long hours and paid all the bills and mortgage – and he did try to do his own laundry – so out of love, I have helped out. My boys wash their clothes but sometimes, out of love, I will fold them. I try not to take over their personal responsibilities; I have my own.
And so a switch started taking place inside of me: I was no longer doing things out of a sense of duty, but out of love, and it felt much less draining on me.
I still don’t wash anyone’s dishes. It only takes them a few seconds to run them under hot soapy water, dry them off, and put them back on the shelf and if they can’t manage that then Jeez I have really crippled them!
I just had to just stop everything and take a step back to redefine what was mine to do and what was theirs. It took about six weeks. And I had some guilt, but then I realized: It’s all about healthy boundaries. And so this works for us all and I feel more respected by them and more respectful of myself.
And there, folks, is the magic combination: of self-respect, a recognition of the importance of community-mindedness and the willingness to walk a mile in the other guy’s shoes. Brilliant!