One of the main discussion points for both couples and individuals in a relationship is the challenges of asking for help. I apologize in advance for some of the broad generalizations made along gender-lines in the rest of this blog, but this topic is somewhat gendered in the way it is expressed. However, it is important to note that the theme seems to hold true for men, women, queer, transgendered, and non-conforming alike. It can be hard to ask for help (for anyone and everyone).
When I ask women to ask their partner for help, they will often say things like, “if he/she/they really loved me, then they’d know that I need…” While men usually won’t even entertain the idea of asking and often refuse, stating “I would appear weak, plus it’s easier just to do it myself.” Both of these responses are a symptom of reading their partner’s mind rather than simply asking for what would be helpful.
This comes up a lot with regard to asking for help is caring for children and the household. Women often feel taken advantage of with these tasks (though there is a major social shift happening in this area, as women also work full-time) and struggle to ask for what they need/want. Or, they do ask for help sometimes and then get in their own way by believing they do it “right” or better and their partner is doing it “wrong,” so they might as well just do it themselves. While most men truly want to be helpful, they get lost in what needs to be done. They often report doing well when given some guidance, but women tend to get resentful and angry when the man won’t just know what to do to be helpful.
Give Your Partner the Benefit of the Doubt
Giving a partner the benefit of the doubt and simply asking for what you need to feel cared for personally or what needs to get taken care of at home can be an easy solution, if you can get past the idea that he should just know. Also, understanding that there isn’t only one way to do things (yours) and that all other ways are wrong (theirs). Let them do it their way and leave the room. At least it’s off your “to do” list, if you let it go.
Simple, Not Easy
I understand that this is a simple thing to do, but not easy. It is often difficult for many people to ask for help. They may consider asking as a weakness. They may have asked for help in the past and been turned down and/or repeatedly let down by others (or the same person they are asking, again). I still ask you to consider the options – you could ask and potentially feel heard, listened to, and get what you’re seeking OR you could not ask and potentially never get what you’re looking for and resent your partner (even though your partner has no idea what’s going on). There are also options of asking and not receiving what you want, and this could turn into a much bigger discussion.
Give Permission / Model Behavior
Lastly, asking for help from your partner could give them permission to ask you for help in return. It can help improve your relationship and take it to a new level of intimacy. Asking rather than silently hoping someone will just somehow know what will help you provides an opportunity to build (or re-build) reliance, trust, dependability and respect.
Obviously, this subject is too big to cover all the possible things standing in the way of asking for help. Simply keep this in mind and notice when you are and aren’t asking your partner for help and find a way to experiment and practice asking for small things first and see how things go.
Kimberly Atwood is a licensed psychotherapist and certified sex therapist in private practice in Princeton, NJ. She specializes in sexual health, intimacy and relationship issues. For more information, please check out her website.