I was recently ill for several weeks. It was minor in the scope of my overall health, but I did not have the energy to accomplish even a scaled-down version of my normal routine for a couple of months. Even simple meal preparation was beyond the limits of my stamina, and I found myself dependent on a loved one for food. Knowing that a family member had to go out of her way and add to her own day to take care of me was difficult to accept and added to my misery.
I am fully recovered now, but the experience reminded me how difficult it is for many people to ask for help, even from spouses and partners. It’s often hard to admit that we aren’t living up to a responsibility, that we have made mistakes or failed to do something we promised to do, or that we’re in over our heads and need help to straighten out a mess we’ve created.
Healthy relationships are dependent on a balance of the division of responsibility. Admitting that we need help or that we’ve dropped the ball is not only embarrassing and maybe even humiliating, it also means asking our partner to carry part of our load, and we often put off this conversation, hoping to find a way to fix the problem without our partners ever knowing about it. Unfortunately, procrastination often compounds the problem. And when our partners discover the situation – and they ultimately do – they often feel betrayed, as well as angry or disappointed.
Successful relationships are based on trust and the ability to let the balance of responsibility swing back and forth as needed. For many people, the betrayal they feel when their partner hides things from them has a greater impact on them and their relationship than the discovery of the original error.
When you find yourself in the midst of a situation that can be overcome best with help from your partner, take the following steps:
1. Acknowledge the scope of the problem. Admit to yourself that the situation can be best corrected with your partner’s help.
2. Explain the problem to your partner. Be honest about your mistake and how your attempts to correct it have failed to do so. Be accountable for whatever mess you’ve created.
3. Ask your partner for help. This may mean telling them exactly what you need them to do (cut back on spending, for example) or asking for their ideas on how to fix the problem because you have no idea what to do.
4. Accept whatever unpleasantness ensues and trust that once your partner calms down, the two of you together will be able to put everything right again.
When the tables are turned and your partner needs your help, be gracious and accept the state of affairs as part of the give and take of relationships. Focus on solving the problem rather than on making your partner feel bad about causing it.