Who Wants to do Dishes?


Dot, at the ready when domestic bliss turns sour. Let her take a crack at your quibbles, annoyances, and pet peeves-ask her a question below.

Dear Dot,

I love to entertain, cook and drink wine. So does my husband. But the big difference is this: he does not set up, clean up, or serve someone a drink–ever–unless I ask him to help. He never protests that I ask, which is every time, and is very helpful when called upon. But it does get on my nerves. Why do I always have to ask? Can this learned helplessness be reversed? 

Please weigh in!

The Do-it-all Doyenne

Dear D.I.A.D.,

I’m reminded of that scene in The Breakup, when a grumbling Vince Vaughn finally gives in to Jennifer Aniston’s nagging and agrees to help her clean up after their dinner party. Annoyed by his obvious reluctance, she ultimately erupts, “I want you to WANT to do the dishes!” Incredulous, Vaughn deadpans, “Why would I WANT to do dishes?”

Now that I have alienated any male readers, let’s turn to the business of your husband’s “learned helplessness” in the face of the tasks that arise when you two entertain together. Have you tried calmly discussing this with him sometime long before the guests show up? It sounds like he is actually happy to help, and he might actually be clueless that the fact that you have to ask him to do his part is irritating. Saying something like, “Honey, you’re going to have to bartend when Mike and Sylvia get here tomorrow night because I’m going to be busy deglazing the pork roast” will get you a lot further than sniping at him when you are covered in flour and frantically hiding dirty pots in the cupboards as the doorbell rings (side note: What is the deal with people arriving early for a dinner party?  Not cool, guys). Also, I don’t know about you, but my diplomacy skills are Ahmadinejad-esque when I am exhausted at the end of the night and staring down a table full of empty wine glasses.

A rational, stress-free conversation–in which you point out that constantly having to remind him about what needs to be done makes you feel like he expects you to do it all–will at least get the ball rolling in the right direction and might give you some insight into his lack of initiative. Maybe you are very particular about how things should be and he is hesitant to step on your toes. After I made several extremely obnoxious attempts to “teach” my boyfriend the proper dishwashing technique, I finally learned to let go and accept that a few specks of crusted garlic in the garlic press is a small price to pay for the luxury of having someone else take care of the pile in my sink. Hopefully, your husband will get that your shared love of throwing parties necessitates a shared burden of accompanying chores, and it isn’t fair for one of you to have to be the enforcer all the time. If you still have to prod him every once in a while, be grateful that he is at least helpful and uncomplaining. After all, who indeed WANTS to do the dishes?

Happy entertaining,

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One Response

  1. Rebecca -

    This is exactly my bf, and you’re right, Dot.  If he has specific direction, he will happily oblige.  However, I often forget to give him “jobs”, because it seems so obvious to me.  Sometimes I just watch him enjoying the party as if he is ALSO a guest.
    I guess, for party bliss, I have to remember that I’m the catering manager/chef, and he’s a server/bartender that needs a run-down of the event before it happens.
    Now I’m going to plan a party to test this theory!
    Thanks, Dot!


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