Need help from SO during a stressful time
April 19, 2012 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Having a very stressful time lately, and not sure how to ask for help from the SO.

Here's the current situation: I work 40+ hours a week, on a project that is very fast-paced right now. I work 10+ hours a day, without breaks. It's not like that all the time, but for the past week & for the next week, that's just how it is. My SO and I live in a vacation hot spot. I work at home, in a field not related to the area at all (I can do this work from anywhere.) SO's job is seasonal, and hours are next to nothing at the moment. SO also has a creative gig that pays well when the gigs come up - once every few months. SO has a ton of free time. I have absolutely none at the moment, and usually evenings and weekends when work is normal for me. I still do ALL the cooking. I do most of the housework too. SO just doesn't cook. Doesn't know how. Not interested in learning, hates it, etc. etc. We are trying to save $, so eating out is not possible everyday. But I feel it's all on me, and I've often expressed how stressed this makes me.

Recently, we've had a number of visitors here. SO has been in bed for 6 days straight, not working with a cold. I think that's a bit extreme, given that I just got over the same cold and didn't miss a beat. I'm sympathetic, but SO's condition is not bad at all - some cold meds clear it up to nothing. It is just a common head cold. So now, all the stress that comes with visitors is all on me, and I'm also working non-stop. I've broken down 3 times over the past 3 days with stress - crying hysterically, shaking, etc. etc. SO gets defensive, tells me to stop stressing, then goes back to bed.
How do I make SO see that I really, REALLY could use a little help, kindness or consideration? I'm about to run away from it all!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
But I feel it's all on me, and I've often expressed how stressed this makes me.

Let your SO that you no longer want to do all the cooking and then negotiate with SO accordingly. Same thing with any other responsibilities you would like SO to share. Sounds like you wish that SO would be considerate enough to step up without asking. It's not going to happen. You need to be direct and open up a discussion about how you are going to divide work between you going forward. I would advise you not ask for "kindness" or "consideration" or even "help," which are all subject to interpretation. If you want SO to take care of cooking 3 times a week, say so.
posted by Wordwoman at 3:29 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just stop doing it. He can't make you do anything. Let the guests feed themselves and let your so either starve or learn to cook.

If he comes bothering you while you're working remind him you are not his mother and gently but firmly close the door in his face.

If you don't see dramatic improvement within a couple months I suggest becoming someone who lives alone.
posted by fshgrl at 3:33 PM on April 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Well, first things first: people experience illnesses in different degrees. The same cold that makes me sniffly will lay my mom out for a week, legitimately. So your SO's downtime may not be complete BS.

I think you need to put the kibosh on having visitors right now. You're extremely busy at work, you guys have both been sick, and you're trying to save money--this is not a time for you guys to be entertaining! It's hard, when you live in a popular vacation destination, because "friends" come out of the woodwork looking to save hotel costs by staying with you. You need to practice saying the phrase "I'm sorry, but that just won't be possible. Let us know when you'll be in town and we can get together for dinner one night!" when folks ask to stay with you.

And frankly, I would just tell your SO straight up: "this is an extremely stressful time for me right now, and I need you to be responsible for planning at least one meal each week." If your SO is unable to contribute even that tiny amount to save your sanity, then I would really reconsider being in a relationship with them. You guys are supposed to be a team, supporting each other; if your SO can't pitch in even when asked, then that tells you a lot about what they think of you.

Good luck. I hope things start looking up for you soon.
posted by phunniemee at 3:35 PM on April 19, 2012 [16 favorites]

Are your houseguests people who have paid for flights and are depending on your agreed hospitaility for their vacations? (I am one of these houseguests, in that case, as I have some very good friends in a very nice location.) If not, then reduce the number of people coming through your house.

By framing as "help," you have sort of given up a lot. "Do your share," would be a better way to frame it.
posted by Danf at 3:36 PM on April 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

You might get a poor response if you turn cooking responsibilities over to the non-cook so suddenly. I would suggest asking him to help by doing all the prep and cleanup - give him a shopping list, maybe help with some chopping or simple tasks, but continue to do the physical cook work, if possible (use simple recipes). Then he can contribute with tasks he feels comfortable doing, instead of feeling dumped on (whether that feeling is deserved or not - you want a helpful SO and not an upset, rebellious SO at this very moment).

Then, in the future after this crunchtime, don't continue doing all the cooking. Teach him simple cooking skills and let him make stuff a few times a week, so he can take over in a pinch without it being a huge new thing.
posted by griselda at 3:38 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Re: cooking, in the interest of retaining your sanity in the immediate future, stock up on frozen or refrigerated packaged meals. Even the good ones aren't as good as cooking from scratch, and they're definitely not as cheap, but they beat eating out by a country mile, and even the cooking-phobic can prepare them. If your SO isn't even willing to do his/her own microwaving, it is seriously DTMFA time (and I do not kneejerk to that). In the long-term, sit the SO down and talk about options for food in desperation times when you're not up to assembling a meal but still need to eat in.

Re: visitors. If these people are friends or family, surely they will understand “I'm overworked and stressed to hell right now, please come by some other time.” If they're long-term guests, ask them for help. If they don't care enough about you to lend a hand in what seems to be a very clearly trying time, they're not worth bothering with.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:42 PM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't know what your expectations are for cooking, but I'd probably also lower those to "getting food on the table." My SO isn't great at cooking either, but he regularly makes dinner with a very minimal amount of cooking(sandwiches, oven bake chicken strips, salads, etc).

Your SO sounds either sheltered or selfish, though. If the former, they need a lot of clear explanation and instruction on what is expected of them(note that this isn't "help" - it's their responsibility to participate in the household too).
posted by sawdustbear at 3:43 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I also have an SO who Does Not Cook. When I don't cook, we wind up eating frozen entrees or sandwiches. Your SO can make a sandwich, can't he? Would you be able to deal with that - have bread and turkey and fixings in the house and tell him "if you can't cook, we can have this for dinner on your nights; and I need "your nights" to be Monday, Wednesday, Friday; and I need you to take care of dishes as well on your nights" (or whatever works for you.)

I think you need to be explicit, unapologetic, and honest. It's always nice when our needs are anticipated but it's a recipe for disappointment to expect it. SO isn't used to having to do this. You need SO to do something different than usual. You need to say so.

And no visitors, God! Why take extra work and stress on yourself now? "I wish we could host you, Bob, I really do, but it's just a very difficult time now and it won't work out. I'm so disappointed, and I hope that if you do come to town you'll make time for us to go out to dinner one of the nights, we'd hate to miss your visit."
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:45 PM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Vacation hot spot? Great, lots of restaurants in the area! Send the guests out, what are you cooking for 'em for?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:04 PM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

nthing the no guests thing.

Cooking isn't necessary to eat, by any means. Tell your SO to make a sandwich. It's kind of absurd for someone, in a relationship with you no less, to expect you to do all of their cooking and cleaning. Your home is not a hotel. You are not a maid. Etc. Etc.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:15 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are hosting friends or family, they should understand that you are very busy right now and cannot do grocery shopping or touring or laundry or whatever else you would normally do for the guests. If they are snarky about it they are using you, so screw them.

Do not make meals for your SO. Make yourself sandwiches or whatever.

And consider whether your SO is more selfish than you are willing to deal with.
posted by jeather at 4:17 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Eat frozen pizzas for a while, stop doing the housework that isn't completely necessary, and if your SO doesn't step up his/her game for you when you've made clear how totally stressed out you are, I think it's time to accept that they're never going to change and DTMFA.
posted by jabes at 4:31 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Something's not adding up here. Your SO is apparently a creative type, but they don't like cooking?

Cooking is one of the most creative, satisfying things you can do. With a tiny amount of time and effort - compared to most creative endeavours - you can create something mind-bogglingly wonderful. It relies on the same mechanics as other creative endeavours: a little maths, a little science, a little improvisation. It's not difficult either.

Maybe your SO just needs to find the right kind of cookbook, or could do with a little encouragement in the kitchen. If you convince them that cooking is as rewarding an artistic endeavour as whatever their sideline is then maybe they'll be more willing to fire the oven up and get something delicious on the do. And from the sounds of it, it'll be a weight off your mind.
posted by hnnrs at 4:47 PM on April 19, 2012

Tell your guests you are terribly, unfortunately busy, and that they will have to settle for your husband as tour guide. And you won't be able to cook, can they pitch in on the nights they do not go out? Thanks ever so much, I knew you'd understand.

My husband Does Not Cook*. He does many kinds of housework, however, as long as they are tasks that can go on a list. He makes his own lists now, but once upon a time I gave him one (from FlyLady) and he learned from it. He's not as good at the sort of random "see a thing that needs to be done and do it," but that's fine in Crisis Mode, because things like vacuuming and washing sheets and dealing with the dishwasher are more important anyway. Be considerate in your approach; "please help me by taking care of the following things, I can explain what to do" is better than "do this shit pronto."

We are about to begin a program of "basic food provision," with the following items as options:

- Big Salad. Bag of spinach, bag of craisins, box of mushrooms, bag of walnuts, crumbled goat cheese, rotisserie chicken from grocery store, bottled dressing.
- Costco frozen eggplant parmigiana. Pretty low-carb, eggplant kind of disappears into it, 35 minutes in the oven, instructions are on the lid. It's delicious. Serve with salad.
- Breakfast for dinner: scrambled eggs, heat-and-eat breakfast or smoked sausage, toast. (Buy an 18-pack of eggs and just leave the room and let him figure it out. Eventually, he will accidentally or deliberately make eggs.)
- Soup and sandwiches.
- Take And Bake pizza from grocery store. (Any port in a storm, and better than Totino's/cheaper than Pizza Hut.)
- If you have a rice cooker, Costco also has really nice frozen orange chicken. It's also good with Big Salad if rice is more complicated than you want to deal with right now.

If you need to leave him to fend for himself, or you both need to eat Lean Cuisines for a couple of weeks, you will probably not die of sodium toxicity in such a brief time. Eat rotisserie chicken (seriously cheaper than you can make it at home) and canned veg for two weeks if you need to. Buy some tortillas and salsa and call it tacos some nights, to shake things up.

I may be projecting, but my husband is a good guy and he means well and he will step up if he's helped with understanding what that entails, and I think you should give your guy the same chance. Yes, it still takes up some of your time when you have to stop and explain that the mysterious brush next to the toilet? Is for cleaning the toilet. But every time I start to get uptight about this process, I remember when I was five and my mother gave me such hell about making the bed "wrong" when I had no idea what "right" was and also my arms were like a foot long. He has been enabled by me for a decade, and has ADD that makes some obvious things less obvious; you may have to take more time than you like to help him along, and learn when to get out of the way, but I think this is actually more easily done in Crisis Mode than not.

Good luck. We've been through this a fair number of times ourselves, though never with houseguests. They will just have to take care of their own damn selves.

*Unfair. He cooks chili, scrambled eggs, and pancakes. He is better than me at all three. He also used to be a sandwich-maker at WaWa, which is apparently some kind of street cred, but complains that the bread here is wrong. I still like them.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:50 PM on April 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

I agree 6 days in bed seems like a lot for a cold, but could there be another reason? Could your SO be depressed?

Re: cooking, I like to cook but grew up in a household where hardly anyone ever did. Is it possible to compromise, where you cook sometimes and your SO picks up something inexpensive like pizza on other nights? Or maybe make something less labor-intensive, like sandwiches?
posted by mlle valentine at 6:26 PM on April 19, 2012

I am in a somewhat similar situation. Husband owns business and only works three days a week. The man has lots of free time. I work part-time.

My husband just started cooking after 13 years of marriage. I always made cooking my responsibility. It didn't have to be that way. I too was tired and stressed so I asked him to cook and he started cooking. When I am working a long day, and he isn't, I usually email him a simple recipe or a note. Your husband is capable of making most recipes. One of the first meals my husband made was Mark Bittman's Tuscan Farro soup. It was delicious.

He can buy a rotisserie chicken, a bagged salad kit, and cook some frozen microwaveable vegetables.

He can open up a can of baked beans, cook a couple hot dogs, and butter some bread.

He can place frozen fish and french fries on a baking sheet and stick in the oven.

He can boil pasta, heat up sauce, and bake garlic bread.

Place cut up chicken in casserole dish, dump a bottle of prepared bbq sauce on top, bake.

There are so many easy crockpot recipes. One of the easiest and delicious crockpot dinners is salsa chicken: place 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts in crockpot, top with a big jar of salsa, cook on low for 8 or high for 4-6. Shred cooked chicken with two forks. Make chicken tacos.

The above isn't even cooking, it's dumping, sticking in the oven, and plating. When you have guests over and require something more fresh, maybe he could grill out. If he's not into grilling, something easy like baked chicken, baked salmon, or chicken and rice casserole will do.

My husband is more enthusiastic about cooking because he found out that preparing meals isn't all that complicated and the kids and I appreciate it and gobble it up.

Have you tried to-do lists? I write them often. My husband likes a list to check off rather than me continuously asking, pleading and nagging. I used to have a bad habit of phrasing requests with "Can you please help me...." Can you please help me clean the house? Can you please help me get the kids ready? Can you please help me clean the kitchen? The way I asked assumed that all of this stuff was my responsibility and he was doing me a favor by helping out.

Usually I leave a list, or email a list. In the beginning I would be very specific: empty dishwasher, reload, run. Wipe down counters with hot water and all purpose cleaner. Sweep. Pledge all wood furniture in living room. Vacuum. (Make sure to empty vacuum canister or it will not perform as well) Etc. Now I can write: clean kitchen, clean living room, empty trash cans throughout house...

Also, usually there is a day that we both clean together.

I also leave grocery lists and he does the shopping 75 percent of the time. I dislike grocery shopping and appreciate that he goes immensely.

Start assuming that he will be doing some chores, leave lists, and appreciate his efforts. I started expecting, instead of pleading and stressing, and got cooperation and results.
posted by Fairchild at 7:34 PM on April 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

I should also note that my husband is not stupid and neither is yours. I only left very detailed lists in the beginning because I assumed he was not going to do it "right" or "my way". I relaxed when I realized that he was quite capable of cleaning and went above and beyond of what I assumed he would do. Besides, even if it isn't perfect it's so nice to have "help".

Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 7:40 PM on April 19, 2012

Start with just taking care of yourself - make sure you get food to eat, clean up to a point where you can stand it (although that's tough if he's hanging around all day making messes), etc. Assume no help from him but also don't worry about taking care of cooking or cleaning or whatever for him. He'll figure out how to get some food when he's hungry.

Stop working at home every day. Go out to a coffee shop, or the library. It's going to drive you insane if you see him having 10+ hours doing nothing every day. Better for you that you don't have that staring you in the face constantly. Take a small amount of your grocery budget or entertainment budget and use it for this.

It sounds like you're bringing in the money, I suggest you keep your finances as separate as you can, especially if "we" are saving money is more like "you" are saving money while he tries to spend it.

Waiting until you flip out isn't going to help resolve the scenario. You two need to get a better division of responsibilities and work on communicating better. I would start doing that when you're feeling a little bit calmer and hopefully he will react better.

He needs an attitude adjustment, in my opinion - the response should be more like you look stressed sweetheart, how can I help and less oh, I don't like cooking and I don't feel like learning.
posted by mrs. taters at 8:26 AM on April 20, 2012

Nthing that it's not his "help" that you need, it's his partnership.

We are trying to save $, so eating out is not possible everyday. But I feel it's all on me, and I've often expressed how stressed this makes me.

Stop making his dinner for him. Get yourself fed, and let him fend for himself. Not as punishment, gods forbid -- you just don't really have enough energy to take care of yourself and another fully functioning adult at the same time.

Cooking for one gets a bad rap, but it's actually pretty easy with some ingredients-and-leftovers management, unless you're on the "Whole Roasted Animals With Two Side Dishes Required" diet.
posted by desuetude at 2:19 PM on April 20, 2012

So....serious question. Sorry if I missed it: did you actually ask? No "I've dropped enough hints about my work schedule and tiredness and all this crying. I've expressed multiple times about stress that I have to do this and that. He can't be that dumb, can he?"
Yes. Yes we can be.
Have you actually, in the exact words, asked, "Honey - can you do X?"

No hints, subtle cues, passive-aggressive statements. Seriously. My wife can drop all the cues she wants but I'm dumb as a block and I WILL NOT understand and read her mind. Not because I'm evil and lazy. I just DO NOT see it. This is what works - "Honey, I'm tired. Can you make dinner tonight?"

If you have done it and SO doesn't even consider doing it...yeah...time to rethink.
posted by 7life at 3:32 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

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