Negotiating Daily Schedules Between Asker and Guesser
July 30, 2020 11:12 AM   Subscribe

How can I better negotiate rooms and duties with my wife who refuses to be explicit about how much she does or does not want or need something and instead communicates by expressing various levels of annoyance and stress while almost always "giving in?"

I am from Ask culture and my wife is from Guess culture. We are having trouble negotiating our days. We are both working from home while simultaneously supervising two young children. Both of our work requires multiple online meetings a day and mine requires at least an hour or two of "Deep Work" (i.e. uninterrupted time.) The kids have an array of online activities and we have a tutor coming to the house to babysit/teach the younger, less independent one for two hours a day.

We have one preferred room for work and meetings, which is unfortunately also our bedroom. We have other places we can work that are less comfortable and more likely to be intruded on by children. We also have to tend to the children at times, make sure they are somewhat on task and not fighting, keep them fed, etc.

As an asker, I want to make an explicit plan and deal with any conflicts by negotiation. My attempts at this do not tend to go well. We both tell each other what time our meetings are and sometimes say "I really need the room at this time." That part is okay. It gets trickier when we have to navigate things like:

(1) We both have a meeting at 2 but someone needs to deal with the cable guy who shows up at 2:15 even though his window was 12-2. How do we decide whose meeting is more important? Currently, it basically goes like this. Me: "Are you able to deal with the guy or should I do it?" Her: *huffing* "OK, I guess I'll do it." Me: "I mean, I can do it! I'm asking." Her: "No, I'll do it." Her, hours later: "I guess your meetings are more important than mine!"

(2) She has a Zoom meeting at 9. I have to go to an actual office building for the second time in months. She assumed her meeting could be in our bedroom. I assumed I could get dressed in our bedroom without being on camera. Me, at 8:57: "Could you have your meeting in the other room? I need to get dressed." Her: Literal screaming.

The obvious answer is more planning, but we still struggle at those negotiations where it's not clear who should sacrifice their meeting or the good room. Surely there is a better way to make these decisions other than trying to put some sort of score on how much she is huffing and becoming agitated while refusing to explicitly advocate for herself in any way until afterwards? Like if she only seems a little annoyed, I should go ahead and accept the room/meeting time, but if she seems extra annoyed, I should let her have it? Is there no way to negotiate with a guesser without making them upset or reading their minds?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This doesn't seem to me like it's *just* an ask vs. guess conflict. Her reactions seem really, really strong and that suggests to me that she is probably generally feeling overwhelmed. Which is not surprising given all the pressures everyone is experiencing, and in particular it sounds like your living quarters are pretty cramped for 4 people living and working.

I think you are right that more advance planning could help. But I also think it could be helpful to have a separate conversation about what might help her feel more supported and less overwhelmed in general.
posted by mai at 11:17 AM on July 30 [15 favorites]

I had similar challenges at the start of quarantine. My husband didn’t want to commit to a set schedule, seemingly for fear of not being able to be spontaneous/responsive at work.

Finally, I printed out a weekly schedule & started posting it on the fridge. The schedule included my specific meetings for that week AND the times I blocked off for deep work tasks. With coaxing, he planned a schedule around mine. I agreed to be flexible for the occasional unplanned meeting on his schedule.

Although he hasn’t wanted a schedule, this helped both of us greatly. I’d suggest trying it.

Also, if you can afford it, you should have someone caring for the kids more often. Maybe 4 hours/day instead of 2.
posted by dog-eared paperback at 11:19 AM on July 30 [8 favorites]

Hello, lifelong Guesser here. In fact, before you mentioned your children and work situation, I wondered if this might actually be a question about *me*.

I often acquiesce and then get pissed at both myself and the Asker about it. I am AWFUL at advocating for myself. I have a really bad habit of giving the answer that I think the Asker wants, instead of actually saying how I feel. These unhealthy patterns continue until I get fed up with what I perceive as "making all the sacrifices"/"doing all the work" and I get weepy; or until the Asker gets fed up with being unable to see past my non-answer smokescreens and just read my mind. Which, fair.

What helps is when advanced planning involves an equal division of work/sacrifice. Turn an open-ended question like "who should deal with the cable guy?" into: "I dealt with the plumber last week, so can you deal with the cable guy today?"

RE: your #2 item, a quick convo about your plans for the next day as you're going to bed today, especially reminders to each other about stuff that's happening in the morning.
"Hey, reminder that I need to go into the office tomorrow at 9 so I'll be running around pantsless."
"Oh shoot, thanks for the reminder. I will use the other room / Could you get dressed before 8:45 so I can do my Zoom meeting in the bedroom?"

I agree with mai that a separate convo about toning down the stress and overwhelmedness would be helpful. We are lucky to be funemployed for the summer, as well as childless, and can each have a dim room to ourselves to knit/read/play video games/nap with the cat. Plan not only for your workday, but for chillout time too. Maybe after you put the kids to bed, you agree to have an hour to do relaxed stuff apart. I know that alone time is hard to find in quarantimes, and as a Guesser, it's nice to have an hour where I don't feel the need to Guess what anyone else might want from me.

The difficult thing is that yeah, it's on your wife to *also* get better at speaking up for herself and being upfront about her stress/hunger/work/etc. I have been working on this for years and have gotten a bit better, but I have a long way to go. But it makes things SO MUCH EASIER for everyone involved when a Guesser develops the backbone to say "I need X", "I need Y tomorrow at 3:00", "you have been bugging me to do Z for ages but I really need us to take it on as a team."

Good luck to both of you!
posted by wintersonata9 at 11:41 AM on July 30 [4 favorites]

Me: "Are you able to deal with the guy or should I do it?"

You start framing this post as your wife "refusing" to be explicit, but in this example you are not actually being very explicit yourself. You aren't saying "I need you to do this, my thing is too important to miss," nor "My thing is medium important, so I'd rather you do this, but if your thing is very important then I can do it" or anything that actually provides explicit context that might help you both make the decision. You're literally just saying "Hey, you make this decision for us," and that's a) adding to her mental load, and b) "refusing" to take Guess culture into account at all - to me as a primarily Guess person, the fact that you've framed the question as something you *can* do but not something you *will* do, your question reads very much as "Please do this." Don't get me wrong, I see that you are initiating a conversation that to another Ask person would likely lead to an explicit consensus. I'm just not so sure there's only one of you not entirely able to adapt to the other person's communication style on the fly.

Instead of rating her annoyance (yikes), maybe you could each rate the importance of your thing?

But really, this: it could be helpful to have a separate conversation about what might help her feel more supported and less overwhelmed in general.
posted by solotoro at 11:42 AM on July 30 [61 favorites]

I can't really speak to the overall situation but if I heard "Are you able to deal with the guy or should I do it?" the message I'd get is "You need to go deal with this guy."

The default assumption in that sentence is that she is the correct, default person to deal with it, unless she has a strong emergency reason why she can't, in which case you will do her the favor of dealing with it instead. That would annoy me too.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:50 AM on July 30 [62 favorites]

I'm more of a Guesser and it greatly helped our relationship when my husband told me that he prefers if I explicitly ask for what I need instead of hinting at it and then getting frustrated. He said this in a nice way - I would want someone to say something like "It might feel like you are being demanding by saying your meeting takes priority or that you need the room, but I'd much rather hear it directly than have you end up frustrated." Though I suspect, as others have said, that she is generally feeling overwhelmed too.
posted by beyond_pink at 12:01 PM on July 30 [7 favorites]

Yeah the "are you able to" framing means, to a guesser, "you are not allowed to say no unless you have a really good reason why you're incspacitated" (like being on your death bed). She IS, technically, able to do this one thing. Just like she's individually able to do all those other annoying things that need to be done. It's just that all those things she is able to do eventually add up to a massive overload and seething resentment. But at which individual thing do you draw the line when your partner asks if you're able to do it?

A guesser keeps track of what both people have done so far, what both people's schedules are like and thus what, from a fairness point of view, each person might be expected to do as their fair part. A guesser would not ask for the thing unless they would find it fair for the other person to do the thing.

A guesser makes herself vulnerable to you by not refusing your asks and in return trusting you to not make unfair asks.

Be more of a guesser in that you yourself keep track of what would be fair for you to take on, and just doing it. Without asking.

Why should you change? Because it's one of the main complaints that women have: their partners do not notice how much intangible and tangible work they put in. Learn to keep track, it will benefit your relationship.

Also, the bedroom/office combo is a terrible idea, but it is what it is. This being a case, you need to be flexible enough to grab your clothes and get dressed somewhere else. There is no need for you to be naked in the bedroom, there really isn't.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:01 PM on July 30 [62 favorites]

What do you *offer*? Do you ask her about her wishes, and then try to figure out a way you can accommodate those? I can imagine myself as a "everything is a negotiation/discussion" person approaching this as a negotiation where each person asks for what they want, and then you find conflicts and resolve those.

But in a relationship it's better for each of you to be looking out for the other person: "what do YOU want? Can I make that work? What can I do to help your life be happier and smoother?"

If she's overwhelmed enough, or is expecting you to argue if she asks for things, even just *thinking* about what she'd want from you might be overwhelming and scream-inducing. So I'd suggest you start with some proposals rather than open ended questions, coming up with some ideas what you can offer that might help and then asking her which of those sound best.
posted by Lady Li at 12:24 PM on July 30 [6 favorites]

I'm an asker so I was going to bow out of this question but your cable example spoke to me!

In Guess culture you have to say: Oh no, the cable guy came late. I'll get it if you are willing to get it. Then she can let you or say "oh no no, I'll get it."

With the Zoom meeting, honestly, I would have assumed you would get dressed prior to my meeting. That doesn't seem like an Ask/Guess thing but a combination of a new routine and a bad day. I'd've grabbed my clothes I think, but that might be because I'd probably have to do makeup anyway.

I suspect if you took as a starting position that you're going to do the things, you would find it helps both on the ask/guess side but also with the situation in general.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:33 PM on July 30 [10 favorites]

In scenario #1, are those negotiations always framed like that, where she has to either do the thing herself, or tell you no? That's a no-win situation, for her.

(FWIW, also Guess culture, also read the question as 'this is your problem'.)
posted by mersen at 12:41 PM on July 30 [15 favorites]

This really reads like a boundaries and communications issue to me. It feels like either your wife is uncomfortable clearly stating boundaries and/or you are not great at hearing them. It would probably be to benefit to work on it from both perspectives. You should ask her to work on clearly stating to you what she needs. IE "I need the bedroom room at 9 am to myself" and not "I have a meeting at 9". Even if these conflict with your needs she needs to feel safe telling them to you. People have conflicting needs. Solving those conflicts is a later step. There also needs to be an understanding that she has a responsibility to share them with you. It would be unfair to expect you to comply with a need that was not shared aloud. Now for you there is also a responsibility to listen for those statements. Not just hear them, but look for and listen for them. It is her responsibility to share her needs clearly but it is yours to hear them when she does. It is not good enough to only hear the ones where she holds you down and screams into your ear about. She needs to feel safe and heard and you need to listen as well. This is a serious need you both have to get right. Times are difficult now and are stress has a way of drawing attention to our weaknesses. The stress is telling you that you do not approach communicating your needs as well as you think. Also for what it is worth it sounds like you are both building some resentment. I honestly think resettlement is the most dangerous thing there is to a relationship. Good luck.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 12:47 PM on July 30 [3 favorites]

She has a Zoom meeting at 9. Me, at 8:57: "Could you have your meeting in the other room? I need to get dressed." Her: Literal screaming.

Wowww I would scream also. 3 minutes? What? You HAD to have known more than THREE MINUTES before her meeting that this was a conflict, no?

Same with the cable person scenario. All right, come on, you both are adults who live in the world, you KNOW the fuckin' cable guy isn't going to arrive in "the window." Please. Refusal to make a plan for that inevitable situation is just shooting yourself in the foot.

It seems like what's happening is that for no reason at all, she's repeatedly getting an extremely small time window in which to rearrange her whole deal for you and frankly, that's some bullshit. Decide in advance -- AS MUCH ADVANCE AS POSSIBLE:
-What needs to happen
-What you're willing to do

Then either just do the thing without making her refuse, or tell her you Cannot do the thing and ask her to do it. You're the Ask Culture person, after all.

Now for her part, I don't know if her difficulty being explicit extends to sharing her schedule and the importance of items on it with you. Maybe you know her schedule pretty well, maybe it (like my own work schedule) changes constantly in unpredictable ways, I dunno. But if she's just not telling you things like, "9am meeting in bedroom" then she does need to.

I know that I personally struggle with expressing anything that my partners could interpret as a need or obligation, including "I have a meeting at X time," which isn't helpful in this kind of dynamic. She needs to be sharing her task lists with you for sure. You can insist upon that. You might make it easier for her by doing the written/posted schedule folks talked about above -- if she doesn't have to say the stuff directly to you maybe she won't hesitate.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:54 PM on July 30 [43 favorites]

This comes back to my two kinds of people theory, which Omnomnom's comment really expresses well--you are advocating for your position, assuming she will advocate for hers, and that each of you will get 50% of the communal pool of effort and concern. She is giving herself half the concern and you half the concern, assuming that you'll do the same and you'll each get half the concern. So 3/4 of your group effort is going to your needs and 1/4 to hers.

Sure, urge her to advocate for herself. But also, you be her advocate. Pay attention to what's fair and what you can do to ease things for her, since that's exactly what she's doing for you when she answers "yes" every time you say "could you?"
posted by gideonfrog at 1:14 PM on July 30 [40 favorites]

We both have a meeting at 2 but someone needs to deal with the cable guy who shows up at 2:15 even though his window was 12-2. How do we decide whose meeting is more important? Currently, it basically goes like this. Me: "Are you able to deal with the guy or should I do it?" Her: *huffing* "OK, I guess I'll do it." Me: "I mean, I can do it! I'm asking."

If you can do it, just say you'll do it. It might feel like "can you do it or shall I?" is opening a discussion, but actually you're asking her to make the decision on who does it, and it's easier for her to take the task on than tell you that you're doing it.

When the cable guy hasn't shown by 1:30 say to your work colleagues "the cable guy isn't here yet, I might have to duck out this afternoon whenever he arrives. Cable guys, am I right??".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:21 PM on July 30 [16 favorites]

This does not strike me as ask vs guess as much as “Default Parent/house manager” vs “default breadwinner”. And she doesn’t agree she is the default parent.

You are both overwhelmed but it sounds like you are pushing all you overwhelm into her to deal with. Try doing up a daily schedule a week at time of tagging off - all meetings, exclusive bedroom use, parenting time, housework, equal down time etc. And if you have the resources, hire more help with the kids that is not a tutor but someone to play with them and give them undivided attention (at the local park if it is open). It is great you recognized this dynamic and are willing to change and take responsibility for your part in it. Good luck, it is hard for everyone right now.
posted by saucysault at 1:21 PM on July 30 [18 favorites]

Meant to add: I assume most of your colleagues are working from home, and some will have kids. They will understand that at the moment shit like this happens, and no doubt they have similar stuff to deal with.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:22 PM on July 30

I am Ask culture but I would be annoyed with your behavior as described here too. This doesn't sound like Ask vs Guess, it sounds like straight up communication and bad planning.

Scenario #1 -- You know your wife has a meeting at 2pm. You asked her if she could skip the meeting anyway. TBH this implies you *do* think your meetings are more important than hers and that she should drop your meetings for you. If you want to approach this in a more constructive way, you can give her context on how important your meeting is so you can together determine the relative skippability of your meetings. "I have an interview with a candidate at 2pm, I can't really duck out, can you take this?" or "I have a 1:1 with a difficult to schedule person at 2pm, I could move it if I really had to but it would be hard, is your meeting important or is it skippable?"

Scenario #2 -- Your wife has a meeting at 9am and she wants to take it in the room you guys use for meetings. Sounds extremely reasonable to me, especially if you had access to her calendar and could see she had a meeting then, and you didn't tell her in advance you would need the room. Why does she need to vacate the room for you with three minutes notice? Just grab your clothing and put it on in the bathroom or something.
posted by phoenixy at 1:26 PM on July 30 [22 favorites]

Great advice thus far, especially gideonfrog's 'two types of people' theory. Wanted to just echo the thought so that you might take it extra into account and consideration, which is that it certainly sounds like your work is more important than hers, and/or you might not be as willing to be super flexible with work stuff as she is for the good of running your family during this insane time.

My husband's work has a lot of colleagues with kids, but the woman seems to be the default for handling any home matters -- no matter how feminist they say they are -- and therefore I'm picking up that they almost expect that of me and not of him (and I don't even work there!).

It's a very real thing, women doing more of the work and carrying the mental load -- especially now (look it up! there was a NYT article, among others, about it), so just consider that there might be small differences in the way you're approaching this (like the "can you do it or should I?" type of phrasing above) that's really piling onto this scenario.

Take a breath. This is not normal. Ask her how she's feeling instead of telling her how she's not communicating well. Good luck.
posted by knownassociate at 1:29 PM on July 30 [9 favorites]

yes there are some tools.

1. Instead of asking "which of us is going to do the thing", just offer to do it, unless you really can't, in which case you can tell her "that mtg is one I can't miss, so can you do the thing or do we need to postpone the thing?"

2. Plan together. Get a dayplanner on the fridge and discuss your day's obligations while you have your coffee in the morning. (Eg If you see that she needs to use the Zoom room, make sure you don't need to be naked in it at the same time.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:37 PM on July 30 [5 favorites]

Is there no way to negotiate with a guesser without making them upset or reading their minds?

There is a way, but it involves both of you sharing information in a free, timely manner and recognizing that the Ask/Guess dynamic doesn't make either of you anything less than equally responsible for shared decision-making. Without both of those things, the best you can get to is one person feeling like they've acquiesced to something, which is a bad feeling.

As a Guess Culture person, I agree pretty strongly with Blast Hardcheese here, in that at the very least, she needs to give you a lot more lead time that she is accustomed if she wants you to accommodate her needs. The 8:57 Zoom incident is a no-win situation for everyone involved and feels kind of passive-aggressive on her part.

But then there's the uncomfortable "I don't want to be a nag" dynamic that many women, either Askers or Guessers, will be conscious of. We don't really want a trend of constantly making our case to go against what our partner might regard as the default division of resources/labour in the relationship. You do it too much and your partner feels like you're wearing them down. If you get more explicit about asking and cut down on the explaining, then you risk making them feel like you're telling them what to do. Either way she's risking harming your dynamic unless you both take more ownership of how you guys make decisions together.

When I say ownership, this is about how Ask Culture isn't really about dealing with your surroundings in a purely reactive way. Being an Asker also doesn't mean you offload all decision-making and problem-solving skills to someone else, which is what inadvertently happens when you don't make the conversation about what you need to work around. But that's on both of you! There's an element of poor communication here in that neither of you are asking each other what you really need to ask in order to prioritize how you share your space or divvy up tasks. Is the issue here that neither of you or one of you is really adverse to planning? Because planning together or at least sharing a calendar will be an important part of sorting this out, but it'd probably work best if neither of you feel that this is being forced on the other.
posted by blerghamot at 2:06 PM on July 30 [2 favorites]

Agree with fingersandtoes in that you should be planning together. With coffee in the morning, the night before - don't wait until two seconds before a conflict to decide the outcome. Outline your schedules, your meetings, anything that would conceivably affect the other person. Decide what takes priority, what can't be disturbed, who can handle the cable guy if he's late.

And when I say "decide" I don't mean for you to compare your schedules and ask her "is your thing super important?" for each item. Do it together. Apply what you know about her job and her day when you're prioritizing. I don't know what my husband does with every minute of his day, but I know enough to be able to schedule around it.

Finally, if your preferred work space is your bedroom and there is no other option, consider making that off-limits for anything but work during working hours.
posted by lyssabee at 2:10 PM on July 30 [6 favorites]

There's some good advice up-thread already but there are things that can be done on both sides to help the situation.

1. As Fingersandtoes said, Instead of asking "which of us is going to do the thing", just offer to do it, unless you really can't, in which case you can tell her "that mtg is one I can't miss, so can you do the thing or do we need to postpone the thing?"
By asking, you're offering her a choice, which *seems* like the right thing to do. But perhaps just do the thing, if you can.

2. She needs to stop martyring herself so much. If she's offered a choice, she should recognize that it's okay to choose not to do the thing. If you offer a choice, you've offered that choice in good faith. She needs to be a better advocate for herself. It sounds like she needs to get more comfortable with saying no sometimes.
posted by cleverevans at 2:16 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]

Agreed with most of the comments here. If it helps to have yet another (similar) explanation: For a Guesser (or for me, anyway) the default assumption is that you're thinking about my needs, just as I'm thinking about yours. That you would rather not burden me, just as I would not want to burden you. The fact that you ask me if I can do something instead of you therefore means that you're asking as a last resort - because otherwise you'd just do it yourself and save me the doing of it. If I feel that you're right and you really do need me to do it, I'm thrilled to help. If I feel that you're just asking me because hey, I might say yes and won't that be convenient (who are we kidding, you know I'll feel too bad to say no), then I'll resent it because, at the end of the day, you're taking advantage of my known personality and I know it. If you tell me "it's not that, I'm just not a Guesser", I'll think "but we both know I don't want to do it, so why are you putting the burden on me to either do it or force you to do it?"

So if it's something like the 2pm scenario, if you're able to do it then step up and volunteer. If you do this a few times and start to feel like you're the only one stepping up, then have a conversation about it and maybe work out a rough system based on turns or importance or X "pass" votes per month, or something.

For things like the getting dressed scenario, again that's where it would be up to you to step up and get dressed either earlier or elsewhere, because that's much easier than having the meeting in another room. If somehow that's not an option, then you step up and initiate a planning conversation the day before.

Askers often feel Guessers are passive, but Guessers often feel Askers are only faux-active because effectively they're offloading the work that the Guesser in their place would just step up and do on their own. Whether you feel this perception is accurate in your case or not, it sounds like you need (a) to actively make sure you're really not taking advantage of your spouse and placing your needs above theirs, and (b) to build trust by saying, where possible, "I'll do this" instead of "Are you able to do this instead of me?"
posted by trig at 2:17 PM on July 30 [29 favorites]

Am I married to you? (checking....) no I guess not. I am married to an Asker, and we have two kids, two full time jobs, not enough child care.

This is really hard and I applaud you on trying to figure it out in a better way. Here's my method and then why:

1. buy this calendar

2. put it on the wall or fridge - with PENCIL next to it at all times

3. Once per weekend go through the next Monday-Friday and pencil in the meetings, child care, etc. and try and put one fun thing in per week so it is not all bad news.

4. In the course of the pencilling in discuss and negotiate who is doing what on what day. As a guesser I don't want to ask my partner - but I can ask the calendar or use the calendar as a neutral third party. When we see the calendar we start to compete to make life better for each other.

5. I have tried to do this with shared google calendars and I have to say they are worse than useless. The ritual and visibility of paper is key.

Why the paper calendar?

As a guesser, when you ask me if I can move a work meeting - I'm not going to just consider that meeting. I'm going to consider the whole week, last week, future weeks, my current stress level, your current stress level, etc. It will take me time and I need to engage and get lots of information, preferably laid out in a visually dense medium and something that I'm comfortable looking at, so I can take stock about my situation and status in our relationship.

Without a paper calendar - the most information-dense object in the room is YOU. Your face, your tone of voice, your body language. I'm also probably comfortable with you and enjoy looking at you.

But here's the thing - unlike the calendar you are constantly updating. You are high resolution and have an extremely high frame rate.

So there's no chance for me to get a read on the situation and then figure it out. The situation is always changing. I'm going to get overloaded and need to reset by ending the discussion or leaving. I need to make the situation get stable - by agreeing to whatever you say on information I don't fully understand. A few hours later I process it and then I get irritated if I overcommitted or failed to state the problems that came up.
posted by sol at 2:20 PM on July 30 [12 favorites]

My partner and I made and ate lunch together at my house the other day during a work day when we were both working from home. We don't live together so we don't have a routine around this. At the end of lunch, he had to go to a video meeting, so then I spent the beginning of my afternoon work time cleaning up, and I was slightly irritated at being left with it, I will admit. I may have had momentary, brief, mild self-martyr thoughts. He wasn't paying attention and didn't even realize I was cleaning. At the end of his work day, he went to clean up lunch. Oops!

It would only have taken a moment of communication from either of us to have shared this work or agreed how to divide it and not had either of us annoyed or me feeling like a martyr for 15 minutes of cleaning.

Gender role dynamics might really be playing out here, even if it's only in your partner's head. Ask doesn't mean you advocate for yourself. It can mean addressing the issue. In both examples, you asked your partner to take on something extra either implicitly or explicitly (the cable guy; moving three minutes before her meeting).

Maybe try offering up or being neutral in how you phrase this. "The cable guy is running late and we're both due back to work. How should we handle this?" or even better "The cable guy is late. I can skip my afternoon meeting if you'd prefer?" Because here's the thing: there might be stuff she's just going ahead and doing that she doesn't even mention. She might want you to just step up and take stuff on without asking something.

But you won't know unless you have a conversation about this outside of the work day and outside of needing to resolve an immediate situation.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:29 PM on July 30 [3 favorites]

Me: "Are you able to deal with the guy or should I do it?"

yeah this has been covered but it's honestly important. The question contains the explicit requirement that she do it if she can. But you can, too! Following up with "or should I do it?"means that if both of you are able to do it, it's her job unless she asks for your help. "Ask culture" doesn't mean you don't have to do any joint marital tasks unless your wife asks you to help. and if it does mean that to you, get out of that culture immediately.

what you did say is a pretty normal way to guilt someone else into doing what you don't want to do. nothing "Ask" or "Guess" about it, just regular human culture. but then you get mad because she won't play along and pretend she's gladly volunteering: she does what she is being pressured into doing, while verbally acknowledging the pressure and communicating that she doesn't appreciate it.

she is a much much clearer verbal communicator than you. she speaks the things you want to pass unspoken. you have misdiagnosed the problem significantly.

Maybe what you meant in your head was something like: I can deal with the cable guy but I really don't want to; please will you do it? I would appreciate it and in return, I will claim the next difficult job that comes up when we're both busy.

that's "ask culture," if you must believe in such a thing. though believing in such things has done your marriage, and your wife, demonstrable harm. What I call it is courtesy.

refusing to explicitly advocate for herself in any way until afterwards?

who the fuck requires their own wife to advocate for herself against them? Don't be her adversary and she won't have to. The idea that she should have to advocate for herself in her own home, against her own spouse, is jaw-dropping.

Sincerely, throw your misbegotten ideas about Asking and Guessing away and devote all that mental space to courtesy, pure and simple.
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:48 PM on July 30 [58 favorites]

She has a Zoom meeting at 9. I have to go to an actual office building for the second time in months. She assumed her meeting could be in our bedroom. I assumed I could get dressed in our bedroom without being on camera. Me, at 8:57: "Could you have your meeting in the other room? I need to get dressed." Her: Literal screaming.

Do you really not see why this scenario is extremely frustrating for your wife? Because I read that as you being out of the house for at least part if not all of the day, leaving her to solo-parent and try and work. But before you leave, even just by your assumption, you prioritize you getting dressed when you wanted to over her meeting. And gave her 3 minutes warning to shift rooms! (There are also ways to ask that make it clear that you know it’s an imposition, and give the other person more of a chance to say no, but that isn’t one of them.)

And to be honest, my impression reading what you wrote is that she is doing more, and that you do feel that your work is more important than hers. In particular statements like “mine requires at least an hour or two of "Deep Work" (i.e. uninterrupted time.)” make me wonder if she gets much uninterrupted time (other than some meetings) or is she always “on call”?
posted by scorbet at 4:48 PM on July 30 [30 favorites]

This is not Ask/Guess culture - this is:

1) you prioritising your work over her work (‘Are you able to...’).

2) you prioritising your dressing in the bedroom over her work because you have to go to ‘an actual office building’.

I would evaluate whether, on some level, you think her work is of less importance than yours.
posted by heyjude at 4:51 PM on July 30 [27 favorites]

You’re placing an unfair burden on your wife to be the default household manager while framing it as you somehow being unfairly maligned and having to put up with her resentment over this. And the thing is, on some level you actually know this or you wouldn’t have posted the question anonymously.

As mentioned already, your wife shouldn’t have to advocate for herself against you. You aren’t be asked to read her mind, you already know what she wants. For you to step up, share the household responsibilities and stop prioritising your needs over hers and then be offended when she’s rightfully upset at you for doing it. I know these seem like little things, but life is made up of the little things and relationships live and die by them.
posted by Jubey at 6:00 PM on July 30 [17 favorites]

Extreme Guess-type person data point: I also feel like people who think they're Ask-types are really just lazily making me make the decision and hoping they get lucky. Instead of thinking about what the right thing to do is ahead of time and just telling me the answer.

I know, I get it. That's not what you mean by it, you want to solve the conflict together. I've learned to rationalize some people do that. But I still get infuriated that it always takes us two people to do a one person job - solve this simple problem. I do it all the time, when I'm the one to notice the problem. You just don't notice all the times I don't ask you something.

Also it would be nice if you realized when I tell you the solution I came to, I have already thought about it. I don't want to be collaborative then either, so just say ok. Collaborative is for hard problems, and the cable guy isn't one.
posted by ctmf at 8:23 PM on July 30 [7 favorites]

In situation #1, why did you ask her if she could deal with the guy if you could do it? Why didn't you just do it? She would have noticed, you would have scored points for dealing with the problem without handing it off to her, and she'd be appreciative of your non-coerced teamwork. So why did you ask her?
Guess culture people don't have the easy luxury of asking other people to do stuff for them, and it's nice when you Ask Culture people do us tiny favors. We appreciate it.
posted by Vatnesine at 8:55 PM on July 30 [8 favorites]

She has a Zoom meeting at 9. I have to go to an actual office building for the second time in months. She assumed her meeting could be in our bedroom.

That was a reasonable assumption, because you've indicated that you both agree the bedroom is the best room for Zoom meetings, and you both knew you would not need the space at that time.

I assumed I could get dressed in our bedroom without being on camera.

That was not a reasonable assumption, because you knew about her 9 AM meeting, and you knew you had both agreed the bedroom was the best location for meetings. You, then, should have planned ahead to get dressed elsewhere.

I don't see culture here anywhere as much as I see faulty assumptions, including (as others have pointed out) that you act like your needs should take precedence, by default, and without real negotiation.

And for the cable guy? Try this: "Gee, neither of us are free at 2 for the cable guy. Looks like we have to reschedule the cable guy. I'll take care of that."

Do your part. Being "Ask" does not mean you get to foist your responsibilities for self-management and your share of household management onto your partner.
posted by Miko at 5:00 AM on July 31 [14 favorites]

Is there no way to negotiate with a guesser without making them upset or reading their minds?

I just wanted to add, because it's easy to develop contempt or your own sense of martyrdom when you feel like you're being required to mind-read, that that isn't what's going on here. Mind-reading is about things like "I'm so upset, they didn't buy that new ice cream at the supermarket even though I'd been thinking all day about how nice it would be if they surprised me with it. How did they not magically know that?"

What you described is different. Neither of you wants to cancel meetings or work outside the bedroom or clean up after the kids. There's no magic here. It's known information. It might be marginally easier or harder for one or the other of you to do a given thing at a given moment, but of course it'll still make life harder for that person. Both of you know this. Both of you have full access to this information. But right now only one of you is acknowledging it in words and actions, and that's the problem.
posted by trig at 7:49 AM on July 31 [3 favorites]

Stop setting it up so your wife has a third kid - you. She is exhausted by having to hold boundaries and say no to the kids all the time (because that’s what having kids is!) and here you are asking her to set even more boundaries and say no even more often. Holding boundaries with a recalcitrant adult who is supposed to be your partner is EXHAUSTING. So of course that’s where this is sliding off the rails. Stop setting it up so that the only way she gets her needs met is by telling you No. because that’s a shitty way to be a partner. This isn’t about ask vs guess, this is about you needing to act like you are actually on the team.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:14 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]

If the bedroom is a conference room from 9-5, then two things have to happen.
1. you need to set up a shared calendar to reserve the conference room like you would for onsite meetings
2. if you need to get dressed during business hours, plan ahead so your clothes are in the bathroom
As others have said, you're not being as clear or consistent as you think you are.
posted by headnsouth at 9:37 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]

it's not clear who should sacrifice ... the good room

It sounds like you could simply prevent a lot of potential sources of conflict if you rearrange your household layout so that you each have your own dedicated "good" home office spaces with no more switching off. Even if that requires doing something weird like making your living room your bedroom for a while etc.

Walmart sells tall bookshelves for $29.97 each that, while they are not stable enough to stand up unsupported, will stand up in the middle of a room if placed back-to-back. I've successfully used them like that to subdivide a room before.

Getting good noise-canceling headsets with microphones like those used in call centers will also help you have simultaneous meetings even without a solid wall and closed door in between the two of you.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:39 AM on August 2

good noise-canceling headsets

Also software like
posted by trig at 7:54 AM on August 3

Taking the question at face value ... one way I've been able to negotiate Ask vs Guess (at least in the workplace, so ymmv) is to reverse the implied expectation. So instead of:

> "Are you able to deal with the guy or should I do it?"

phrase it as something like:

> "I'll deal with the guy, or would you prefer to do it?"

that sets yourself up as the default person who is doing the task, unless they have a reason to want to handle it personally ("no, I'll do it, I want to make sure they cover XYZ things that are too hard to explain").

if you now find yourself Always Doing The Thing because they always agree with the default, reverse the pattern an arbitrary 50% of the time instead.
posted by Xany at 4:38 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]

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