Help me fix an obnoxious dynamic
December 8, 2021 6:18 AM   Subscribe

Me, female, stay at home parent with loads of health problems and few spoons. Spouse, male, works from home. One child, age 3. Take it on faith that we all love each other, we work hard, everyone is very tired. Sometimes when things need to get done around here, things get tense.

So, basically, this is how it goes:

Me, trying to get one of a million things done even though I'm beyond my breaking point.

My husband, hovers at my elbow with advice and troubleshooting.

Me, just please not now I'm the one actually doing this let me do it how I do it. You're making it harder by distracting me.

My husband, wounded, says he's just trying to help. Then he starts arguing that his way is best and we need to troubleshoot now.

Me, snaps and snarls because I'm hearing an awful lot of opinions for the only person doing X, I just need to bash through the task and move on, why does everything need optimization, leave me alone so I can work.

Fighty fight FIGHT.

(I've tried telling him to just do it, but then it doesn't get done, and please take on faith these aren't optional tasks. If they were I would skip them.)
posted by champers to Human Relations (75 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Could you both agree to talk about the best way to do X at another time? He willing to wait and trust you to get it done in the moment, you willing to hear what he has to suggest. Doing that successfully for one thing would make it easier to change the pattern when it happens during other tasks.
posted by michaelh at 6:21 AM on December 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

The only way to change things like this is talk about them -- out of the moment.

In every situation like this, both parties will feel like they are approaching it reasonably view themselves as the one slightly aggrieved by the other's response. You will never resolve that in that moment, you will only resolve it when you go over how you each feel about these interactions when tensions are low, and you talk about how it makes you feel. Understand that both of you are probably frustrated when these interactions happen, and that both of you need to empathize with the other to reset how you interact in these situations.
posted by so fucking future at 6:31 AM on December 8, 2021 [7 favorites]

Ugh, this sucks, and I'm sorry you're going through it. I realize that you may feel like this is just one more thing to add to your plate, but this is exactly the sort of thing that can be perfect to resolve in a short course of couples counseling. A third party moderator can help you work through this dynamic so you both feel heard and can figure out a healthier way to resolve these issues.

If that's not possible or not something you want, I think it's worth asking your spouse, at a time when you're not actually in the middle of one of these tasks and the ensuing argument, how he feels about these interactions, and to talk when neither of you is upset about ways to deal with those situations when they do come up. I presume he would describe the situation differently from his own perspective, and he has some reason for approaching it the way he does (though I still suspect I'd end up thinking you're more right in the end), but it's hard for either of you to communicate that while it's happening. Pick a time when things are relatively calm, and see if you can hash out the dynamic and come up with a plan together for how you'd both like to handle it to try to stop these arguments before they start.
posted by decathecting at 6:53 AM on December 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Came in to say talk about it later at a convenient time. And when he feels like he needs to say something right then, he can write it down instead, to get it out of his system and be assured that he doesn’t forget it.

Also, he might not have made the connection that it actually BURDENS you to get advice while you’re doing something. Not just due to the interference but also the added cognitive load of dealing with what he says and his emotions, when you’re already low on spoons.
posted by meijusa at 6:56 AM on December 8, 2021 [16 favorites]

To clarify, he seems to think he SAVES you energy with the optimizations when what actually happens is that he SUCKS ENERGY from you with this approach, regardless of the quality of the optimization attempts.
posted by meijusa at 7:00 AM on December 8, 2021 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: Not to threadsit, but husband gets frustrated and continues to push if I say I will listen to his suggestions at another time X, but for now I need to focus and do Y my way.

He is very attuned to "not procrastinating" or "saying things before they get forgotten." Sometimes I wonder if he has ADD, based on a range of behaviors.

I feel hectored and micromanaged, and like I have to constantly explain why I do things the way I do them. I don't have the bandwidth for this.
posted by champers at 7:02 AM on December 8, 2021 [6 favorites]

If this dynamic arises during a particular type of task, would it be possible to give your husband a discrete job to do at that time? For instance, if your husband is at your elbow while you are trying to cook, could you ask him to put up the dishes or make a side dish or make a grocery list. This would let you both be in the same space and working somewhat together but not in a managing way?

Alternatively, is there a way that you could do the task when your husband is already preoccupied? For instance, if your husband is compelled to comment on your approach to paying bills, could you pay bills during kids nap while husband is at work?
posted by ASlackerPestersMums at 7:14 AM on December 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

"Saying things before they are forgotten" comes after "do things before you get distracted (eg by talking)".

What happens if you just follow him around telling him to do stuff until he does it? If he gets annoyed tell him ok, now he knows how you feel, and you'll stop when he does.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:15 AM on December 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

Oh! And maybe try not engaging in the debate about how to do the task? If husband makes a suggestion, just say, "Thanks. I'll think about that." Or "Thanks. I might try that next time." And then ask him something unrelated --- something about a show that you are both watching or fun weekend plans or whatever.
posted by ASlackerPestersMums at 7:17 AM on December 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Ask him to show you how he wants it done. Now, while you watch him do it. If he's got time to hover and critique while you do the thing, he's got time to do the thing.

If you've asked him out of the moment to please not ever do that and he keeps on doing it anyway, or reacts badly when you say "not now, we talked about this" there's not honestly a lot you can do about it. He needs to change the behaviour, not you, and it might be couples therapy territory.
posted by corvine at 7:18 AM on December 8, 2021 [28 favorites]

Best answer: He is very attuned to "not procrastinating" or "saying things before they get forgotten." Sometimes I wonder if he has ADD, based on a range of behaviors.

I feel hectored and micromanaged, and like I have to constantly explain why I do things the way I do them. I don't have the bandwidth for this.

Look, I can't diagnose your husband, but I can say that my ex partner of many years behaved exactly this way and yes, after we broke up, he was diagnosed with ADHD.

I wish I could say I had a solution for you--My approach was to just say "THANKS I GOT IT" in a no-bullshit tone, which did not soothe his feelings but did save my sanity.

I think if your husband is willing to consider the ADHD evaluation route, it could help along a number of axes. Although I did not get to experience life with my ex partner post-therapy, post-medication he did seem a thousand times calmer and more able to put a pause between "omg must say a thing" and actually saying it -- which gives other people a chance to say what they need and have him hear them.

I'm sorry, this is so hard. It was hard for us and we didn't even have the pressure of a kid in the mix.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:19 AM on December 8, 2021 [18 favorites]

Oh boy - as a perfectionist/OCD person who has "certain ways" doing things my whole life, I can relate to your pain - because I have caused it in others.

What I have learned as I have gotten older is - if I want something to be done the way I want - then I had better do it myself. Otherwise, shut-up and appreciate the fact that someone else is doing the task in their own fashion. At least the task got done. Perfection is the enemy of Good.

What has helped me over the last 2-years immensely - is that we have merged households with my in-laws - and my mother-in-law is far far worse than me - so, by seeing that behaviour in her - I have been able to more easily recognize it myself. (And boy - do we butt heads when both of us has a "certain way" of doing something... Thankfully no big fights - but there have been hurt feelings on both sides)

Oh yeah - I have adult-diagnosed ADHD - but it has gotten better/more manageable as I have gotten older.
posted by rozcakj at 7:20 AM on December 8, 2021 [9 favorites]

My recommendation is that you don't TELL him you want to listen to his suggestions at another time, just... do it. Like the other commenters said, pull him aside one weekend when things are calm-ish and ask him how he feels in that interaction and tell him how you feel.

Personally, although I am not a therapist or your therapist, I do believe that intrusive suggesting is the only way some people can relieve their anxiety about... something (maybe completely unrelated to the task). If they get it OUT it releases the pressure that's building in their head. It's also partly but not entirely about control - and lots of us are feeling lack of control over things these days.

So I'd ask him: "What's all that about? Do you want to go talk with someone about that? Because when you let it out, you're letting it out on ME. And that may be helping you but it's not at all productive for me... in fact it makes me really angry and I'm tired of being angry. Can you let it out elsewhere? Can we talk about other ways for you to channel that energy?"
posted by nkknkk at 7:20 AM on December 8, 2021 [18 favorites]

Oooof, that would make me suuuper frustrated too.

If it were me, this is what I would try:

- At a totally separate time, while you're (ideally) both in a relaxed state (drinking tea, going for a walk, at a park, etc)
- Say, hey, honey, I wanted to talk to you about something in how we communicate, are you up to talking about that?
- If he says yes, continue. If he says, not right now, say, when would be good to talk about this?
- Say something like...

You know how when I'm doing a task, you sometimes have suggestions and feedback for me? I need you to not give me feedback, ever, while I'm doing a task. This is what I need emotionally. It takes a lot of effort for me to complete these tasks, and the mental effort of fielding your feedback feels overwhelming, and typically leads to unproductive fights.

It's too frustrating to me to be trying to get something done and feel like someone is watching me, waiting to give suggestions. If you TRULY feel like it's very important that we discuss this feedback at some point, please write it down and come to me on a totally different day with it.

Good luck! Projects, collaboration, feedback, etc in a partnership are difficult, so know that many couples go thru this, in different forms.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 7:22 AM on December 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think the advice here is good and thoughtful and caring.

But honestly, I'd just walk away at that point and let him do whatever it is, like this, "Okay, I'll leave this to you then." And then I'd go do something else.

If he has time to troubleshoot at you, he has time to do the thing. If it's a thing with your child, kiss the child and say "Daddy's going to finish your bath/etc." - warmly and fondly.

My husband did this to me a few times and it cured me pretty quickly. It doesn't mean we never talk about how to do things but it really did teach me that it's best to let people do what they are doing even if it's suboptimally (in my opinion.)
posted by warriorqueen at 7:32 AM on December 8, 2021 [61 favorites]

Well I don't even have kids or even a husband right now and this dynamic fills me with rage.

One question, does he do any of his share of household duties? You've got a three-year-old for chrissake, what was going on when you were pregnant? When you had a newborn?

If it were me, I'd simply put on headphones and turn on music and go about your day.

Other option would be to stop the activity and say, ok it's yours, and walk away (second warriorqueen above on preview).

As others say, counseling is immediately indicated, but he may not see what he's doing wrong, which reads more as spectrumy.

Good luck.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:33 AM on December 8, 2021 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Y'all, please note that my husband is a very involved, loving father who also has a demanding job. He's run off his feet all day everyday, as am I.

Like I said, please take on faith that we work hard. The issue isn't a layabout spouse, it's a specific dynamic where we drive each other nuts.
posted by champers at 7:44 AM on December 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

I'm no marriage counselor, but I've been married for 11 years and I watch quite a bit of television, so I'm going to say this is insanely common. Generally it's the wife telling the husband, but it really depends on the task. If I were you, I'd take it that he is simply having a conversation with you, and probably not really telling you how to do the thing. So yeah, respond in a conversational way, with some noncommittal responses about the best way to do the thing, and if you actually need silence, then make sure to say that specifically.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:53 AM on December 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Honestly I would tell him the next time he does this that he has used up my last spoon and I can't deal with both whatever the task is and his micromanaging, and since he has time to micromanage he has time to do it himself - and if the thing in question does absolutely have to get done, then he'll do it - and then I would go relax in the hopes of regaining my spoons for later when he's not behaving this way. As a bit of a tangent, I think a lot of abled people don't really get what it's like to have limited spoons, and some of the ways that our spoons get used up, no matter how close we are with them, and it's important to make absolutely clear where our limits are.

Alternatively, next time he starts bothering you, tell him you can't deal and he needs to 1) go in the other room and write down his thoughts for later discussion and then 2) that he can look up a couples counselor and make an appointment while you are busy because this is an untenable dynamic.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:56 AM on December 8, 2021 [20 favorites]

Also if this really drives you nuts, be sure to take admission of your own conversations to your husband about doing stuff- if you are honest with yourself, you'll probably find you do it too. See if you find your advice about accomplishing basic tasks helpful from his perspective.

Again, insanely common. I guarantee I do this to my wife, and I promise she does it to me. My daughter responded this morning to my wife with "I know how to put a top on a water bottle mom". This is where kids learn sarcasm from.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:59 AM on December 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

My technique was to Immediately stop doing the thing and let him do it.
He either did it, or stopped hassling me. Either way win-win.

Like the time he was commenting on the Halloween costume I was making for our son. I said looks like you can do it better and gave him the paint brush. And he did! Better than I could. But he also saw that it was actually tricky to do.

It’s at the point where we can laugh about the pattern now when it shows up.

I had to get over some innate people pleasing and submissiveness; there was some undercurrents on my side to let go of for sure.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:12 AM on December 8, 2021 [14 favorites]

"Thank you, I'm not looking for input right now."
posted by DarlingBri at 8:18 AM on December 8, 2021 [9 favorites]

He is very attuned to "not procrastinating" or "saying things before they get forgotten." Sometimes I wonder if he has ADD, based on a range of behaviors.

My husband has ADHD and is a perfectionist, so we could have a similar dynamic (without the kid). But he also knows that if he wants something done a certain way he needs to do it that way, or at least wait until the person doing the thing is not in the thick of it to make suggestions.

I agree, the best thing to do is have a conversation outside of the incidents. If you actually want his input, tell him you'd welcome it, but at a different time. If he's afraid of forgetting something, then he can set a reminder or, if you're amenable, text/email you so you can bring it up when you're ready (that's how my husband and I handle reminders to each other).

I'd also be inclined to point out that what he's doing now is leaving it up to you to make sure task is remembered to be done, and then demands your attention when you are busy. He's not actually helping, in that moment or big picture-wise (since, as you mentioned, it won't get done if you don't do it yourself). You can soften it, if you want, and say it's easier for you as an individual to focus on doing something separately from how it gets done (since some people may feel differently).

Alternatively, you could do what my mom does and, in an over the top way, shout "In my way! In my way!" While shooing my dad out from underfoot.
posted by ghost phoneme at 8:19 AM on December 8, 2021 [5 favorites]

Yes, we have this dynamic going both ways in our household too. In my case, I do think it's as one poster put it above -- I'm using my "advice" as some sort of anxiety relief valve/assertion of control. In my husband's case, I really think he gets hyperfocused -- it MUST get done now and in this specific way or it won't get done (again, control). (FWIW neither my husband or I have or suspect we have ADD/ADHD. I think we are both just kind of 'know-it-alls'. Charming, I'm sure.) By that point, the person doing the task isn't actually really willing to consider the other person's suggestions because they are irritable and just want to get it done. Thus, snapping.

The difference in our household is that my husband and I both react to being hurt (by the snapping) the same way -- by walking away from the dynamic entirely -- and I think by internally saying "well I can 'fix' it later" [Reader, this "fixing" almost never happens.]

Maybe when you're not in the middle of the dynamic, you can agree on how to handle it like "you get to make one critique, and I get to deny that suggestion in the moment and you have to accept that and walk away." This could facilitate both his need to say something the moment and your need to just get the damn thing done.

(I'm not saying that either of your ways is more right, but I think the person doing the tasks outweighs the person not doing the task.)
posted by sm1tten at 8:26 AM on December 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

He is very attuned to "not procrastinating" or "saying things before they get forgotten." Sometimes I wonder if he has ADD, based on a range of behaviors.

My suggestion of writing it down was motivated by this. I have ADHD and, thanks to impulse control problems and time blindness, it’s sooooo hard sometimes to not blurt something out in the moment. The promise of talking about it later is just too vague by itself and it can feel like “some time later” might as well be “never”. Writing the thing down is not as good as saying it out loud and being listened to but it’s much better than the effort of not saying the thing while it keeps doing rounds in your head like a caged animal plus the disappointment of your great contribution seemingly not even being worth listening to, without even knowing what it is.

Why, yes, I can channel the frustration from both sides. It’s a gift.
posted by meijusa at 8:30 AM on December 8, 2021 [10 favorites]

This seems very familiar to me and I will say both look into the ADHD thing, and there’s a lot of good advice above. There is hope!
posted by matildaben at 8:33 AM on December 8, 2021

Two wife household. One of us is more "we can renew tags 90 days out, it's day 89, let's GO" and the other isn't. You can guess which one of us has the ADHD diagnosis.

Over time, I've gotten better at saying "you're right, it's nice to have X taken care of early!" and over time, she's gotten better at saying "ok, it's all right if you take care of X later." Unfortunately, that doesn't always work and if y'all have a kid already you're definitely in "time passes and things improve" territory.

You have my sympathy and I'm reading the suggestions, so thank you for asking the question.
posted by joycehealy at 8:34 AM on December 8, 2021 [5 favorites]

If he has time to stand around criticizing, he has time to go do the next most important thing on the household task list. And that's what he should do, because you are an adult and you don't need supervisor, and he's just wasting time.

Give him the next thing that's going to drive you nuts to do, preferably in another room, "Thanks for the input, but what would be most helpful right now would be if you packed the diaper bag for Child so we can leave on time."

I've started using this more since last year because now my husband and I are both in the house all the time, and it's a small house, and we are both large people, and we also have three dogs underfoot. He does have ADD but doesn't micromanage me, but sometimes he's kinda in the way of something I am trying to do in a hurry and he's amenable to being given a specific task.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 8:34 AM on December 8, 2021 [7 favorites]

My husband, hovers at my elbow with advice and troubleshooting.

Why is this happening? I mean I understand that he wants to control and perfect things but he has a full-time job and this isn't it. This is your job. To me, having thought about it more, the hovering is the point at which the problem needs to be addressed, and the problem is him micro-managing you and thinking that's appropriate and okay. It isn't. You have a toddler so you have experience re-directing, you could try that, but I personally would be okay with deflecting and ignoring. To the degree I would put on hedphones to do tasks and tell him he can't interrupt me while I'm wearing headphones.

I understand this "hurts his feelings" but he's an adult, he can work his feelings out.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:36 AM on December 8, 2021 [22 favorites]

>> husband is a very involved, loving father who also has a demanding job. He's run off his feet all day ... The issue isn't a layabout spouse

I believe you. He can be very busy and exhausted from work, AND ALSO AT THE SAME TIME it's true that if he has time to hang around at your elbow making suggestions, then he has the time to take over and do the task.

People who are suggesting that you let him do it aren't saying it because they think he's lazy. They're saying it because they can see he obviously has the time, the emotional investment, and the up-to-date practical involvement to be fully capable of doing it. And letting him do it is a MUCH better outcome than you both having an argument about it, or you snapping/snarling at him, or any of the things you both are doing now.

If *you* are not willing to allow him to do it, then maybe you need to interrogate that and figure out why you'd rather have an argument than give up control. And while you're interrogating yourself and figuring this out, make a rule for yourself that you will temporarily let him do it, just until you get to the bottom of your control issues and figure out a better solution.

If *he* is not willing to do the work, then he needs to interrogate that and figure out why he'd rather harangue you and micromanage you as if he's your boss, rather than just do the work. And while he's interrogating himself and figuring this out, he needs to set a rule for himself that he will, for the time being, take over the work from you every time he corrects you. A temporary stopgap just until he gets to the bottom of his control issues and figures out a better solution.
posted by MiraK at 8:38 AM on December 8, 2021 [40 favorites]

Another conversation to have is "Are we trying to do too much?"

I recognize the stress energy in your question from when my kid was 3. For us, some of the angst was due to pressure we were putting on ourselves to continue to do everything to a really high standard. We didn't know anyone else with kids, so we hadn't yet seen the options for ways that other families put things aside for an easier time.

Now that I have more friends with kids, I can see that some of them choose not to cook dinner, or don't celebrate Thanksgiving, or don't have visitors, or don't tend the yard, or rarely bathe the kid, or all of these things. Maybe just when things are hard, maybe forever, and it's all fine.
posted by xo at 8:41 AM on December 8, 2021 [18 favorites]

BTW I think the ADHD related advice you're getting on this thread is a red herring - and also at least a little sexist. Because in my personal case, the fact that I have ADHD was the excuse used to justify my non-ADHD (and therefore obviously more careful, focused, and detail-oriented) husband standing at my elbow criticizing everything I was doing. Funny how that works, isn't it? If women have ADHD we're in need of a micromanager to correct us; if men have ADHD they're in need of someone to micromanage and correct.
posted by MiraK at 8:56 AM on December 8, 2021 [24 favorites]

"No Kibitzing!"

Regarding "saying things before they get forgotten." : "No Kibitzing! Write it down for later!"

My partner and I have a "safe" word, which means, "Go find something else to do. Leave the room now and don't speak to me until I speak to you!"
posted by at at 9:10 AM on December 8, 2021 [5 favorites]

For me - it's not about correcting or micromanaging - it's because the task is being performed sub-optimally or illogically. It could be any gender performing that task.

But yes - probably a red-herring.

Last thing - show him this thread - or excerpts of it (if you don't want him to know your user ID). Sometimes the dynamic between a couple makes them a little insular - show him that this is a common problem in relationships and that most people on the other side would be... hurt, upset through to angry and possibly even furious...
posted by rozcakj at 9:12 AM on December 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

if men have ADHD they're in need of someone to micromanage and correct.

Just to clarify, absolutely nobody is saying that the husband, or any man, or anyONE, with ADHD is "in need of" or permitted to do this behavior. Many people with ADHD, regardless of how they identify gender-wise, report difficulty with impulse control and interrupting due to a kind of spiral of notice --> must speak --> can't forget --> anxious -- must speak NOW!

The dynamic described in this post is detailed extensively in one of the "Distraction" books, either Driven to or Delivered from, I forget which. I'm sorry that your ADHD was used against you by a spouse who sucked, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily a red herring here.

The OP's husband may not have ADHD, but if he DOES, then there are things which may help him to manage the anxiety and the impulses in a way that will not only save his wife's sanity but also be much more pleasant and manageable an existence for him.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:25 AM on December 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

I don't live with my ex but we are good friends and visit one another and each of us are entirely too involved in how the other one is doing task X. One thing I have done is push back, as suggested above, by asking him if he wants to take over. If he says no, I say, okay then, I'm doing it my way. Another thing I have done is to accept that we both have this tendency. Sometimes he says something and I am able to look at him and say, "I love you too, sweetie." It's my way of acknowledging that he is being a pain in the ass but also I am often a pain in the ass and we do, in fact, love each other.

We have know each other more than 40 years. I do not know an easy fix. I am the one with ADHD but I suggest that he do things differently way less often than he tells me to do things differently. This is a common, human thing and super annoying in the moment. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 9:32 AM on December 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

OP, you say: I've tried telling him to just do it, but then it doesn't get done. Can you elaborate on specifically how that happens? So, you're doing laundry, and he comes up and tells you you're folding the sheets wrong, or whatever. What do you say in response to tell him that he can fold the sheets however he wants to, and that since he feels more strongly about it than you do, he should finish folding the sheets rather than arguing with you about technique? What, specifically, does he say in response to that? How does that conversation play out, in the moment?
posted by decathecting at 9:33 AM on December 8, 2021 [8 favorites]

I'm also curious what happens if you walk away while he's telling you how to fold sheets so he can do it himself.

You frame this as a mutual dynamic ("drive each other nuts"), but he's micromanaging and hectoring you while you're doing your job. He may be a loving and involved father and husband, but he's acting like your boss. If talking to him about it hasn't worked, then couple counseling or walking away so he can do it. I understand that you've said he doesn't do it if you tell him to do it, but if he has time to stand there and boss you, then he should be able to step in at that moment to finish the task. It's not like he's doing anything else.
posted by Mavri at 9:47 AM on December 8, 2021 [13 favorites]

I've tried telling him to just do it, but then it doesn't get done

I agree with the commentator above - as soon as he make a suggestion, stop, hand the task directly to him, and start giving him advice. Don’t let him walk away or say he will do it later. Follow him and micro-manage him back to the task. If he continues to walk away then walk away yourself, out the door to do something to recharge your spoons.

Yes the other suggestions upthread about choosing a time to have the discussion are more productive in the long term, but I strongly suspect you have tried that technique with no impact on his behaviour. For some partners, they have to actually feel uncomfortable and feel the impact of their behaviour on themselves. This isn’t really a mutual dynamic where both of you can compromise - this is him choosing to behave in an unhealthy way that negatively impacts only you and he doesn’t care about how that makes you feel.
posted by saucysault at 9:53 AM on December 8, 2021 [9 favorites]

Ugh this pattern is so dispiriting. For me in this situation, the critical minimum thing I need is for the Optimizer (sometimes that's me) to recognize that the hovering optimization is. not. good. Factually it's not helping, but more fundamentally to the relationship, Optimizer's partner very much doesn't want it. It's a lapse.

This puts Optimizer on the same 'side' as Task Doer. Optimizer's underlying urge to do this will take longer to get a handle on, if they're going to do that. Their capability to suppress or redirect the impulse may also take some work, and it's up to Task Doer how much of the behavior in itself is just too much.

But it can sometimes help so much if the Optimizer sometimes still does it but can self-monitor and say "oops" and stop. Or can hear "you're doing the thing" and stop.
posted by away for regrooving at 10:04 AM on December 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

I am also a stay at home parent and one way I deal with a similar dynamic is by asking my husband to be fully on with kid and telling him I’m putting my headphones in and doing task for 30 mins (I do not tell him what specific task). A lot of the times just seeing the headphones stops him from saying something. Other times me not respond or several moments later saying “Do you need me to help YOU right now?” reminds him not to interrupt. I can always hear but I choose not to react. It doesn’t change the underlying cause of our friction in relation to household tasks, but it does trip him up enough to give me some peace while I’m actually doing the task. Also I save the stuff I know he will be most annoying to me about for when I know he’s on a call.

The big underlying argument I made that was most successful, is pushing back at his denial that when he does micromanage or tell me how to do stuff what he’s saying is he doesn’t trust me to do my job. That means maybe I would be more fulfilled and our relationship would be better if I started working outside the home so he doesn’t feel like he is allowed to act as my manager. He is not allowed to act as my manager. I then also talked him through and asked him about all of the benefits he partakes in by having me home. We actually made a list of tasks and time away from his job he would have to split more evenly with me. I didn’t threaten this or use it to get what I wanted. If the decision was that it would be better for me to work outside of the home then I would happily do it. Speaking frankly about all the ways his life will drastically change without a stay at home parent was eye opening to him.
posted by Swisstine at 10:08 AM on December 8, 2021 [8 favorites]

Already a lot of great advice in this thread (I like the "here, you do it").

One suggestion to address the "saying things before they get forgotten" idea. In our family, I often get requests to buy things ("dad we ran out of tape/strawberry jelly/chocolate chips/etc") at very random times and I'm super forgetful so things were not getting bought. I addressed this by putting a calendar/shopping list whiteboard and set of markers on the fridge and telling the kids to write their items down. Then I follow through by buying those things on my next shopping trip and showing them that I did. The kids are pretty well trained to write things down now instead of just telling me at random times.
posted by msittig at 10:13 AM on December 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: How it works out in the moment is that I'll be doing something like combing our child's hair.

He starts telling me how to do it, or giving a litany of different hair care strategies and times of day I should be doing the hair instead, theoretically with better results, all while I'm getting the stuffing knocked out of me by a squirming toddler and juggling detangling spray and combs and I'm just very focused on getting through the (painful!) task at hand because if I take too long our kid will have a meltdown.

If I hand over the tools and walk away, he doesn't take over with the hair. He wanders off to do something else that he's decided has to be done right away.

If I'm left alone, or better yet my husband amuses our child while I deal with the hair, it's relatively straightforward.

I'm open to his ideas on the hair, but I can't wrestle, detangle, comb, and have a conversation about toddler hair strategies all at once, and I really don't like the dynamic of being nitpicked in front of our kid.
posted by champers at 10:16 AM on December 8, 2021 [11 favorites]

If it’s something that has to be done perfectly or else there will be dire consequences (defusing a bomb, replacing the brakes on a car, disposing of poison, ensuring the knives are out of the toddler’s reach), talk about it during a calm moment and discuss the best way to proceed.

But I’d strongly encourage you to make an agreement (during a calm moment) that if a thing can be done in a mediocre way and it’ll be fine, no one gets to troubleshoot. You’re not actually saving time/stress/effort doing things “the right way,” if you have to go through the stress and conflict of troubleshooting to get there. I would bet money your household loses more time, resources, and well-being to the activity of troubleshooting than you ever end up saving through an improved method of doing something. So, my suggestion in action would look like: He’s making a phone call you know will put him on hold for 20 minutes to accomplish something he could quickly do online? You’re going to move on without comment (call it a 20-minute time-tax for marital harmony). He sees you folding sheets wrong in a way that’s going to make the linen closet look messy? He’s going to move on without comment (they’ll be out of the way for now, and he can rearrange the linens later if it really bothers him). If one of you thinks to yourself, “there has to be a better way to do this thing I’m trying to do!” you can ASK the other to troubleshoot with you. Identify likely triggers and agree ahead of time that you will not be troubleshooting around them.

He can learn to manage the discomfort of seeing you do something suboptimally. And if he simply can’t bear to see that you’ve loaded the dishwasher “the wrong way” he can make sure he loads the dishwasher before you get to it (or can ask to take over that chore and do it consistently enough that there are clean dishes when someone needs them).
posted by theotherdurassister at 10:21 AM on December 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

champers, what you described is way worse than what I was picturing.

I think I would have him read this thread or parts of it because that is really, really disrespectful and willfully blind to the situation. I mean, I hear you that you two have a lot going on and that you love him and see his efforts. But I agree with you that him nitpicking you at both a fraught moment like that and in front of your toddler is just not good and not okay.

I don't think this is an 'us' problem; I think it's a 'him' problem even if it takes both of you to fix it.

I will say that personally, I would still let him finish with the hair and if he didn't, I'd let it go for like, an hour, and then point out that the hair is still not done.

My husband used to walk away from a few tasks, especially related to child care, and I always fixed them because, well, child is standing there. Then I had to go on bedrest and I learned he is fully capable and willing to do them on his own - when he knows there isn't another parent ready to swoop in and do it. Which wasn't something he was fully aware of either.

After we kind of both figured that out, life got a lot better because we each had space to follow through entirely on things.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:30 AM on December 8, 2021 [48 favorites]

To use your hair care example in my suggestion: if your child’s hair texture is such that you need a specific routine, product, and/or method to keep it and your child’s scalp healthy and comfortable, that’s something to plan out during a calm moment. After that, or if it’s not applicable, hair care is a bare minimum activity. You’re following the usual routine but he thinks there’s a better way? Cool, he can implement that better way when he does Kiddo’s hair next, but for now he hands you the comb and moves on without comment. In this scenario you are the hair care engineer and he is the hair care intern. He can silently judge your choices but you’re the boss of the task.

“Here are several ways to do toddler hair care better” translates pretty directly to “I’m having an anxious/uncomfortable feeling of some kind and if I attach it to a specific problem I can feel less out of control.” That’s normal and very human (especially for people socialized male). But it’s also irrational and unfair to you.
posted by theotherdurassister at 10:33 AM on December 8, 2021 [5 favorites]

> If I hand over the tools and walk away, he doesn't take over with the hair. He wanders off to do something else

What this tells you is that he doesn't care about the task at all.

He has no task-related anxiety. He was never hyperfocusing on the task. It was never his goal to ensure that the task is done "properly". He doesn't care about how the task is done, and he doesn't even care whether the task is done. His interaction with you has nothing to do with teaching you how to do better. His anxiety wasn't aroused by any "mistakes" you may have made in your technique. He is not the least bit concerned about the task.

Do you understand this?

His only purpose in that interaction was to criticize you. Criticizing you was the end goal in and of itself. That's what kept him engaged. When you went away, making it physically impossible for him to continue criticizing you, it was like the TV started showing static. He was no longer entertained. So he wandered off in search of other entertainment.

So remember when you said:
>>>>> I'm open to his ideas on the hair,

... do you now understand how utterly irrelevant it is? The problem is not that you aren't open to his ideas on how to do the hair. He. Doesn't. Care. How. You. Do. The. Hair.
posted by MiraK at 10:55 AM on December 8, 2021 [68 favorites]

You guys need to sit down and talk about these issues, ongoing, not in the moment, planned and calm. Initiate this process right now, when presumably no interaction is going on because you are here in this thread and he isn't. Send a calendar invite, and if you don't both have personal calendars fix that first. Tuesday nights after the kiddo's in bed, Saturday mornings take an hour to sit and have Parents Coffee Meeting while the toddler gets treated to some extra screen time, whatever just pick a time and put a recurring meeting on the calendar.

Presuming you're doing this in gcal, also start a shared gdoc of agenda items. Be nice, but capture these points of contention - how to do the child's hair, how to refresh the widget supply, how to make rice, how to vacuum, whatever. In the moment, "okay, I'm doing this my way right now, we'll put it on The List" and get it finished.

But absolutely rule #1 should be "the person yapping takes over the task". Criticism is volunteering, starting as of the first meeting. There is NO walking away and doing something else (that right there? go get assessed for an attention problem or we find a counselor because that is NOT an appropriate or respectful course of action). You wanna open your mouth, you are volunteering. If you simply cannot NOT say something but do not want to volunteer, go outside and tell a tree about it. Buy a journal.

Look, *I* am the control freak in my situation and I know these rules. I do provide feedback where it is helpful (I know where everything is, generally because I put it there, and I know my system doesn't always make sense to anyone else) but I walk awaaaaaaay before I get too involved. OR, if I just can't stand it, I offer to trade him the thing he's doing wrong for some other thing that also needs to be done.

You should be meeting like this anyway, not just to calmly strategize how to do the kid's hair. Hopefully your kid's about to get much busier, calendars need synchronizing, meals need planning, children must be responsibly transported places. Eventually, one day your child will start attending at least part of these meetings, to do the calendar review and meal planning and chore talk. It's a GREAT habit to have. Make it nice, have snacks or breakfast burritos or pizza delivery, make it a thing to look forward to because it PREVENTS arguments and resentment and it fosters collaboration and accountability.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:56 AM on December 8, 2021 [8 favorites]

My husband has ADHD and therefore is not the greatest at getting any tasks done on time or when they need doing unless I am very specific. So therefore I do most of the things when I can. Also disabled, he also works from home, but no kids. Also all wonderful loving people, just with our quirks and blind spots.

I haven’t had this specific thing - but I’ve had him come up to me and say some of the DUMBEST shit. Like when I was scrubbing the third toilet - HIS toilet - midnight and he said “oh are you just in a cleaning mood?” - the stare I gave him.

He’s acting obnoxious. Sometimes you gotta be a little obnoxious back. Stop what you are doing, look him in the eye “You are not being helpful. Please leave me alone to finish this task.” Repeat. Do not continue until he stops and leaves. Sitting there staring should get awkward enough quickly enough for him to leave.

Continue to discuss when tasks are not going on to see if a better solution can arise.

And yeah, I get the frustration. I don’t have a cure here. But I’m working on it myself. And I have to cope with the fact that sometimes people aren’t good at things. Sometimes they’re oblivious. Maybe it’s gender and society or maybe it’s a mental health thing or maybe it’s just who they are. So I have to do the things I know I can do, and I know he won’t. And try to direct him to the things he is good at. And try to figure out the balance to not argue about it.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:03 AM on December 8, 2021 [5 favorites]

and have a conversation about toddler hair strategies all at once

Um - that's "not good" parenting - he is verbally undermining you in-front of the toddler.

This will potentially (I am no expert) undermine your authority with the toddler as they age - or - the toddler will learn that they can criticize/bargain for everything or overwhelm you verbally themselves.

(And... walking away, rather than taking over... no - that's not right - that is fundamentally rude)
posted by rozcakj at 11:07 AM on December 8, 2021 [18 favorites]

He’s acting obnoxious. Sometimes you gotta be a little obnoxious back. Stop what you are doing, look him in the eye “You are not being helpful. Please leave me alone to finish this task.” Repeat. Do not continue until he stops and leaves. Sitting there staring should get awkward enough quickly enough for him to leave.

I was writing something similar and can't + this enough. You are at the point of being this direct. It is not cruel to tell him to back off. You are allowed to refuse "help". If he comes back and says "my feelings are hurt that you won't listen, or do it my way", you can say "we can talk about other solutions, but my feelings are hurt when you hover over me and critique my work, so "just let me do that anyway" is not a solution."
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:14 AM on December 8, 2021 [14 favorites]

If your specific example wasn't about child care and maintenance, I was going to suggest noise cancelling headphones when you're doing tasks.

I think I'm more like your husband, and I do have ADHD, and I do have to tell my husband how to do what he's doing as if it's urgent. He's gotten really good at saying "I'm not taking you seriously right now" in the most loving way possible. He'll revisit it later and tell me why that wasn't the right moment. (I mean, sometimes this works out. Sometimes we just argue.)

Sometimes he just says "Are you done criticizing me?" and I'm defensive and say "I was just trying to help!" but because of your post, I'm going to double down on my efforts to stop meddling when there's no one's life that's at risk. I'll save intrusive suggestions for emergencies.
posted by vitabellosi at 11:18 AM on December 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

This will potentially (I am no expert) undermine your authority with the toddler as they age - or - the toddler will learn that they can criticize/bargain for everything or overwhelm you verbally themselves.

Toddler is also going to learn terrible gender dynamics.
posted by Mavri at 11:23 AM on December 8, 2021 [34 favorites]

>"If I hand over the tools and walk away, he doesn't take over with the hair. He wanders off to do something else that he's decided has to be done right away."

100% ADHD. the best way to think about the ADHD brain is "now" v. "not now", or seeing the world through a hyperfocused tube. while you're doing something and he's watching, wanting to provide "troubleshooting", you're within the toilet paper tube that is his view of the world. he earnestly wants to help, but once you hand it over to him, it becomes less interesting and he drops it in favor of the thing that is more urgent, interesting and/or novel.

does he also have trouble imposing structure on his time? do you have to tell him what to do and in what order or you won't be able to count on him to get it done? does he spend an inordinate amount of time on things that are fascinating to him? if so, then you're by default doing your half of the household work along with monitoring him due to consistent inconsistency. it can be exhausting, because you're the parent to your child and to him.

it's important to keep in mind that folks with ADHD don't behave this way on purpose. with my highly ADHD spouse, i find this helps a lot in understanding his sometimes confounding and frustrating lack of consistency, and lets me be compassionate toward him because i know he's not being a jerk.
posted by hollisimo at 11:36 AM on December 8, 2021 [10 favorites]

If I hand over the tools and walk away, he doesn't take over with the hair. He wanders off to do something else that he's decided has to be done right away.

Yeah this is the point at which I go, omg, get him to an evaluation for ADHD now. Because that is like, textbook.

And yes, it is rude and disrespectful and unproductive and all of those things, AND a potential symptom of ADHD. Things can be both. Again, not trying to make an argument that he's entitled to this or you have to just endure it because he has a condition. Just noting that there may be diagnoses, toolsets, and medications that may help him to manage all of this.

Additionally one reason I'm reiterating the ADHD thing is because while sure, your husband might be an asshole who is intentionally disrespecting you for funsies uh, like, he also might not be. And if he does have ADHD, all the good intentions in the world won't do as much good as actual treatment.

For your own side, yes, you are at the point of being blunt with him and not coddling his feelings. ADHD or not he is a grownup and he can manage his own feelings around this.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:38 AM on December 8, 2021 [13 favorites]

I mentioned this to my aforementioned ADHD Mr. Crystalinne. He said “oh yeah. I get this. Because then when she hands over the tasks he becomes defiant and doesn’t want to do it anymore.” So I’m not saying it IS adhd. I am not a doctor. And I’m not saying it’s okay to do these behaviors. It’s not. But sometimes people really have trouble moderating their behavior on their own so you have to set a boundary. You can only control your behavior.

Like I’m still teaching my spouse to wait a second before talking to me when he walks in and I’m watching TV. He sorta forgets that I live my life when he’s not in the room. So he interrupts. Because he has a very narrow focus. So my boundary is I say “wait.” And I take my time to pause what I’m watching. And turn to him and say “go ahead.” And then he will say “oops. Sorry.” Because he realizes he did it again. It’s just … how his brain works. To me it feels rude as hell. To him, he’s just wanting to tell me something. So we set a boundary.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:43 AM on December 8, 2021 [8 favorites]

sure, your husband might be an asshole who is intentionally disrespecting you for funsies uh, like, he also might not be.

Oh yeah - I agree with this.

Upthread in my comment, I talked about how for him, the point of the interaction is to criticize you and that's how he's entertaining himself. By this I did not mean he twirls his mustache and says to himself, "Ah, I know what will alleviate my boredom, I will go and criticize my spouse! Won't that be fun! Muahaha."

What's most likely happening is a version of what happens between my tween kids: both of them are very attached to each other and especially due to the pandemic, they can't hang out with their friends, so they get very bored and antsy when the other one is busy. Because they're bored and antsy, they'll start bugging the other sibling. "Hey, remember this annoying song I sang the other day? Hahaha I'll sing it again 10 times now, when you're trying to finish your homework! It's funny! See? It's funny!" They're entertaining themselves at the expense of the other child because they're kids and they don't know how to manage their own feelings of understimulation and boredom.

That's what your partner is doing what he's doing, probably. He finds it more engaging to come over and criticize you and get a rise out of you than to do the tasks he's supposed to do. It's the same motivation as my kids have, but his actions are far worse, since he's choosing to criticize you, not just annoy you with terrible songs.

The fact that he finds it entertaining to criticize you isn't some kind of calculated *evil*. But it is disrespectful and toxic nevertheless. And of course your partner is not a child, so he has no excuse for it. (ADHD is not an excuse.)
posted by MiraK at 12:34 PM on December 8, 2021 [27 favorites]

Wow, when I asked for an example, I absolutely was not expecting anything as awful as what you described. I don't like to describe total strangers as abusive, but him hectoring you in front of your child while your child is in distress, then walking away when you ask him to assist: that's terrible behavior, and it needs to stop immediately. I realize that your spouse may have many good qualities, but that interaction is not an example of someone treating either you or your child with the love either of you deserve.

I agree 100% with everything MiraK has said above. And I really think you need to make time (I know it feels like there's never enough time, but this needs to be a priority ASAP to save your health and your marriage) to see a mental health professional, for couples counseling for the two of you and possibly an evaluation and/or treatment of some kind for him if this is really a behavior he can't curb on his own. Because he's treating you horribly right now, and observing this dynamic is going to harm your child if he doesn't stop doing it. He's treating you in a way I wouldn't treat someone I actively disliked and disrespected, and it's not acceptable for him to treat you this way. It's not loving behavior towards you or your child.

I hope that having all these people (including me) criticizing your spouse doesn't add to your stress or cause you to feel like you need to defend him or tolerate his behavior so as not to validate our assessments of him. I know that feeling can be very real. But he's hurting you, and he's hurting your kid by subjecting them to this treatment. It needs to stop, right now.
posted by decathecting at 12:41 PM on December 8, 2021 [20 favorites]

I’m going to play Devil’s advocate and try to look at this from his perspective. Have you ever actually stopped and listened to him when this happens? Because maybe his method is more efficient. And maybe he’s frustrated as hell that you’re so tired, and there’s an easier way, but you just won’t even listen. Maybe it hurts him to see you so worn out, and he desperately wants to make things easier for you, but you seem to have a chip on your shoulder and won’t even listen.

You say that you all love each other, but you seem to feel that he isn’t doing this out of love, but rather as a form of control. Maybe take your own advice and assume that he loves you. He’s telling you that he’s making these suggestions to try to help you, but you’re not listening to that, you’re allowing yourself to go into defensive mode.

Listening is the most important part of communicating.

I am also someone with limited spoons, so I get it, but the answers you’ve selected as best answers are combative, and don’t actually solve the problem, they just ensure that you “win”. As the saying goes, win the battle, lose the war.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:28 PM on December 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

And yet another perspective: Maybe he's just plain mansplaining? Telling himself he's being helpful and caring, with a pleasing little jolt at his own smarts, without paying any attention at all to the appropriateness of his commentary or the emotional state of the person he's talking to. Like many men, maybe, at some unconscious, inarticulate level, he thinks you have the magic womanly touch, so he can't do what you do, but he can help you do it better. If so, he needs to be disabused of these ideas, but not in the moment.

I read on Metafilter that some of the best marriages have weekly check-in times. Not just a one-time chat about whatever, but weekly chats for the emotional health of your marriage.
So, if there's something to discuss or an issue to be resolved, it gets rescheduled for Sunday, between 1 and 2PM, say, or whenever works for you both. To ensure that all of your meetings aren't dreadful all the good thoughts and lovely interactions should sometimes be exchanged then too. It's not like you want once-a-week on Sunday to become a terrible bitch session. But you do want to discuss disagreements when you're *not* in the heat of the moment. And you, personally, need to make sure you really describe to him what it's like to have no more spoons. Finally, as someone mentioned above, maybe you need to come up with a "safe" word when you are about to be spoon-free and need to do what you're doing or you'll never get it done.
posted by Violet Blue at 2:48 PM on December 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

You need the %YourTown Accords. Next time, wait several hours, then announce Peace Talks. See things from his point of view. Present your needs simply and without judgement. Sweetheart, when I am in Task-Accomplishing-Mode, it's hard for me to listen, learn, and certainly hard to implement a new process. And sometimes I'm tired and cranky and it's hard to respond calmly to suggestions. I need to be able to do tasks without interruption. I will consider suggestions later. How do you think we can make this happen? Do lots of listening, maybe he will sway you, but if you need to be able to do tasks without interruption, that's a fair thing to request.

With kids, there are Natural and Logical Consequences. It's distressing to be interrupted while I fold laundry. If the interruptions continue, I will walk away from the laundry. The cat and the kid will make a mess of the clean laundry and it will have to be re-washed, and then dinner will be very late and possibly crappy.

That kind of interruption can feel like nails on a chalkboard. One way to diminish an undesired behavior is to ignore it. Literally, no engagement, comment, response. Earbuds help. The only response is to say, 1 time I'm folding laundry and can't have a discussion; I can discuss this after dinner. People engage this way for some reason, and ignoring them is a slow but effective method. It requires discipline, not easy when you have no more spoons, are tired, have done this a million times.

Distraction. While I fold laundry, would you put on some music? empty the dishwasher? See if Child needs water?

Read What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage; it's effective. Reward him for the behavior you want.

I implemented some of this in my marriage. It drove my ex- nuts when I declined invitations to fight, did not engage in fights. He left, life was much better without him. Marriages can have an uneasy balance, and shifting that balance can have unintended consequences. of course, it might make things better, too.
posted by theora55 at 3:01 PM on December 8, 2021

Best answer: My husband, hovers at my elbow with advice and troubleshooting.

Not sure if this is helpful but I am a perfectionist (mostly recovered hoverer) and one of the things me and mine worked out was "Hey this apartment is 700 square feet, why are you in this three foot space with me right now?" so not addressing whatever the criticizing 'splainy parts are, but just the "I can't do this super challenging task while you are right here and I need you to move away for a bit" and then talk about the criticizing and the "You say you know how to do this but you are not doing it" parts at a later time.

Because, you can both care very much about each other and your child but at the same time can have a maladaptive way of relating to one another and that sometimes happens. For me, if I wanted to hover/micromanage and I realized picking at my partner (for me it was "How to do the dishes" but it could have been anything) was not forwarding a nice Team Us face, I needed to leave the room and accept that dishes would be done acceptably if not jessamyn-perfectly.

Your spouse, for his part, needs to understand that the way he approaches these issues is not working for you and he needs to find another way because getting in your face while you are dealing with something complicated does not work for Team Us. He can either come up with strategies, or accept your strategies, but if it's not working for you, it's not working for the marriage so it's worth brainstorming together. Once it gets to the wounded-husband part he's doubling-down on the not-working part. So, long term sure get him evaluated for ADHD but mainly because you need to have a functioning household and even if you both care about each other a lot, this isn't it.
posted by jessamyn at 5:14 PM on December 8, 2021 [6 favorites]

there is nothing about ADHD or any other such term that makes the essential way his brain functions more important or more worthy of respect and deference than the way your brain functions.

I, personally, cannot and will not work under intense surveillance and running critical commentary from someone who is not my superior but acts and talks like he is. not ever. this is not an incapacity/unwillingness that everyone feels to the same degree, but I think it is safe to say a lot of people feel it to some degree. it is, if you will, typical.

this essential human need, typical though it be, is not less worthy of being catered to and worked around than his theorized, imagined, guessed-at need to stand over you ostentatiously observing, rating your skills, correcting you, and giving you orders. I would actually say it is more worthy. not because it is typical but because it is reasonable and because it is not harmful.

you can, if you want, characterize this need on your part as its own kind of rigid Brain Thing, if yours is a household where only named and labelled Brain Things command concern. but everyone has a brain and everyone has needs. you start at a disadvantage because you have already shown the ability to suppress and stifle your very reasonable interpersonal needs in order to get essential tasks done, while he has not. he can thus argue that he is not able to stop doing something he enjoys (criticism), whereas you are demonstrably able to endure something you hate (being criticized). and this is why you are much better off leaving Brain Things out of it. it's the wrong argument.

speculating on the way his brain works is, incidentally, an endless source of dead-end labor you can do on his behalf that he is not apparently doing for you in any kind of reciprocal way. hyperfocus, lack of focus, forgetfulness, concentration problems, none of these are empathy impairments or language impairments that give him any reason not to understand a sentence such as "I can't work under these conditions so you have to stop."
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:42 PM on December 8, 2021 [19 favorites]

So my question is: does your husband care about this dynamic? Meaning, does he also find it frustrating and understands that it is problematic and is interested in doing something about it? Your question is titled "help me fix..." but since you can't fix it alone I'm curious about where he is on any of this.
posted by sm1tten at 7:18 PM on December 8, 2021 [5 favorites]

If I hand over the tools and walk away, he doesn't take over with the hair. He wanders off to do something else that he's decided has to be done right away.

Hand over the tools directly to him (don't put them on the table - he has to take them in his hands), and tell him: "Show me" (how to do it right). Watch him quietly for a few moments, then start offering your advice, correcting him, commenting on the way he does the thing...
posted by gakiko at 2:19 AM on December 9, 2021 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone.

To give an update on one specific scenario, we washed and conditioned Child's hair last night in the bath.

I could feel advice brewing, but instead we redirected and worked on the hair side by side, which I think helped.

I gave a crash course on The Hair while his hands were busy.

Like, "This hair is curly and thick, it tangles easily. You have to be really gentle because Child has a tender scalp plus there's the Toddlers Get Bored and Wrestle factor. You're up against a ticking clock. So you put conditioner in, work out the big tangles with a wide tooth comb and then the little tangles with a little comb while the conditioner softens things up for you. The combs also work the conditioner through the hair. And if you don't stay on top of this, or you miss a knot, it gets matted. Yes it's complicated but I've tried a bunch of different things and this is what works. "

I think the hair makes me especially reactive because being micromanaged about a project I don't get help with, from a person who doesn't really know how to do it in the first place (and doesn't even have hair for heaven's sake!) is just soooooo over the top.
posted by champers at 4:37 AM on December 9, 2021 [9 favorites]

Ah, this is interesting! So how did you redirect it when you felt the advice brewing? And how did he react to YOU giving him instructions at his elbow?

Did you both have a conversation about his pattern? Do you now consider this pattern resolved, and you feel confident about handling it if it occurs again?
posted by MiraK at 4:52 AM on December 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: MiraK, I was wrestling with the hair, I could sense advice was about to begin, I visibly tensed up, and instead he paused and asked if he could help. That's actually a big step for him, to pause and reconsider.

He listened as I explained how to do it, though he didn't quite follow instructions (to be fair, if you shave your head there's probably a steep learning curve). I was just like, "ok, but if you do it that way there's gonna be a giant snarl at the bottom, godspeed."

I'm not going to tit for tat nitpick, even if it feels good in the moment.

Maybe having something to do with his hands helped?

On reflection, his family hovers and interferes, too. They tell each other (and me) how to cut fruit scramble eggs raise kids repair shelves hang lights buy houses and and and.

I find it oppressive and strange. Like, I've scrambled eggs just fine since Home Ec in 1988, buzz off.

The usual rejoinder is "I'm just trying to help," which feels like a rationalization to me. Or "we're a close family."

If someone is trying to help, and they're told they aren't being helpful, why continue with the behavior?

If you're told "this doesn't make us close, this actually pushes me away" why continue?

Anyway, there's just been a lot to noodle over.

I really appreciate everyone's thoughts and ideas.

I need to find a workable response here (I say "I need" because I can't force my husband to be a different person, I can only communicate and listen and respond constructively, he's an autonomous adult).
posted by champers at 5:50 AM on December 9, 2021 [10 favorites]

> I can't force my husband to be a different person, I can only communicate and listen and respond constructively

This is true! And it's noteworthy that you wordlessly tensing up is sufficient communication for him to pick up on and understand accurately. This shows he's fully capable of receiving even your indirect nonverbal messages and acting on it, when he chooses to do so.

It's an open question why he doesn't hear you at other times. Couples' counseling would probably be very helpful for you both in addressing this pattern if it reappears in the coming weeks.
posted by MiraK at 6:38 AM on December 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: "I'm just trying to help"

In-my-opinion - that's polite passive-aggressive code-words for;
"I want you to do it my way, and only my way - and I will continue to nag you until you do it my way"

It then makes you the bad-guy/monster for refusing their oh-so-generous help. Next you end-up apologizing for hurting their feelings.

Why continue with their behaviour? Narcicisstic/sociopathic/OCD tendencies - or other mental-health issues - for my mother-in-law we are pretty sure her memory is going - dementia runs in her family (So - everything in our shared-living-space gets arranged to only her preferences - and she constantly re-arranges and then cannot find the things she has moved).

Next - she grew-up with a horrible father, who had to have everything "perfect" and done "properly" or "just so" - therefore, there is the PTSD trauma associated with that, which she has never gotten help with.
posted by rozcakj at 6:56 AM on December 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I think there's passive aggression, but I think there's also a cultural difference.

Husband and I are from different class/racial/regional etc backgrounds. (I have one parent of an uncommon racial minority background, and the other is non-American. Sorry I'm a bit vague, if I said my exact background I'd be identifiable.)

I often feel at sea and frustrated in my spouse's (more mainstream, often shown in American TV and movies) culture, where everyone is rowdily up in each other's business.
posted by champers at 7:51 AM on December 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

> there's also a cultural difference. ... I have one parent of an uncommon racial minority background, and the other is non-American. ... my spouse's (more mainstream, often shown in American TV and movies) culture

Oh, dear. I do hope this sentiment isn't something that was directly or indirectly expressed by your husband. It is absolutely untrue - I guarantee it, there's no American mainstream white cultural practice that corresponds to hovering and criticizing spouses. But if you're getting this impression from him, that's blatant racism you're having to contend with inside your own home, as if sexism wasn't bad enough already.

It's possible that *his particular family* are constantly critical to one another. But that's not because they're white mainstream americans. I'm sure you have heard of families in your own cultural background who are dysfunctional in similar ways. This doesn't have much to do with race, and I'm truly appalled if he gave you that impression.
posted by MiraK at 9:06 AM on December 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

I mean this reads like classic gendered domestic mental-load problems. Link. He's not taking on the mental load, because you're the one doing everything and learning how to do it, and he feels guilty that he's not pulling his weight, and he also feels like as the man he's supposed to be in charge and in control. He starts nitpicking what you're doing because that way he can feel like he's better than you even though you're doing all the work. It's not about the tasks themselves, it's actually a power struggle. His responses don't make sense and he hasn't changed his behavior because he's not being honest about his true motives.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:35 PM on December 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

I appreciate you think there's a better way, but there's actually two ways this gets done. One, I do it my way, the way I'm doing it right now. The other option is you do it your way. I'm cool with either option, but those are the only two options.

I've had this said to me, and it shut me up, anyway. I'm also probably undiagnosed ADHD and get really antsy about things I care about not being done the way I want.
posted by cgg at 6:04 PM on December 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

Put up your hand and say "Stop. I'm not accepting advice right now" and then go back to the task. But then at other times, say "I'm looking for constructive criticism on how this meal turned out" or "I'm about to go wallpaper the living room, do you have any suggestions before I get started?"

You shouldn't have to walk on eggshells just because he's got a case of the blurts.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:46 AM on December 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

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