Care and Feeding

My Partner and I Keep Having the Same Argument. They’re Wrong.

How should I respond?

A man looking frustrated as he points at his wristwatch
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Koldunov/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Slate Plus members get more Care and Feeding from Doyin Richards and the other columnists every week.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Occasionally my partner gets very irritated with me for not doing something around the house or for not getting the kids to bed on time. The thing is, my partner neglects the same duties when they’re the one at home. I try to just tell myself that we’re all doing the best we can and let it go. But when they get irritated with me, they’ve made it clear they don’t want to hear “But you do the same thing.” I’ve read here that turning a conversation around on the other person is annoying and manipulative, so I guess they’re right. But that means I just sit there and take the criticism (which I don’t think is justified most of the time, but I’ve also learned not to make excuses in life). So what IS the right way to respond?

—We’re All Drowning

Dear Drowning,

Facts. We are all drowning out here—and the pandemic, social isolation, and divisive political climate haven’t helped much in that regard. Because of that, we’re also all on edge, and some of the most innocuous things can make our partners fly off the handle, especially when kids are involved.

You’re correct in noting that nobody wants to hear the “Yeah, but you do it too!” clapback when a loved one expresses their displeasure with us. My wife is known to get annoyed with me quite often, especially regarding how I take care of our daughters’ hair and bedtime routines. I’ve found that the best way to handle these situations is to kindly remind her that I’m on her side. Something as simple as “I know you’re under stress right now, and I’m sorry if I did something to upset you. Please know that we’re in this together, and I’m not your enemy. I’m doing my best, and I promise to do better.” That usually defuses the tension because it offers her a moment to self-reflect on whether the thing she’s upset about is really that big of a deal (and it usually isn’t).

There are some important aspects to note, though. I’m not going to allow her or anyone else to be disrespectful toward me—just as I wouldn’t expect others to tolerate me if I behaved in that manner. We’re all grown-ups, and we should be expected to act accordingly. Secondly, when your partner upsets you, it’s important to let them know in the moment and not suffer in silence. However, when you do so, don’t say anything like “This is the same stuff you got mad at me for last week!” You probably would be the first to agree with me when I say that never works. Instead say, “When you did X, it really made me feel like Y. I wanted you to know so it doesn’t happen in the future.” If they’re of sound mind, they should apologize.

Last but not least, your partner’s behavior could be a cry for help. Maybe they’re dealing with an intense amount of stress at work or somewhere else that you’re unaware of. Maybe they’re feeling unappreciated for all of the work they do for the family. Regardless of the reason, approaching them unsolicited with something like “I just wanted to say that I love you, and I’m so thankful for everything you do for me and our family” can go such a long way (as long as you sincerely mean it, of course—most people can sniff BS from a mile away).

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

A dear friend passed away somewhat unexpectedly a couple of days ago (she had been diagnosed with cancer in January, and although the prognosis wasn’t good, until a few days ago, everyone was still thinking in terms of years, not hours). I am sad, and my heart is breaking for her husband and daughters (both under 12). My issue is how to manage my sadness at the office.