Getting Relief through Asking

Plate spinning was a regular act on a popular variety show hosted by Ed Sullivan from 1948-1971. The performer’s challenge was to spin plates on tall, thin poles without ever letting them fall. Starting with only a few, it was fairly simple to keep them balanced and turning.

It became trickier, however, as more and more plates were added. As the number increased, so did the tension. The spinner would madly dash to each wobbling plate to give it a spin just as it threatened to come crashing to the floor.

Taking care of a household can feel a lot like spinning plates.

You’ve got so many things demanding your attention . . . there’s laundry to be done, grocery shopping and meal prep, childcare, bill paying, cleaning, birthday cards to buy . . . and the list goes on . . . so many plates. And, if you’re working outside the home as well? Wow! Imagine how much more that adds!

A common frustration I’ve heard from clients over the years goes something like this: “There’s so much to do around the house, and it drives me crazy that my spouse can’t see what needs to be done without being told!” There seems to be constant tension. Has this ever rang true for you?

You want to make sure everything gets done so the household runs smoothly, but after a while, so many plates spinning feels overwhelming. You’re tired and you want help, but even asking seems like work. You may even be thinking, “I shouldn’t have to ask for help. My spouse should know better and just pitch in!”

Of course, there’s always a “he/she should know better.” And yet, as human beings the reality is that we are all walking through life seeing what we see. All people have filters and miss things. In my experience, it’s usually not intentional and most are willing to help if asked.

Asking directly is an act of love.

People sometimes wish their partners could read their minds. It’s exhausting trying to keep track of everything and asking for help just seems like one more thing to do. Yet, using direct communication increases the chance of getting relief and generally takes much less effort than actually doing all the tasks alone.

One of the most loving and compassionate actions a person can take is asking for help when it’s needed. It’s loving toward the one asking, because it proactively helps to avoid overwhelm. It’s also loving for the person being asked, because it doesn’t make them have to guess.

Okay, confession time.

It wasn’t pretty, I admit. There were times early on in my marriage of almost four decades that I would be on overload because I was trying to keep too many plates spinning on my own.

In an effort to get my spouse to take notice and “just know” I needed his help, I would slam cabinet doors and sigh heavily. If those tactics didn’t work, I would give the silent treatment or even provoke an argument with a “you don’t care about me” comment.

My actions weren’t compassionate for him or me and certainly did nothing to win cooperation. Gratefully, with support and practice, I learned to lovingly ask for help.

So, how do you ask calmly when you’re in overwhelm or upset?

When you feel frustrated, stop, take a deep breath, and allow yourself to truly feel the emotion. Notice what happens in your body. Perhaps your muscles tense, your heart beats faster, or your jaw clinches. What thoughts are going through your mind?

Now, bringing your attention to your heart – to your inner source of love and compassion, let yourself really feel your desire for relief. Ask yourself: What am I most needing help with right now? What is a loving and compassionate request I could make?

While continuing to take slow deep breaths and staying relaxed as best you can, lovingly make a specific request of your spouse. Use the words “would” or “will” to begin your question:

Would you please empty the dishwasher?
Would you please take out the trash?
Will you help fold the laundry?
Will you fix dinner on Monday and Thursday nights?
The request doesn’t have to be complicated, just direct.

After asking and getting help, or a firm commitment for help at a scheduled time, check back with your feelings of overwhelm. Has the intensity changed?

Will the answer always be, “Yes?”

To be honest, no, asking directly for what you want doesn’t mean you will always get it, but it sure increases the odds. If the answer is yes even 50% of the time – and the law of averages says it will be – imagine the relief you will feel. People working together, while using direct communication to keep the plates of household responsibilities spinning, makes life so much easier and in my experience, a lot more fun.

What’s one thing you are going to ask for help with today? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.