Hello, Internet! Welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating column that moonlights as one of the hard-rocking Hong Kong Cavaliers.
This week it’s all about relationship maintenance. Just because you’re dating doesn’t mean you’re done bar the squishy noises. Whether it’s one partner doing most of the emotional (and literal) work or simply a question of what you should or shouldn’t keep from your partner, sometimes even the little things can make a huge difference when it comes to making a relationship go the distance.
Remember: We don’t have to be mean. ‘Cause, remember: no matter where you go... there you are.
Let’s do this.
Hey Doc. How’s it going?
I have a bit of an interesting problem. So, I just recently got married (like, within this year kinda recent) and, since I’m from another country, we’re going through the whole immigration stuff. It’s a lot of hard work, a lot more work than we thought (even with a lawyer!) and it involves us putting a lot of stuff together.
It’s taking a lot of time and effort, involves us going out every weekend to get papers printed or meet with people, and we have precious few days where we have nothing to do and get to hang out, just me and him.
Here’s my thing: I feel like I’m a total jerk. I’m the one who always has to make us go out and get the forms turned in or go get the pictures done or go meet with people. I’m the one who has to say “No, we can’t hang with friends, we have other stuff to do.” I know hanging out and relaxing is important, but I feel like...This is my future kind of thing, you know? So, like, I don’t feel like it’s fair that I’m the one who always has to push to get stuff done.
We never get a moment to just us any more. We never get to do things alone, never mind with other people. We’re always running around and i just feel bad. I’m tired of being the one who says no all the time. I’m tired of being the asshole.
I’m at a bit of a loss for what to do. I know that doing other things is important, but I’m stressed to the max about all the stuff we have to do. I’m irritated that every second we get alone together he spends doing things alone (it’s fine to want alone time, but like...I’d like some together time too!) and then every day we have a day to just relax and be alone together, he wants to hang out with other people!
Can you help a gal out?
Tired of Being a Jerk
In every relationship, no matter how egalitarian, there’s going to be some inequality when it comes to the division of labor—both emotional and physical. On the whole, we tend to gravitate toward the relationship maintenance tasks that we’re best suited for. The person who cares more about cleanliness and organization tends to do the most housework, for example. In most successful relationships, the couple works to find an equilibrium. While the direct divisions may be unequal, both partners contribute in ways that ultimately balance out the amount of effort on both sides.
But when one person is doing all the work and the other isn’t contributing at all? That’s when it’s time for a come-to-Jesus talk.
Right now, you’re doing all the work, TBJ, and your husband is slacking. It would be one thing if this were just an Odd Couple situation, your Felix to his Oscar where he’s not picking up his share of the housework load. But considering that you’re talking about issues that would allow you to, y’know, continue living with your husband, things have gotten out of hand.
The elephant in the room, however, is the fact that you’re finding yourself stuck in an all-to-common relationship stereotype: the happy-go-lucky slacker bro and his fun-wrecker girlfriend/wife that takes something reasonable—in this case, wanting your partner to take an active role in helping you sort out your immigration status and spending time with them—and turns you into the bad guy.
Pop culture loves this dynamic. You can see it in TV and movies starting from The Honeymooners all the way to the latest flick by Judd Apatow and his horde of imitators... and unfortunately, you’ll occasionally see this dynamic in real life.
Telling your husband that he needs to pitch in doesn’t mean looking over him like a cartoon hausfrau with your hair in rollers, tapping a rolling pin menacingly. It does, however, mean that you need to make it clear that he’s been dumping all the work on you and not only is he not taking any responsibility, but he’s off doing his own thing at a time when you would like time to be man and wife rather than man-and-wife-and-a-cast-of-dozens.
The trick is that discussions can quickly go from “here’s this issue we need to resolve” to a mutual volley of “now allow me to unload all of these grievances I’ve been storing like a passive-aggressive squirrel’s hoard of nuts.” There’s a right way to handle disagreements, and a wrong way. The right way means that things may get heated but things are ultimately resolved and everyone’s satisfied. The wrong way puts everybody on the defensive, which leads to nobody listening and nothing happening except making everyone angry.
So, how do you thread this particular needle?
To start with: carve out some time where the two of you can sit down and discuss this without being distracted or interrupted. The worst time to have discussions like this is when you’re upset. When emotions start running high, it’s easy for matters to get derailed and a discussion becomes a fight instead. Choosing a specific time to discuss things means that you have time to plan out what you want to say.
Next, everything you’ve told me? You need to tell him. The key is in how you frame the situation. The thing that derails most discussions is when it becomes a “You did this/ yeah well you did this” exchange of tit-for-tat that inevitably devolves into a fight to be less in-the-wrong than the other person. Instead, you want to frame it as “Here’s the situation, here’s how it makes me feel, how do we resolve this together?” The more you can make this about working together as partners, the less he’ll feel like he’s being attacked. You’re reaffirming that you’re in this together, not telling him that he’s a bad person and needs to atone.
Be honest and up-front about how this has been affecting you: you’ve been feeling like the killjoy and you hate it, but these things need to get done. You understand why he spends some of his free time solo—under other circumstances, this is actually good for the relationship—but it’s left you feeling ignored and neglected and you’d like to spend time with him because you don’t get any time to just be a couple.
It’s also a good idea to have a gameplan written out for how things would work in an ideal world—what you would handle, what he would handle. Having a list of “do these things and we solve the problem” can help make the solutions feel less abstract and more concrete. It can also help to point out that getting your immigration status sorted means that you’ll have time to actually hang out with friends.
Most importantly though: when you’re done with the discussion, take time to make up. It’s a heavy topic, and it can be easy to let the short-term emotional conflict overwhelm the affection you feel for each other. The best thing you can do after a discussion like this is remind yourselves that no matter what else, you love and care for one another.
I’m in a great relationship of nearly five years now (probably not how most of your questions start), and I plan on marrying the girl I’m with. The question I has to do with another girl though, one of my closest friends. We met a few months before I met my girlfriend and we became very close, quickly. It was strictly a platonic relationship, but I fell in love with this girl just as quickly as we became friends. Shortly after we became friends, she started dating another guy and he is also one of my close friends. They’ve moved away, but we still keep in touch. Soon they’re getting married (and I’m thrilled about this), and my girlfriend asked me how I felt about it.
My girlfriend knows that I used to have feelings for this girl and has long suspected that deep down that I still do.
I’ve only ever lied about this one thing to my girlfriend, because I think my complete honesty is something that gives her peace of mind as she is insecure. My problem is, I don’t want to tell my girlfriend that I still love this other girl, because I know it will really upset her. I know that if my friend broke up with her boyfriend and begged me to date her, I would refuse. My current relationship means everything to me, and I’d never throw away those years we’ve had together. I know that most people can’t understand that you can love more than one person and she’ll feel like I just settled for our relationship.
Do you think I should be completely honest, or is it reasonable to keep this from her if I know it won’t affect our relationship.
Dude Just Trying to Keep His Girlfriend Happy
I’m not a believer that honesty is always the best policy. Sometimes lying, misdirection or simple omissions are the kinder option.
Relationships aren’t legal depositions. You aren’t obligated to share every stray thought or impulse you have with your partner and, frankly, sometimes we’re better off not knowing what’s going on in our partner’s heads. We all have a right to not know things, especially when disclosing said things will cause trouble disproportionate to the actual “offense”.
One of the biggest problems with how we view relationships is that we assume that being in love with someone means we never ever think of other people getting naked and doing intriguing things with chocolate syrup and that having even a moment’s interest in someone else is a sign that there’s something wrong with the relationship. Being in a relationship doesn’t turn off the attraction switches in your brain. Agreeing to be monogamous doesn’t disconnect the connection between your eyeballs and your junk, causing you to view attractive people as object d’art instead of potential squishy funtimes. People in perfectly, blissfully happy relationships will develop crushes on others all the time. This doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with the relationship, it just means that they’re a mammal with a libido.
Similarly, attraction doesn’t mandate action. A boner’s not an imperative that needs to be fulfilled. Sometimes being hot for someone just means that you’ve got a new fantasy to jazz up ye olde spank bank and that’s the end of it. As I’ve said before, a monogamous commitment just means that you’re choosing not to date or sleep with someone else; it doesn’t mean that you won’t want to.
Some people are cool with the fact that their partners are going to lust after other people. Others are not and that the very notion can upset them needlessly. Sometimes it’s better to have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy to maintain the polite fiction that no, you both only have eyes and genitals for one another.
So, no: you don’t need to tell your girlfriend about your feelings for this other woman. Feelings are not actions and your friend doesn’t pose a threat to your relationship with your girlfriend or the love you have for her. Unless your girlfriend is of the same mindset as you that love isn’t a zero-sum game, telling her is more likely to cause her unnecessary pain and cause otherwise avoidable drama in your relationship. You’re free to say no, you’re over her and that everything’s strictly platonic between the two of you.
That being said: while it’s entirely possible to be strictly platonic friends with someone you’re attracted to, you should be careful with your relationship with this other woman. It’s one thing to say that you’re cool with never dating her. It’s another if there’s some possibility that you’re holding on to the fantasy of “well, if she and I both just happen to be single at the same time…” which isn’t good for any of your relationships, platonic or romantic.
If you want to keep both your friend and your girlfriend, you’d better be very self-aware and damned good at compartmentalization. Maintaining a little distance and some healthy boundaries with your crush can be good for both you and the state of your relationship with your girlfriend. If your feelings for your friend start to verge into “must act” territory, it’ll be time to dial that friendship back—possibly even cutting ties, temporarily—until you’re able to finally get over her.
How have you handled conflicts in your relationships? Did you deal with a crush while dating someone else? Share your stories and experiences in the comments section, and we’ll be back in two weeks with more of your questions.
Ask Dr. Nerdlove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.
Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove podcast. His new book Simplified Dating is available exclusively through Amazon. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove.