Why Men Don’t Volunteer To Do Dishes

She is standing at the sink doing dishes frustrated by the six or eight other things she still has to do tonight.

She can see him – sitting there, doing nothing, drifting off to sleep.

Why doesn’t he volunteer to help? He knows how much needs to get done, you’ve hinted, and not very subtly, several times.
What has happened to this relationship? Is this the best it’s ever going to get? Do you have to nag him yet again? Men constantly complain that women nag but you wouldn’t have to if he wasn’t so insensitive, right?
Wrong.

The longer I live the more amazed I am by the incredible differences between men and women. There is no absence of literature pointing this out, but for some reason most people still don’t know how to talk so that the opposite sex will understand. As a result many women think men are stupid, or dense, or insensitive. Often men believe that woman are pushy, or nagging, or bitchy. It is no secret that communication is key to a successful relationship so why don’t we have more information on how to speak so the opposite sex can really hear?

I run a course (which will be available online in the new year) called “Speaking Chick and Talking Dude”. I do not pretend that I understand women but when ninety percent of your clients are female they teach you a few things. Plus, from an anthropological standpoint, most of what I teach seems obvious… once you’ve heard it a few times.

Take for example the problem previously mentioned about doing dishes. I remember clearly, years ago, before I knew better, standing beside my wife while she was doing dishes. The entire time I was thinking, “She is giving off signs that she is too busy and frustrated, why doesn’t she ask me to help her with the dishes?” It turns out she was thinking, “Can’t he see I’m busy and frustrated, why doesn’t he volunteer to help me with the dishes?” I thought she was being stubborn, she thought I was insensitive. I asked her later, after finding out she was feeling overwhelmed, “Why didn’t you ask me to help?”. Her response was, (altogether ladies…) “I shouldn’t have to ask”.

The problem with that scenario is that neither one of us really understood how the other sex thinks. We grew up learning very differently, with different expectations and different ways of relating.

As a man I don’t do well with ‘hints’. In a guy’s world when you are out for beer with the buddies no one ‘hints’ that it is your turn to buy a round. If I think Steve should pay for the next round I will probably say, “Hey Steve, it’s your turn.” Not exactly difficult to interpret. Steve’s response is equally obvious, “No.”

Male culture is very different than female culture. It is considered bad form, for example, when I am trying to fix the car for my partner to come out and say, “Should I call Dave (next door mechanic) to help you with that?” When she suggests this, no matter how helpful she is striving to be, something inside of me hears her telling me I am not capable of fixing the car myself. For some reason I feel demeaned, less ‘manly’.

There is a very strict though unspoken etiquette in a guy’s world for volunteering to help. It is acceptable to offer to help in a generalized sense but I would never go up to my friend fixing his car and say, “Do you want me to do that for you?” unless we had established this as a mutually acceptable way of relating beforehand. I would be saying that I do not think he is capable of doing it himself. I need to wait for him to invite me.

Remember the conversation about dishes with my wife? Using the information you now know about how men respond to an offer of assistance, is it any wonder than that I did not volunteer to take over the dishes? On some subconscious level I was hesitant to ask my partner if she wanted me to take over because I was afraid she would interpret it as a putdown. I was afraid she would hear my offer like a guy would, as criticism. Based on what I had learned growing up about how you are to relate in my world I assumed that she would ask for help if she needed it. She was sitting there fuming, wondering why I did not volunteer (like a woman would). Apparently, I have been told, women grow up with different social boundaries.

Very different social boundaries. Most men, when going to the restroom at a restaurant, will probably not say, “Any of you other guys need to go?” Men don’t talk at the urinal or pass toilet paper. We are not allowed to talk between stalls. We don’t even stand beside each other when urinating. We have strict urinal etiquette which is not negotiable. Ever.

So what is the point of all of this? Perhaps if nothing else we can admit that the opposite sex is called that for a reason and communicating between sexes may, in fact, be much more difficult to understand than we have been led to believe. Making relationship work, any relationship, is going to require more effort than we probably knew when we fell in lust.

In my course on relationships we identify twenty-four different communication issues including ‘why men don’t volunteer to do dishes.’ If you would like more information on joining a group, doing the online course, or having me come to speak or lead a group or relationship weekend you can email me at info@scott-williams.ca.

Don’t give up without a fight! I know first hand that when a relationship works there is nothing better. If you think you need professional help I can help you out or point you to someone who can.

And, oh ya, don’t hire a counselor who sucks!

Stay tuned for the next installment of “Speaking Chick and Talking Dude”.

14 thoughts on “Why Men Don’t Volunteer To Do Dishes

  1. Real men buy their wives dishwashers. 🙂

    I do the dishes here at home, and I’ve learned to enjoy it by practicing mindfulness while rinsing the dishes and loading them into the dishwasher. While I didn’t volunteer for the job, I’ve learned to use it as a relaxation exercise. At one time it was an unpleasant task, but now it’s way for me to wind down at the end of the day.

    (Note: Don’t tell my wife that I like doing the dishes.)

  2. The thing is, a lot of men KNOW their wife would like or want help with mundane chores, like doing the dishes, if they have been married for any length of time. It’s a conversation that eventually creeps into every relationship at some point in time. What woman wouldn’t want a man who is willing and actually does help out? And why do women hesitate to ASK for said help? Because then we get accused of being naggy. We can’t win. If we don’t ask we don’t get the help and if we do ask, we are labeled a nag. The core issue I see here is, why would ANYONE be content to sit and watch their loved one do work like that while they sit there doing nothing? Makes more sense for both to do it together so they can both relax. Besides, it’s always more fun when you can do stuff like that WITH someone you love.

    Side note, my sweetie replaced my wiper blades for me yesterday. Since I am mechanically inept, I helped him out by cleaning his kitchen while he did that. We didn’t do the “chores” together, but we did them for each other and at the same time and helped each other that way. It worked out perfectly!

    1. ya i hear you, but i know men who, with the greatest of love and admiration, will never volunteer for the reasons listed there. I think they, and you are obviously up to speed on this, need to be taught. They are always shocked in my groups that their women would consider them insensitive. I am still learning how different we are. It still shocks a guy like me who has 90% female clients to coach him!

  3. So true! Having finally found a partner with which we are beyond-necessary honest, I found we both have a whole bunch or preconceptions about everything. Being honest should have been awkward, but it actually helped us avoid a lot of misunderstandings.

  4. Reblogged this on chaos_unraveled and commented:
    This makes complete sense to me. As I strive to communicate more clearly with my friends and family, it helps me to remember that I have to communicate on a level that others can understand. It’s not always about me! 🙂

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