Tell me if this sounds familiar.
I was having a conversation the other day with a friend, and she was complaining about her husband - that he doesn't help her around the house when she's actively doing things. She'll, literally, be going from room to room, picking up laundry, cups, and toys along the way, while her husband is sitting on his phone or watching tv. When that's done, she'll start a load of dishes and laundry. By this time, her husband has asked what time dinner will be. Then she'll get angry that he's not helping, so she'll walk in the other room and tell him he sucks and that he can cook for himself. He gets angry back because he doesn't know why she's mad in the first place, he was just asking what time dinner was going to be ready and she's always been the one to cook in the family. In fact, she's the one that likes to cook!
What the hell?! Where did things go wrong?!
And furthermore, who do you identify with in that story? Yes, I get it. That's an extreme version of the story and the roles are not (by any means) "set." Remember, this was a conversation with a friend.
Well, my dear (::cue chin-stroking-thoughtful-position::), here's the deal. Before we get into the blame game, let's talk about the importance of being honest.
Seems like a no-brainer, right? ENH (*buzzer sound*). Wrong. It isn't a no-brainer.
There's honest, which means to not intentionally lie. Then there's honest, as in speaking your truth.
The latter might not make total sense. So let's break down that little story at the beginning, shall we?
First, when, if ever, did my friend say that she needed help?
She didn't. She didn't say, directly, that she needed help with any of the work. She ran around the house, picked up a bunch of stuff, did the laundry, did the dishes, and then got angry when her husband asked her what was for dinner. Nowhere in that vignette did she say to him, "Hey, would you get off your phone and help me with the dishes real quick?" Not one time.
How is he (read: any partner) supposed to know what you want if you don't say it?!
And don't say the thing I know that you're thinking: "It's been (x) amount of years/months/days/hours, he should know what I want." COP. OUT. That's a cop out. Who on this lovely planet of ours has the ability to read your mind?
So then why would you expect your partner to be able to? That's not fair, nor does it set either one of you up for success. Expecting your partner to know exactly what you want without telling him/her specifically is not helpful AND serves to create animosity between the two of you because you feel like your needs aren't getting met.
Furthermore, if you expect your partner to read your mind, then you better expect that you need to start reading your partner's mind!! And, to be honest, I don't recommend that. The thing I see in working with couples (and with partnered people) is that when we try to think or feel or decide things for our partner, we inevitably end up creating a mess. We assume we know what they want, so then we act on that assumption, and then we argue when we have gotten it wrong.
Who's in the wrong?! BOTH PARTIES.
It's wrong to assume somebody's experience of life (for whatever reason) without first checking if that assumption is right.
It's also wrong to not speak your truth, even if your truth is that you want your partner to stop talking because you're trying to listen to see if your kids are arguing downstairs ("Sshh, wait, let me listen for one second for junior and junior.").
It is not fair to assume that even those people closest to us know what we think, feel, or want.
It is our job (and our partner's job) to speak our truth. When we can speak for ourselves and say exactly what it is that we want, then we can avoid many unintended arguments. (That is not to say, however, that by asking for what you want, you are going to get it. Your partner may not want to help, listen, or aid you in any way. Such is the nature of a relationship - each person gets to choose if they are willing to give.)
When we say exactly what we want, we are forced to figure it out for ourselves. When we figure out exactly what it is that we want, it is helpful because we know for ourselves, can speak it directly to the other person, and avoid becoming angry when our (unvoiced) needs go unmet.
We also build trust when we speak our truth. We begin to trust ourselves to voice our needs, we begin to trust that we can be honest (even when it's hard to be), and our partners begin to trust us. Our partners also begin to relax because they know that we are going to ask for what we need when we need it. This makes for much easier, more honest, and simple communication. Ask for what you need if you are not getting it.
As a very important caveat, I would still recommend that each partner willingly try to help the other without prompting. Asking for what you want does not equal always and only asking for what you want, it just is a different way of spinning the story. Rather than heaping all the blame on the partner who is less active (i.e. the husband [in the vignette]), we are spreading it out and having you play an active role, rather than a passive role.
One of the bottom lines is that you get to do things differently. You get to voice when you are not getting what you need or want, you get to ask for help, you get to say, "Hey, stop talking because I'm distracted and can't listen right now. I can give you my full attention in two minutes." It's not about being mean, demanding, or coercive, it's about being honest.
Speak your truth. Even if it's hard.
Tell me if this sounds familiar.