Balancing Boundaries and Expectations

“Why does he have to leave his dishes in the sink when there is clearly a dishwasher RIGHT THERE?”

 Ever find yourself asking similar questions of your significant other or children? I know I have. Especially since my boyfriend and his two teenagers moved in with me.

I work from home. My boyfriend works shift work. So sometimes I have free run of the house all day and other days we have to share the space. When he is home, we are on very different schedules. For example, I like to get up, eat breakfast, get to work, take a mid-morning break for exercise and have lunch at noon. He gets up early, but doesn’t like to eat right away. So he will make himself a big breakfast mid morning. Coincidentally that happens to be right around the time that I’m getting done with exercising and need the kitchen. Much to my dismay, he leaves dishes all over the counter, stove and in the sink. I’m not sure how one omelette can create such a mess, but it does.

This is an issue, because I want to make my food quickly and then get back to work. When I get to the kitchen and see the mess he’s created I get annoyed, and I don’t generally try to hide it. I don’t feel it’s unreasonable for me to ask him to clean the kitchen when he is done. Having said this to him one day, his very reasonable response was, “I do a lot more of the cleaning in this kitchen than you do.” Which is true. Initially, I felt bad for being so annoyed.

After some time to reflect on my feelings I brought it up again. I explained that yes, he definitely does more of the cleaning and it’s not unreasonable for him to leave a mess for a couple of hours, but that’s not what my issue is. I work from home. I don’t want to spend my lunch trying to find a space to make myself something to eat. That’s not part of my plan for the day. Just because I am at home does not mean that my time is free to clean. I would not make any money if that were the case.

So we decided to meet in the middle. We came up with a compromise in which he can leave the mess as long as there is a space for me to prepare my own lunch as well.

In life we should always be looking for balance. I don’t live alone anymore, so it’s no longer reasonable to expect a perfectly clean kitchen every day. However, I do need to be able to make my lunch in a reasonable amount of time so that I can continue working. I can still set a boundary around my space without forcing him to yield to my needs alone. Although his days off don’t always coincide with mine, they are still his days off. Sometimes I want to leave dishes on the weekends when I’m off too, so why can’t he?

Finding that balance of give and take is not always easy. I could have let this go and continued to be annoyed every time he left the dishes. Or I could have continued to tell him off when I had to clean at lunch. He could have chosen not to communicate his own needs, and been annoyed that he had to clean right away on his days off. None of those options would have made us both happy. Speaking up and explaining both our sides brought us to a solution that was within both of our boundaries.

Next time you are in conflict with someone, think about how you can meet in the middle. Ask yourself, what do I need, and what am I willing to give up?