Dirty Dishes, Assertiveness & Problem Ownership

A client gave me permission to share this story. Fed up with picking up after her husband's dirty dishes, tired feeling taken for granted and hating "nagging" my client decided to put into practice two principles she's been learning in the GREAT Relationship Work we've been doing together: Problem Ownership and True Assertiveness.

Problem Ownership states that rather than taking on other people's problems, and rather than letting others put their problems on us, we hand back the problem to the person who owns it.

True Assertiveness states that not only do we stand up for ourselves (which is what most people think of with assertiveness), but we stand up for ourselves in a way that stands up for the other.

She got her method of applying these principles from a friend who did this simple and effective intervention with his college roommate. This is how she did it:

Without saying a word she put the dirty dishes that her husband left out for her to take care of on his nightstand for him to find later when he came to bed. Later that night when he came to bed he demanded, "What's this?!" Her calm, lecture- and angry-free reply was, "The maid said she didn't know where these go because you don't know where these go." She paused to let that sink in and then told him firmly but respectfully, "I'm your wife. It's not my job to be the maid." Then she went back to her reading and let him own his problem.

Before she would pick up after him (i.e., own his problem) and she would feel resentful, put upon and feel like a nag every time she confronted him about it. After doing it this way she felt powerful, positive and was laughing light-heartedly. She said she's just going to keep handling it this way and trust that he'll figure it out on his own. That's great because repeated lectures send the unfortunate message that, "You're too stupid to figure this out on your own, so I'll keep explaining the obvious to you."

This reminded me of what I heard my mother used to say, "Mom is NOT spelled 'S-L-A-V-E.'"

Q: What creative, effective, assertive and respectful ways have you found to hand the problem back to your spouse or children?