If you’re looking for ways to make your marriage better, there’s a strategy you may have never considered. It’s surprisingly simple, and it addresses a common point of tension. Yet very few women use it.
Ready? Here it is: Give partial credit.
What do I mean by partial credit? Let me explain by giving you an example I hear about all the time. A wife asks her husband to take care of some things around the house while she is out. He accomplishes almost everything she wanted him to do. But maybe he doesn’t do the job exactly as she would have.
What do you think she focuses on? That’s right: the fact that the task is not finished in the way she defines it. She’s only giving credit if everything is done and done right according to her standards— which doesn’t help anyone. The husband loses his motivation to do more around the house, and the wife loses out on the work he could be doing.
Giving partial credit works out a whole lot better for everyone. Let’s look at why that is.
Why We ‘Grade’ So Harshly
I don’t think women intentionally avoid giving partial credit. It’s just a function of how we are used to doing things and the stress we are under.
Women are taught to look for ways to be helpful without being asked and to go the extra mile. If one woman is doing a task, another will typically jump in and try to help if she can. Men, on the other hand, won’t usually insert themselves into a task another man is doing unless he is asked to do so. Men consider that being respectful.
In general, men also approach delegated tasks a little differently. They will usually strive to do exactly what is asked, and only that. So, if you’re mad at him for not doing more, he’s not really going to understand that. For example, if you asked him to run the dishwasher and he did that, he might be frustrated when you’re upset he didn’t also clean the kitchen counters because it was so “obvious” they were dirty.
Women are often multitasking and juggling more than men, thereby carrying a larger mental load. We want tasks to be completely done, with nothing left to address or worry about, so they can be totally off of our minds. There’s a psychological phenomenon at play here: the Zeigarnik Effect. Our brains remember incomplete tasks more readily than those that have been completed. Having too many loose ends can literally create mental stress by nagging at us.
What’s the Real Issue?
Shouldn’t he just know that the rest of the kitchen needed cleaning? Well, yes, but is that what you specifically asked him to do? If the only thing you did in response to the work he completed is to complain about what he didn’t do, he’s going to feel discouraged and micromanaged. He’s also going to eventually feel like nothing makes you happy.
Instead, try giving partial credit. Just say, “Thanks so much for loading the dishwasher.” This doesn’t mean you are giving up on his helping to clean the rest of the kitchen. But instead of implying he “failed” at the task you asked him to complete, make a more specific request next time: “Would you mind loading the dishwasher, cleaning the countertops and emptying the dishrack please?” Trust me, he’s not going to be offended by this level of detail.
The other important thing you can do moving forward is having a farther-reaching discussion about how the mental load of the household is distributed. This is especially important if you’re the one with a to-do list a mile long. At the end of the day, the problem isn’t really that he didn’t clean the rest of the kitchen, it’s that you are managing far too many details in your household, and that’s exhausting. Open his eyes to this so that the two of you can work out a better division of both physical and emotional labor.
Extend More Credit
Especially this time of year, partial credit is a useful concept to remember in your other relationships too. The holiday season brings a lot of expectations — and hurt feelings when those expectations don’t get met. How would it feel to give partial credit to your sister for at least waiting until after dessert to start complaining about her ex? Or to your in-laws for not overspending as wildly as they used to on the kids’ gifts even though they didn’t follow your wishes exactly?
I’m wishing you lots of peace and joy in all your relationships this holiday season. For more advice on better communication in marriage, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.