Archive | September, 2014

Just Say Thank You, Dammit

11 Sep

When my husband and I moved in together 4 years ago, I learned about one of his habits that I found slightly ridiculous.

Every time he did something, he told me about it, and then waited for me to thank him.

“I emptied the dishwasher and took out the garbage today.”

“While you were at work I refilled the cat feeders.”

“I did the laundry and restocked the diapers.”

At first, I responded to his list of accomplishments with a distracted smile and a “uh huh” while I read about a fascinating new something on the Internet.  But then I’d look up and he’d be standing still, with an expectant smile on his face, waiting for real acknowledgement.

“Thank you, that’s great!” I’d say.  With eye contact.  He’d grin and move on to his next task.

In those beginning weeks (ok, years) I thought this was silly.  Yes, it’s awesome he took out the garbage, but half of that garbage was his–isn’t he supposed to take it out?  Why was I thanking him for a basic responsibility?

Meanwhile, as I did my own household chores, I found myself becoming annoyed.  Cooking dinner I would think, “This takes so much time.  And work.  And it’s every single night.”  But then, as we sat down to eat, Dan would say, “Thanks for dinner, hon,” and my  irritation would ease.  Even if “cooking” was reheating leftover spaghetti in the microwave, he said thank you.  When it was something he found particularly unappealing, like stuffed squash with roasted brussels sprouts, he would thank me for “caring about his health,” while he tried to separate out the offending vegetables from the baked cheese on top.

We continued this pattern for years.  Him, requesting acknowledgement until I gave it.  Me, annoyed until he recognized my work, unasked.

Dan’s list of accomplishments felt funny not because we don’t all want to be recognized, but because we so often want recognition  without asking for it. We have the idea that the act of asking invalidates the response.  A “thank you” not given spontaneously is somehow not worth as much–like we pried it out of the giver with the wrench of social politeness.  How do I know you really meant it if I asked for it outright?  Doesn’t that require that you say thank you, even if you don’t mean it?

For sure, a little bit.  But Dan’s constant request to be acknowledged, and his consistent acknowledgement of me, has slowly changed my thinking.  I realized I liked being thanked for cooking, even when it’s the 1,000 dinner with microwaved green beans I’ve made.  And I like the acknowledgement from my colleagues when I’ve done my job well (even though it’s my job and my responsibility) and I’m sure when my daughter is old enough to talk, I’ll like when she thanks me for doing my “mom” job too.  (I may be dreaming too large on that one.)

We say thank you all the time when someone does something out of the ordinary, or unusual.  It’s the things people always do–the routine, every day drudgery that makes our lives easier–that we forget to acknowledge.  I can’t promise to remember all the time, but I can promise that the next time someone (*cough, cough* Dan) tells me all of the ways he was productive, I’ll give a genuine thanks the first time around.  With eye contact.


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