This discussion has come up SO much lately, it seems like a good time for some examples. All characters and their specific details are fictional. Their situations, based on multiple conversations I have had, are not.
It’s a concept we theoretically understand. Choices have outcomes. I am deliberately not using the word “consequences” because that sounds negative. Sometimes an outcome is positive, sometimes not. What’s important to note is what happens when we take responsibility for our own outcomes…and what happens when we do not.
Glenda and Eddie have been married twelve years. They have two children. Like many couples, they divided up the household chores and in their agreement Glenda does the laundry. She doesn’t mind doing the laundry. It’s just another job on the list of things that run a home. Not a big deal.
What is a big deal to Glenda is having to gather up her family’s laundry from the floor. Scattered around their rooms where they have dropped it. Kicked into the closet. This bothers Glenda quite a bit and she asked for an opinion. Doing laundry was okay. Picking up dirty laundry from wherever it might be? Not okay. Makes her feel like her family doesn’t care that she is searching under the bed for their used undies.
Fair enough. Had she mentioned this to them? No. Each week she frowned and muttered and felt bad and irritated and yet each week she continued the same pattern without doing anything to change it. Eddie and the kids aren’t mind readers. They are continuing actions that work and who could blame them?
So the first thing Glenda did was to take charge of her own irritation and attempt to fix a situation that clearly bothered her. She got nice big laundry hampers and put them in each bedroom closet. She took Eddie and the kids to see the hampers and asked that they put all their dirty laundry in those hampers. Then she told them, right then and there while they were listening (not while they were watching tv or playing or doing homework), why she wanted them to do that. How she felt when she picked up dirty clothes from the floor. How this seemingly simple change would make a big difference.
And then while she had their attention she added that she would do all the laundry that was in the hampers. But ONLY that laundry. So if their favorite shirt stayed on the floor by the bed, it would not be washed that week. Everyone nodded, nobody voiced concern, and Glenda was delighted that this was going to be so easy.
She reminded them all half way through the week. And then the night before doing laundry she said that the next morning was laundry time. But that’s it. No nagging, no negativity.
Here’s what happened. The kids put their laundry into the hampers. One sock had fallen behind the hamper, which was clearly not a big deal. But Eddie had tossed a few things into the hamper in their closet and the rest was in the usual spots on the floor beside the bed and beside the dresser. Glenda took the clothes from the hamper and washed and folded them. And that was it.
Three days later Eddie came downstairs in a very bad mood. He didn’t have a clean undershirt, he said, and his favorite boxers had not been washed. Glenda looked up from putting together lunches for the kids and asked if they had been in the hamper. No, Eddie frowned, they had not been. And he didn’t understand why this was such a stupid big deal and now he was going to have to wear his shirt without an undershirt. He went upstairs, grumbling.
Clearly Eddie had made a choice. He was perfectly able to put his laundry in the hamper. He had heard and acknowledged how Glenda felt about dirty laundry. He chose not to change his pattern of dropping his laundry wherever he stood.
What did Glenda do?
She also made a choice. Glenda chose to continue gathering Eddie’s laundry from the floor in order to avoid upset. Every week she muttered and grumbled and felt unhappy.
Now, is Eddie the bad guy in this story? It is easy to make him into one. After all, he was not respecting Glenda, right? But think about this. Glenda was not respecting herself, either. She could have chosen differently. She could have gone upstairs and asked Eddie what would help him get the laundry where she wanted it to go. Did he need a different hamper? In a different place? And before you scoff and say that Eddie is a grown man who can darn well put his dirty clothes in the right place, remember that this is about Glenda’s choice and Glenda’s outcome. While it seems like Eddie’s choice that is causing her trouble, at a deeper level it comes down to HER choice.
While it might have seemed silly to ask Eddie about what kind of hamper would make a difference or where it could be placed, that discussion would serve to enforce Glenda’s outcome. And having had that discussion and offered positive suggestions about how to achieve her outcome, her next option would be to continue washing what was in the hamper. At that point she would be letting Eddie choose and letting Eddie live with the outcome he got based on that choice.
Glenda’s choice brought her an outcome she did not want. She talks about it still, and Eddie comes out sounding like the bad guy. Do I think he is? Well, I think it’s pretty darn silly not to put laundry in the hamper if somebody else is offering to wash it. But he got what he wanted based on his choice. Glenda did not.
What would you have done?