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I have a bit of a problem with my girlfriend, in that things aren't getting done because she is forgetful about things she doesn't like to do. We've had many discussions on the topic, and we both agree these are things that need to be done, and she agrees that she needs to do them. I do my part to make sure all of my affairs are in order, and I need her to do make sure hers are too, regularly, without forgetting. After agreeing, she says it'll happen on her day off, then the next day, I will ask her about it, to the "I forgot" excuse.

However the problem comes that if I remind her, it makes her more likely to not want to do it. If I don't remind her, she forgets to do it and it just doesn't get done. It also goes for other things (getting her CA license, as she's from out of state) and other people (siblings, etc.) as well.

How can I emphasize the need for someone to do something that I can't accomplish for them, while not necessarily reminding them?

I live in the west coast of the United States.

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    Are these regular household chores? Regular (e.g. grocery shopping) or situational (e.g. getting a license) errands? Do you two live together? How old is she? – cheshire Aug 3 '17 at 21:24
  • @cheshire Yes and no (I'm looking more general), both, yes, and adult. – Anoplexian Aug 3 '17 at 21:33
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    @cheshire I agree they shouldn't, but almost all adults do, else reminder apps, social networking reminders, etc wouldn't be as successful as they have been. Regardless, she is younger than middle aged, but beyond that I don't see how the age is relevant, other than to judge, perhaps even unfairly. – Anoplexian Aug 3 '17 at 21:47
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    @brhans Yes, but they vary in terms of intensity and timing. It can be anything from a ticket from a police officer to having to live in a dirty house. – Anoplexian Aug 3 '17 at 22:04
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    If I remind her, it makes her more likely to not want to do it. -- Why is that so? And why do you want her to do it? – user510 Aug 7 '17 at 10:57

12 Answers 12

63

I disagree with those who claim it is immature or otherwise wrong for her to object to you telling her to do it. You're not her parent or manager. The two of you are partners. You want to work together to get all the things done that you need to do as a team. Some (like renewing a license) can only be done by one person, and others could be done by either, but you want to keep the workload fairly distributed. In the context of partnership, words like "excuses" don't really belong. I don't like being ordered to do my own tasks, even more so on someone else's schedule. You may feel that the consequence of not getting A, B, and C done by dinner time is that at dinner time you can be ordered to do A, B, and C right now - but I wouldn't like that and I doubt your partner has agreed to that.

So when you ask, because you're curious and you care, "did you get your license renewed?" and she says "oh, I forgot!" you can offer to help, especially if she looks disappointed or frustrated by the realization that she was going to do that. "Is there any way I can help you to remember that?" You can also offer specific ways of helping.

The one that works the best for us adopts some ideas from agile software development. We have information radiators (in our case, lists on whiteboards) that everyone can see so they know what needs to be done. When things are done they are checked off, not erased, so that the partner knows they were done. When my kids were little we had daily and weekly checklists that described not what needed to be done, but a state that needed to exist (eg "dirty dishes are all in the dishwasher" or "no coats on the floor".) This can act as a reminder for those who can do a task, and certainly if you're wondering what you should be doing right now checking a list like this will give you great ideas.

You might consider a shared todo list that is on both your phones, a paper list in your home, offering to text at a specific time (today I Skyped someone in a time zone 12 hours different from mine "it's 9 am here" and "it's 10am here" - you would think a phone alarm would work for that, but I was asked to do it over Skype and I did), a sticky note on the car steering wheel, or various other technological solutions to the remembering issue. Keep in mind that it's never fun to work while others relax, so "you clean the toilet while I watch TV" is darned unpleasant. A better plan would be "let's do a major clean - bathroom, vacuuming, laundry, the works. I think I'll start with laundry, how about you?" It's also, for most people, better to do one or two things every day, gusting up to an hour or two of errands and tasks, than to save 20 or more disliked things to be done alone on what is supposed to be a day off to relax and recharge.

It's also fine to talk about how it's not fair that you're always the one who cleans the toilet, or that there's no milk in the house because she said she would get it on the way home, and you now really want to drink milk and can't, or whatever other unpleasant consequences for you there are to her mismanaging her tasks and time. Try to start these sentences with "I" rather than "you" and do not ascribe motivations to her (can't be bothered, don't care enough to), just talk about actual facts (did not get milk, did not call the electrician) and the effect on you. If something just irritates you but doesn't affect you (her license, perhaps) don't complain about it. Focus on forgotten things that make a difference in your life.

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    I love it - they have agreed tasks, but she hasn't agreed to being reminded. On the other hand - I couldn't be with someone who kept putting things off - it would drive me crazy - so people need to weigh up these things when they're in a relationship - Is this person right for me – user57 Aug 4 '17 at 6:44
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    Help and sharing duties indeed helps a lot. Also, don't only ask how to help remember, ask if you could make the task less unwanted thing to do. For example, if something requires sitting in a long queue, you could go together, so it wouldn't be so boring. Or (that's my case indeed) if making call makes her uncomfortable, offer to sit by her side to give some confidence. – Alissa Aug 4 '17 at 14:17
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    It's also good not to take on responsibility for the things she forgets to do. If it's making you uncomfortable (like forgetting to do the laundry) discuss it in terms of "I feel X when you forget to do the laundry" -- e.g. anxious that I won't have clean underwear). If it's only something that's only hers (like the license), just let her deal with it and offer help. Definitely don't "pre-mind" her! – Jessica M Aug 10 '17 at 18:19
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    "let's do a major clean - bathroom, vacuuming, laundry, the works. I think I'll start with laundry, how about you?" - I think I'll start by telling you to go f yourself. Seriously, would this work for you? I love a big clean, but if I was chilling out on the sofa and my other half decided I had to start cleaning because she was in the mood for it I'd be royally pissed off! – RyanfaeScotland Mar 7 '18 at 2:04
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    @KateGregory I get you. The phrasing you've used doesn't sound like a suggestion to me, it sounds like a command, but you could of course vary this for what works well with your partner. – RyanfaeScotland Mar 7 '18 at 8:55
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+250

As someone who has this problem themselves, I should have an answer for you. The sad thing is, after many years, I don't know whether I do. I'm still learning too.

I have exactly that reaction/experience as you describe it. Its not one I choose or indulge, and I try to not let it kick in, but, after a lifetime, I'm still nowhere near beating it. But I know it better than I did, and I'm less a victim of its effects.

I'm writing this to offset those who say it's a sign of immaturity, and give you a sense what it can be like, to have your head fighting against itself in some way like you're portraying. The closest I can come is that feeling everyone's had, "I want to but I can't", jumping off somewhere high, walking past the haunted house as a kid, we all know that feeling briefly. For some people, it's not about houses and falls, it's internal reactions to things long ago that still remain potent everyday triggers, that have outstayed their use and become generalised and trigger on everyday life. Maybe that's how it is for her, maybe not. I'm assuming she truly wishes it were different, and isn't just indulging in idleness. Show her this. Ask her. Then listen.

What doesn't help much? Hmm.

Being pushed or pressured about it by others makes it worse not better - now as well as feeling bad for something I don't like about myself, I can get others telling me how I ought to feel bad too, or their magical ideas to fix it which work fine in theory, and how odd that they get affronted when I say that in that lifetime I might just have tried that already and it doesn't help. I can see what's happening, I don't know how to fix it. Set alarms, write notes, feel good, feel bad, lose out from it (money, friends, whatever)... you name it. Not one of them really made any difference or resolved it.

What have I found that does help?

I've found that just like others pushing too hard, makes it harder, so does pushing myself, in the bullying/pressuring sense. Accepting its hard for me, that I need to not beat myself up internally over it, that it needs gentleness from oneself. Its a bit like a leg that cramps too much; you get over it faster if you aren't reacting by forcing and beating it, or cussing it out, or having the world and their friend telling you how this means you're letting everyone down and how bad you are (One knows and feels it anyway, so, thanks for reminding me what a disaster I am and how much it needs to get going now, guys. What a pity that the leg isn't listening and is doing its own thing, despite that gem of wisdom. Maybe you'd better tell me next time, too. Huh).

So my first breakthrough was realising how inside, I was being very self critical. I ought to be able to, anyone else can, just get it done. Brutality to oneself doesn't help, even to oneself. If it did, it would be fine by now. Like OCD or depression, have you ever seen people get over those gifts of neurology by being "helpfully" beaten up emotionally about it by people who don't have a clue? Me neither.

What else helps? Time. Not just long time, but reaction time. A lot of it (for me anyway) is triggered but then it can get easier or harder to get past it.

  • Someone sits over me judgingly: hard.
  • Someone getting going by starting their stuff and inciting me to join them in working on mine: easier.
  • Someone who argues more and gets angry/upset when I can't: hard.
  • Someone who can hold back a bit, not get wound up, and helps me to remember that maybe "try in a little" works and gives a hug: easier.
  • Someone who understands its a symptom of pressure and doesn't add more, and looks for other ways to help me over the hump: easier.
  • Learning to say "My heads in a bad space, can you ask me that in a while (so I can digest this bit of pressure before the next bit hits)": easier.
  • Having friends and family willing to try and avoid triggering it or making it worse because of pressure they feel: easier.

Perspective and humour also help a lot, they take a bit of the edge off, and again, help by giving time to manage things: easier and fun too; I get notes like this left for me in odd places and a fair amount of the tine it works. Much better:

"Dear, Today, you will do the carpet with the carpet cleaner, or I will kick your bum, ok? Love from X

Time also matters because I've found its a narrower effect than I realised. For me anyway, that is. For many years, it seemed to splurge all over my life, because I didn't see it clearly, and I didn't know what was going on. With experience I've learned it can be managed, like diabetes or migraines. Cant avoid it, can get more experience at mitigating and anticipating it, so it doesn't cause such a grade 1 problem + stress to me and everybody. Some kinds of situation and things trigger it more than others. The actual hurdle might not be all of the task, it might be in (say) actually starting rather than continuing once started, or could be some specific part/stage of the task. So that's another area I can find workarounds in. I've learned to recognise better when I'm getting stuck that way, and what help I need, and to express/be open about it: "My heads freezing on it, I'm not getting anything done and its been days". Takes courage and trust to be able to be open about "shameful" failings, especially when there is no easy answer. You can foster that between you.

There's others. A lot comes down to how one perceives it, and seeing that its not monolithic, it hits some things, some triggers, some times and ways, and those can be noticed, patterns spotted, help asked or offered when they occur.

(And as an afterthought, even if this sort of thing isn't what's going on, guess what? The odds are good its still going to be fairly useful advice until you do find out what's up)

18

I am a life-long procrastinator. During the second year of my marriage to a wonderful, loving man, we had a long "lively discussion" about this which ended when he quietly said, with much obvious reluctance: "I don't want to live like this". For a moment, I froze - it sounded as if doomsday was about to descend upon us. Fortunately, I took it seriously, and I gradually reformed sufficiently so that we had another fifty five years of happy married life partly because he did not expect perfection

14

"All you need is love...." isn't as accurate as advertised.

Unfortunately there are some other important factors to think about in a serious, long term relationship. This sort of "forgetfulness" being one of them. Honestly it sounds like what you're seeing isn't as much forgetfulness as procrastination.

The key thing isn't as much what you need to do, as much as what you probably shouldn't be doing... Stop reminding, stop nagging, and stop doing things for her, simply stop enabling the behavior. The worse procrastinators will come to rely on more responsible people to take care of things, and often they won't become responsible till they absolutely have to.

Let life's consequences take care of it. It's not your job to teach her, and in the long run she will probably resent you for being on her case all the time.

If she agreed to take care of something and didn't, the ball is still in her court till she asks for help.

Take a moment to think about whether this is a personality trait that you can live with... Hate to say it, but if it doesn't improve over time it may be something that takes a big toll on the relationship. Definitely something worth considering when making long term plans with a partner, it's one thing to procrastinate over the shopping, another thing entirely when it's a mortgage payment.

10

From the sound of it, she still has some maturing to do.

if I remind her, it makes her more likely to not want to do it

It sounds like you're describing a teenager's behavior.

If your helpful reminders to help her are not welcome, then don't give them. Let her learn a tough lesson about procrastination.

She keeps putting off getting her license, are you driving her around? If so, STOP IT! Make it clear WHY this needs to get done now and not later (i.e. so she can get herself around). She "forgets" because it is not important to her, therefore, she sees no incentive to get it done.

To answer your question:

How can I emphasize the need for someone to do something that I can't accomplish for them, while not necessarily reminding them?

Emphasize why it needs to be done, not just that it needs to be. Either point out what happens if she doesn't do it or just let her find out for herself.


I do apologize if this comes off harsh, it just reminds me of myself a few years back. I've had to do a lot of self-reflection and maturing the last couple years. Tough love can be effective, at least it was for me.

  • As a note, do I create my own consequences in this situation? – Anoplexian Aug 3 '17 at 22:06
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    @Anoplexian you could, depending on the situation. I wouldn't encourage creating a "spiteful" repercussion but doing something to emphasize a point could be effective. The license for example, if you are driving her around, you could create the consequence that the only place you'll take her is the DMV, otherwise, she's left to her own accord on how to get anywhere else. – cheshire Aug 3 '17 at 22:11
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There is one lifehack that worked for me perfectly well. I was the forgetful lazybones in such a situation, and I had my parents (and sometimes friends) reminding me what I must do/promised to do/asked to do. I also had that powerful unwilling to do anything, I am reminded.

The solution looks pretty simple. I just needed to remind myself instead of receiving outside reminders. I've found a suitable mobile program to keep track of everything I want/should do. Then, I've asked everybody I know to stop reminding me directly. And if they want, they should ask something like "how's your todo list?". It was mostly a psychological change for me, but I did really make success in completing tasks, because I got used to checking my plans regularly.

6

I read a book recently which gave a few suggestions. In case you would like to know which book: How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie. I would advise this book to everyone who is interested in this topic.

Try to honestly see things from the other person's point of view

Try to think as the other person for a second. Is there a reason he or she could have for not doing something. Maybe he or she finds it a difficult task and you could do it together or maybe it was an extremely busy day and is he/she extremely tired. It's really easy to judge someone if he/she hasn't done something, but very often there is a good reason for it and you're able to solve it together.

Ask questions instead of giving orders

Nobody likes to be told what to do, you should always try and ask it. By asking them questions you also give them to opportunity to respond and give an explanation why they haven't done it.

Call people to their mistakes indirectly

By calling to their mistakes indirectly they will not feel attacked. E.X. If the dishwasher hasn't been emptied yet. You could ask a question like: "I can't find my favourite mug in the cupboard, do you know where it is?"
You're not telling them they've made a mistake yet, but it will remind them of having to do it in a kind way. This is a silly example but you can think of a nice indirect way of asking something in most cases.

Empathize

People are more likely to listen if you make them feel understood. Phrases like these will be a good start:

"I do understand you and I don't want to do it either, but ..."

"If I were in your situation I would have probably done the same, but we both know ..."

Make people happy about doing the things you suggest

If they see the advantages of doing something directly they are more likely to do it.
As an example: "could you please start vacuuming now, if we do it now we don't have to do it next week, we want to leave a good impression on our visitors that are coming tomorrow right?"
By doing this you will tell them they will have to do it eventually anyway, but allow them to leave a good impression on others too if they do it right now. Making the task seem more important and useful then at first.

Another option would be something like this "If you do this quickly we will have a bit time left over and we could get an ice cream" You could of course tie completing tasks to all kinds of rewards (systems).

I hope this will help you further. I would really suggest that you read the book. It helped me a lot and I saw results instantly. Feel free to ask more clarifications and/or suggestions!

5

I was in her situation. Daily, I was telling my wife that I forgot something I volunteered to do earlier. I literally did forget and it didn't even cross my mind until she brought it up again. And when she did, along came shame and guilt when I had to tell her again, truthfully, that I had forgotten again. She explained to me how that made her feel devalued because I didn't respect her time or my commitments to her. Come to find out, my forgetfulness was tied to stress, diet, and sleep schedule. Once we improved those things, I'm now reminding her!

3

How about setting up automatic reminders? That way you don't feel tired for keeping reminding her, and she doesn't get tired for keeping being reminded. One of the philosophies of Stack Exchange is to always remind its users at the right time (besides performance is a feature). You don't need to be a machine to remind her everywhere every time, but reminding her a couple first times at the right context is quite important to build a strong memory. Below is the how reminding builds up long term memory, the technique is called spaced repetition:

A graph talking about memory strength, time, stimulus and long-term memory

A further step from reminding is awarding when the desired behaviors are achieved, and splitting the tasks into smaller steps, which we slowly enter the gamification realm. Remember, this only works if she actually wants it, not saying on the surface but denying on the inside due to some psychology processes.

2

Purely from personal experience as someone who has suffered for a long time with this, I will give a little insight.

First of all, this is not personal, she's not doing it to YOU, and she's not doing it on purpose. Don't see this as immaturity ("only children behave like this"), or an affront to you ("if she loved me she would remember"). What you will probably find is your partner really wants to be dependable however something prevents it from happening. She knows that being undependable appears to be childish, but she can't fix it, no matter how hard she tries.

From experience this is really hard to come to terms with, especially when her partner (you) keep reminding her to do it, that probably makes her feel feels like a child which pushes further into "immature" territory. Then the attitude comes around to "if they will treat me like a child, I'll act that way"

So, how do you fix this? Unfortunately you can't! At least not on your own. Some things that are working for me (after years of counseling, both solo and couples with my wife)...

  • Emotional sign on: If I can't emotionally commit to it, I won't say I'll do it. In this case it's important that you don't respond with anger or disappointment as she will then agree to make the conflict go away.
  • Routines: A normal day follows a normal routine, as does a normal week. Taking the trash to the curb happens on a Tuesday morning, before work, every week. If the routine is disturbed it's likely to get forgotten, unless I make it impossible to forget (in this example if I think I'll forget, I put the trashcan behind my car so it's in the way)
  • Lists: have her record what she agrees to do. Once it's recorded, the job of remembering is easy.
  • Reminders: have her use technology to remind her to do something. My Monday morning schedule is always full of things like "Call bank" or "Book vacation" from the weekend. Use snooze if the reminder is a bad time, but don't cancel the reminder until it's done.
  • ADHD meds: this was far away the biggest help for me, but she (like I was) might be reluctant to get the test or help needed. There are strong feelings around this, but ultimately I am very glad (as is my wife) I followed this course.

Recommending any of these will be hard, you must find a time where she is not already defensive (like you've just discovered something was forgotten) as she will simply shut down. Remember she has (probably) been dealing with this for a long time, maybe even a lifetime.

As you can imagine I am reluctant to personally identify with this post, but I will check back and can provide some specific stuff if you are interested.

0

You can't change other people. You can only change how you respond to them.

She obviously isn't feeling the same amount of pressure about these things as you are. First, try to set up your life together so that there is the highest likelihood of cooperation. Divide chores in a way that makes it most likely that she'll do her part (e.g. make a list and each pick half the chores; each do your chores on the same days/times; sit down once per week to make the grocery list/todo list together).

Divide the "things that need to get done" into two categories: 1) things that affect you directly 2) things that don't affect you directly.

If she forgets something from category #2, do nothing. Let events take their course and then offer empathy and help that does not involve solving her problems for her - like offering to go along to the DMV for company. Try your very hardest not to take it on for her. It's her problem and she can solve it. "Wow that sucks that you have to take the bus. Is there anything I can do to help?"

If she forgets something from category #1 tell her how you feel and how it has affected you. "I feel uncomfortable and insignificant when you don't do the wash that you've agreed to and I have no clean underwear. I want you to do the laundry regularly since you agreed to do it." "Pre-minding"her (before she's actually forgotten) or reminding her can make her feel nagged and infantilized. That's not good for your relationship. You're the boyfriend, not the parent. If she really can't get it together, maybe living together's not a great idea.

0

The problem: There are things that your girlfriend should objectively do, and she doesn't do them. And if you remind her, she is even less likely to do them.

The second one is easily explained: We all want to do the right things because they are the right things to do, not because someone tells us to do them. When you remind her, it's not seen as a reminder (like if my phone comes up with reminders for me), but as being on her case. It would be extremely difficult to remind her in a way that it is seen as a pure reminder.

The second one may be that after long time of practice, people expect her to not do things, and she tries to fulfil their expectations. That's not reasonable, but that's what people do. (You can often use this by expecting the best from people, and you're more likely to get it).

Anyway, when you realise she hasn't done X then it's too late to do anything helpful about X. You need to work on the problem in general.

Talk to her about the problem in general. Not a particular case, but the general problem that she doesn't do things she should do. She knows that the problem is there. And then you figure out together what strategies there are to make her, on her own, do these things.

Here's one way to do it: Ask her to create a To-Do list for things she needs to do. And as you know, things will go on that list and stay there because they never get done, resulting in her failure and her feeling bad about it (you also feel bad about it, but you can handle it). Now an addition to the normal To-Do list, tell her she can at any time decide not to do something from the list, and remove that item from the list. Instant "success", in a strange kind of way. So she can handle anything successfully, and therefore failures and her fear of failure go away. And once the fear of failure and the expectation of failure go away, she is now in a state of mind where she can remove items from the list by just doing the task.

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