25

Context

My partner and I are co-habiting, living with my parents. I commute to work Monday to Friday, working 38 hours a week. My partner works from home. He wakes up with me in the mornings to see me off to work and chat to me while I have breakfast. It's become a sort of morning ritual for me to make him a cup of coffee (only him, not one for myself) while I make my breakfast. A couple of times recently I've been in too much of a rush to make coffee, as this takes longer than it takes to make my breakfast and he's been annoyed and irritated at me for not making it. I was a bit taken back by this, but let it slide. Over time he's now come to expect me to make him a coffee in the mornings and on weekends because he works on Saturday mornings from home to the point where he's been annoyed at me for not making one, even if I was still asleep (bearing in mind he wakes up at 7-8AM on weekends to do his morning work).

After a discussion, he's admitted that he expects me to make the coffee because I do little else around the house (despite me working full time with a 1 hour commute each way to work); on the other hand to this, he also does little else in the house, save for empty the dishwasher and tidy up our room, which is where he works from - so most of the tidying is the mess caused by his work anyway. The rest, he leaves to my mother who is a stay-at-home wife. He's also said to me that he doesn't understand how it's rude to expect me to do this for him. I don't mind making the coffee, but the expectation of it really grates and irritates me.

If it has any bearing on the context, this is a male/male relationship. He is German, I am English in case of any cultural differences.

Question

How can I explain that the expectation of somebody to go out of their way to do a favour for somebody else is rude?

  • 13
    This is unrelated to culture. This is rude in Germany, too. In fact, I'd expect him to make you breakfast. I think he is being a bit of a what we Germans call "Pascha". – Fildor Sep 19 '17 at 8:28
  • 6
    @Anonymous: Is he a paying guest at your place? – Sachin Sep 19 '17 at 8:30
  • 2
    @Sachin: I'm under the impression he makes them drinks when he's making them for himself, and occasionally tidies up in the kitchen (which I also do on the weekends when I notice it needs to be done). The only other thing that is equitable is that he keeps our personal living space tidy which he mentioned when I brought this up; but the difference is that I don't expect him to do that, and don't get annoyed when it isn't done. – Anonymous Sep 19 '17 at 9:35
  • 1
    "I'm not sure he understands, or is being stubborn about it." Well, don't know either - but I've observed/been part of quite a number of conversations between Brits and Germans and quite frequently subtlety and indirect hinting (as far as I (as a non-native speaker) even noticed them) were completely lost on the German side. From time to time being a little more blunt was in order... ;-) – AllTheKingsHorses Sep 19 '17 at 11:19
  • 1
    This is a job for a relationship counselor. The internet is not a good place to get advice on these types of issue. What you're describing are symptoms, but the causes could be much harder to get at (and even be more private than you'd want to discuss). So I'd suggest counseling. – StephenG Sep 20 '17 at 0:55
28

This seems like a problem of misaligned expectations and entitlement. From your side, making the coffee is a nice favor to do when it's convenient for you (when you have the time, in the course of making your own breakfast). It was regular enough that he's come to expect it, which is understandable. However, what's less understandable is his feeling that he is entitled to a cup/pot of coffee brewed daily by you.

It would be one thing if he came to rely on you doing something and then, if you miss, he's in a difficult position, but unless you have some really elaborate technique making a cup of coffee is not difficult and, at most, a minor inconvenience for him. Instead, from his side it seems that he's looking forward to a coffee without his having to do anything and is disappointed to not get it. That's also understandable, but his reaction is inappropriate-- it converts a kind-hearted gesture from you into something that is owed to him, based on nothing and in service of nothing.

Particularly troubling in this case is his comment that you do little around the house. It's not clear to me that he's "owed" some fixed amount of domestic labor from you which he happens to collect in coffee preparation, but if he really feels that way it might be worth sitting down and sorting out who is responsible for what tasks around the house to make expectations clear and the burden of work roughly even (or at least at a mutually agreed upon level).

Anyways, as for how to tell him, I think that being direct will be valuable in this case. You can tell him that you don't mind, perhaps even enjoy, making coffee for him but that sometimes other matters (like getting to work on time) mean that you won't be able to do it. If he's willing to enjoy the coffee when it's available then great, you can continue making it, but if he will only think of it as your job that you owe to him then your nice gesture is causing problems and it might be best not to continue. If it really becomes a big issue, perhaps you could get a drip coffee maker with a timer so that you can prepare the coffee at night and still have it fresh in the morning, whether you can attend to it or not.

  • 9
    What's also understandable, but his reaction is inappropriate-- it converts a kind-hearted gesture from you into something that is owed to him, based on nothing and in service of nothing. - That hits the nail on the head. Thanks for drawing my attention to the other perspective though: It was regular enough that he's come to expect it, which is understandable. A very comprehensive and substantial answer! – Anonymous Sep 19 '17 at 12:56
13

I think you have already explained it and he is choosing to refuse that idea because it doesn't fit with what he wants. I don't think though that it's something you cannot work around.

I got advice from my (extraordinarily wise) grandmother when I was young, and I thankfully took it (in this case). When with someone romantically, it is advisable to aim to always do one nice thing for them every day. She said, try for 3 when it's possible, but always do one. She had a lovely extremely long marriage, so it seemed to me she likely had some good ideas. They were very much in love still when my grandfather passed.

So I think actually making coffee every day, particularly when you do not drink it, was a mistake. I think it was one done in love, but still a mistake, for this reason. Once you do something, the same thing, enough times, any person grows to expect it. It's human nature. So by doing so every day, you set him up to believe this was going to be how it went. Now, when you explained you no longer wish to, he should respect that. I agree. This doesn't excuse that. What I am getting at, is that on one day you make coffee, another day you leave an "I love you" note, another day you pick up his coat or shoes and put them away for him, or bring home some gum or mints he likes or whatever. It really doesn't matter what you do, as long as it's different and something he will see is for him.

I have been with my husband 25yrs now and I can promise you this has worked wonders for us. I can tell when we fall out of practice and he does it for me as well. There are a million small gestures you can make, even when very busy. A quick text that is sweet, a note in a pocket. Sometimes I do something he doesn't find for days or even weeks, like in a pocket, in his glove box of the car, etc. I even mail him things to our own home or to his office. He always logs into his computer first thing to check on things at work and I will even just leave the window open to our song on youtube.

In this spirit of "sweet" reminders to one another that you love each other, it is never okay to make some demands on what the other must do. So he cannot then tell you that you should be making him coffee. If it were me, I'd reiterate that this isn't working well for me and then just start doing other little sweet things and see if he keeps up being irritated about coffee. My thought would be that he won't and likely he was equating it to some love gesture first thing in the day that he now misses. He may also miss you quite a bit if you are gone all day and he is working from home with little contact with outside people. When I worked 45hrs with commute of an hour it was 60hrs by the time I factored in commute and lunch. I am not sure how many hours you are gone in total. I was thinking you meant 38+ the 1 hrs each way with is gone at least 48hrs then.

  • 2
    Thanks for the insight. I'll give that suggestion a try instead (just as well as he's now being stubborn and refusing to 'let' me make him coffee - that will be short lived though!). Also just to note that it's not that I don't want to make coffee and have stopped doing so, it's just on the off-chance that I don't that I've noticed this reaction. I'm out of the house from 7:30AM to about 6PM on workdays, for reference. – Anonymous Sep 19 '17 at 9:32
  • 1
    Also I understand why you thought I'd stopped all together. I've edited the OP to clarify what I meant a bit better! – Anonymous Sep 19 '17 at 9:40
  • 1
    If you are interested, you should look up the free online quiz for "the 5 Love Languages". It might be that his high score is "acts of service" and this is really about loving you and feeling loved when you do something for him. It's a great quiz for any couple though. It really helps you understand one another a little better. – threetimes Sep 19 '17 at 10:20
3

Looking at the greater picture I would predict that the issue isn't the coffee here.

Making implicit or explicit lists of contributions in a relationship to derive what everybody is entitled to expect or demand from the other one or which expectation is rude or not usually doesn't work, at least not in a way that helps the relationship.

Everything is voluntary, even the most tiny bit you receive or give. Likewise it can be refused to be given at any time.

Let this sink in for a moment and become clear about what this means: You have a lot to be grateful for.

From that position of gratitude you will naturally feel an urge to return something. Do not let any rules or considerations or conventions dictate what you feel there, just listen to what you yourself feel intuitively. That which you feel you want to do or give purely out of gratitude is what you should do and give. No long-term obligations involved, it can change from moment to moment.

Explicit contracts ("I do this if you do that") have a time and place too, also in relationships, but the way I see it you're both far from reaching that common ground here. You're also not asking how to reach that stage, you're asking how to tell him something is rude. (Which is even a little rude in itself.)

However to answer that too: Telling someone that something is rude is just as simple as saying that it's rude from your point of view. You can also add that you're not willing to discuss on that level. And then just stop discussing about it as long as what is coming feels rude to you.

Just be warned: It may not have the effect you're expecting alone because finding a good solution in a relationship always means listening. You can't just talk and hope to be understood and having solved the issue. You need curiosity and wonder more than solutions and answers. Your partner also has an own perception, and even if you disagree (which is not uncommon), try to see this: It can be a very fruitful act of love to respect and support someone else's opinion even if you don't share it. Don't necessarily try to cultivate this, just see if it comes to you naturally out of that position of gratitude. Not every disagreement is worth arguing about it.

If each of you is acting from a position like: "I only do this if you do yours first.", then who's to start giving? In case you're thinking: "Yeah, I'd be willing to make a start, but I'm afraid he might not return the favor.", ask yourself if you're really worried about this. If so, ask yourself if this is the relationship you want to be in. If you're not worried, then why not just do that thing which makes his day a little better and be patient to be surprised when you least expect it?

A life is long, if this relationship means anything to you, you may as well count it in years, not in days or weeks. A lot can happen there. You may have an accident next month and he has to take care of everything, including your income and visiting you every day, for weeks. You may be lying in your bed and wondering how you could ever make up for it, and you may be a little embarrassed about the coffee thing you were hesitating to make before because now you'd love to make a coffee for him. At least a situation like this might change your mind.

Seeing it in the perspective of years also makes you realize how ridiculous it can be negotiating everything in the present. At some point your love for each other must exceed all other factors, otherwise how are you ever going to reach a sustainable conclusion on anything? Think about that for a moment. Just ask yourself: How could it possibly work if there's not more love for each other than any other factor? Just in case you're doubting that love, then wouldn't that raise other questions which are more urgent than the coffee here?

Please note that I'm NOT recommending to you to make his coffee. I'm only suggesting to consider a couple of things I think are important. The solution will develop from it naturally.

You might also discover in the process that you don't feel any gratitude from his side and that this is the thing you're really asking about here between the lines. If that's so and it makes you angry, that's a strong sign that you lack gratitude as well, which should be addressed first then. If however you're not angry about it and you have all gratitude for everything and yet you're not happy anymore, if you see the situation as it is and you're peaceful about it like that, you'll naturally feel the next steps to take.

Relationships always make us look in the mirror. There's no point in cleaning or even replacing the mirror if you don't like what you see there. Ultimately all argument and conflict is with yourself, and this is where it has to be solved or dissolved.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.