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  • Writer's pictureArielle Grossman

The Laundry List

The laundry list. Is it a new mafia HBO show or the DIY project everyone's talking about? Unfortunately, there are no Soprano sequels or viral videos to organize your closet. 

It is the constant running list in our minds about our partners. To ultimately hold against them when they mess up or we mess up, and they come after us. The laundry list is common for most people and many of my couples therapy clients. 

This list holds more weight and feelings than anything else in the relationship, usually by blocking or sabotaging communication or magnifying issues. This list is vast and depends on the person and the partnership. It can be shot or long, and sometimes, in the worst case, it is never-ending and holds onto things from years prior. This list is one of the worst things in a couplehood due to the erosive nature and damage it can cause. 

Many of my couple clients are initially unaware of the origins of this laundry list, yet it is one of the main reasons for resentment in a relationship. It's subtle and deadly. Sneaking up on us as we are picking up dog poop under the scolding hot summer sun while our partner sits, blissfully unaware, watching TV in the AC-cooled house. But resentment doesn't happen overnight. And neither does the list. It grows and builds. Often with feelings of justification and righteousness.

Examples of items on the Laundry List: 

"I'm always the one taking out the trash." 

"I'm the housekeeper." 

"He never helps me with grocery shopping. I'm always the one planning and cooking." 

"Dishes, again and again." 

"She gets to sleep in whenever she wants." 

"I'm the default parent." 

"I have to do the yardwork cuz they won't." 

"I am always the one cleaning the toilets…!"

"I pay for everything."

 The list feeds into our hurt and our anger. Over time, the ticking boxes on that list lead to one inevitable outcome—an explosion. Couples then rage and fight, bicker, and snap. Not fully understanding where this explosion came from and why they are being blamed for dog poop and dishes in the same breath. Yet the justified laundry list convinces us that our partner doesn't see or care about the things we do. And that hurts. 

And when this laundry list is brought up in a couple's session, the other partner, the one being blamed, is confused and frustrated, feeling like what they have done didn't count or wasn't enough. Now, both people in the relationship are hurting. 

So, what is happening, and what can we do about it? 

To those who keep a laundry list: I want you instead to notice your own vulnerability with life and how you cope with those stressors. It may be time to stop and reflect on your current situation. Get curious, and try to stay calm. With a compassionate stance, ask yourself some of these questions: How much sleep am I getting? Where in my life am I most stressed? Do I feel burned out? Or depressed? Am I taking care of my needs and wants? Have I asked my partner what I need recently?

Sometimes, it is easier to blame someone else than to take accountability. It is natural to want to control something in your orbit, especially if you are tired and maybe over-functioning, and to release the energy of your stress or unhappiness into the list—and, thus, your partner. 

I recommend not getting rid of the list entirely. It may feel impossible to do so right away, and I don't want you to be overwhelmed by 'fixing' something else. Instead, keep a counter list. A positive list of your partner to balance the negative. It can be a gratitude list or a behavioral one in which you mindfully notice the good they are actually doing. They may only sometimes take out the trash, but they consistently roll out the trash bins for garbage day. 

I would want you to find something that releases your negative energy. It could be working out, being with a friend, seeing a therapist, processing in a journal, gardening, meditating, or finding a hobby that connects to you. We feel less resentful and stressed when we actively put our needs first, even for a few hours a week. We are more present and kinder with ourselves and thus others. Our partners can only do so much to please us. We have to please ourselves, and happiness takes work. 

So, notice when you are scrubbing dishes and feeling upset. Take inventory of yourself and where you can stop, rest, recharge, and communicate. Because you matter. And your relationship doesn't need a laundry list. 



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