I Can’t………Can I?

Some interesting conversations this week about what it means to say "I can’t…….".The one that started me thinking about this was a friend whose recently ex partner has shown a remarkable aptitude for not just cooking, but the planning and preparation of meals, but only since they parted. Some version of this observation has always made me laugh because relationships are one of the typical locales where we separate activities into who can’t do what.
Not really such a bad thing when we partner up to sort out who might be better at or like better some aspects of managing a home, but as a couples counsellor I also see lots of conflict around the division of homemaking tasks. More often than not the conflict arises out of some version of "Can’t you chip in and figure it out when I need some help?". What often seems to be developing is a pattern of overfunctioning/underfunctioning and resentment, with roles switching out depending on the task at hand. Objectively, most adults can do most things with some suppportive encouragement, information and practice.  Sometimes, though, the willingness to try gets squelched, either by fear of recriminations if it’s not done according to the other party’s standards, or by a reluctance to make the effort when the other person is already taking responsibility and it’s easier to coast.
This isn’t the right forum to get into all of the convoluted dynamics of relationships that allow these patterns to flourish and build resentments. Before anyone starts to assume this is a male problem or a female problem, let me be clear that both genders play the "I can’t…….." card. Think about it – "I can’t cook" or "I can’t mow the lawn" or "I don’t know how to vacuum" or "I’m no good at taking care of household repairs". We often see some tasks as belonging to either men or women, but what about singles who just get on with it and manage their lives. Truly, most of the stuff we "can’t" do, can be learned. The question is really do you want to. Honestly, if you don’t want to, maybe it’s better to just say so, and work out an alternative arrangement, whether you have a partner who does want to or you hire someone to do it or you simply go without.
Separate from the relationship dance of who can do what and who can’t, I think we all sometimes use the words "I can’t……" to avoid things that maybe we’re scared of, don’t want to do, have incorrect assumptions about, or worry about looking like a fool while doing. Can’t gives you an out, but perhaps it’s too easy an out. How interesting it would be if all of us tried one thing a week that we think we can’t do. This has been important to me for a while now and I’ve had some fun, learned some things (including that there are some things that I really don’t want to do again!), and gained experiences that changed me, for the better. Having tried some things I previously "couldn’t" do, doesn’t mean I became brilliant at all of them or made them a passion. In fact there are lots of things about which I’m content to say "Been there………..done that……….don’t need to do that again". But there are a few that continue to make me smile.
So, my challenge to you is that when you hear yourself say "I can’t…….", ask "Really? What would happen if I tried?". If it really is a no-go, the consequences are too costly, then be honest with yourself and others that you don’t choose to. But if you choose to try, let me know what happens!

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