Bump Back on a First Officer Acting as Captain and Mad About It

Reader Email: My problem is getting in trouble for stuff I don’t deserve. And it almost seems like she sets me up to fail. I would do dishes before bedtime, for example, to give her time to work on her writing (her second book will hit the shelves in less than two months). There was a time that she told me specifically “I’ll get the dishes, don’t worry about it.” Three nights running, she said this. And, on the fourth morning, she read me the riot act for sticking her with the dishes for three nights in a row.
I don’t get it. I don’t understand how to stay out of trouble for not getting something done when she tells me not to do it. It’s a recurring theme in our world, “hold on, this is more important, leave that for now”…and so busy with kids and everything else that I never actually manage to get back to it, and get raked over the coals for forgetting it.
It’s become this massive boulder in the middle of our relationship, that if we don’t figure out how to fix it, is going to drive us apart. Her image of me is “lying untrustworthy and breaks promises” because there aren’t enough hours in the day to get done everything I’m supposed to get done AND everything that she told me to put off for later…and I can’t find a way to win that trust back because it’s a matter of perception and not necessarily fact…
Athol: The short answer is you’re falling into the Betaization Trap of being endlessly deferring and nice to her in an attempt to please her, but it isn’t working. The long answer is Chapters 10 and 11 in The Primer will be very helpful to you.
In terms of what you can do right now, the next time she blows up at you, say “Do you yell at the children like this when I’m not here?” She will of course say “no”. The you say, “Then if you can control yourself with them, you should be able to control yourself with me.” and you just bore you eyes into hers until she looks away and/or backs down. She’s actively choosing to yell at you and you’re actively choosing to accept being yelled at without any resistance.
Then no matter what she asks you to do when she is yelling, simply fail to comply with it. “I’m not going to help you when you yell at me.”
If she asks a reasonable request in a reasonable tone of voice. Just go do it.
Stop leaving tasks uncompleted because she said something else was more important. “No, I’m finishing this first. I’ll be with you when I’m finished.”
Try doing the dishes together if that’s a sticking point. “Come help me do the dishes.” If she comes to help, then do the dishes. If she doesn’t, don’t do them. When the dishes are done together, say you liked doing the dishes together. It’s also a good time to be a playful and funny with her. Gently pin her against the kitchen counter and make out a little.
Also if she’s crunching to get a book completed, she’s going to be stressed out and therefore more prone to be easily frustrated. As you bump back on her rudeness to you (Alpha) try and find a couple little ways to pre-emptively express caring for her (Beta) to keep the balance.
Also if she’s just trying too hard and doing too much, you can take the Captain role and order her to self-care. If she wants to write and do the dishes for example, you can just overrule her and say “Keep writing, I’ll do the dishes.” If she complains, just do the direct eye gaze thing and say “You aren’t able to stop me.” and walk away.
As an aside, there was a lot of additional information in the email that would have identified the readers, so can’t reveal that, but the wife seems to have a bit of a over-achieving-super-mommy-or-she-feels-guilty vibe. Jennifer gets like this to some extent too. As a result, the majority of my direction to Jennifer that takes a firm tone is simply to get her to take her good efforts down a notch and relax a little.

Some wives can’t ever fully relax until told to relax. Hence, “That will do Jennifer, that will do.”   (Clarification before feminists descend on me in the comments: Jennifer is a “babe”, not a “pig”. That is all.)
My general impression is that the wife in this case is yet another First Officer running the show as de facto Captain and pissed off about it. So be the Captain.


  1. pdwalker says:

    Good advice. Don't accept bad behaviour. You'll see the change quickly. Follow Athol's advice and the change will be magical.

  2. Eric S. Mueller says:

    My wife did similar things when we first got married. She ask me to start one task, then redirect me to another before I could finish, then another, and another, and sooner or later I had 20 tasks unfinished and couldn't remember what I was doing, and she'd tell me I never finished anything.

    That was 10 years before the MMSL book came out. I had no clue what alpha and beta were, and I was well below beta anyway. But I eventually started asking her what was more important to get done.

  3. Looking Glass says:

    I actual learned this listen in a funny way. I was helping with an athletic team in college and one of the players got injured (not serious), and I went flying to get the trainer. After a short explanation (no blood/broken bones), he just slowly walked there. There was no need to rush or hurry, as there was no emergency, really, or need to be frantic.

    Captains are there to provide "Order". The trap of the Beta traits is to stop providing that Order, but we all know nature abhors a vacuum, which makes no one happy when it gets filled.

  4. Stingray says:

    Oh man, I can really identify with this woman. That is not to say I am full of sympathy for her. Here is my two cents. When she says to you, "I'll get the dishes, don't worry about it." what she is hoping to here from you is "No, you go work on your book. I got this." Here's the catch though. If she is trying to be super-mommy, she is going to argue with you about it because even though you said exactly what she wants to hear, she now has guilt about not doing it herself. Don't back down if she does this. Look her straight in the eye and simply say something like "I've got this."

    I agree with everything else Athol has said above, but you may want to rephrase a couple of things depending on your wife and the situation. Some of the things Athol says above are too lengthy for me as a wife. I need short and firm. For me, the more lengthy the response the more beta it becomes. It also depends on how stressed I am. If I am a little stressed this would be fine for me, "Then if you can control yourself with them, you should be able to control yourself with me." If I am over the top (and with two months till book is done she may be here) I would need "Then you will control yourself with me." Followed by a good hard look in the eye and going back to finishing your task. Also, the "You aren't able to stop me" I would need "Go work on your book" said firmly. My kids are too small for the other as it is too close to what they would say. Comes across as beta in my house. This may sound like I am being picky. I'm not. It's just that you need to find what works for your wife. If she is uber mommy, she may you to be very firm.

    Also, the forcing your wife to go relax is HUGE. My husband does this for me when things get bad and it is wonderful. We have a very busy house (we homeschool) and things get away from me and I get extremely stressed. When it gets this bad, my husband will all but force me out of the house to go relax. It's really nice because I have no guilt about going when he does this. On the flip side though, he basically phrases it as "You need to go out and do something for yourself. I got this." I, sometimes, truly do not want to. He then simply makes it very clear "That's fine. I tried and there's nothing else I can do. This was your decision." I can then only blame myself if I don't start to feel better.

    She is going to get upset with you when you do these things. Let her. She will get over it faster than she does when you do the beta stuff as it will start to sink in how much of it is her doing. She will respect you more as her husband and these things will happen far less.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Stingray. It always helps to hear it directly from a lady. It just strikes a different chord so to speak

  6. Anna Beers says:

    Yup, I identify too. Stingray is on the money. She is hoping that you will notice how tired/stressed/overworked she is and will intervene. Women think like this. Men…don't.

    If the husband is firm and sends her back to her writing, he had better follow through. I guarantee you every fiber of her being is listening to hear the clink of dishes and the water running. If she doesn't, in ten minutes she will be doing the dishes herself and will absolutely livid with her husband. He will get a "Nothing's wrong!" with gritted teeth when he asks her why she's stewing later.

    If he doesn't get on it immediately, he is telling her by his behavior that he doesn't care about her. She will assume that he never intended to do the dishes and said what he needed to say to get her off his back.

  7. "Three nights running, she said this. And, on the fourth morning, she read me the riot act for sticking her with the dishes for three nights in a row."

    "Yes … that's your job. Stop whining."

  8. Looking Glass says:

    @ Stingray & Anna Beers:

    Thanks for the perspective and confirmation to Athol's advice.

    Though, I do always find it a tad disconcerting. Coming from a guy's point of view, the old advice of "never listen to a woman" is actually fairly true (but only to an extent). You pretty much have to look at what is going on in the situation, not the words she's really saying, then address the actual needs of the situation.

    A lot of the problem stems down to the fact that guys like to work from lists (you have things well sorted and they can be dealt with in a proper fashion), where women simply don't. So, attempting to address things point by point is actually a waste of time for everyone. It's a matter of figuring out what is of the greatest concern and addressing that first, then moving on down from there.

    This really should be written down in a book somewhere. :) (Shameless plug for Athol!)

  9. Stingray says:

    "Though, I do always find it a tad disconcerting. Coming from a guy's point of view, the old advice of "never listen to a woman" is actually fairly true (but only to an extent). You pretty much have to look at what is going on in the situation, not the words she's really saying, then address the actual needs of the situation."

    Understood about the listening to women thing. And absolutely to the address the situation. However, since part of the situation is what she is thinking (and she likely is not going to tell you what she is thinking) thought this perspective would help. (I can guarantee with about 98% accuracy that she wants him to take charge and make her leave to do her own thing. It is him taking notice of hard she is working and it makes her feel good that he took the time to notice.)

    Ladies out there reading this,

    "" A lot of the problem stems down to the fact that guys like to work from lists (you have things well sorted and they can be dealt with in a proper fashion), where women simply don't."

    This is huge. If you need your husband to get some stuff done, make a list!!! He will love it and can do everything in the order he needs to do it.

  10. Looking Glass says:

    @ Stingray:

    The only worry with lists is that you can micro-manage your Husband to death, but that goes for a lot of things.

    In a nice wrap up of Alpha & Beta, Stingray is really saying that the desire is for Alpha (enforcing an Order) and Beta (comfort for all of the hard work, reassurance of being notice). If you wrap in the 5 Love Languages tricks, it makes a bit more sense how to approach a lot of it. (Though it should be notice, guys do like their hardwork being noticed, but other guys are generally more willing to compliment for hardwork. Merit tends to go a long ways with guys)

    This also does pull in why "aloof asshole" as the Pure Alpha stereotype/apex fallacy actually is what women want. They want to be noticed but actually listening to them is not what they want. The only way this can be pulled off (addressing the needs, not the stated wants) is a measure of disconnectedness ("Aloof" aspect); then applying corrective measures to what is actually important ("Asshole" aspect, since you're ignoring what they say).

    Definite food for thought.

  11. Anonymous says:

    As a husband, I have grown to hate lists. Wives,don't think keeping a list is the panacea. If you're going to start using a list, at least give hubby a chance to clear off a list once in a while. Nothing is more demoralizing to me than to never have that sense of accomplishment to see a list cleared off. Instead, I get two things done and three more magically appear. I've stopped looking at the wife's stupid lists.

  12. Athol Kay says:

    If I make a list for me it's good. Otherwise lists feel a little like a cross between nagging and paperwork. At least that's how it works for me.

  13. Stingray says:

    I knew I should have clarified the list thing after I reread what I wrote. I have always been extremely conscious of NOT nagging my husband. Here is how it works in our house. I only make lists when I am getting completely overwhelmed (usually only a couple of times a year). Then I make one for husband and one for me. I show him the list and EVERYTHING is one there that needs to be done. However, I point out the things that really need to be done for us to function around the house as priority (this is usually only 1-2 things). Everything else is done at his leisure. I don't typically say anything else about it even if has been 6 months (because really, the handle having fallen of the closet door is not hampering anything. I don't care.)

    Another big thing for us is this rule: ( while still a hard and fast rule, has become a big joke between us) I can tell him what to do OR how to do it. Never both. It works really well for us.

  14. CheshireKate says:

    I don't think my husband likes being the captain. He's very happy to pick something off our running chores list and do it. But he rarely adds things to the list (maybe that's because he doesn't want more work for us to do?). Something really has to be broken or messed up badly before he'll add it to the list…so it's basically my job to decide what's needing attention.

  15. The other thing you have to do is to carry your fair share BUT BE THE ONE WHO DIVIDES UP THE WORK. Do the dishes one night when she tells you not to. Don't do them the next night. Make sure you're doing other stuff.

    It's not just that you're doing the housework at her behest. It's that you're also NOT DOING housework at her behest.

    Provide for your family without input, permission, or external command. That's the best alpha/beta blend.

  16. Anonymous says:

    "Do you yell at the children like this when I'm not here?"

    How do you respond when she says "yes"?

  17. Athol Kay says:

    You say nothing.

    Then you install a nanny cam.

Speak Your Mind