Let's remember that what usually annoys us in others is what we recognise within ourselves, but don't accept.
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Jacek Santorski – former psychotherapist, publisher, business psychologist and lecturer runs Values, a consulting company.

Natalia Waloch: We’re supposed to talk about equality at home, but when I was preparing for this interview, I thought that I’m actually not surprised that men are not so keen on equal partnerships. Why would they trade a convenient life for a less convenient one? What can I say to my partner to convince him?

Jacek Santorski: Let’s start by saying that convincing people to do something isn’t easy. The basic principle is based on reciprocity: if you want someone to listen to you, listen to them. Show them that you understand them. That you notice their struggles, their dilemmas. Of course, that’s not the easiest so start with showing understanding and appreciation.

If that gets a man to talk, to open up and say that he’s having a hard time too, then a woman can say: “Now I can better understand why you keep leaving your stuff all over the place, because I can see that in a rush at work, when you talk to your boss and the customer calls a moment later, you have different things on your mind and you don’t notice the bread crust left on the table.” That’s how a woman can point out the behaviour that’s bothering her. She can also say: “You know, I just thought that as much as it pisses me off that you’re leaving the bed unmade, you might be annoyed with the personal care products scattered all over the bathroom.”

A woman would have to be a Buddha to communicate like that.

What I'm saying is simple: start with yourself. You may be a perfectionist who always has everything neat and tidy, but most of the time, this is not the case. Let’s remember that what usually annoys us in others is what we recognise within ourselves, but don’t accept.

Jung’s Shadow. I’m griping about his messiness because I can’t control a lot of things in my life and I don’t like that about myself?

But we’d rather take it out on someone else than on ourselves. And it would be good to just say: “We have kids and we must have a clean house, but also because of the multitude of duties and things we have to do, we just need order around us. Let’s see how we can achieve this together.”

On the internet, there’s a lecture by Prof. Andrzej Kokoszka, entitled “Temperament and Character”, in which, based on numerous scientific studies, he talks about what in us is innate and what our character is then built on. If I’m naturally extroverted, that doesn’t mean I can’t learn to focus and switch off. The professor also notes that the same gene determines the openness of the mind, level of courage and messiness. Let’s recall the pictures of Einstein in his messy library. And then let’s look at our husband and see a piece of Einstein in him.

No, I can’t ask a woman who’s snowed under with work to look at dirty underpants thrown by her husband on the bathroom floor through the prism of genius, which he probably doesn’t have.

What I’m talking about is that if someone is supposed to be ready to change, they need to be accepted for who they are first, even if it’s going to be with distance and humour.

So he may not be Einstein, but he does have the spontaneity and creativity that makes our life together more interesting?

Yes. Of course, there’s a risk that he’ll acknowledge your admiration and tell you: “Didn’t I say so?”, and then he’ll fail to flush the toilet again. Any action that has a chance of being effective always carries a risk.

Can’t I just invoke simple values like fairness or equality? I mean, they’re fundamental things.

No point! Everyone subscribes to such beautiful slogans, but everyone also understands them in their own way. It’s the easiest way towards locking the other person out. Then we’ll hear: “Fairness? What about you?” and that’s where the squabbles and the chore war starts.

Another problem with fairness is that the sense of contribution to family life and household duties is very relative. I feel how much an activity or duty costs me, but you can perceive the cost and weight of it quite differently.

And generally speaking, it’s not worth taking on the role of a moralist in your own case. Referring to universal values is walking on very thin ice. Fundamentalism is the greatest opponent of influence. In the name of fundamentalism, people turn to terrorism. Those who blow themselves up also do it in the name of their values.

But it’s not fair that a Polish woman works at home five hours a day and a man – two and a half.

I understand that a woman can have a sense of fatigue, bitterness and injustice, and of course she can share that feeling, but she should do it by saying about herself: “When I think about it, I feel a sense of injustice,” and not by saying about him: “You do less than me”. I’d be more likely to recommend sharing your feelings than prosecuting. Of course, there’s a risk that the guy will ignore it, but there’s also a chance that even if he doesn’t agree with her right away, he’ll somehow take those feelings into account. But if she fulminates about how there is a blatant injustice, I can guarantee in writing that she won’t get anywhere.

And what if a man reacts to the confession of an overworked woman not by declaring he will do more but by saying: “Then what do you clean so much for?”

We always take risks when we act. We also risk him being right. Because a lot of mothers pass a mindset down to their daughters that if they don’t feed and if they don’t clean, they’ll either end up alone or be nothing. And the usual reason men leave is that they feel women are being too invasive, they don’t take enough care of themselves – in different areas – while caring all too much about clean floors. Instead of cleaning again, it really is better to have a secret chat with a colleague.

In an interview for “Wysokie Obcasy”, the couples’ therapist, Dorota Ziółkowska-Maciaszek recently referred to research, which showed that while Polish men do not do significantly less housework than Norwegian men, Polish women do much more than Norwegian women.

That’s because a Polish mother has a different message for her daughter than a Norwegian mother. A Polish mother has a specific message for her daughter regarding her values, her role, relationships and responsibilities. As a woman, I would ask myself: “Should I have a discussion with this voice of my beloved mother which speaks within me?”

I’m intrigued by what you said at the beginning, that he’s not responding well to personal care products being scattered around. Is this just an example or is there something more to it?

Men hate that. When they see cosmetics lying around, they feel like they have to work for another seven hours to achieve sexual arousal.

Are you serious?

Of course, men confide in me, I’ve heard that a lot. A man doesn’t want to know how a woman creates the effect that enchanted him.

So he doesn’t want to see the back stage of make-up?

He doesn’t understand this world of beautification and that makes him uneasy. It’s the same thing our grandparents used to experience when they saw their wives with curlers in their hair.

Advice like from those wives’ guides from the 1950s: “Let him always see you combed and tidy”?

Of course, there are men who do not objectify women in any way and love them and desire them as they are, not as they are with make-up on. What I’m trying to say is that these beauty products lying around, in addition to how they might affect his libido, could be an excuse for the papers piling up on his desk. Scattered personal care products are for men what dirty socks or knickers thrown on the floor are for women.

Could we be more specific about what a man can gain from taking turns scrubbing the toilet with his partner?

Better sex maybe? His partner, free from aversion or distaste towards any activities related to cleanliness and hygiene at home, might be more open to experiment in bed. Of course, if this is the beginning of a relationship, the man might not let her finish mopping the floor if her breasts dangle alluringly over the cloth.

I think a lot of women would be furious if a guy started throwing himself at them while they’re mopping the floor.

I am giving an example on the verge of the grotesque, because I want to say that you can talk about important things when there’s an opportunity, when the moment feels right. I will not, like some New Age therapists, urge you to light candles and invite you and your partner to look into each other’s eyes and talk about your love and how the unequal division of responsibilities separates you from it. Based on several decades of experience, I can say that such an approach is doomed to failure.

So how and when should we talk?

When we feel like there’s an opportunity to do so. It might be when we go shopping together, when we have a break or when we drive somewhere together. The worst thing you can do to important matters is to sanctify them and make too much of them.

If I tell my son or my daughter: “We need to talk”, they’ll get tense and they won’t learn anything, but if I make a casual remark when there’s an opportunity, I can see that my kids absorb it.

In training on impact and the doctor-patient relationship, physicians learn about the “doorknob effect”. It may happen that a patient, say with diabetes and cardiac problems, discusses all his concerns and worries with the doctor, and doesn’t raise the issue of sexuality. And just as he’s leaving the office, the doctor says: “I understand, Mr. Smith, that when it comes to sex, everything is still in working order?” and the patient suddenly says: “Actually, not really, doctor, I read an article about a drug that lasts longer than Viagra”. And the doctor should reply with: “Why don’t you sit down for a moment”.

Doctors know that they need to address topics that are important to the patient in a non-invasive way. En passant.

So she’s mopping the floor and he’s getting off on her beautiful breasts. What can she interpose en passant about the division of duties?

“Put your socks in the washing machine and we’ll come back to that.”

What you say about making remarks gently, without making a ritual out of it, reminds me of a friend who’s a judge and, whenever there’s murmur in the courtroom, she doesn’t raise her voice, she doesn’t tell people to settle down, she just starts to speak more and more quietly.

Speaking loudly also causes us problems. In business, there’s the “turn up the listening” rule. This brings us back to the beginning of our conversation, when I was talking about starting with listening. Also to listen to what’s between the lines or in the timbre of the voice.

Oh, nowadays a lot of men will say they know all about women’s pauses in the form of silent treatment. Getting offended is one of the popular strategies in the fight for equal partnership at home.

You’re probably driving at pop psychology literature, which sells well because it gives hope, however, there’s no evidence that it works.

Are you talking about books like “Why Men Love Bitches”?

These books contain seductive, but deceptive advice. Valuable books don’t deal with assertive conversation techniques, but with what’s really important: your attitude.

Because people get what they expect more than what they need. If Jane thinks that her John is insensitive, self-centred, callous and unfair, then talking through such a filter, whatever technique she uses, won’t work. Everything will only confirm this image of John. Changing this image requires self-awareness and self-observation.

And what’s next?

We say to ourselves: “Okay, that’s my image of him and it is partly justified, but I’m going to look at him like I’ve never seen him before in my life”. This allows you to find a way of having a conversation that is not just about confirming what you think. That’s also what I tell men who say: “All women are hysterical, you have to wait until she gets over it”. She probably will get over it, but the moment for them to talk will be over as well.

Can I ask you a question now?

Sure.

Is your campaign to convey that we’re all a little lonely in our relationships, a little incapable due to the stereotypes we’re immersed in, or also that it’s time that men’s egotism is finally put to an end? Because that’s often the feminist message.

There are many feminists who prefer inclusive feminism which shows that stereotypes harm men as well.

Inclusive feminism therefore presupposes that we work together on certain matters. Together with men.

Men need a lot of tenderness and appreciation, but because of the stereotype of strength, or rather pseudo-strength, they do not allow themselves to desire it or to express this desire.

Can we summarise briefly, in a few words, the benefits that women and men derive from greater equality?

I suppose I should say tenderness and freedom. And this is the truth. But for me, the most important thing is a free mind: free of stereotypes. I consider those socks on the floor a technical problem, not a symbol of the partner’s contempt and disregard.

I understand that this category of a bias-free mind also applies to men for whom cleaning does not mean dishonour anymore?

For me, distinguishing between a man and a woman makes sense only when talking about sex and maybe dancing as well. In all other subjects, I am an equalist.

Does the change we introduce in our homes and ourselves have a chance to go beyond our front door? Can it change us as a society? As citizens?

In the 1950s, psychologists noticed that fascism originated in authoritarian families dominated by sadistic fathers. By the way, there was always order in these families and the husbands surely didn’t throw their socks on the floor.

If there is more sensitivity, respect, freedom and partnership in families, there is a chance that we will transfer such an attitude to our workplace, where – especially now, in times of stress and insecurity – we desperately need mutual understanding. And the understanding of our bosses. They, in turn, need our understanding. But is it going to change the entire society? This would require open minds from politicians and that is a function of our whole culture, which is shaped by many more factors than just our family arena.

Any punchline?

I’m going to go home now, because I’m talking to you while walking in the park, and I’m going to walk up to the chair next to the piano where three pairs of gym trousers are hanging. My wife has been asking me to do something about them for two days now, so I will.

“Tenderness and freedom. Let's build balanced relationships” is a campaign run by Kulczyk Foundation along with “Wysokie Obcasy” and “Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation”.

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