What can a favor look like?
Maybe you didn’t plan your day out very well, and you didn’t leave yourself time to grocery shop, so someone else does that shopping for you. Or you’re running late for work, so your partner makes you breakfast and lunch. Or your friend is willing to reschedule quality time, to give you the time to finish an assignment or to let you be an introverted blanket burrito.
Those favors are generally one person going to mild inconvenience to save someone else a much greater inconvenience. Your friend is usually going to be happy to do that favor for you, because it doesn’t cost much from their time/energy reserves, and it fixes a problem that you have.
Sometimes a favor is a much bigger deal, when we need help with the big stuff. A family illness and a broken car mean that you need to ask a loved one to cancel big plans in order to drive you to another state. A car emergency has you borrowing a large sum of money from your family, who need to some careful budgeting as a result. An injury means that your partner has to accompany you everywhere you go for a while, and the strain is difficult on them.
That kind of favor takes a lot more out of your loved one. I imagine they’re still happy to help (though often people can feel obligated, and aren’t actually happy to do that thing), but it takes its own emotional or tangible toll on them.
Either way, you’re grateful that someone is willing to do that thing for you. So what’s one of the best ways to show how grateful you are?
Don’t make their job harder by forcing them to spend EVEN MORE emotional energy on you by reassuring you that you’re not a terrible person.
When someone does you a favor, it’s often because doing that thing yourself would be difficult or impossible. When we get to that state, we feel guilty. “How could things have gotten this bad? I really slacked,” I think to myself when I slam through paperwork and my partner cooks me dinner. “If I had done this paperwork earlier, I could have done the cooking and the shopping tonight, and my partner wouldn’t have to do it. Ugh, I suck.” Or “It’s my own fault for over-sleeping, now I need to ask for a ride to work, and they don’t get time to enjoy their coffee. I’m such a jerk.” And then I apologize, and look like a mopey sad person, and beg forgiveness, and apologize again.
It’s possible that the loved one doing me a favor wishes that they didn’t have to do this task in order to help me out. Acts of service are a beautiful love language (mine, in fact!), but also it doesn’t feel fun to be trapped into a task because someone else needs you to. But that’s what community and relationships are. We all need help sometimes. We all work together to make each other’s lives easier. We try not to be resentful. But the easiest way to create resentment is to apologize, over and over, and change the nature of the request you’re making.
Instead of asking “hey, can you make me lunch while I shower? I’m running late,” apologizing changes my request to “can you make my lunch, and also take some time to reassure me that I’m not a terrible partner, and I’m not an irresponsible adult who doesn’t deserve to have children?”
I’m not saying that you should never apologize when your actions or inactions have made it so another person needs to do things for you. A simple “sorry that what I did is making more work for you,” can go a long way to repair frustration. But if you apologize Every. Single. Time. that someone does something to make your life better, it’s going to be more exhausting for them to do that favor for you. It’s going to make them less likely to *want* to do a favor for you, if part of that favor is also going to be the emotional work of assuring you that needing help doesn’t make you a bad person. Promising that they don’t hate you. Waxing on and on about how much they love doing that particular kind of task. If they were even the tiniest bit resentful that they had to go out of their way for you, having to excessively or repeatedly reassure you is going to make that resentment grow.
Try thanking your loved one, instead. Explain that you’re grateful that they are showing their love in the form of this favor. Thank them for how they performed the task or favor, and compliment the details. Make them feel warm and fuzzy inside by noticing how they’re showing their love for you.
You can apologize if the situation genuinely calls for an apology, but think to yourself…. Does it really? Maybe ask another friend for some input. Or even talk to the friend who’s doing you the favor! “Hey, I really appreciate you taking the time and effort to do this thing for me. I feel an instinct to apologize for how I put you in a position of needing to do this for me – do you feel okay about what happened?” I’ll bet it will spark a really productive conversation where you see that your loved one was genuinely glad to show you affection through an act of service, or they will honestly tell you that your actions made their day tough, and that they’d appreciate some more consideration in the future. But just as a guess – I’ll bet it’s the first one.
People like doing things for you. Make it easy! Make it happy!
Just say thanks.