My parents divorced when I was ten years old. Perhaps some of the best lessons I have learned come from that great division between two people who were once bound by eternal vows. Both of my parents have been open about their shortcomings in marriage and shared with my brother and I how to avoid them in the future. Darryl and I are a coming up on our sixth wedding anniversary and I can honestly say those lessons have strengthened our marriage substantially. While I do not recommend divorce as a means to growth, it can be a wealth of knowledge for those who are willing to learn from it.
My mother is a strong, wise, capable, and independent woman. These are characteristics that she passed down to me throughout the years and I am forever grateful for. But she had some warnings for me as I began the path towards marriage. “It is easy for women who think like us to eventually take over and do everything our way. In marriage, this can be devastating to your husband and actually set him back. Be careful not to ‘just do it yourself’ all of the time. A truly good man will be secure in your independence as a wife, but that does not mean that you are completely independent of each other anymore. You are a team; you need to act like one.”
There are many more lessons that my mom passed down to me, but there was one in particular at the center point of health in our marriage. I made a decision before we got married not to reload the dishwasher. You may already be laughing because you have a sneaking suspicion where this is going. I have heard the “my husband loads the dishwasher wrong” conversation more times than I can count. Perhaps it isn’t the dishwasher. Maybe it’s the way they fold the towels, load the laundry, mow the lawn, clean the bathroom, or whatever other task they have responsibility of.
Darryl and I share the chores in the house, as I believe all households should. We divided these up before marriage so we would be prepared when rubber met the road. When it came down to cooking and doing the dishes, we equally loathed both tasks. So, we made a compromise. I would take responsibility of the cooking (sorry babe!) and Darryl would take responsibility of the dishes. Those first few times watching him load the dishwasher were painful. It is amazing that a woman who is relatively disorganized and far from a clean freak about freaked out over how her husband was loading up the dishes. THERE WAS SO MUCH MORE ROOM IN THERE DANG IT! But I made myself a promise. Do. Not. Reload. Don’t say anything. Don’t point it out. Don’t mention something in passing. No reverse psychology games. Nothing. Just let him do it the way he wants to do it.
At the end of the day, the dishes are still going to get washed. If he decides to hand wash the few dishes that he didn’t fit in there, who cares? In the time that it would take to explain the optimum capacity of the dishwasher and enlighten him on “the right way”, he would have been done and we would have been in a much happier mood. To this day, I have never reorganized the dishwasher. On one occasion we did have a discussion about the difference between just doing the dishes and cleaning kitchen, but other than that I have let him load as many (or few) dishes as he so pleases. I am just thankful that I have a husband who is actively involved in maintaining our home.
I know it sounds like a silly thing, but the lesson runs deeper than simply redoing something that someone else didn’t do our way. My rule of Don’t Reload The Dishwasher is really Don’t Waste Your Time on Something That Steals Joy in Your Relationship. Menial household chores can lead to major strife in any relationship. In some cases, there is legitimate reason to work through that disagreement. But if your spouse is willing to help, isn’t allowed to, then berated for not helping out more, how do you expect to foster a deeper relationship? Eventually resentment takes root and walls are built. At the core of every human lies a number of insecurities we battle on a daily basis. When we have to fix our spouses work to fit what we want, it often leaves that person retreating inward in confirmation of those insecurities.
By all means, if your spouse is about to drive off of a cliff tell them! But many times it is the smallest and unexpected things that trip us up in big ways. Is it truly the end of the world if the towels are folded slightly different than how you like them? Will all Hell break loose if the lawn isn’t mowed into perfectly straight lines? Will taking a different route in the grocery store end your life? These are common conversations I have heard among married people or those in long term relationships. Unfortunately, these habits also get passed down to children as well. I am not a mother but imagine the effect to be similar.
Though I have made this promise, I have certainly failed many times. I can remember a time very recently where Darryl and I were tiling a bathroom. I had experience, he didn’t. He watched through some YouTube videos and was giddy to give it a try. Almost immediately I was directing his every move and pointed out all the ways he was doing it wrong. Gently he looked at me and said, “Hon, I really want to learn how to do this. Can I just try to figure it out and follow along with these videos?” I was reminded very quickly about the commitment I had made and shut my dang mouth. The tile turned out beautifully.
This is an encouragement to all of us to focus on the things that matter most in our relationships. Are there areas that are stealing joy in your relationship? If folding the towels exactly how you want to is that important, is there another task you can release, even if it isn’t done exactly how you’d like it? Let me reiterate that these are not big ticket issues I am referring to. These are the small routine tasks that most humans have to keep up with. These are things that do not require your best energy. Is there a reason you are holding so tightly to a standard of how efficiently we load the dishwasher when there is someone capable of doing the task, just differently?
I am not a counselor but I would be willing to bet that letting go of a few of these things may bring some relief to you and your relationship. There are untold number of situations that I am not living in personally and therefore cannot directly speak to. But I think the overall lesson is a good lesson to bring with you wherever you go. Don’t waste your time on things that take away from the joy in your relationship. Or, as I like to call it, don’t reload the dishwasher.
In my short time here on earth, I have found that one of my greatest struggles is finding contentment in my current stage of life. I think most of us would agree that there are times when our current situation does not seem to suit us best. Among these types of situations, a persons current status in relation to another human being seems to be the nagging question of, well, everyone. The most popular question I had from a teenager on was, “are you dating anyone?”
Enter a younger, less plump me. For 23 years of my life, I was single. It was that deep level of single that left me wondering for a good portion of my life if I would ever meet anyone. I was the kind of single that had never been kissed, never had a boyfriend, never held a boys hand, and never even gone on one date. You read that right. One can imagine the kind of reactions I received, as you no doubt had your own reaction to reading the previous sentence. There was one particular moment in my time as a bank teller when I spent fifteen minutes consoling a patron over the fact that I was 22 and in fact, still single with absolutely no experience whatsoever in the “dating world”. Most of my advice for my dating friends came from what not to do based on those same friends’ past experiences. For the better part of my teens and very early twenties, I bemoaned the fact that I was so painfully single. Sure, I had my fair share of crushes and even one deep love. I was of course, in love alone.
After graduating college, I found myself on my own with a new found freedom. I had a very good job at the bank, very few expenses with no student loans, and living in the city I had grown to love. I had four wonderful girl roommates and I found a contentment in my singleness that I had never found before. For the first time in my life, I could honestly say, I was completely happy being single. In fact, I was so happy that I swore I would never get married. Two years later, I would meet my husband and be married within a year of dating. I am happy as a clam in my marriage and I cannot be happier that I spent two and a half years of my life reveling in my singleness. Now, I revel in this deep and passionate unwavering love I have now found. But I can specifically remember the time I looked up into the air, as if shaking my fists at the Almighty, and said, “I’m not getting married unless you find me a tall European farm boy with blue eyes.” Needless to say you can imagine my surprise when my husband met this exact criteria. But it took a while before he came rolling in, and during that time I had sworn off dating.
It was not long into dating that I started getting questions about when we were going to be getting married. Luckily for me, I was 24 when I got engaged, many years behind my fellow friends who had sealed the deal as early as 19. We did not make a big deal about our relationship with the world. We knew we were a great match, and sealed the deal 8 months after dating. As we left the sanctuary of our wedding ceremony, one of my good friends asked me when we were going to start thinking about kids. Wow. I hadn’t even made it to my wedding chambers before I was asked when I was going to conceive a child.
I have since moved from being able to commiserate with my single friends to commiserating with my married friends. I am “behind the times” because it’s been almost two years of marriage and we are a far cry from welcoming another human being into the world. The questions have now turned from “are you dating anyone”, to “when are you getting married”, and finally to “when are you going to have kids”. My mother said it was not long after she had me that people started asking “when are you having another one”. We get bombarded with questions like this in many areas of our lives, but particularly in the realm of relationships.
I write this to first, encourage those who feel an incessant burden to “hurry up” to the next stage of your life. Although I am now married, I can tell you that I truly understand what it is to yearn so deeply for a companion while others’ questioning of your singleness only magnifies the loneliness you feel. I know what it is to constantly feel like the third wheel at every event because without a doubt, at least one of your single girlfriends you hang out with is the apple of every man’s eye. I know what it is to long for peace and contentment in your singleness while balancing the very real desire to be married someday. I know what it is to feel like you are running out of time, even though deep down you understand that you are very young. I always say that being single was one of my hardest battles to date, but also one of the most rewarding to date. I have been there, and though I find myself on the other side now, please hear these words.
You can indeed deeply desire affection and a long lasting commitment with someone yet still enjoy your singleness. This is of course much easier said than done. It took me until 22 to truly embrace where I was as an individual without the thought of another person on my arm. But, I do encourage you to find joy in where you are as a single. We should not be defined as single, engaged, married, or mother. Those are aspects that make up part of who you are, but being single does not mean your life is over. It is hard to hear, because I used to hate hearing it. You are going to have evenings where you cry and watch an insane amount of chick flicks. There is absolutely no judgement there, and we all need a good cry in our lives. Try not to stay there though. And for the love of all things cheesy romantic, do not fall for someone who does not care about you just so you can have someone. Do not do it. I personally did not experience this, but my parents divorce gave me ample reasons why not to do this. And here is the line that is going to kill you: it is worth the wait.
For those of you who are married and are not ready to have kids, or are unable to have kids, don’t sweat it. Again, mourn if need be. This is a new stage of life for me, so I do not know what it is like to not be able to have kids when you so desperately desire to. But again, you are not more or less of a person because of your ability or desire to conceive another human being. My mother waited seven years after she was married to have me. She said it was the best decision of her life. I know others who have gotten pregnant on their honeymoon and are over the moon about it. Some want kids. Some do not. Some cannot have kids. To each his own. Everyone is on their own journey, and we cannot begin to imagine their personal struggles through those dark valleys. Find your joy and cling to it.
And lastly, for those of us who find ourselves asking those questions that unknowingly put a burden on others, think twice before you ask. Of course, many times it is simply to catch up. That is entirely different. But I can tell you from experience that hearing for the 100th time “why are you still single” does not do anything for an individuals self esteem. I have found myself, very easily now that I am married, asking my single friends that I used to commiserate with this very question. I understand that it is easy to do. Being asked constantly when my husband and I are going to have kids comes out like a bad tune of “I cannot believe you are such a free spirit as a married woman”. It is still frustrating as ever to feel like you are only measured by your next level of the so called “American Dream”. Let’s seek to adjust our questions to joining our friends with joy in their current endeavors, as much as we are able.
Ultimately, we must find contentment in every stage of our lives. There will be moments where this is easy, and there will be moments where this is incredibly difficult. Not only that, but we must also take a further step to find contentment in our friends’ stage of life. This does not mean we cannot give wisdom or friendly advise. I am speaking to a different level of questioning that comes across as “when are you going to hurry up with your life?” We must be kind in our questioning, lest we unconsciously belittle someone’s current situation. Are you single, engaged, married, pregnant, thinking about becoming pregnant, or already have a kid? In the words of my very wise brother, you do you.