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.