My daughter and I just had our millionth fight over doing the dishes. She’s 19 and still lives with me, while she attends community college. I have one more year with her, then, she goes away to school.
I’m going to be OK with that.
I know that sounds bad. People tell me that by the time she’s 25, it’ll be a love fest between us. I’m having a hard time envisioning that, but I suppose anything’s possible with maturity.
What set me off was, she used the same words her dad used to use with me when we fought over dishes: “But what you care about isn’t important. You’re being ridiculous. “
I was so angry I actually screamed at her in the car as we were driving off.
I’m not a screamer, but hearing those words again, hurt me to my core. They reminded me of the way I was treated for years, before I loved myself enough to file for divorce. There were many more reasons than just dishes for the divorce, but the dishes were a definite sign, things were not right.
Pre-divorce, I’d leave in the morning, head to my full time job, and when I came home, dishes were still in the sink, dinner would not be made, and the house would be even worse than I left it, even though my ex “worked” from home. He worked freelance, his schedule was very flexible and most of the time he was looking for work, so he definitely had the time to take care of a few things.
If I got upset about it, he’d say, “Stop acting crazy. You’re being ridiculous, the dishes aren’t important. They don’t matter.”
Part of that is true. In the wide scope of life, dishes, cleaning and laundry don’t matter, until you end up living in filth. Then they matter.
But it’s also not true, because the dishes and the chores did matter – to me. I was the one who always ended up doing them because I couldn’t stand it. And that is unfair and very detrimental to a relationship.
My ex’s theory was, hey, it’s not important to me, so I don’t care if they sit there. These conversations often happened in front of the kids, which is, I’m sure, where my daughter picked up her cues.
But, what he was really saying was: “I don’t care if they’re important to you, I’m not doing them. What you want or don’t want doesn’t matter to me, so I’m doing my best to belittle you for thinking they’re important. I value me, not you. What I think –is important and right, what you think — is unimportant and wrong.
And that, my friends is bullshit, and as far from being loving as you can get.
Whether it’s dishes, washing the car, cutting the grass, or arriving on time, the fact is, what’s important to your significant other should become important to you. If it’s not, I guarantee, your relationship doesn’t stand a chance. And if it does last, one or both of you is probably very angry under the surface because you know you’re not valued.
It’s not just men who disregard what’s important to women. I’ve seen a number of couples, where the guy works all day and as soon as he gets home, the wife, who’s home with the kids all day, plops them in his arms and takes off. Or is constantly making sure that, every time she changes the baby, he does too.
It’s not a competition; child rearing is a joint venture that should be filled with love, understanding and patience.
Does she deserve a break? Of course! But don’t forget to appreciate his contribution. He’s working all day at a job that’s probably stressful, which allows you to have all the things you have. In our quest for equality in child rearing, sometimes we go a little too far in the opposite direction.
Today, women can choose to stay home, or work. And more importantly, many men are willing and happy to help, or stay home themselves. Giving up a career and staying home should be valued, but so should the person working outside the home.
It’s the valuing that’s the key. If you value someone, you want him/her to be happy. So, even if you think it’s ridiculous that he wants the inside of the car clean, instead of fighting with him, help him keep it clean.
Behaving like children with a tit for tat mentality just builds resentment. When I was married, even after I’d worked all day, came home, cooked and cleaned up, he’d still wake me up if I’d fallen asleep on the couch to help him make the bed – something he was perfectly capable of doing in minutes. But he wouldn’t do that for me, even though I’d done it many times for him.
Trust me, a little gesture like that will come back to you tenfold, in gratitude. Or if he’s collapsed on the couch after a long day, you make the bed, then wake him up, give him a kiss and guide him toward it.
The only time this is bad, is if you become the person who’s always giving, and your partner is the one who’s always taking. You have to guard against that. It’s hard when you’re a natural giver. Your instinct is to be the one who goes the extra mile…but unfortunately, sometimes it becomes apparent that only one person is willing to do that
Love yourself enough to stand up and say, “Hey, what’s up? I’ve made the bed the last three times, I’m feeling a little resentful about that.” If you don’t stand up for yourself and just keep doing it, you will become an angry, exhausted doormat.
How can something so reasonable sounding be so hard to do in real life?
If you’ve married a reasonable person, it shouldn’t be hard. Communication is the key. So often, we go into relationships without telling each other what’s really important to us, and then get angry when our needs aren’t being met. How can someone know what you need if you never tell them?
I’m working on the assumption that you care about your mate and want him or her happy, so here’s how to be loving and avoid the upset that comes from not feeling valued.
1. Sit down with your partner and write down the things that are important to each of you — even things as seemingly silly as the toothpaste cap being on. Write it all down.
2. Go over each other’s lists. I guarantee you, there will be things there you never knew were important to your mate, and vice versa. Don’t mock your mate for his or her choices; just read them and acknowledge that if they’re important to him/her, they’re important — and will become something you help take care of.
3. Make a true attempt to do the things that mean something to your mate. For example, if doing the dishes is a priority, then make up a schedule for doing them and stick to it. If he or she cooks, you clean up, and if you both cook, you both clean up — and no one rests until it’s all done.
4. If there are things on your partner’s list that you think are over the top, schedule a visit to a marriage and family counselor and run it by him or her then try to compromise on a mutually agreeable alternative.
5. Try to understand that your spouse has a valid reason for the things that are important to him or her, even if those things seem very unimportant to you.
6. Make a list of all your mate’s good points. Use this to refer to when his or her list of important things starts seeming ridiculous to you. Dwell on the good.
So, what if your spouse is lacking in a few places? Instead of nagging about the shortcomings, value what he or she does do.
I recall an elderly friend of mine, who’d been married for more than 50 years. Her husband was handy, sweet, hardworking and a good father, but he was terrible with money, so, she handled it. And every time she talked about him, she’d say, “Oh Jim was a wonderful man, he had so many good qualities, but just wasn’t good with money.” It wasn’t the end of the world, because she valued him for other reasons and let him know. They worked it out because most of the time, you don’t get 10 out of 10. You’re lucky to get five out of ten, but if the five, are five you respect, that’s all that matters.
There is no happily ever after without a lot of work and compromise. There’s a lovely quote from one of my favorite movies, Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day. She says, “I’m not an expert on love, I’m an expert on the lack of love.” Don’t let that be you.
If you do this, I guarantee, you and your partner will fight less, love more and generally, be less angry because you’ll feel valued. And feeling valued is the one thing that keeps a marriage strong through ups, downs and mountains of dirty dishes.