We Can Work It Out: Living (and Fixing) Together

I’d been married over a decade when I said to my sister, Torey, my regret that my husband, Paul, never washed.

Torey’s jaw fell. “Whaaaaaat?”

“I said he doesn’t do any cleaning”

“You have got to be kidding me,” she explained. “He is always cleaning”

“Whaaaaaat?” This was my turn with the disbelief.

As though on cue, Paul appeared in the kitchen to throw away something from the garbage. He didn’t notice us gently loaded the dishwasher together with what was piled in the sink in addition to a couple of glasses left to the island from the kids. Torey and I had been on the far side of the living area but had a great view. Torey stared at me, her eyes bugging.

“See! He is always cleaning,” she explained from the delicate tone — just above a whisper — that’s employed on nature documentaries, to avoid startling the wildlife.

I was looking straight at him but didn’t really watch it. Obviously I knew Paul was fantastic, but frankly, he never cleaned; I was the one who swept, vacuumed and scrubbed our flooring, carpets, counters, walls and baths. I am not saying I did it like clockwork, however when some of it got done it’s because I did it.

Molly Brandenburg

However, Torey generally knows what she is talking about, so I ended my surveillance and after a couple of months decided we were both right: Paul never washed, but he was always picking up and putting things away, and I couldn’t believe I had not seen it before. Sure, I’d noticed the home sort of fell apart when he traveled for work, and I needed to perform a cleanup blitz before his return, but I chalked that up to being additional drained and just letting things go.

And then there was the simple fact that his idea of cleaning has been limited. When it was the kitchen after dinner, then he just cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher. Anything that needed to be washed by hand, he stacked in the sink. He never wiped off the table and the counters. Who cares, right? I am unhappy to say, because he didn’t do the “whole” job, I entirely discounted exactly what he did do.

I’d be the one who swept the whole home but could get distracted and leave the heap of dirt and the broom, which Paul would see when he got home from work. He would dutifully sweep up and throw away the dirt heap, then return the broom and dustpan into the cupboard. Or I’d vacuum but leave it plugged in, and Paul would trip on the cord — a pet peeve.

Molly Brandenburg

He was the one who wrapped the cord closely on the provided hooks — mind you, this was the only time that he touched the vacuum — whereas I felt as I finished a triathlon when I was able, once I vacuumed, to gather the cable to a giant loop, throw it on the handle and put the vacuum away. Whew! Just typing that wore me out.

For many years we operated out of the belief that the other didn’t really know “How. Much. I. Do. For. This. Family!” It wasn’t explosive, more of a silent frustration that would sometimes flare on either side. Neither of us could fully see just how much the other was doing, and also the thing is that we were working so hard. We were doing the adult, working variant of toddlers’ parallel play.

Molly Brandenburg

Today we work together, our household runs smoothly-ish and we’re strategically teaching our children how to operate with us but that’s just another ideabook altogether. If you’re reading this, I am imagining you are the neatnik from the household, or at least the slightly less disorganized partner. Listed below are a couple of suggestions to work out how to operate together:

1. Start with gratitude. When there’s an imbalance in the workload at home — real or imagined — there is bound to be resentment. If you are the spouse who seems to be doing everything, it’s time to pull back and run a tiny surveillance. Watch your spouse for a week or two and try to find out what you might be missing. It is so easy to take each other for granted, and coming from a place of genuine thankfulness cannot be beat.

2. Trade your own “but” to get an “and.” So you sit down to get a little chat; your heart is filled with love and admiration, and yet your partner’s stuff is still strewn all over the home. You decide to begin with the advantages, that you really and genuinely believe: “You are an excellent person, a loving parent … (insert all the great things you have been noticing about your own him or her), however it’s really frustrating to be just one that does all of the work around here! Anytime we state “however,” we stink what we mentioned before it, or discount it considerably. It is far better to state “and” or just cut to the chase or, on top of that, visit my next suggestion.

3. Take accountability and ask forgiveness for in which you’ve acted without respect or kindness. Are you marching around cleaning the home when seething with bitterness and anger? Sure, things seem great, but at what price? You are most likely frustrated and tired, and why doesn’t shame bring about change? It should! I know it’s hard to decide to respect and honor if the other person doesn’t appear to be picking them, but that’s when strong changes can occur, so take responsibility for the part.

4. Make a request. This is what I have trained my children to state when they want a person to do something: “Can you please … ?” Is not that fine? This looks simple, but listen. How often once you think you’re politely asking for help are you saying something else? Really listen for a couple of days. You’ll probably catch yourself saying, “would you like to _____?” Fill in the blank with a miscellaneous task: empty the dishwasher, and do a load of laundry pick up the living area or make the bed. Do I wanna? Heck no! Even worse is the flat-out command couched as a petition. I’ve been on the receiving end of these in my elders, and they don’t engender compliance and love.

Women, I am mostly talking to you. We can go deeply into history and explain precisely why, but who has time for it? I thought it was just women of a certain age, but it’s prevalent throughout the spectrum. I discovered I do it as well. “You would like to find something to eat?” “Hey, get me, would you?” Ugh. It is really annoying; would you please stop? I am stopping.

5. Ask if your spouse is willing to use you to figure out a new way of doing things. You have to mean this, naturally. If you’re obviously arranged, it may be tempting to set out a plan, because you’re the expert. But you’re likely going to need to adapt things if you would like new habits to take hold.

Molly Brandenburg

Do you have a success story of working things out? Please discuss with us in the Comments section below!

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