The Dirty Dish Compromise   5 comments

A Continuing Saga…

At Smith Mountain Lake Kimberly and I took a kayak ride, and, like usual, talked some more.  One of our cars has over 200k on the odometer, so we have been talking for some time about getting another vehicle.  I mentioned to Kimberly my desire to buy a truck, for which I regularly have a need.  “We don’t need to discuss it seriously at this point… I just thought I would broach the subject for you to think about,” I said.

She was quiet for a moment.  Then she said, “I’m afraid that if you get a truck we will be inundated with wood.  You know how you have been packing it in everywhere.”  It’s true.  I’m a scavenger.  I find useful things on the street next to garbage cans, in dumpsters at construction sites, and at demolished buildings.  With these I have built a bedroom, cedar flower box, a king size bed frame, and numerous other projects.

I responded, “Okay, the shed is full of wood, but I’m the only one who goes in there.”

Kimberly corrected, “You also have wood piled on the downstairs patio and stacked in the laundry room in the basement.”

I replied, “I didn’t know that bothered you.  I can take that wood out if you like.”

This kind of interaction has often been a trapdoor to shame.  If Kimberly expresses any dissatisfaction with life together, I feel I have been a bad husband.  She does not intend to shame me… she is just telling me how she feels.  But I was trained as a child that when someone expressed dissatisfaction, they were telling you how you must change to meet their expectations (and by inference, how you are currently inadequate).  They were talking about their feelings not as an act of sharing their experience but as a means to pressure you to bend to their wishes, making you responsible for their unhappy feelings.

Kimberly and I have spent many, many hours working through this issue—about construction I am doing, my grocery choices, messes I leave.  She has told me hundreds of times that her discomfort is not my fault, that she is not trying to manipulate me by guilt or shame, that she simply wants to share how she feels without burdening me with expectations.  She just wants me to understand and empathize with her feelings.

But this is a serious problem for me.  When she recounts her negative feelings, my past shouts at me, “She is telling you that you must change, that you are inadequate.  There will always be something you disappoint her with.  You are a worthless human being!”  I could not listen, understand and support her emotions without condemning myself as a failure.

We have come a long way in the right direction.  She has understood my struggle and learned to express her feelings in a manner that least provokes my fears.  I have learned to trust her so much more and to start supporting her in her feelings without taking responsibility for them and shaming myself.

As we paddled up an inlet, we discussed our growth as a couple, and I reminded her how well she dealt with the issue of dirty dishes.  Kimberly is a do-it-now person and I am a do-it-later person.  She would like for us to wash each saucer as it gets dirty, even pausing our DVR movie to do this.  I find it efficient to wait until I have free time, for instance during the two minutes my coffee is in the microwave.  Our initial compromise was that if plates piled up, I would wash them.  I was fine with this trade—I chose the timing and did all the dishes.  Hey, if I have to wash everything, I’ll do it when I like… so I let them pile up.  I preferred leaving them in the sink at night and scrubbing them in the morning, but she found it difficult to get her cup of coffee with a basin full of dishes, and it soured her mood to see a stack of pots covered with dried remains of food.  When this had happened for a week in a row, she decided it was time to talk.

Kimberly explained the situation and said, “How about if we wash the dishes together at night?”  I felt bad that my method was spoiling her mornings, but since she was careful in how she worded it, I was able not to blame and shame myself.  I found that I was then free to respond to her out of love and care rather than out of shame and obligation.  The resolution felt good to both of us, validating each of us and our feelings.  I still wash all the dishes in the morning, but I do it before she comes downstairs.

The resolution is not a permanent fix for my underlying issues. I still struggle not to be motivated out of fear for what she will think of me, but we are both headed in the right direction.  Our commitment to mutual support creates a world of trust, safety, and intimacy.


Posted June 29, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , ,

5 responses to “The Dirty Dish Compromise

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. In my opinion, mutually agree to take a middle path, so that both of you can tolerate the situation without feeling forced to make a habit of what you’re naturally disinclined to do. Besides, we are commanded to love another as much as ourselves, and its particularly easier to do so with our spouses.

    I’d like to refer this portion of the Bible

    Ecclesiastes 7:18 B –

    “…Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.”

    Correct me if I am wrong.


    • BK, thanks for responding. I really appreciate it when folks interact. Everyone’s situation is so different that I can only speak personally about what works for us as a couple. I agree with you that every relationship requires some level of compromise. For the first few years in our relationship, I tried to determine what was “fair” and push for that solution–she gives 50 percent and I give 50 percent. I discovered that I was basically establishing a law that trumped relationship. In a way, it is so much easier of a solution, since the standard is clear, but the emphasis became who is wrong (not doing 50 percent) and the result was resentment on the part of the one who felt they were doing more. It took me several years to learn that the solution was more complex. We each have our likes and dislikes, our changing energy levels, our issues connected to certain tasks, and if our relationship were primary, we would have to consider all these. It became far too complex to determine “fairness,” so I was won over to my wife’s perspective of doing our best to see that each of us have our needs met to the best extent possible, each giving what they are able to give. That required growth in mutual trust.. There was a lot of fear in this approach for me (I like clear demarcations). It is an ongoing journey.

  2. So true…so sad…to miss each other …and to miss the freedom of Jesus in love…

    • Yes, it is sad. Thankfully there is joy in growing free. The struggles that Kimberly and I go through because of our issues, we go through together, and it opens an opportunity for deeper connection than we could have without those struggles.

  3. Communication is primary and working through issues is key in growing to the next level of love and grace in my opinion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: