the study of marriage

Monday, January 23, 2006

The dishwasher

When we were first married, my husband and I had not-infrequent arguments about how to load the dishwasher. We each had our own method, we were firmly convinced that our own method was the correct one, and we were furthermore convinced that our household, marriage, and indeed the world would be a much-improved thing if only our dunce of a spouse would see the light of truth and start doing things our way.

Not terribly long into the deal, we figured out that our household, marriage, and indeed the world would be better served if we just agreed on this complex system:
  • When she does the dishes, she loads the dishwasher however she wants to, and
  • When he does the dishes, he loads the dishwasher however HE wants to.

We haven't fought about the dishwasher issue since then.

About six months ago (that would make us married for 7-ish years at this point), I noticed something both odd and revelatory: My husband and I now both load the dishwasher via approximately the same method.

Did you know that, according to Diane Sollee of the Smart Marriages Coalition, "every happy, successful couple has
approximately ten areas of 'incompatibility' or disagreement that they will never resolve?" And that couples divorce not because of these disagreements, but rather "the number one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict?"

Of course, there are bigger things to disagree about than how to load the dishwasher: Money, child-rearing, where to live, work, friends, extended family...the list of potential hot topics is huge. However, I've found in my own marriage that a gentle agreement to disagree, combined with the passage of time, plus an occasional expression of honest, tender emotion, brings the two of us closer to one another even on these issues. For example, we disagree on how our money should be handled, but we're slowly making progress to a place where we're both comfortable with things. We disagree on pretty much everything to do with housework. We agree in principle on child-rearing issues, but in practice I find that we often conflict with each other. We don't enjoy all the same activities.

Wow, looking at that list makes all of our disagreements seem kinda scary. But I know that if I'm patient, and treat my relationship with my husband as more important than these issues, then we'll be OK--and who knows, maybe in another seven years or so, I'll find that we have a couple more of our former disagreements worked out.


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