There’s this sign on our dishwasher. It says “Clean” on one side and “Dirty” on the other. It’s worn and dirty (ironically, for one side) and old. It’s been there for years and years. We’ve only had two of those signs during the entire length of our marriage (14 years this year). I don’t know why, but I like to keep the same sign and watch it age.
It’s an effort in communication. Here’s how it works: if I start to empty the sink of dirty dishes but don’t have enough to finish filling the dishwasher, I leave the sign to read “dirty.” When my husband sees there are no dishes in the sink, but has a dirty dish to deposit, he can read the sign, “dirty” and know that if his dishes complete the load, he’s to start the dishwasher, change the sign to “clean” and move on. If I pass the dishwasher and see the sign “clean,” I open it to see if it’s still full. If it’s full, I should unload it. (Or I know that the dish I pull from it is clean and I rush on, passing the buck.)
We need to communicate in this manner because we’re not always available at the same time, and we don’t always cross paths focused on discussing the contents of the dishwasher. We need to communicate because we split the job. All of the jobs. Like any good team, we play to our strengths and preferences. I like to cook, so I do a majority of the cooking. He likes to mow the grass, so he mows the grass. Sometimes, the laundry is left to the first person that needs clean underwear. That can turn into an interesting game of Chicken.
He works. I work. That’s how it has always been. When we were first married, I wanted to be a good wife. I wasn’t sure what that meant, really. I wanted to be a good partner, but I didn’t think it was going to be one-sided. I knew that he wanted to make me happy, too. Living together was new for us when we married, but compromise wasn’t. I’m a night owl. He’s an early bird. Early on, when I was ready to clean the kitchen, it was approaching his bed time. I got offended when he didn’t want to help me (and spend time with me while we were getting the job done). When we discussed it, he pointed out that he’d be GLAD to help me clean the kitchen early in the morning, when he’s at his best.
I understood how he felt (and why he felt they way he did – because he’s a very good communicator) and it helped. It helped A LOT. I quit asking him to help me clean the kitchen at 10:00pm. My feelings weren’t hurt (which can happen a little too easily sometimes), and we understood each other. That’s big. Understanding each other. The ability to know what your partner needs – that comes from time, attention and wanting to genuinely love someone. It’s HUGE. We seek to understand before we seek to be understood. If I can understand him and how he communicates, then I’ll understand how to tell him what I need in a way that I know he’ll hear what I mean to say. And vice versa. We’re married, so we’re in this thing together. This house and these kids take both of us, most of all of us – all of the time.
Different teams function differently and are just as successful. I think everyone must struggle for a kind of equity, however it is defined in each household. For us, it’s a balance. I like to sleep late, so he gets up early on Saturday and cooks breakfast and wrangles children. He likes to take naps on the weekend, so I try to do everything possible to see that he gets that opportunity. I cook, he goes grocery shopping. I put the clothes in the washer, he’ll put them in the dryer. He’ll sort pre-wash and I’ll fold post-wash – or vice versa. Did you bathe them last night? I’ll take it tonight. It really is whoever is up to bat takes the hit.
The balance has developed over the course of our relationship and hasn’t always been perfect. If I’ve felt that something wasn’t quite right or if I had an issue, we’d discuss it. Those discussions aren’t always easy to initiate but in doing so, I usually come to understand my needs better (as does he) when I figure out how to put a voice to them. It has taken a fair amount of effort (and time) to mold that voice into one without accusation, without an underlying attitude of self-righteousness (especially when I think I’m 100% right), one that is meant to communicate with a genuine desire to make things better. What ultimately makes our team work is that we afford each other grace toward a common goal: to make each other happy in this life.
This life involves drudgery. Floors, toilets, trash, cooking, changing diapers, scheduling the bug man … some things are necessary. Some things are more important to me or to him. We balance the tasks of life so we can take an equal share of the enjoyment or bear an equal share of the burden. I also want my son to see his daddy cooking. I don’t want my daughter to balk at being asked to take out the trash “because she’s a girl.” As my children age, they’ll become an equal member of the team that makes the house run. At 6 and 3, they’re already being afforded unwelcome opportunities. (The child that is usually SO independent curiously finds it “too hard” to put her clothes away in her dresser and closet…) Don’t worry – we’ll teach her! Teamwork is the way to go!