I walked downstairs that morning to a pair of socks lying limp in front of the couch. It’s important to note that they were limp because they didn’t have feet in them. Understand that unless socks contain actual, living feet, they shouldn’t be sitting in front of my freaking couch. Next to the couch, on the side table, lay the remains of a chalupa and a ginormous Coca-Cola. Mild sauce dotted our linen armrest and ESPN was still playing on the television. My blood pressure began to rise.
Oh, no he didn’t.
There was a Hansel and Gretel trail of shredded lettuce and cheese bits leading back to the kitchen, which I tracked to the Taco Bell bag sitting on the counter, one foot away from the trash can. That brown bag was the last dang straw. I slam-dunked it into the trash and readied myself for battle. Night shift or not, my husband was about to face the wrath.
I heard the hallway toilet flush, and then my husband emerged.
“Sorry, babe. My shift ran really late. I was about to clean that up,” he said.
I paused to assess the situation. He appeared exhausted and was, indeed, still wearing his scrubs.
“Don’t worry about it,” I responded. “Go get some rest.”
The poor guy looked like he could use some grace, and anyway, I believed him. He knows better…now.
There comes a day when every couple makes a decision to either part ways or merge their lives together. And if they decide to pack their toothbrushes and make the leap, there are all kinds of things that come to light. Cohabitation can be a challenging time of bonding and discovery. It was for us.
Ten years ago in our newlywed home, I discovered a man whose mother did everything for him.
I didn’t know that was the issue — at first. I was operating under the assumption that he just didn’t respect me. Every sock on the floor and unwashed dish felt like a personal slight. I mean, who comes home from work, makes a PB&J, and leaves every single ingredient on the counter?
A jerk, that’s who.
He would throw his clothes on the floor next to the laundry basket, and I would go bananas over the fact that the laundry basket is literally right there. He would make his coffee and leave the counter covered in creamer, and the vein in my forehead would pop out and show my heartbeat. Our relationship was dying — death by a thousand paper cuts.
And then my mother-in-law came to visit.
Holy crap, if that wasn’t an eye-opening experience. I watched as my husband tossed his socks on the floor. I watched as she picked them up. He finished his dinner, and she would grab the plate, clean it, and put the leftovers away. When he made a PB&J, she swooped right in and put the ingredients back before he even had a chance to take a bite.
As my mother-in-law chased her grown son around my house, tidying up his messes, I had an epiphany: My husband is the product of his upbringing. For 18 whole years, he was domestically trained to be a helpless mess. And even though his actions (or inaction) in our home were disrespectful, he probably didn’t have a clue that I felt disrespected. All of this was a matter of conditioning.
And I was about to nip it in the bud. Believe that.
When the weekend was over, I ushered my MIL out of the house and asked my husband for a moment. He sat on the couch next to me and the words fell right out of my mouth:
“I used to wonder what you were thinking when you left your dishes out. I didn’t understand how you thought it was okay to undress and leave your clothes all over the floor. I felt like it was implied that my job was to follow you around like a maid service. But after watching your mom chase you around all weekend, I now understand where that expectation came from. Your mom may have done all of this for you, honey, but that was your mom. I love you very much…but I will not be your maid service. I am not your mom.”
There was silence for a minute.
“Do you understand?” I asked.
He sheepishly smiled.
“Is this about that PB&J I left out last week?”
My head spun around twice before I realized he was joking. We both ended up laughing because, frankly, we suck at fighting. Also, it’s kind of hilarious when you tell a grown man that you won’t wipe his butt for the rest of his life. And he can’t deny it because he knows you’re speaking the truth.
But I did walk away wondering: Did the message really sink in, or was this going to be a marriage battle for years and therapists to come?
The answer: It’s been a little bit of both. Neither of us is perfect. We both bring some messiness to the table. But yesterday afternoon, when my son opened a granola bar and walked away leaving the wrapper on the floor, my husband stepped in.
“Son, pick that up. Your mother is not a maid service.”
We are gonna be just fine.
This article was originally published on