My workout pants were tangled with my daughter’s pajama top inside a balled-up bath towel. It was a laundry Jackson Pollock. The spots of colors splashed all over the room. The floor was no longer visible. The room was full of unfolded clean clothes.
I had lost count of the number of times I had asked my husband not to do the laundry unless he could deal with it — as in fold it, not do 10 loads of laundry, and then dump them in the guest room in piles. Each day, our family would go into the room, pull out their clean underwear and clothes for the day. And this was our laundry routine, wash mass amounts of clothes, maybe rewash a few forgotten loads, dump the clean clothes in a room or on the couch, and pick through the mounds of laundry when we needed something.
It reminded of that scene in the movie The Break-Up when Jennifer Aniston tells Vince Vaughn that she just wants him to want to do the dishes. When I first saw the movie, it was with my husband and we were newlyweds. I thought of that comment as a way of showing respect to your property — you should want to do the dishes so you can keep your kitchen clean and respect your home.
I didn’t see it as respecting the person you love.
Well, until I was actually married 10 years.
Earlier this year, Matthew Fray’s post, “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink,” was appearing in my Facebook Newsfeed, and with every friend’s affirming “Yes!” in the comments, I became more curious. What the heck did a man’s divorce over his dirty dishes have to do with me? Turns out quite a bit.
I’m a self-professed slob. The fact that the clean laundry piles upset me is the most sincere form of irony in my life. The bathroom counter is filled with my makeup, jewelry I wore days earlier, coffee cups, and other things I just don’t feel like putting away. The bathroom floor is where I leave my underpants inside my yoga pants, 3 feet away from the laundry basket. I try on several outfits each morning, and instead of taking the time to put them away, they go into a pile in front of my closet, and when it gets to be obscene, I finally put the clothes away, usually with the assistance of my husband.
Yes, at face value, the ongoing marital household chore fights are usually never about the surface issue. They are usually about something more, something bigger. It is about the other person and understanding how they perceive how you respect, love, and value them in your marriage.
When I read Matthew Fray’s post, my first thought wasn’t about the unfolded laundry. Instead, I saw the multitude of ways that I wasn’t being supportive in my marriage and helping with the duties that needed to be accomplished for our household to run. I thought about my own lack of respect. I sent the article to my husband with the subject line, “I thought this was important to read.” In the body of the email I wrote, “I want you to know I want to do better. I plan to pick up my shit more.”
My focus was on the unfolded laundry, and I was blind to my own household infractions. I felt like such a jerk. Sure, I was busy. We both were. What kind of message was I sending to to my husband? I was like his third child leaving my stuff everywhere and not being the partner I vowed to be. The article didn’t make me fear divorce, but it made me want to commit to being a better partner.
As a married couple, we go to events and engage in activities that we don’t always love, but we do it because it matters to our spouse. I’m learning the same goes for household chores. And even when the chores seem insignificant at face value.
Recently, my husband casually mentioned that I should try to fill up the ice cube trays more. I swear I am the only one who fills up the ice cube trays. It took all my willpower not to mention how I am the only one who knows how to replace a toilet paper roll or Kleenex box, or fill the bathroom soap containers. But the ice mattered to him in that moment, and it turns out the ice was essential later when he made me a cocktail. My biggest lesson is resisting the urge to make my own interpretation of the value of his request, and instead, trust that his request does, in fact, matter.
I’ve learned in parenting that I need to pick my battles, and the same holds true for marriage. Do I really want to go to battle over the fact my husband actually did all the laundry but didn’t fold it? Not necessarily. It does bother me, and I want him to recognize that it matters to me. And when the giant piles of laundry appear, instead of getting mad or just shutting the door in denial, I could help him. And he, too, could help me when my messes get too big because both marriage and life are full of real and figurative messes.
To have and to hold — the vow we took was to help each other, hold each other, be partners, and lift each other up through the heavy moments of parenthood and life. And well, for us, that means through the laundry too — to both hold and fold.