A kitchen appliance has never ended a happy relationship.
I was surprised when I arrived to meet the man I was seeing for happy hour to find that another woman was sitting at the table with him.
Twenty minutes before I arrived, he texted me to hurry because this woman was talking to him and he did not feel like being impolite and cutting her off. I could be his way out.
He firmly held the belief that if you have the capacity to talk to a stranger, you should. It meant he found himself quickly in conversations he wanted no part of.
When I sat down she asked if I was his girlfriend. He kissed me and told her, no. I was his wife. That was news to me.
Once she tucked us into her mind as a married couple, she began to tell us a whole myriad of issues she was having in her marriage. Looking for someone to talk to seemed the exact reason why she was sitting in a bar by herself starting conversations with strangers. It’s understandable.
She was out by herself because she had gotten in an argument with her husband. They were going on vacation and he was packing the suitcase all wrong. Again.
She had told him dozens of times to roll the shirts so more fit. He didn’t do it. He just folded them and laid them in there like always. It was the last straw for her. There was going to be no vacation. She was done. This was the end.
She looked at me and said, “You know what I mean, right?” No, ma’am. I don’t.
After two divorces, I know one truth about marriage. I have no clue about most of it but this I know is true: No couple actually fights about the dishwasher. It’s never about the dishwasher.
It’s about something else and until you stop blaming your anger on the loading of the dishwasher, you’re never going to address the root of the problem and it can ruin you.
Last summer, I went to stay with a friend of mine for a couple of days. It was the first time I had stayed at her house and saw her and her husband in their every day lives.
I love them both but it was a different experience watching them navigate their house, their lives, and their kids.
My friend gets upset over the dishwasher. She has figured out the best and most efficient way to load the dishwasher. That’s the kind of person she is. If there is the best and most efficient way to do something, by God, she will seek it out, test it, and implement it.
The problem is her husband doesn’t care about the best and most efficient way. Her husband has a job to do. Move the dishes from the sink to the dishwasher. Put in soap. Start dishwasher. Wait. Empty dishwasher. Everything in between Point A and Point B is meaningless.
If she goes to put something in the dishwasher, however, and it has not been loaded in the best and most efficient way, and something won’t fit, she’s furious. They fight about the dishwasher a lot.
I asked her why the dishwasher bothers her so much. Why does she get so annoyed when he doesn’t load it in the best and most efficient way? She explained that she couldn’t understand why he couldn’t just do it like she asked. She’s showed him 14 times. 14 times, for the love of God.
I told her they weren’t fighting with the dishwasher. She furrowed her brow at me.
The dishwasher wasn’t a problem. I told her she needed to figure out where the anger was really coming from. Until she did, that poor kitchen appliance was their relationship strawman.
For me, the straw that broke the camel’s back in my marriage was the cabinet door handles.
My husband and I had refinished our cabinets and I bought door handles for all of them. I bought a handy tool at Home Depot to mark exactly where they were supposed to be drilled into the cabinets. I marked all of them. The only thing that my husband had to do was drill the holes and install them.
He got the job about 30% done before he walked away from it. I spent the last two years of our marriage begging him to put the goddamn door handles on the goddamn doors. I cried over it.
The door handles were never the thing that made me mad. I was frustrated with his lack of care and initiative to see a job through to the end. I wanted our kitchen being finished to be important to him. It wasn’t.
I was angry with his lack of regard that the stain we had to use to refinish the cabinets was rubbing off where we had to open the doors with our hands instead of handles. I was regularly disappointed by the fact that I had to continually ask for the work to be done and even after that, it didn’t get finished.
None of my anger had to do with the handles. Like the woman in the bar ready to leave her husband who can’t pack a suitcase right, I didn’t feel heard.
I wasn’t emotionally invested in the door handles. I was emotionally invested in our marriage. I didn’t feel like I was getting any return on the investment.
If you want to stay happy in your relationship you need to understand what you’re actually arguing about.
Anger is the easiest emotion to feel because it shuts down every other emotion that is difficult to feel: joy, empathy, sadness. It’s an immediate override.
We choose anger as a means of avoidance. We assign our anger to whatever is close and available no matter whether it’s rational or not. Kitchen appliance or not.
Blaming your anger on the dishwasher is a hell of a lot easier than sitting down on the couch across from your spouse and telling them that you don’t feel heard.
We have to move past blaming the dishwasher if we’re going to maintain any relationship that’s worth a damn. We have to stop and find the emotion we’re really feeling.
Now, when my friend is angry with her husband over something trivial I remind her. You’re fighting over the dishwasher. Find the emotion and you find a solution. It requires work but it’s no harder than asking someone to do something in the best and most efficient way.