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Look Forward to a Lifelong Bond with Marriage Advice from This Expert

Look Forward to a Lifelong Bond with Marriage Advice from This Expert

In order to make a long term relationship work, it takes figuring out how to live well in an equitable fashion.

Today’s egalitarian relationship are built on living the mundane moments with a sense of care and intentionality. Modern couples are often at a loss for how to infuse their daily lives with true meaning such that their marriage might last a lifetime.

I work on a daily basis with numerous couples who are working to figure out how to make love last. They each come in with similar stories about where they get stuck and how their love fades.

Each of them thinks that they might be the only ones going through what they are experiencing, yet they don’t realize that the next couple in the waiting room is likely experiencing very similar dynamics in their relationship.

Very few of us really know what goes on in the inside of the relationships of those around us.

We likely don’t even know half of the story of the relationship issues of those closest to us. Yet if we did, we might realize that we all struggle with very similar issues in our most intimate relationships:

Difficulty communicating, challenges in the bedroom, emotional distance, being let down by our partners and not knowing how to fight fair are just a few of the main issues that modern couples face.

I am in a privileged position, as a therapist, to hear what people’s lives and relationships are really like. It became clear to me that most people are unaware of what’s really happening in the inner lives of others.

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Most people are looking for tools to have more satisfying relationships, but are often stuck in blaming their partner rather than making changes themselves.

How I helped a couple with a fight about who does the dishes

I decided to write one of the couples I work with a letter and address their concerns from a recent session. That session focused on a fight about who does the dishes at home.

I’ve heard this sort of fight many times from couples. They argue about doing the dishes, and it becomes about much more than simply the act of getting the bowls and dishes clean. It becomes about an underlying dynamic in their relationship, and how power is distributed.

The letter to this couple is included in my book, You Are Not Crazy: Letters From Your Therapist (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, 2018) along with 50 or so other letters to individuals and couples. The letters are meant to help people feel less alone in their experience, and perhaps see therapy as an option for their personal growth and development.

The letter that follows is the letter to this couple fighting about the dishes. While their names and details of their situation have been changed, their story is a common one.

Perhaps their experience can teach us a little about how to create a romantic relationship that can last a lifetime.

A letter of marriage advice for all

Dear Alex and Jamie,

Our last session was the third time in the last two months that you have argued about who does the dishes at home.

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The latest episode was one in which Alex left a cereal bowl in the sink in the morning before heading off to work. Jamie, you reported seeing the bowl but did not wash it, even though you had some time to do so. Instead you waited to see if Alex was going to wash the bowl after coming home. That didn’t happen, so you let it sit there in the sink until the next morning to see if Alex would say anything. He didn’t, and that lead to an argument.

The cereal bowl in the sink was a symbol. It held tremendous meaning for you, Jamie. It was not just something that holds breakfast cereal; it became a test of who picks up after whom. The bowl became everything that is out of balance in this relationship and how you might take one another for granted.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people in therapy discuss who does the dishes. It is a very common conversation as it represents something foundational in family life. The home is where we come together to share meals. Buying food, cooking, setting the table, clearing it, and washing the dishes are all daily chores that go into a shared family life. Yet the division of household labor constantly gets well-meaning and loving couples into ongoing quarrels.

Doing dishes is the grunt work of mealtime. We speak about the joy of cooking, we watch cooking shows on television, and take great pride in preparing a healthy and hearty meal for our families. We also go to great lengths to savor food. We become foodies, try new restaurants, and revel in good company over a shared meal. Yet we do not celebrate the joy of doing dishes.

There is no dishwashing competition on television. We don’t see shows about adventurous hosts traveling the world in search of people doing dishes. No, the dishes are reserved as a chore. They take a back seat to the main event of the meal. Those who are left to tend to the dishes might also feel like they take a back seat.

Being charged with the grunt work of cleaning up after dinner might feel lower status than being the one preparing the food, and it certainly feels lower than those who are being served. The dishwasher can feel taken for granted and unappreciated, almost acting in a service capacity.

Jamie, when you saw Alex’s bowl in the sink, perhaps you felt that he was sending a message that you should wash it for him. Perhaps you felt taken for granted and in a service role. If that’s the case, then I can see how that would feel awful. The next day your argument escalated over this cereal bowl.

Alex, you felt Jamie was being ridiculous to get so upset about a bowl. In fact, you felt pretty hurt yourself that Jamie would wait to see if you would eventually wash the bowl and test you in this way.

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I know that this isn’t the type of environment in which you want to live. The argument stretched on for days and turned into extended periods of silence until you came to our couples counseling appointment.

Of course you know that this was not about the cereal bowl. The level of emotion and argumentativeness far surpassed the indiscretion of leaving a bowl in the sink for a day.

We need to understand what was brewing underneath the surface such that it boiled over during the cereal bowl incident. We need to look at why people get so upset about who does the dishes.

You are not alone in this scenario. Who does the dishes represents so much about the structure and dynamics of a family. Why do some people share the task of dishwashing while others split the tasks and relegate it to the person who did not cook?

In your relationship, Alex and Jamie, how is the division of household labor handled? We need to examine if you are holding any deeper resentments. I would suspect, Jamie, that you are carrying resentments about certain aspects of the relationship, and that they came pouring out when you saw Alex leave his bowl in the sink.

Often what will become illuminated for couples is that issues are buried deeper than they realize. There can be a displacement of relational emotions onto household duties.

Jamie, you have talked before about not feeling like a priority to Alex. You’ve described him as someone who tends to be more concerned about his own needs, and who neglects yours at various times. It is no wonder that in the aftermath of the cereal bowl incident, you brought up that he was not around for you when your mother was sick in the hospital.

Alex had no idea why you would bring that up, and became quite defensive. Yet if we look at it together, we can see that the deeper tides of neglect and lack of appreciation overflowed when the bowl was left in the sink.

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The bowl wasn’t causal; it was merely illuminating imbalances already existing in the relationship. It brought to the surface the problems in the marriage that you have not yet addressed.

Brave couples, such as you, are willing to look at times when a fight over the dishes turns into something bigger. They are open to investigating what the fight is telling them about their relationship.

This cereal bowl incident can be an opportunity for greater insight and connection. It can be a chance to better understand and care for each other. Once you start feeling one another’s enduring care, and once you feel less neglected, then you might see the cereal bowl differently.

It might just be a bowl. It would not carry the same meaning that it did the other day.

When that felt sense of care is present, you might not worry about who does the dishes. Instead you might actually volunteer to do them!

Fondly Yours,
David

Excerpt from You Are Not Crazy: Letters From Your Therapist by David Klow used with permission from Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, Inc.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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David Klow

Marriage and Family Therapist and Author

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Last Updated on December 10, 2019

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

Here’s the truth: your effectiveness at life is not what it could be. You’re missing out.

Each day passes by and you have nothing to prove that it even happened. Did you achieve something? Go on a date? Have an emotional breakthrough? Who knows?

But what you do know is that you don’t want to make the same mistakes that you’ve made in the past.

Our lives are full of hidden gems of knowledge and insight, and the most recent events in our lives contain the most useful gems of all. Do you know why? It’s simple, those hidden lessons are the most up to date, meaning they have the largest impact on what we’re doing right now.

But the question is, how do you get those lessons? There’s a simple way to do it, and it doesn’t involve time machines:

Journal writing.

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Improved mental clarity, the ability to see our lives in the big picture, as well as serving as a piece of evidence cataloguing every success we’ve ever had; we are provided all of the above and more by doing some journal writing.

Journal writing is a useful and flexible tool to help shed light on achieving your goals.

Here’s 5 smart reasons why you should do journal writing:

1. Journals Help You Have a Better Connection with Your Values, Emotions, and Goals

By journaling about what you believe in, why you believe it, how you feel, and what your goals are, you understand your relationships with these things better. This is because you must sort through the mental clutter and provide details on why you do what you do and feel what you feel.

Consider this:

Perhaps you’ve spent the last year or so working at a job you don’t like. It would be easy to just suck it up and keep working with your head down, going on as if it’s supposed to be normal to not like your job. Nobody else is complaining, so why should you, right?

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But a little journal writing will set things straight for you. You don’t like your job. You feel like it’s robbing you of happiness and satisfaction, and you don’t see yourself better there in the future.

The other workers? Maybe they don’t know, maybe they don’t care. But you do, you know and care enough to do something about it. And you’re capable of fixing this problem because your journal writing allows you to finally be honest with yourself about it.

2. Journals Improve Mental Clarity and Help Improve Your Focus

If there’s one thing journal writing is good for, it’s clearing the mental clutter.

How does it work? Simply, whenever you have a problem and write about it in a journal, you transfer the problem from your head to the paper. This empties the mind, allowing allocation of precious resources to problem-solving rather than problem-storing.

Let’s say you’ve been juggling several tasks at work. You’ve got data entry, testing, e-mails, problems with the boss, and so on—enough to overwhelm you—but as you start journal writing, things become clearer and easier to understand: Data entry can actually wait till Thursday; Bill kindly offered earlier to do my testing; For e-mails, I can check them now; the boss is just upset because Becky called in sick, etc.

You become better able to focus and reason your tasks out, and this is an indispensable and useful skill to have.

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3. Journals Improve Insight and Understanding

As a positive consequence of improving your mental clarity, you become more open to insights you may have missed before. As you write your notes out, you’re essentially having a dialogue with yourself. This draws out insights that you would have missed otherwise; it’s almost as if two people are working together to better understand each other. This kind of insight is only available to the person who has taken the time to connect with and understand themselves in the form of writing.

Once you’ve gotten a few entries written down, new insights can be gleaned from reading over them. What themes do you see in your life? Do you keep switching goals halfway through? Are you constantly dating the same type of people who aren’t good for you? Have you slowly but surely pushed people out of your life for fear of being hurt?

All of these questions can be answered by simply self-reflecting, but you can only discover the answers if you’ve captured them in writing. These questions are going to be tough to answer without a journal of your actions and experiences.

4. Journals Track Your Overall Development

Life happens, and it can happen fast. Sometimes we don’t take the time to stop and look around at what’s happening to us at each moment. We don’t get to see the step-by-step progress that we’re making in our own lives. So what happens? One day it’s the future, and you have no idea how you’ve gotten there.

Journal writing allows you to see how you’ve changed over time, so you can see where you did things right, and you can see where you took a misstep and fell.

The great thing about journals is that you’ll know what that misstep was, and you can make sure it doesn’t happen again—all because you made sure to log it, allowing yourself to learn from your mistakes.

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5. Journals Facilitate Personal Growth

The best thing about journal writing is that no matter what you end up writing about, it’s hard to not grow from it. You can’t just look at a past entry in which you acted shamefully and say “that was dumb, anyway!” No, we say “I will never make a dumb choice like that again!”

It’s impossible not to grow when it comes to journal writing. That’s what makes journal writing such a powerful tool, whether it’s about achieving goals, becoming a better person, or just general personal-development. No matter what you use it for, you’ll eventually see yourself growing as a person.

Kickstart Journaling

How can journaling best be of use to you? To vent your emotions? To help achieve your goals? To help clear your mind? What do you think makes journaling such a useful life skill?

Know the answer? Then it’s about time you reap the benefits of journal writing and start putting pen to paper.

Here’s what you can do to start journaling:

Featured photo credit: Jealous Weekends via unsplash.com

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