When two people decide to commit themselves to one another and spend the rest of their lives together, it introduces the interesting challenge of living together under the same roof. Every couple I know has a list of things they regularly disagree about, but have adopted different coping strategies. A popular approach is to ignore anything that seems trivial rather than deal with it. These are frequently the things that blow up when least expected.
The big, horrible blowouts that end relationships often happen only after a long accumulation of tiny steps of emotional separation–and it’s as often that “trivial” annoyances result in these tiny steps. It’s death by a thousand cuts.
The trick is to recognize when we’re disconnecting.
The other day, I was emptying the dishwasher. When I pulled out the silverware, I found amongst it my Zwilling J.H. Henckels top-of-the-line paring knife that I purchased at a time in my life when I had very little money. I chose to buy one really good knife instead of an entire set of cheap knives because I wanted something that would last a lifetime.
When my husband and I first started living together, we discovered we had two distinct beliefs about how to wash knives. I had been hand washing them for years. My husband flat out didn’t believe the dishwasher would damage a knife.
As such, for 18 years, I have been periodically annoyed that he puts good knives in the dishwasher. Our debate had always hinged on whether it is damaging to the knives or not. Eventually, I would decide I was being petty given that my husband not only puts dishes in the dishwasher, but he also cooks, does laundry, takes care of the cars, fixes things, etc. Who am I to complain that he puts my good knives in the dishwasher? Until it would suddenly annoy me again.
The other day was one of those days. But this time, for the first time in 18 years, it dawned on me that what annoyed me had nothing to do with whether the dishwasher damaged the knives or not. Rather, the annoyance came from feeling that the action was equivalent to my husband telling me I didn’t matter.
This time, when I asked him not to put my good knives in the dishwasher and he replied “What does it hurt?” my answer was, “Me. It hurts me.” The bottom line is that it’s important to me, petty or not, and it hurts my feelings that respecting something important to me isn’t worth the effort of hand washing a knife.
For the first time in 18 years, there was no debate about who was right. For the first time in 18 years, my husband understood why he shouldn’t put the knives in the dishwasher.
Seeing the look on his face the moment he realized he’d hurt my feelings made me fall in love all over again. It turns out talking about annoyance can be romantic.