You're Not Really Fighting About the Dishes

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We’ve all been there: You walk through the front door of your house after a long day, only to find socks scattered on the living room floor, a pile of unpaid bills, and a tower of dishes in the sink with remnants of last week’s lasagna stuck on like a layer of algae. You want to slowly back out of the house, turn, and run away. Maybe you’ve come to the wrong door? But no, you haven’t. You must enter. This is your home, your life, and your partner, the one who couldn’t tell the difference between Windex, Ajax, and dishwashing soap. You want to scream, because you’re so tired, you could cry, but before you do, let this one idea sink in: You’re upset, but it’s not really about the dishes.

You want to argue: Yes, it is so about the dishes! You haven’t seen my kitchen sink lately! 

Yes, on the surface, you’re screaming your head off, because your partner leaves his underwear in the middle of the living room and hasn’t washed a dish since Bush was in office, but on a deeper level, you’re fighting with your partner because there is a wide chasm in your relationship - a gap between the people you both were when you met and the people you’ve grown to become. The dishes represent the chaos of your relationship, because the truth is, if you felt deeply connected to your partner, if you expressed love and gratitude for each other every day, you’d pick up a sponge and wash the dishes, or at the very least, you’d be able to work it out easily and in a peaceful manner, but you don’t. The two of you yell, say mean things, and at night, when you climb into bed, the two of you don’t touch, not because of the dishes, but because of the distance.

When you fight about laundry, you’re really fighting because of the distance between you and your partner. When you fight about the kids, you’re really fighting because of the distance between you and your partner. When you fight about bills, you’re really fighting because of the distance - the gap between what you’d hope your relationship would be and what it actually is. 

This is the space you need to tend to first; before you make a chore list, and before you hatch a plan for who’s responsible for taking little Jimmy to baseball practice, you must tend to the root of the problem, which is that there is a gap between what your relationship has become and what it could have been, and what resides in that gap is resentment, dishonest, past hurts, lack of intimacy, jealous, and unexpressed feelings. You must tend to the gap by being willing to examine your truths closely and honestly before you can think of real-world matters, such as organizing the pantry, or paying the gas bill.

So, in order to close the gap, you need to first figure out what’s causing the distance. Here are some possible reasons:

1.You don’t feel valued or heard.

You do so much, and you work so hard. You’re giving it your all at the office, but your boss doesn’t seem to notice, and your kids haven’t said thank you since you gave them a birthday present. Every day, you cook dinner and straighten up the house, but your partner doesn’t seem to notice, or to care. You feel under appreciated and overworked. To put it simply, your love tank is empty.

Solution: Sit down with your partner, and in a calm manner, communicate your feelings. Don’t use accusatory language such as, “You should appreciate me more! Your’e such a jerk!” Don’t yell, or raise your voice. Instead, present your feelings and something you’re willing to work through, something you want to share because you want to feel closer to your partner. 

2.You don’t trust your partner, or he doesn’t trust you.

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There were those suspicious texts you saw that linger in your mind. Your partner ogled at a waitress just long enough for it to be annoying. He came home late, and even though he said he was working, he smelled of whisky. You don’t tell him how much it bothers you, or if you do, it sparks a screaming match. You think you trust your partner, but your’e not really sure. There’s a question mark, and it’s keeping you up late at night. You have a pit in your stomach.

Solution: You must do some deep reflecting on your relationship, as well as on your own character. What is the root of the distrust? Are there insecurities you need to look at? Past hurts? If you flirt with men at the office, you’ll come home and feel your partner is doing the same thing. Are you completely honest? Do you secretly wish you would’ve chosen a different partner? Does part of you even hate your partner? Do you feel handcuffed to him? The odds are that you’re experiencing many more feelings than simply distrust. Maybe you feel abandoned. Maybe you feel unworthy, or like your partner is no longer attracted to you. You must take a close look at what’s under the surface of the distrust, and you must be willing to work through it with your partner in a loving way. You might say, Part of me doesn’t trust you, and you should know that I want to trust you and work through this. I love you so much that I’m willing to confront this in order to feel closer to you.

3.Your relationship feels stuck, like there’s no more room for growth.

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There was a time when your partner sparked your flame. He encouraged you to go back to school. He supported your dreams. The two of you took on a new hobby together, like learning how to renovate the house. You read the same books, and you loved the same documentaries. You were journeying on the same path. Now, it feels like the two of you barely speak. You don’t have common interests, and you haven’t tried anything new in years.

Solution: Express your frustration to your partner (again, in a loving way), and present a list of ideas for how the two of you might close the gap, such as taking a new class together, or designating one night a week to watching videos that cover personal growth, or self-mastery. Read a book together, or plan a trip. Find new things that can spark joy for the both of you. Make it a priority to find the time and resources to step out of your comfort zones, learn new things, and grow.

4.You feel overwhelmed by life.

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You’re stressed at work, stressed out by your family, and your partner doesn’t seem to get it. You’re barely holding on by a thread, and it’s that one seemingly innocent comment your partner makes that just pushes you over the edge. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t have any extra energy to put into your relationship; in fact, your relationship can begin to feel like just another thing to worry about.

Solution: The first step is to communicate how your feeling to your partner. Next, you have to be willing to take an honest look at your life and make the changes necessary for you to feel more peaceful. This might mean saying no more (even though it feels hard), taking more time for yourself, spending less money (so you don’t have to work so hard), or signing up for a meditation class. While doing these things can feel like another chore, like you barely have time to breathe, much less find time to take a meditation class, the truth is that your relationship is suffering because you’ve overcrowded your plate. You can either: a)find a way to make peace with your plate, b)lessen your load, or c)carry on as things are and widen the gap between you and your partner.

5.You and your partner don’t communicate.

You don’t talk; you scream. You don’t share your feelings in the moment; you wait for your anger to build, and then you explode. You don’t set aside time to discuss issues that have arisen that week. You fight more than you talk. You tell your. mom, your friends, and your neighbor’s cat all of your problems, but you don’t tell your partner. You’re passive aggressive, and your partner is too. 

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Solution: In the moment you want to shut down and push your partner away, open up. Set aside time to talk through issues and feelings that have arisen that week. Don’t do it from a place of blame and accusation, but rather, from a place of wanting to deepen your connection. Start the conversation with: “I love you so much, and I want to feel closer to you. I had some feelings of frustration arise this week, and I want to share them and work through them so that I can feel deeply connected to you. I don’t want there to be any distance between us.”

If that feels radical, like something you would never be willing to say to your partner, then ask yourself why this might be. Why can’t you communicate in a loving, peaceful way? Why is that idea absurd? Which relationship and way of communicating are you using as a model? Your parents? Couples on television? Your friends? Have you only seen people fight and argue? Ask yourself if you’re resistant to communicating because it’s not a good idea, or if it’s because it’s a new way of doing things, and you have don’t have a model to look to. If that’s the case, be willing to change. Read articles on how to communicate, such as this one, and remember the goal: to deepen the connection between you and your partner.

It’s natural for issues to arise in a relationship. Things come up that can be frustrating, and it’s important to remember that it’s normal to experience an array of emotions when in a relationship, but the key is how you handle them. Do you look beneath the surface and have the bravery to uncover issues that may not be so obvious? Do you have the willingness to communicate and shift to a solution-oriented stance, or are you persistent in being right and sticking to your guns? Just remember, when you think you’re fighting about the dishes, as you sit in the kitchen, staring at the piles of grease-stained platters and burnt pans, it’s not really the dishes that have gotten under your skin, it’s the distance that makes you feel like you’re handing everything on your own. It’s the gap between you and your partner that creates that maddening feeling of overwhelm and chaos. Choose to close the gap by doing the inner-work, and watch how quickly the two of you work together to keep your house neat and tidy. Choose to not like issues pile up, and you’ll see how other areas of your life, like your drawers, or cabinets, feel just as neat.