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Dirty Dishes and Open Toothpaste Tubes

We've all got our pet peeves when living with someone else, and spouses get a special break only for the first few months. What should you do when you encounter dirty dishes in the sink, an open toothpaste tube on the sink, wet bathroom floors, sweat socks in the dining room, spice bottles lined up alphabetically instead of by height and all the rest of the annoying things that real people do?

My suggestion: assume love. Ask yourself what might lead a person of good character who still loved you dearly to make this terrible faux pas. Start from the assumption that it has nothing to do with not loving you or not respecting you or not caring about you. Assume love. Now take a calm look at what's happened.

Are you certain that your husband or wife knows that you get rankled by this behavior? If so, are you certain that he or she did this? Is there any chance that you dropped that sock on the way to the laundry, that it wasn't your compulsive friend who reorganized your kitchen while you were on the phone?

If you know for sure that your spouse did it, does your spouse even know it happened? It took a while before I realized that my terribly nearsighted husband washes up and showers without his glasses and can't see even a third of what I see when he's done.

If you know that you both know who did this and that it sets your teeth on edge, where do you go next? Why would someone who loved you do this? Is it possible that someone who loves you sometimes has something bigger on his or her mind than a spouse's preferences? Sure. And an occasional faux pas offers you a great clue that your spouse has something big on his or her mind today. You were hoping for some improvement in your mind-reading capabilities, weren't you? Well, here it is.

Small retaliations provide another explanation for the occasional faux pas. Perhaps you've done something that has so angered your wife that she'd like to smother your face with a pillow, but she's settled for something you'll survive, like heading off to work without washing the egg off her plate. There's a good chance that you have enough other information to sort out when you're the bigger issue on her mind and when it's something else.

Ah, but you say it's happened repeatedly? Your husband has re-ordered the spice bottles sixteen times in your first year together, and you've patiently put them back the way they ought to be, but now you've had it? As long as we stick with the assumption that he loves you dearly, I'd say we have two strong opinions about the only way something can be done correctly. If you're not willing to let go of yours, may I suggest investing in a second set of spices? You need love. You don't need to be the world's expert on spice-arranging.

If you're completely at a loss for how a person who loves and cares for you could engage in such annoying behavior, and you're certain it's not a sign of some terrible mental disorder that could be treated, then and only then will I grant you permission to make a checkmark in the Loves-Me-Not column of your scorecard.

OK, fine, you're loved. And you're married to an OK person. But you still find the dirty sock really distressing. Now what?

Pick it up. Just remove the sock. Pretend you dropped it there yourself by accident. It's only there because you are loved.

Get a second tube of toothpaste and keep the cap on it at all times. Don't use the one with the open cap that looks like an open invitation to little crawly things. That one's there to remind you that you are loved.

Keep a towel handy for wiping up the wet floors. You are loved, and wet floors are proof of it. If your spouse could attend to the floors the way you do, they'd be dry. If your spouse left you, they'd be dry. They're only wet because you are loved.


What a thoughtful post and practical method. I'll learn to put it in use of my daily life. Thank you.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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