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He Said, She Said. Toilet Paper & Toothpaste
It was late in the evening, and the phone rang. The voice on the other end belonged to a frantic wife who asked us to meet her and her husband at a local diner. From the tone of her words, I was afraid something terrible had happened. She began to explain that she was at her wit’s end with her husband.
It was late in the evening, and the phone rang. The voice on the other end belonged to a frantic wife who asked us to meet her and her husband at a local diner. From the tone of her words, I was afraid something terrible had happened. She began to explain that she was at her wit’s end with her husband. We, of course, quickly got a sitter and hurried to meet them down the street. As we began digging into the problem faced by this couple, we found that what they were dealing with is pretty common. In fact, I’d guess that many of you are having issues with some of the very same things.
How many times have you gotten irritated at your spouse? What things does he do (or fail to do) that just hit a nerve somewhere that really isn’t good? I think we can all say that at some point in our marriages our spouses have irritated us. Having been married for fourteen years myself, I can tell you I am guilty. And I am more than positive that I have irritated my spouse from time to time. The good news is that these times of annoyance are a normal part of living with another human being – no matter how much you love him – and, for the most part, they aren’t an indication that your marriage is unhealthy or unhappy. The truth is the health of your marriage is determined by how you handle these times, not whether they occur.
So what are those things that bug us? Remember the couple we sat down with? They were still newly married and were very frustrated with each other. They were fighting over who did what and who didn’t do what. After sitting down at the diner, it didn’t take long for the conversation to escalate. They quickly got to the point where I had to review the rules we enforce when couples talk with us (the same rules apply in our conversations with one another at home.). One very prominent rule – one they seemed to have difficulty observing – requires that we speak only kind and uplifting words to one another, not talk in a screaming-until-my-head-turns-red voice.
So what was the big deal? Well, the toothpaste, the toilet paper, and the kitchen garbage. Yes, I did say toothpaste. They would fight about how to squeeze the tube. Who was right and who was wrong? Should they roll up the tube as it emptied over time, or should they just squeeze it in the middle and hope for the best (I personally prefer the first.)? So I asked them why they didn’t choose to buy two tubes – one for each of them – to prevent the argument and avoid allowing something so trivial to ruin a great day. Problem solved.
Next issue: toilet paper. What was the right way to put it on the roll? Should the paper roll over the top or toward the wall? (I know that as a female with nails, rolling it over the top is easier and keeps me from scratching the wall.) In this case, the husband didn’t care but an “incorrectly loaded” roll seemed to ruin the wife’s day. Solution? If it doesn’t matter to one spouse, why not make an effort to conform to the wishes of the spouse who does find a certain way of doing things irritating? Second problem solved.
Lastly, the kitchen garbage. Personally, I love to argue about who took it out last. (Ha, ha) Are you kidding me? Who has time to waste fighting over garbage? Okay, I understand that some of us are more industrious than others, and at some point we really get tired of doing “everything” (or at least that’s how it feels). However, why not just agree to empty it whenever you see that it is full? So whoever gets to it first takes it out. I know there will always be one who notices it before the other, so as soon as someone notices it, the job becomes his or hers. Give it a try, okay? Garbage is not worth ruining a marriage over; it’s just garbage.
Over the years, we’ve had other couples come to us in horror at the state to which their marriages have come, and so many times it’s about things like the toothpaste, the toilet paper, and the garbage. One couple came to us about laundry on the floor, shoes in the entryway, and piles of papers all over the house. These are a little more serious than the problems of the first couple… or are they? Let’s break them down for those readers who can relate.
The laundry on the floor can be taken care of in a multitude of ways. Do you have a laundry system? Is there a place to put the dirty clothes? If not, get a laundry basket for the room in which the offense is occurring. I know… you want it in the laundry room. But we must start somewhere, and this is a good compromise.
Now for the shoes in the entryway. Do you have a place to put them? Do you have a system? Do they actually have a home? In our family, we have outside and inside shoes. Get off the floor; it’s not that shocking. Yes, we do, and they each have a place. The outside shoes go in the garage by the door on a shoe rack. The indoor shoes or seasonal shoes go in our bedroom closets. To get them up the stairs, we have a basket where each family member can place his or her shoes until it’s time to go upstairs. When we head up, we grab our shoes and put them away. It’s a fairly simple solution that prevents a lot of headaches. Perhaps this type of system won’t work for you. If not, brainstorm. There is always a way to compromise, so we all can have a good day.
The last issue faced by the second couple had to do with the piles of paper located all throughout the house. Again, a straightforward solution for the reader dealing with this dilemma. Do you have a system? Do you have a place to put the piles? In our home, we have a twenty-four hour rule that says all piles must cease and desist within that time frame. Each of us has an inbox in the pantry and another on the desks in our office or bedrooms. When the pantry boxes get too full, the papers go to the bedrooms. Every so often, the inboxes on our desks are gone through and sorted. Okay, so maybe it’s too much for some of you. Well, find a happy medium between your current system (which clearly isn’t working) and the system I have suggested.
Here’s the question we have to ask ourselves: are we really willing to allow these inconsequential issues to ruin a day, a week, a month, a year, or a marriage? Are these the things we are really upset about, or is there something deeper? Sometimes the answer is yes; sometimes it is no.
We do have more serious situations come up, so let’s talk about them. The most popular subjects for disagreement are how to raise the children, how to spend money, and how the sex life is going. Much of the time, these issues are at the root of our surface challenges. So when we start to nitpick or become irritated by the small things, it’s time to STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN. It’s one of the first lessons taught in kindergarten, but it works in marriage, too.
Stop means “stop getting upset for a moment.” Give yourself a breather and pray.
Look is “look at yourself.” You are still the only person you have the right or power to change. Once you’ve taken a long, hard look in the mirror, look in the Word of God and find out what it says about what’s going on.
Listen. That is, listen to the person with whom you are at odds. What is he really thinking? What is he really trying to say? Also, listen to God. What does He want you to do in this situation?
So many times these things build up because we are not forgiving our spouses of past offenses. As the small, or large, offenses build up, instead of solving them when they occur, we begin to walk in unforgiveness. Contrary to popular culture, pouting, ignoring, and staying angry with your spouse is not the way to get what you want. In Proverbs 15:1, we learn that “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” And in Ephesians 4:31-32, we are commanded, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Not to mention Paul’s earlier instructions, “’Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” (Ephesians 4:26)
Okay, so what does that one mean? It means you can’t stay angry after going to bed. It isn’t good for you or for the one you married. God really isn’t giving us a choice here. We are to forgive our husbands whether we want to or not. So how do we do it, I mean really do it?
I believe when we get into these vicious cycles we have forgotten the reason we married these men in the first place. So to start we need to stop nagging (that’s asking your man to do something more than once, especially after he’s said he will) and pray. Just let it go and forgive, also asking forgiveness for yourself; your husband isn’t the only guilty one in these situations. And while you’re there, ask for wisdom.
What comes after prayer? The next step is to look at yourself. What can you do differently in the situation? Can you come up with a compromise that will bring a solution to the challenge? Do you need to communicate with your husband about your expectations or what you can actually handle? You are planning to stay married, right? And by the way, remember what I’m about to say ‘cause it’s important. You can ask your spouse to help you or work on something, but you can’t make him. So sit down and talk about it, and LISTEN to what he has to say. If you need to keep the situation from escalating into anger, go to a public place. Most of us are not going to go hog wild in public. While you talk, write down which chores each of you is willing to do. Yes, “each of you” means you need to contribute also. You may not like that, but honestly, that’s how it works – even with the promises of God. Have you ever noticed that every promise except the free gift of salvation requires us to do something or obey in some way before we are able to receive the blessing? If that’s how it works with God, perhaps we should consider taking the same approach in marriage. Try taking the first step in order to meet your spouse halfway. When you practice the principles found in the Word, it works. When you are consistently kinder to your spouse than he is to you, you will eventually be rewarded. And those of you who have unsaved husbands may find that your love could lead to their salvation. I know it sometimes takes a long while, but I guarantee you it is worth the effort.
Another root behind these outbursts may have to do with the ways we give and receive love. Some of us need time, some need gifts, and some need help around the house (or serving one another). When we don’t receive what we believe we need, we get upset. So how can we change this? Here’s how we handle it in my home. Sometimes our lives get really busy, and things in the “showing love” department don’t get taken care of like they should. So we have weekly meetings. My husband and I get our calendars out and look at our schedules (By the way, this is also a good time to divide chores and other weekly duties.). We’ve learned that we have to talk about what we need and expect because we cannot read each other’s minds, as much as we would like to. So we need to look at what is on the calendar, how we expect all of it to get accomplished, and come to a workable solution for each of us. This meeting addresses many things: the division of household duties, current goals, and lifetime priorities. Remember, there are seasons when much more is needed from one spouse or the other, but this should only be a season. So those of you who need time should set a date on your calendars to spend time together.
Money, sex, and pretty much every problem that comes up in a marriage can be dealt with in the same fashion: talk, talk, talk about it. Come to an agreement. When you love someone, you will meet him somewhere in the middle. (One tip for you: when you are fighting about financial issues and you cannot come to an agreement, the best thing to do is nothing at all. Take some time to pray. It is better to wait than to make a mistake.) Most of all, look to the Word of God. The Lord wants the best for you, and His Word is there to help you get the best. I know your flesh sometimes screams out, “But he said this or that or did this or that.” But what does God say you should do? Forgive. Pure and simple. So stop, look, and listen, and give your man all the forgiveness you would want him to give you.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Lorri Owens is a wife, homemaker, and mother of two. She serves as a women’s ministries leader at her home church and teams up with her husband to mentor young adults, helping them develop Godly relationships and marriages. Her passion is to see every marriage grow and prosper.
All articles used with permission from Beautiful One Magazine, LLC, 2007.
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