You’re doing it wrong!!!!
Have you ever found yourself thinking this about your partner? It’s amazing how many things they do the wrong way! We may notice a few things when we are dating, but this revelation comes front and center once we are married and living with our spouse. They don’t do the small things the right way, like squeezing the toothpaste from the end, replacing the toilet paper roll with the end coming over the top, or making the bed with the fluffy pillows on top. They may also do the big things the wrong way, such as not calling us when they are going to be late, not inviting all of the extended family over for the holidays, or not appreciating our efforts to keep the insurance up to date.
They do things the wrong way, and it can be very frustrating and aggravating!!
However, while this may be experientially true, have you ever considered that maybe there isn’t always a right way to do things? What if there are a few different ways to do things?
Actually, research has found this to be true. John Gottman, a leading, well-respected couples researcher, has found from his research that the majority of things that couples fight over have no right or wrong answer. For example, there is no set right or wrong amount of time that couples should spend with their extended families. There is no right or wrong way to load the dishwasher or clean the house. There is no right or wrong way to spend the holidays. There is no right or wrong way to entertain friends.
We all grow up in families that have a certain way of doing things. Because we grow up doing these things this certain way, to us that way is the right way, the normal way. And when our partner does things differently, that just feels wrong. It is to our advantage to remember that it’s not right or wrong, but different. When we think something is wrong, we are much more apt to fight for what we think is right. But when it’s just different, then we can relax a bit, and we can work towards collaboration with our partner to find a way to do things in which we both can feel comfortable. We can collaborate to find the way that our family will do things from now on.
When it comes to doing things the “right” way, people often joke about how couples fight over the little things like the toothpaste being squeezed from the bottom or the toilet seat being left up or the dishes being left in the sink. However, fights over those issues are not really about the toothpaste or the seat or the dishes. Those fights are about us feeling like our partner doesn’t really care about what we think or what we want. We fear that we, and our wants and needs, are just not that important to them, and that we will not be considered. And so we feel we have to fight for consideration. We fight so that we won’t be taken advantage of or run over. So then the dishes don’t seem like such a little thing anymore; we feel we are fighting for big things.
Describe how you feel when your ideas, wants, or needs are just not that important. Describe how you fear that you won’t be considered. Describe how you fear being run over or taken advantage of. When you describe what you are feeling, you will be less likely to criticize your partner, and so they will be better able to hear you. They likely will feel some compassion for you and will not think that you are truly being unreasonable about the dishes.
When you can remember that there is no set right or wrong way to do many things, and when you can describe your underlying concerns to your partner, that paves the way for you and your partner to be able to collaborate together on how you want to do things in your home. Bickering over the little things will decrease. You will feel more considered, and you will be more able to extend consideration. You may be happy to see how many things your partner is actually doing “right!”
“Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.” – Proverbs 17:9 (NLT)
Willa Williams is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She works at the Biola Counseling Center as a therapist and at the Biola Center for Marriage and Relationships as a consulting therapist. She has a Master of Arts in Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL) and a Master of Arts in Counseling in Psychology from Trinity International University (Deerfield, IL). She is Level 3 Trained in the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy. Before coming to Biola, she served overseas at the Spanish Bible Institute in Barcelona, Spain, where she taught a class on counseling skills for pastors and served as the staff therapist for the students. She has been married for more than 30 years and has two teenage children. She has a passion for healthy relationships and enjoys working with couples as well as individuals. She appreciates the immense impact that healthy marriages and relationships have on couples as well as future generations.