Oh, how the humble little dishwasher can demolish a relationship – who would suspect that a machine that was invented simply to make life a little easier, could become a catalyst for many an angry evening. What time to turn it on, how to correctly fill up the plastic trays with crusty dishes from the day, what type of cleaning agent to use; these are the discussions that turn strong men weak and women into weeping wrecks . There is always one partner who is the “only” one who loads it correctly; don’t they understand that the cups and plates must face down instead of up? Why am I the only one that empties the dishwasher? Why would anyone think that placing knives into the silverware tray with the cutting end up is a safe practice, even if it does get them cleaner? Little did we know that your relationship can break as easily as a china plate while cleaning up the kitchen.
As a couple’s therapist, I have heard many a story about the conflict of the dishwasher, and the blame on the unfortunate appliance for breaking up too many marriages and relationships. How can a simple domestic machine be so influential? It comes down to an issue that every couple must solve: the battle of control. Control is always a significant source of conflict in any relationship. When the relationship is working well, the power and control will be lessened, when the relationship is in trouble, these matters are magnified. Simple activities can cause major conflicts in a relationship, and partners will react with an attempt to control the situation. Telling your partner for the fifteenth time how to load the top rack of the dishwasher becomes an issue of control, and being in control is important to everyone. We feel that we lose part of ourselves if asked to do something that goes against our will, even something as simple as putting the last fork in the silverware tray. The analytical part of our brain takes over, and we believe that we are being “helpful” in showing our partner the correct way of loading the dishes. The emotional part kicks back with a plea of “Don’t try and control me!”
Many of us will admit that we like to be right, and we like to get our own way. We might even admit that being right is so important to us that we will often resort to using facts and debate to reinforce our points to our partners. But continuing to try and be in control does nothing to foster intimacy and healthy relationships, and needs to be balanced by compromise and understanding. Dishwasher conflicts can be easily solved with some simple ground rules.
1. Remember, you can’t change your partner, but you can change the pattern of behavior and avoid the conflict. Try and pick a time a neutral place and time to start the discussion.
2. Identify the problem or issue and clarify both you and your partner’s wants using attentive “I” messages and attentive listening skills.
3. Generate and evaluate possible solutions, decide on one and implement. Taking turns doing the dishes, having an “I cook, you clean” rule, or enlisting your kids to help clean up can create resolutions.
Above all, don’t blame the dishwasher! Be aware of how your own control issues are affecting your relationship and take some steps to avoid conflict.