Thursday, July 31, 2008

Housekeeping Can Mean Love

When my husband and I took the Marriage and Family Relations class for Sunday school, it seemed like every time someone talked about disagreements in marriage they mentioned doing the dishes. I turned to my husband and raised my eyebrows. He shrugged. We didn’t squabble about doing the dishes—actually quite the contrary. Sometimes we fought over who got to do them. This was because we learned that housekeeping can mean love.

We all have certain chores that we hate. Growing up, my brothers hated cleaning out the rain gutters. My sisters and I hated pulling weeds. Even my wonderful mother hated ironing. House and yard keeping chores are so repetitive and overwhelming that they often make the whole family grumpy. My mom’s tricks to make chores fun for individuals (like watching her favorite movie while she ironed) or creating games and races to get all her kids to work together to clean up (with a promised reward of fresh cookies afterward) don’t have the same charm for work that has to be divided between spouses, especially when it’s just the two of you.

When I was first married, I wanted to be a super housewife. I wanted everything cooked and cleaned to perfection so my husband would always be completely comfortable. I wanted to dote on and pamper him just like the women in 1950s TV shows always did. But after about two weeks, as we both started full-time jobs, then I found that I couldn’t do it all—tidying, cooking, washing, folding, vacuuming, scrubbing, wiping, dusting—so many chores and we didn’t even have kids yet!

Before I started going crazy with all the work, thankfully my husband came to me and said that he wanted to help. Because I’m naturally an overzealous perfectionist, it was hard for me to let him help at first. I knew that I could do any chore faster and more effectively than he could and just the way I wanted it done in my own house, but I also didn’t have the time or energy to do everything on my own. When my husband came to me and asked me how he could help with the housework, I gave his request some real thought. It was probably selfish, but I asked him to make the bed every morning. Making the bed isn’t a very difficult chore so I felt comfortable giving him the small responsibility, but this request was also selfish because for whatever reason I’ve always hated making beds.

Brian responded to my request like the lovesick newlywed that he was. Like a sweet child, he was so proud to help me and to contribute to the housework. I felt bad at first because I thrust the chore I most dreaded on him so I wouldn’t have to do it. I’ve since learned that I didn’t have any reason to feel guilty. Making beds wasn’t such a bad chore to him as it was to me. As he faithfully fulfilled this small responsibility every day, he felt needed and that he was contributing to my happiness. I felt that he was too. Every time he made the bed, he was saying, “I love you.” Every time he made the bed I could feel that he loved me.

This simple delegation of housework was the beginning of how we learned that housekeeping can mean love. Since those first few weeks, we’ve developed a routine that keeps both of us involved in the housework. That doesn’t mean that it’s strictly even because we have different schedules, preferences, and abilities, but we are always working together, at least at heart. Brian continues to make the bed every morning. He also vacuums the entire apartment on Saturday and empties the dishwasher whenever he’s home and it needs to be done. He doesn’t have any other “assigned” chores, but I know that he’s willing to help me with any work projects around the house that I can think of. Reciprocally, when I can tell he’s tired and needs a restful evening, I rush to do the dishes all by myself because I know that he’ll do the same for me on my hard days and I want to tell him that I love him.

In our first year of marriage, we didn’t have a dishwasher, so doing dishes took a lot of time. I found that there was a moment of decision when the sink was full of dirty dishes. Do I leave them and ask Brian to do them when he comes home, or do I do them now so that neither of us will have to worry about them later? I think I’m right to say that I don’t have to always choose to do them myself; some days I am tired and what I really need is for him to come home and say “I love you” by helping me with housekeeping. However, on other days, I need to buckle down and do the work to say “I love you” to him. By realizing that housekeeping can mean love, it is love, selflessness, and honesty, not laziness or selfishness, that makes the decision about how to divide up the housework, and that work, and love, brings us closer together.