By Tom Andre
Many people come to meetings with some version of the following:
"My husband is driving me nuts. Every single day, he takes my slippers and puts them in the closet instead of leading them at the bottom of the stairs. He moves the tissue from a nice out-of-the-way place to the middle of the kitchen and leaves it there. He uses a new towel every time he takes a shower and then tosses it in the dirty clothes pile without making any effort to do the laundry in a timely manner. He moves things around in the kitchen when he's looking for them, but doesn't replace them, and I feel like I spend hours looking for things that are suddenly no longer where I left them. He takes great credit for cooking occasionally, but then he leaves the kitchen looking like Hurricane Husband blew through. I clean as I cook, and it ends up being easier for me to cook AND clean. I love my husband very much for many reasons, but I feel that these differences are really growing and driving us apart. Is there anything that can be done about this?"
The answer: "Um, maybe?"
It's often helpful to think of a relationship as a long walk down a beautiful trail. Many different things can happen, and in this case, though each partner has a very nice pair of hiking boots, it seems the husband has kicked up a pebble and now it's lodged in one of his wife's boots. The pebble itself doesn't hurt very much and she could keep going, maybe for miles, but over time there's a chance it could cause a serious blister or even significant pain. So she has a dilemma: would it be best for her to shake out her boots out right away, even if it stops her momentum, or to continue and perhaps get used to it?
If some problems are like pebbles in a boot, we all have to decide how many pebbles we can handle at once, and - most importantly - if it's worth it. Some problems may be solvable through compromise, but some require that one person give in. Some problems, of course, won't have solutions.
Even though it's a pain, sometimes you have to stop and shake your boots out to get rid of the pebbles. It might or might not be worth it to do this maintenance, but consider whether leaving the pebbles in your boots is more likely to cause bigger problems down the line. In other words, is it best to address the problems as they arise, or to let them go, even if we suspect they might cause bigger problems later on, or to designate a time and address them all at once as they accumulate? Everyone has different answers for this.
By Tom Andre
I am a licensed marriage and family therapist working in El Segundo and Century City (Los Angeles), California. I have experience working with a broad range of problems, and I have a special interest in the lifelong questions about identity, meaning and purpose. Additional areas of interest and experience include grief and loss, parenthood and fertility, and trauma.