I had been married for a few months when a friend, who was years into marriage and raising kids, asked who washed the dishes in our house.
I replied, “We are still in the phase of wanting to do everything together—even the dishes.”
It was true. Tucked into a “cozy” (ahem, tiny) basement suite on rain soaked Vancouver evenings, we stood side by side at the sink. One of us elbows deep in suds, the other on drying duty. We’d move slowly through this task, catching each other up on the events of our day. It didn’t feel so much like a chore, as it did spending time together.
Fifteen years and three kids later, there are still a few evenings here and there when we wash dishes together. But we’re more likely to divide and conquer all of the jobs it takes to keep a household running.
And there are So. Many. Jobs. Am I right?
We get into our rhythms and routines of making sure everyone is fed, bathed, clothed, and chauffeured, that the house is decent enough to not require a visit from the health department, that the bills are paid, the lawn isn’t an embarrassment to the neighbourhood, and that our vehicles have enough gas and maintenance to avoid getting stranded somewhere.
It would be easy, with all of those jobs, for either of us to slip into resentment, believing that we, alone, carry the lion’s share of the work.
One night, I decide to try a new recipe. My kids like and regularly eat each of the ingredients, with the exception, maybe, of onions. But, really, I tell myself, the onions will be small—they won’t notice them (right?).
So there I stand in my kitchen, chopping vegetables, reading the recipe, stirring the pot on the stove, all the while the kids come and go through, asking for a snack, telling me the injustices that a sibling has committed, asking me to find a very particular piece of LEGO. Like a pro, I deal with each of these in turn, (No, you can’t have a snack, okay, fine, but it needs to be fruit, tell her to stop doing that, I’ll keep my eyes open for the LEGO).
My husband isn’t home from work quite yet, so, of course, it’s the time when the kids need a parent the most.
He walks in the door, tired from work, but ready to help find that pesky piece of LEGO, then he quickly sets the table.
The kids are called to come, they climb into their seats, take one look at this new recipe I’ve just spent 30 minutes preparing and, as if they conspired together, declare in one voice “What’s that? That looks gross! I’m not eating it. Does it have onions? It does, doesn’t it? I’m not hungry. Can I go play, instead?” They stay at the table until we give in and tell them to go play. And I look at this pot of food in front of us, knowing we’ll never be able to eat it all.
It’s so easy in those moments to believe that I am the only one who does anything for this family.
It would be easy to put on blinders, to neglect to see all the ways my husband is contributing to our family.
I sigh as my kids scramble from the table. Their plates are still filled with the food they refused to eat—the food that I put thought and time and effort into cooking. Before they completely disappear, my husband calls them back and reminds them they have something they still need to do. Each one grabs their plate to take to the kitchen, saying in one breath, “Thanks-for-supper-may-I-please-be-excused?” I nod and they are off.
Here’s Our Simple Practice:
And then, as we sit enjoying what we have come to refer to as our “after dinner moment” (a moment where we pause after dinner, rather than rushing to go do the next thing), my husband looks at me and says, “thanks for making supper and for trying a new recipe.”
He doesn’t say it in the same way the kids did. They, bless them, say thanks-for-supper-may-I-please-be-excused because that’s that they’ve been taught to do at the end of the meal. We hope these memorized words will grow in them over the years so that their hearts eventually do feel the gratefulness their words profess.
But my husband’s words of thanks in that moment feel like a genuine appreciation of this very common task of making supper. In that moment, my frustration starts to melt a little because I suddenly feel seen.
“Thanks for setting the table,” I reply. And as I say those little words, I can no longer play the game in my head where I take credit for everything that ever gets done in our house. I start to feel a bit more generous, a bit more willing to show up again tomorrow night and make another meal.
The more my husband and I thank each other, the more we notice things we appreciate. It draws us closer, opens us up to one another.
We don’t always get it right, this practice of noticing each other and appreciating each other. We sometimes mis-step, sometimes choose to play the always/never game. (You know that game, right? It’s the one where I ALWAYS do something and you NEVER do). But on our best days, on those days when we remember that we are part of a team, working with each other rather than against each other, we look for ways to appreciate what the other is doing.
We say thanks for things like laundry and dishes, putting kids to bed and picking up stray LEGO pieces. We say thanks for going to work all day, for putting gas in the van, for taking out the garbage.
These are things that will get done in our house whether we thanked for them or not. We don’t do them in order to be acknowledged—we do them because they need to be done. But our relationship is strengthened when we take the time to notice each other. We are closer and healthier as a couple when we make choices to not take the other for granted.
Gratitude is not a fix-all. It won’t turn a manipulative or abusive or extremely unhealthy marriage around. But in a marriage that has simply fallen into patterns where you no longer notice the little ways that the other person contributes, intentionally practicing gratitude has the potential to steer a relationship out of some of those ruts, draw you closer together, and begin to build a healthier marriage.