repeating white doors, one bright yellow door

Perpetual Problems in Marriage and How We Tried to “Solve” One of Them

My readers know that I’m a big fan of John Gottman and the Gottman Institute. Gottman is the author of the book Eight Dates, which is amazing and I think everyone in a serious relationship should read!

I love how Gottman is very matter of fact about marriage. For example he says, “you can’t be in a relationship and not have conflict. Not if you’re doing it right.” (Eight Dates, p. 6)

So it’s inevitable – we’re going to have conflict no matter how long we’ve been married, how much we love each other, or how good of a person we are.

When my husband and I started going to marriage counseling 6 years ago, I remember wondering how long we would need to go before our problems/conflicts would be solved, before our marriage would be “fixed.” What I’ve learned since then is that fixing our marriage and solving our problems are not synonymous. It doesn’t take the absence of conflict to be in a happy and healthy marriage – in fact Gottman would say it’s impossible.

Some problems are solvable. (Yay!) But most of our relationship problems, sixty-nine percent in fact, are perpetual problems. Perpetual problems, as you may have guessed, are those issues that are going to surface again and again and again in your marriage. (And that’s okay and totally normal!)

So if the absence of conflict is not the sign of a healthy marriage, then what is?

Gottman would say that the ability to continue to talk about your perpetual problems and learning to understand and accept the ways in which you are different from your spouse is key. (Eight Dates, p. 11)

One of the perpetual problems that we have been dealing with in our marriage for over 12 years is HOUSEWORK. The dreaded h-word.

I am the person in our relationship that always feels like more housework needs to be done, and that others are not pulling as much weight in this area. Clutter gives me anxiety. I feel like I can’t relax or have fun if the house is filthy. (Filthy being a very subjective term…)

Dean enjoys a clean house, but his tolerance for a mess is much greater than mine. So by the time he would naturally think about cleaning something, most likely I will have already cleaned it because it was bothering me so much to look at it.

Even taking our personalities into account, I am much more Type-A, a self-declared perfectionist who will notice the tiny details that are not right or are out of place. Dean is definitely more laid back and is not bothered by things to a similar degree (I envy him sometimes). We have learned that if we make a rule to just “clean things when you notice they are dirty,” I will end up doing a lot of cleaning and Dean will not. Not because Dean is a bad person, but because he’s not wired the same way I am.

Housework seems like a silly problem to be battling over for more than 12 years, but I think it’s super common because it’s so easy to get resentful at the other person if you feel like they are not doing their share. Essentially, any time you start keeping score in marriage and trying to determine if things are “fair,” it’s not going to end well. Marriage just isn’t always “fair.” I’m not saying you shouldn’t have conversations about housework, or that both partners should not be putting in effort towards a clean house, but it’s really easy to overestimate how much you do, and to not notice how much the other person has done. We always have a skewed view of reality to some extent, because we always initially see things from our perspective.

I found myself in one of my resentful moods recently, specifically in regards to housework, and Dean and I decided to have a discussion about it. Dean came up with the idea to assign each other chores after making a master chore list, and initially I was not interested. We have tried to do things like that before, and the farthest we usually get is just making the list, not actually doing the chores. I suggested hiring a housecleaner because we both work full time and it’s just hard to find time to actually do the cleaning.

Dean, being the more frugal one in our relationship, really did not want to pay someone else money to clean our house. So, we made a deal. We would try parsing out the chores again and holding each other accountable to doing them. We’d give it a trial period of a few months. If that didn’t work (if the chores were still not getting done) we could try a housecleaner.

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My Sister Rachel (Part 6): Grown Up

What does my relationship with my sister look like today? All of my other posts have focused mostly on my experiences growing up with Rachel – but what do my experiences with her look like now?

In some ways, it’s the same. I still don’t interact much with Rachel, in part because of our differences, and in part because we don’t live in the same state anymore. When I was 18, I left to go to college out of state, and even took classes during part of summer. Since then I have never really spent that much time living in the same space with my sister.

While I was in college in Arkansas, Rachel stayed home, still attending her high school for a few extra years (I think until she was 22.) After that, she began attending a day program for adults. The program organized activities and events, and it allowed Rachel socialization (on the small chance she desired it). I know some day programs train people to develop skills that they will need to have either at a job or to live on their own – we knew Rachel would never live on her own or have a job, so she did not need skills as such. But the program was tailored to allow people to function at their individual levels.

In the past few years, Rachel has transitioned to living in a group home after living with my parents for over 30 years. It’s a normal-sized house, with Rachel being one of three people with disabilities living there. A mother and daughter are the caretakers, and it’s actually a very nice set up. Each person has their own room, and Rachel still gets to go to her day program on weekdays. My parents spend Sundays with Rachel – they pick her up from the group home and take her to church, and then have lunch together afterwards.

The decision to move Rachel to a group home was not an easy one, even though it was the right one (I suppose I’m speaking for my parents here.) I remember talking with my mom and dad about how they wanted to find the right place for Rachel to live, and didn’t want to rush the decision due to an emergency or crisis. The transition went better than any of us imagined (change is hard for Rachel, after all) and Rachel seems to be really thriving in her new environment. It’s nice to see. I think Rachel knew that it was a big, important milestone for herself. I think she likes the independence it brings having her own space away from mom and dad – just like any other grown child feels.

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Book Recommendation – ‘Eight Dates’ by John Gottman

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Today I’d like to share a book with you that my husband and I finished reading through together a few weeks ago – Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by John and Julie Gottman.

I would HIGHLY recommend this book for anyone married or in a serious relationship – it doesn’t matter if you are newlyweds or have been married for a long time, you should check out this book! My husband and I have been married 11 years, and we found the book to be a great way to foster meaningful and intentional conversations about our relationship.

The book is organized into eight sections. The idea is that for each section you’ll read the chapter and answer some reflection questions on your own, then later go out on a date with your significant other to discuss your answers together. Your goal for the conversation is to listen to your partner, validate what they say, and ultimately “build respect, empathy, and a profound understanding of each other” (p. 5).

Ironically, since we read through this book in the middle of the pandemic, we did not “go out” for any of our dates. We had all of ours at home after we put our 4-year-old to bed. Even if you’re stuck at home, you can find ways to make the dates fun (cook a special meal or dessert, dress up in fancy clothes, sit outside in the backyard… be creative!)

The topics addressed in the eight sections include:

  • trust and commitment
  • conflict
  • sex
  • money
  • family
  • fun and adventure
  • spirituality
  • goals and dreams

There were so many things I loved about this book:

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