Why couples fight about stupid stuff

by Alisa on October 28, 2008

My husband and I used to get into a daily fight over the bathroom counter. He wanted it completely free of clutter. More specifically, he only wanted three things on the counter—his hand soap, his toothbrush, and his razor. He wanted everything else in a drawer, cabinet, or closet.

Now, I’m not his opposite, mind you. I’m the person who usually keeps our house straight and orderly. I’m the one who compulsively picks up toys and puts them away. I’m the one who can’t stand dishes piled up in the sink. I’m the one who occasionally makes our bed.

It’s not as if I wanted stuff all over the bathroom counter either. I don’t even have a lot of bathroom objects to begin with. I wear makeup rarely. I don’t use a hair dryer. I’m not into perfume, scented creams, or candles.

I only wanted two objects on the counter: my toothbrush and my facial cleanser.

THE BATHROOM COUNTER WAR

Sounds easy enough, right? Oh, so wrong. Every morning I’d wake, walk to the bathroom, and groggily look around for my toothbrush and cleanser. I’d look all over the counter. I’d close my eyes and open them again.

“I must be blind,” I’d mutter. “They were right there. There. Right there.”

After much searching, I’d eventually find them stashed in one drawer or another—where my husband had put them.

We had the following conversation about the matter:


Me: “Why did you put my stuff in a drawer?”


Him: “Because I don’t want it on the counter. It takes up too much space.”


Me: “But your stuff is on the counter.”


Him: “Because I need that stuff.”


Me: “But I need my stuff, too.”


Him: “Why do we need two soaps on the counter? One should be enough.”


Me: “Okay, then let’s put your soap in the drawer and leave my soap on the counter.”


Him: “No, I need a special soap for my hands when I put my contacts in and take them out.”


Me: “But your soap dries out my skin. I need a special soap to wash my face. Otherwise I’ll start to look like Mrs. Flake A Lot.”

We would go around and around the topic, never getting anywhere. Each morning, I’d start a search and rescue mission for my soap and toothbrush.

One day, exasperated, I complied. I took everything off the counter – all tooth brushes, all soap, his razor, everything—and put it in a drawer. I did this every morning.

I don’t think he liked it. He never mentioned it, but I’m 99 percent sure he didn’t like it.

I know this because one morning I woke and found my toothbrush and cleanser on the counter. They were there the next morning too, and the morning after that.

Truce.

Only problem? We started fighting about the correct way to fold the laundry instead.

MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY

I used to think we were the only couple who fought about stupid stuff. Then I started talking and blogging about our marital issues. I heard from others.

Take Margie Remmers.

“When I got married I told my husband that I HAD to sleep on the right side of the bed. Period. End of story. We have been married 9 years, and although he has let me sleep there, he never passes up an opportunity to tell me the SACRIFICE he has made to be married to me.”

Others fight about the toilet seat (up vs. down). Still others fight about the toilet paper roll (over the top vs. underneath). It goes on and on.

By why?

I personally have no heavenly idea, which is why I decided to interview a number of experts for this blog. One of them, Jane Straus, a life coach and author of Enough is Enough!, had this to say:

“These struggles are rarely about the issues and are almost always about people using issues such as the position of the toilet seat as evidence of whether or not they are loved. Marriages can be ruined by a partner not squeezing the toothpaste in the right spot because of the loved vs. not loved meaning for their partner.”

And in an effort to feel loved, the losing partner may elevate the battle by trying to manipulate the situation with whatever power that spouse can throw around, says John Honeycutt, happily married man, management consultant, and author.

For example, he says, a man might:

* Withhold affection or give it out only when he gets his way.

* Withhold information about finances, unless he gets his way.

* Withdraw from family type of events, unless there is something he gets in return.

* Not be honest and communicative, until his outcome is certain.

A woman might:

* Withhold sex, or participate only on conditions.

* Refrain from affirmation and possibly use put-downs, or give sparse

affirmation when she’s achieved her way.

* Withhold domestic support, or provide it sparingly only as a barter-chip.

* Withdraw from any shared interests, or participate only for something in

return.

* Withhold any admiration, with only a hope of this as a possibility on

occasion.

Ouch, right?

And it all sounds really silly until you think about your own relationship and find yourself muttering those all-important four words: Been there, done that.

ABOUT THAT TOILET SEAT

When I first moved in with my husband, we fought about this all the time. I wanted it down. He left it up. I don’t believe he left it up just to annoy me. I honestly think it was one of those bad habits that are hard to break. He’d been leaving it up his entire peeing life, after all.

That, and he just didn’t understand why I cared so much.

“Men think they are 100% straight shooters,” says Charles Orlando, who writes the blog theproblemwithwomenismen and will soon publish a book by the same name.

“Some men just don’t understand the difference between a latrine—which is by definition, a toilet used only by men—and a bathroom that’s in one’s home, to be used by everyone who lives in the house, as well as by any visitor.”


So, given my husband was 1) delusional and thought he got not one drop of spray on the bottom of the seat or top of the toilet 2) oblivious to the fact that I used the toilet, too, I can understand why he had a hard time understanding my plight, particularly in the middle of the night when I would shuffle to the bathroom with my eyes partially closed, sit down, and get toilet water on my rear. It’s REALLY not fun.

I tried to explain this to him I don’t know how many times. He just didn’t get it. So I got an alarm and threatened to install it on the seat. If the seat was left in the up position, the alarm would beep.

I never had to install the alarm. He’s been putting the seat down ever since.

TODAY’S PROJECT POINTERS

Here are expert tips for getting over power struggles about:


Sex:
Schedule it. That way the person with the higher drive isn’t always initiating and the person with the lower drive isn’t always saying no. “I’m the one with the lesser desire and, for me, scheduling sex has actually increased my desire because it forces me to think about sex on a regular basis. My husband is the one with the higher desire and he says the best thing about this is it has removed his need to ask for sex, which often leads to rejection,” says Jill Savage, a mother of 5 and author of the book Is There Really Sex After Kids?


Stupid stuff:
Just let it go. “My husband insists on the toilet paper roll being top over. I like it under. After embarrassing me in a shoe store by loudly telling all the customers that we have this difference, and then taking a poll of toilet paper top over or under (he won with top over), I finally decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. Some things are just not worth getting frustrated about,” says Eileen Roth, author Organizing for Dummies.


Everything else:
Be clear about what you need and why you need it. “No mixed signals, no misinterpretations, and no wondering. Just make clear, respectful demands for what you need,” says Orlando.

A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

antonio brandao July 14, 2011 at 6:36 pm

The issue about the toilet is ridiculous. The correct way is not that the man always keeps it down. There is no right or wrong for a toilet seat. It has the function to open and close, that’s it.

The solution to that problem, as to the solution to all the other stupid things couples fight about, it that BOTH must withdraw any demandings! Let the other be like she/he is. And LOOK at the toilet before sitting in it. Even if the lid is closed, it could be wet for some other strange reason. We can’t be forcing our loved ones to do things as we like.

We really have to accept people as they are (if we decide to stay with them).

And then let them be themselves! And be happy with it.

Reply

AS February 3, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Antonio,
You obviously have never sat on a wet toilet…rim (it can’t even be called a seat.) And you want women to be on their guard at all times and have to check each toilet seat before she sits down? Its a common courtesy, which you were obviously never taught.
The proper way is to keep the lid down. You don’t walk into a public restroom and find all the seats up, do you? Its great for men to be themselves. I completely encourage that. But you can be yourself without leaving a completely disgusting and inconvenient chore for the next woman who has to touch your pee-encrusted toilet seat.

Reply

lovn_wf May 3, 2012 at 3:00 pm

My partner and I have had this issue as well. He was one of four boys, I didn’t expect him to change habits he had grown up with, so we made a compromise. He always has to put the seat up after I go and in the night I don’t have the alertness I have in the day to remember what position the seat is in, so our compromise was that he put it down at nights and I wouldn’t complain about the day.

Reply

Lisa February 3, 2014 at 2:38 pm

This is hilarious.

I agree that the toilet seat up is disgusting and putting it down is common courtesy. Flushing with the lid up splashes germs all over the bathroom, and if you have a hand towel nearby you will get germs on that and risk getting people sick.

Part of being a responsible adult is having consideration for others and cleaning up after yourself. Just like you can put your own dishes into the dishwasher, you can close the toilet seat. It’s also unsanitary and disgusting to expect the next person to touch the toilet seat with their bare hands–God only knows what is on that seat. Hope you wash your hands when you’re done!

I close it after I use it, too, even though I open it to use it!

Reply

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