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. When I confronted him about it, he insisted that my stuff took up too much space. When I pointed out that his stuff got to stay on the counter, he said he needed it. I told him I needed my stuff too. 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 toothbrushes, all soaps, 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.
Couples fight about what side of the bed to sleep on, the classic toilet seat battle (up vs. down), even the toilet paper roll (over the top vs. underneath). It goes on and on. But why?
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? 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.
Here are some 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.
Stupid stuff: Just let it go. Plain and simple.
Everything else: Be clear about what you need and why you need it, in order to avoid mixed signals or miscommunication.
Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, which tells the real life story of how she went from the brink of divorce to falling back in love. It's available for pre-order on amazon.com. Visit her blog at http://www.projecthappilyeverafter.com.