The Psychological Reason Why So Many Couples Fight About The Dishwasher

It really isn't about the dishwasher.

person doing dishes Dragon Images / Shutterstock

By Ariadna Peretz

The dishwasher. I didn’t have one growing up but when I moved in with my boyfriend I got to know, love, and hate it. Know how to use it; love how it hid dirty dishes and hate how the glasses felt afterward (like nails on a chalkboard).

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As a newbie to the world of automatic dishwashing, I needed to learn how to load & operate it. Never fear, my BF was an expert. The problem was that I’m a terrible student and never had the patience to follow his example. I’d overstuff the dishwasher and then complain if the dishes didn’t come out right. That led to lots of eye-rolling and exasperation but never any crazy fights.


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Yet, a lot of couples do get into crazy fights over the dishwasher.

Why do we get so ticked off if he puts the cutlery up and she down, or if he pre-soaks but she thinks “nah,” or he thinks pans need to get washed by hand and she thinks the dishwasher should wash the pans because that’s the dishwasher’s job, duh!

According to my favorite author on love & relationships, Dr. John Gottman, the fight about the dishwasher has nothing to do with the dishwasher.

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The dishwasher is a symbol of something deeper. It symbolizes the gridlock in your marriage. It’s the intersection where my hang-ups meet his.

Dr. Gottman says, “It is a sign that you have dreams for your life that aren’t being addressed or respected by each other…some are very practical…but others are profound. Often these deeper dreams remain hidden while the more mundane dreams piggyback on top of them and are easier to see.”

Dr. Gottman says often the deepest dreams are rooted in our memories from childhood (isn’t everything though!?) and can cause problems if “They are hidden or not respected by your spouse. When this occurs you may either have open battles over the issue, or it may go underground and be expressed symbolically.”

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I don’t think my BF had any childhood issues with the disorder but I know I had an issue with too much order so being lazy and careless about doing the dishes may have been my way of being defiant of my past.

Fighting about the dishwasher doesn’t have to be about dis/order. It can be a symbol for many things…having a sense of power, giving the finger to your past, getting over past hurts, being able to relax, getting your priorities straight, or following your own rules.

How do you even know if you are dealing with gridlock due to your dreams not being respected? Dr. Gottman says, “A good indicator that you’re wrestling with a hidden dream is that you see your spouse as being the sole source of the marital problem.”


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Ariadna Peretz is a former contributor to the Good Men Project, a writer, and has been featured in ADVFN, Hong Kong Tatler Society, Tatler Hong Kong, and more.