Published in Blog by Joanna Harrison on October 5th 2022
Joanna Harrison explains how domestic matters may give rise to significant tensions in the couple relationship and what this means.
It is sometimes a surprise to people that we might devote time in couple therapy to thinking about the everyday business of being in a relationship and the domestic aspects of living with someone. Emptying the bin gets just as much airtime as planning date nights (probably more in my experience) Couples often worry about whether it is appropriate to bring their issues about domestic matters to therapy – an argument about the washing up, or towels left on the bed, or what happened when one of them took a shower. (I hear about showers often, particularly from new parents, perhaps because it can become surprisingly complicated to have a shower when you have a small baby. Something that used to be so simple and could be done independently now requires communication and potential involvement from each other – a good metaphor perhaps for the transition when a couple become parents?).
When it comes to washing up, I have heard it all. Thoughts about when to do it, and when not to do it. Why won’t you do it, or why won’t you just leave it.
When it comes to washing up, I have heard it all. Thoughts about when to do it, and when not to do it. Why won’t you do it, or why won’t you just leave it. Disagreements about how best to stack the dishwasher, some with a sense of humour, some with a sense of deep seriousness and anger. Why do you leave bits in the plug? Why don’t you rinse the cloth even though I’ve asked you a thousand times? The tension in these arguments helps couples define themselves as separate people, and there can be a playfulness to it. But sometimes this day to day stuff feels like a real battleground, a place where the same arguments are rerun again and again, wearing a couple down and making daily life feel harder than it needs to. It can be so important to look at these everyday aspects at a deeper level, and this is often in therapy what we do, taking time to unpack and understand an argument about the shoe left in the middle of the room, to understand what it really means to both people and why it seems to have become such a source of tension in the relationship.
Often what emerges is that these things we find difficult around the house with each other not only need managing themselves as part of learning to live with someone, but are also representative of deeper feelings in the relationship.
Often what emerges is that these things we find difficult around the house with each other not only need managing themselves as part of learning to live with someone, but are also representative of deeper feelings in the relationship. While the backdrop of our lives is familiar, there can be less familiar layers attached to them, which can benefit from being aired and thought about in couple therapy. Our deeper fears and frustrations and the things we find difficult to express openly with each other, feelings of not being listened to or respected, can express themselves in the domestic world around us.
If a couple can understand something of why they keep having a row about the washing up, then perhaps they can attend to something important in their relationship that if not attended to could grow into a more complex or chronic issue.
We ourselves, let alone our partners, may not be conscious of these deeper layers, and part of the work of being in a relationship may be to become more aware of these more hidden aspects. If a couple can understand something of why they keep having a row about the washing up, then perhaps they can attend to something important in their relationship that if not attended to could grow into a more complex or chronic issue. For example, perhaps the argument that one of them doesn’t rinse the oven tray properly reflects feelings that one of them is doing more work than the other in the relationship. This may be an issue that needs some critical attention. Our work in therapy is often to give attention to these kinds of feelings. Rather than one or both of them feeling stuck in a rut with resentments or feeling isolated in their relationship with no hope of addressing these sorts of issues, by looking at these arguments with the help of a therapist these issues can start to shift. Just as the washing up needs doing regularly, so these kinds of feelings in a relationship can need regular work to keep on top of them.
If you would like to book a consultation to think about issues in your relationship that keep cropping up please contact us today.
This article is abridged from Joanna's book Five Arguments All Couples (Need To ) Have And Why The Washing Up Matters. See details below.
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