“My husband and I ended up in therapy once. We had been married at least twelve years and known each other for twenty-six. We survived buying two houses together, moving away from our home state to a totally unknown future, the death of both of our fathers, starting and selling a business, raising four kids and potty training two dogs. We knew each other. Heck, we had practically grown up together. We had faced a lot. We endured a ton. We knew how to do it. We were successful in a lot of ways. I knew what pushed his buttons, he knew what ignited my triggers. We avoided them as much as possible, but we also knew how to fight fair and how to walk away from disagreements still very firmly in love.
Yet, in the spring of 2014, we ended up in marriage counseling. Over the bathroom. Yep, I said it. Over the bathroom. I couldn’t understand why nobody in the house wouldn’t help me clean the bathrooms, and he didn’t have a good answer. And it didn’t seem to matter how many times I lost it, or how many times I asked them, either passive aggressively or directly, or how many times I wrote it on a chore list or bribed them or threatened them or cried or slammed doors – it just never, ever got done unless I did it myself. So, by God, it was going to be the hill I was going to die on. Oh yes, friends, I dug my proverbial heels in and decided that if he wasn’t going to help me clean those bathrooms, then our-marriage-was-doomed.
Now, listen. I was a stay-at-home mom for a long time. And, when I was, I absorbed all of the housework, the kids, and pretty much anything that had to do with the home front so that he could focus on bringing home the bacon. But, when I went back to work full-time (both of us working long shifts during the day and night), we had an agreement that we would share the chores, and those chores included the bathrooms. Is it really so hard, fellas? Couldn’t he squirt some cleaner in there and swish it around? I mean, there was a brush thing right next to the toilet. It’s not like he, or any of the little people who lived in my house, had to walk to another room to find the cleaning supplies. Was grabbing a cleaning wipe completely out of the question? How about just aiming in the bowl?
I will tell you that after our third appointment, the therapist asked us why we were even there.
And while she was getting a kick out of our banter and my husband’s good-natured humor, she pretty much thought that we could handle the bathroom issue on our own and suggested I hire a house cleaner.
‘And there you go, dear. There’s the answer.’ He quipped. And with that sweet, crooked smile of his, he promptly announced, ‘Now, let’s go.’
I wanted to agree, but it couldn’t be that easy. We had been having this battle for years and the answer was that simple? No. There was no way I could surrender to this war that quickly. I kicked my crossed leg out into thin air and shot him a look. ‘No.’
He chuckled, knowing that he was finally about to be vindicated as the therapist was going to witness me as my most stubborn self.
‘Why?’ She asked.
I shook my head just a little and squinted my eyes. ‘Because, it’s not about that. It’s that I want him to help me.’
‘Ok,’ she continued. ‘But if this is going to be such a sore spot, then why not give yourself a break and hire a house cleaner to come in once or twice a month just to help you with the deep cleaning? Take the pressure off and then the two of you and the kids can keep it up throughout the month.’
‘You mean, me.’ I snapped and pointed to my face.
He pushed his back into the chair and threw his hands into the air. He held his fingers in the boyscout oath. ‘I promise I will help you keep up the house if we can just stop coming here for this.’
‘He’s right,’ she said. ‘You two don’t need therapy. You just need other kind of help to help you through this busy time in your lives. It doesn’t mean either of you are failing. It just means you have to think outside of the box.’
I drew in a deep breath and pursed my lips together. I looked at him, then her, and nodded. We left her office with a new plan, a budget and a phone number for a house cleaner that started the very next week. We never spoke about it or argued about it again.
Two years later, we would find ourselves back in the bathroom dealing with a different kind of crisis. I would learn how to get him in and out of the shower, and sometimes the tub. I would learn how to shave his face and how to brush his hair and exactly how much toothpaste to put on his toothbrush. I would learn how to change his catheter and exactly how many steps he could walk before one more was just too much. I would memorize each corner of our bathroom and what the cold wall felt like on my back as I sat up against it with my knees drawn to my chest – exhausted, disheveled, and scared with my hands cupped tightly over my mouth trying to disguise the sobs so that he wouldn’t hear me in the next room.
I spent so much time in that bathroom trying to collect myself or washing my face or pulling my hair back into a bun, that on more than one occasion, I looked at the toilet bowl and cursed it. I hated it for consuming so much of our time when he was healthy. I despised the fact that I was so worried about what the house looked like, that I wasted so many precious moments with him. If only I had known that those moments were going to end just two years later. If only I had known that cancer would cut short the life we had planned together by forty years. If only I had known that just twenty-four months after I dragged him to therapy over the bathroom, he would be gone and I would be sitting in that cold room alone, hyperventilating over his death – trying to keep reality out, wishing upon wishes that if he could just come back, I would never ask him to clean the bathroom again. If only I had known then what was important and what was not, I would not have wasted any time on those incredibly ridiculous things.
Marriage is hard. Raising kids is hard. Having pets is hard. Working is hard. Staying home is hard. But, surviving the death of somebody you love – is really, really hard. You are consumed with ‘what-if’s.’ You question everything. You wonder what would have happened if you ‘just did this’ or ‘just did that.’ You regret the things like arguing over the bathroom and wished you would have at least wasted your time on something really good to squabble over. And then you would give up just about anything to have one more tiff with them. Just one more. Anything if you would just be alive.
I am not a marriage expert. Believe me, I am not. But, if I can offer you some advice – please, please, don’t waste time on the small stuff. Don’t miss an opportunity to tell somebody you love them. Check your stubbornness. Hand out grace. Embrace the chaos and the craziness of a busy life. Because when that busyness is gone, you will wish you did. Do it before it’s too late. Stop complaining before it’s too late. Go find the person you love, right now, and remind them how important they are to you. Take the trips. Stay up late. Eat something really yummy. Hire the housekeeper. But, above all, don’t waste one more second on the things that don’t matter. Because if you lose them, that will be the only thing you won’t regret.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her books “Grief Life” and “Grief & Glitter” are available in print and on kindle. You can find more of her books here, and her podcast here. Connect with Diana on her author Facebook page, and Instagram.
Read more from Diana:
‘When I was a little girl, we knew if mom came home with chocolate cake, we better shut up. We all knew what cake meant. Something had not gone right, and Momma was NOT happy.’: Woman recalls how late husband always knew how to fix her ‘bad day’
‘Is this the real pin?,’ my daughter squeaked out. ‘Yes, my love, it is.’ ‘From his shirt?’ Her eyes were big and curious.’: Widow’s emotional gift for daughters honors their late father, ‘My hands trembled. It was beautiful, stunning’
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