Two or three years ago, our daughter, Squigglebug (now 8) blew us away with her understanding of relationships and what’s important in life. She entered a phase marked by these kinds of questions:
“You know what’s more important than cupcakes?”
“What is?” I would reply.
She would ask this question about all sorts of things, especially things that really mattered to her, like taking the first turn in a game, or getting first dibs in an assortment of donuts. Every time, she demonstrated that her love for her family was huge, and everything else paled in comparison. Love was the most important thing. There was nothing greater or more valuable.
What a great reminder. Her reasoning is the kind of thing that could help us all gain some perspective in our relationships, especially within our family. Let’s see how well this applies to how we interact with our partner.
“You know what’s more important than equal amounts of housework?”
Sharing household responsibilities is a wonderful way to demonstrate that you’re interested in living all aspects of life together; even the dirty dishes part, or the emptying the dirty diaper pail part, and also the conquering the mountain of laundry part. It is a mix of practicality and love that drives many of us to hold hands, count to three, and jump into the mess with both feet (4 if you count both partners), and create some order. Again and again. Day after day. But it is also love that allows us to say: “Love is more important than an equal share of housework.” And “Love is more important than insisting that my exhausted partner do this or that right now, because they said they would.”
Obviously, there’s a delicate balance to find here. When two people agree to do something together and only one person ends up doing it, it can communicate many things, the worst of which is a lack of respect. A lack of respect for the other person’s time, energy, emotion, needs, and also their trust. All of which can be summed up and interpreted as a lack of love. But there are other reasons why a person doesn’t follow through on their commitments: maybe their circumstances changed and they don’t have as much time as they thought they would. Maybe they got sick, or are otherwise physically limited. Perhaps an unexpected event threw them for a loop and they lost their groove. When the balance is off, it’s time to increase the level of communication.
“Love is more important than an equal amount of housework” is not an excuse to be a slacker just because you know your partner will forgive you and love you no matter what. Your partner won’t, nor should they. Once love goes out the window, the commitment to remain together in all kinds of circumstances has lost its foundation, its point of existence. The point is to love each other through it all. One sided love is pure torture, and centering your life on it is not fully living.
With love at its motivation (and practicality to spur it on), set reasonable goals and expectations for housework, adjust or reset them as often as necessary, and show each other some compassion, because:
“You know what’s more important than my right to nag?”
(Alternately: “You are.”)
When someone we are close to appears to be struggling to follow through with their commitments, it is natural to want to help them. That’s what prompts us to offer them a kind reminder. But that kind reminder given more than two or three times easily morphs into something else altogether: nagging. No one likes to be nagged. But I believe that nagging is often an expression of someone who was nagged by something first.
For instance, by the time we’ve asked our partner to take care of something several times over several days, their lack of follow through, their lack of memory, and quite frankly their lack of care and concern, can easily become deeply annoying, and start nagging at us when they forget other unrelated things, like clearing their place after a meal, or not putting their dirty clothes in the stupid hamper. And this nagging builds and builds, and eventually it just needs a release – in the form of a verbal expression, directed at my lazy-ass partner. The nagging inside of me needs to be shared – and often.
Nagging people is a natural expression of someone already being nagged by something. It comes from being hurt. It is natural. And it is destructive. But it is our right to nag.
Which is why it is so powerful when someone lets go of that right, and cultivates a loving attitude toward their partner, in spite of their right to nag. Wouldn’t it be healthier to communicate our frustration and disappointment in loving ways? Clearly, doing so would be so much easier with a receptive partner – which should probably also be brought up and discussed.
How has nagging ever helped anyone’s relationship with their partner? Has it ever made it healthier? At its core, nagging communicates distrust, and spite. And “without trust, there can be no love!” (Moulin Rouge is the best movie ever – and no, I’m not implying that any of us is in a relationship with a can-can dancer).
Perhaps feeling unloved by the one we nag is the reason behind the nagging, and the true message, couched in irritation and spite, that we are attempting to get across is simply: “I feel loved when you do the things you said you would do!” But this mode of communication backfires: we never feel quite as loved when the nagging works because then, whatever we wanted to have happen was done to end the nagging – not because they cared for us.
But nagging feels good. It is vindicating. It is resetting the balance of injustice! Which is why it is so important to regain perspective by asking that question again:
What is more important than my right to nag?
Love is the most important thing. Not that “loving feeling.” But that devoted-to-another-person, wanting their happiness and success, wouldn’t want to live without them, would get up for them in the middle of the night to soothe the baby or get them a glass of water without grumbling, kind of love. That’s what needs protecting. That’s what needs rekindling. And it needs to go both ways. Imagine the love-storm that could be.
Am I a hopeless romantic? Why, yes. Yes I am. Did I mention that Moulin Rouge is the best movie ever?
Am I also happily married to my favorite person in the whole world? Yes for almost 20 years now. Did I get there through nagging and relational power plays and looking out for #1 24/7?
No. Those things have never helped me, or us.
What’s more important than having all the things I want?
What’s more important than getting my partner to do XYZ?
What’s more important than my unhealthy love of sweets or beer/wine, or food?
I mention this one because love is what compels me to make healthier choices with my body so that I can be around longer with the people I love, and who love me.
What’s more important than watching sports?
What’s more important, even, than marriage?
There is only one good answer.
And it is Love.
If you are in a relationship with a partner that does not love you, respect you, trust you, or treat you well, no matter what you do or say, then there is one more question that needs to be asked:
What is more important than your relationship with your partner?
You are more important. And sometimes the most loving thing we can do for ourselves, and for our children, is to end a loveless, life-inhibiting, relationship. You are more important.
For anyone in a relationship where love is still the goal: pursue love. Seek love. Give love. Grow love.
Because love is more important than cupcakes.