Yesterday morning my husband left a wet towel on the bed. The day before he walked past the bathroom trashcans (that he’d filled up) without taking them out to the trash bin. Pretty much every day he gets up from the dining room table and doesn’t push in his chair. Quite often I find an assortment of drinking glasses, coffee mugs, and snack bowls next to his chair in the bedroom. All of these things irritate me.
I have a few choices:
1. I can clean up after him, resent that I have to, but not say a word.
2. I can get angry and complain or nag in order to change his future behavior.
3. I can clean up his messes (because I am simply incapable of walking past a wet towel, overflowing trashcans, chairs in the middle of the kitchen, and food and beverage containers scattered on the floor or table), wait for an appropriate time, then clearly and, without judgment, voice my frustrations and ask for his help in the future so that we both can arrive at a win/win.
We all know that #3 is the adult, mature solution to the above problem.
Sometimes I am not an adult.
Sometimes I get mad. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I seethe with resentment muttering passive-aggressive words under my breath. Sometimes (to my detriment and the detriment of the bathroom) I kick trashcans.
It is the small behaviors that can drive us crazy. We (meaning me!) often assign motive to behaviors. I don’t always consciously break down my frustrated thoughts. If I did, they would take me along a path beginning with frustration, over perceived injustices, sadness, that my feelings aren’t being considered, hurt, because he knows better, ending with anger, because HE KNOWS BETTER!
What to do??? Get perspective. Consciously take a few steps away from the situation and view it through different glasses. His glasses. Her glasses. God’s glasses. As hard as it may be, think like an adult. Look at the presenting problem from different angles, different scenarios. Keep motive and judgment out of the mix. Is there really intent to harm? Is there really intent to frustrate? Is there really an attempt to add more to your workload? And so on……
In my husband’s defense, he has a lot on his mind. He is currently writing and researching his 450+ page doctoral thesis. He counsels, mostly couples in crisis, every day, often multiple appointments a day. He is always working on revising and improving material for our marriage seminars. He is dealing with paperwork concerning our non-profit status. In a word, he is busy! His mind is busy! His thoughts are consumed with To-Do lists. He is often wrestling with the burdens of the people he works with and his mind is constantly seeking to come up with unique solutions to their situations. It’s not that he is choosing to ignore the trash and his cups and glasses, he just doesn’t notice them! His mind is elsewhere. His motive isn’t to make me clean up his messes, he just doesn’t always realize he’s made a mess! Cute. Sometimes frustrating. But kinda cute, nonetheless.
I guess leaving a towel on the bed isn’t that big of a deal in the overall scheme of things. It is small stuff. Pretty insignificant actually.
I can choose to get angry or I can choose to understand. That doesn’t mean I won’t mention it at the appropriate time, though. All of the other stuff; trashcans, chairs, glasses – small stuff. Not that big of a deal. Irritating, yes. The hill to die on? No! I will clean up today, mention it tonight (or not), and go about my business. I won’t sweat it. I choose not to sweat it…….usually.
On the other hand, my husband is ALL ABOUT THE SMALL STUFF! By that I mean the daily, small, thoughtful gestures and kindnesses. He calls me on his way home. Every. Single. Time. (I’m not exaggerating) He wants to know if I need him to stop at the store for anything. He calls at 10:00 am. He calls at 10:00 pm. He is actually one of those rare breeds of men that likes the grocery store!! He may be tired, but he calls me anyway! He tells me daily how much he loves me. He compliments me on my cooking (except when I cook salmon……or brussel sprouts). He tells me I am smart, talented, fun, beautiful, a great mom, and an amazing grandma. He really means it, too! He is quick to say thank you. He is quick to forgive. He supports me. He tells me all the time he wants to make my dreams come true. I’ll push in chairs all day if he keeps that up!
Because he is all about the small stuff, I am learning to do the same. I have come to understand that expressing, out loud, my gratitude for and acknowledgement of, all that he does daily for me, for our family, for our ministry, for others, is a big deal to him. And to me. When I express my gratitude it reminds my brain, and my heart, of what is truly important. When I take the time to acknowledge the important small stuff I am not overly bothered by the unimportant small stuff. Know what I mean?
How about you? Can you do a better job of showing gratitude to the people in your life (most importantly your spouse) for the small things they do for you? Will you take the time to acknowledge those acts as often as you can? Can you let go of your resentment and frustration over the insignificant things that are bothersome in order to focus on the insignificant things that add up to significant things?
Will you stop sweating over the small stuff in order to be all about the small stuff?
Maybe some day I’ll write about my irritating small stuff, like leaving doors, drawers, and cabinets partially open, or never finishing up bottles of shampoo before I buy new ones consequently having about 25 containers in my (partially open) bathroom cupboard, or, …..well, never mind. Perhaps I won’t write that blog after all.
(Special acknowledgement to the late, Richard Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, for the inspiration for the title of this blog.)