When Are Wet Towels on the Bed More than Just Wet Towels on the Bed?

by | Jul 25, 2022 | Life, Marriage, Resolving Conflict | 31 comments

Wet Towel on the Bed: When Does it Matter?

Did you know that 45,000 receive an email from me every Friday with a round-up of things from the blog and social media that week?

To make sure you don’t miss anything?

And that email is usually written by Rebecca, with an extra insight or thought into where the conversation has gone.

I thought last week’s email was especially good, and wanted to share it with you, since not everyone is signed up for my email list.

And remember–you can sign up anytime, too, so you don’t miss anything, AND so you’ll get even more great content like this article!

So here’s Rebecca:

Sheila Wray Gregoire

I (Rebecca) was talking to my mom about this wet towels discussion we’ve been having on social media this week, and I have a theory.

First off, if you’ve missed what is going on, Sheila posted about the Love and Respect example of how Emerson Eggerichs leaves wet towels on the bed and the end conclusion of the anecdote is that Sarah Eggerichs just learned to stop asking her husband to not leave wet towels on the bed after he says he didn’t miss her because of her nagging when she left for a week.

It’s gross.

Then Sheila posted some boundaries people suggested a wife in this position could draw to help change the dynamic in the relationship so that she isn’t being exploited anymore. (You can see those here.)

But we had some people saying things like, “I can’t imagine blowing up a marriage over such a small thing.” Or “Just put the towels in the hamper, I don’t see the big deal.”

So I have a theory.

I think that people who really don’t seem to understand the problem with a husband being thoughtless about things like this fall into one of two camps.

First, there’s the group of women who have truly internalized the message that it is a woman’s job to serve men, including cleaning up after them, and this is simply how the world should work. This would be an example of internalized misogyny–he gets to treat her worse than he treats other people because she is his wife. It’s pretty obvious where these ones go wrong, so we’re not talking about those for the rest of this newsletter.

But second, there’s women who genuinely don’t understand that their marriage is fantastic and not normal.

Let me give you an example.

I had a brilliant friend in university who was studying chemistry. Many of her courses would have “extra credit” questions on exams, so that people had a chance to make back lost points. For this friend of mine, though, it often meant she ended up getting a 106 on a paper or a test because she would have gotten a 97-100 even without the extra credit.

Now, the way grades worked at our school, everything 90+ got the same end grade for your cGPA (10). So getting a 104 grade doesn’t actually change anything–you have 14 points to play around with before you actually start seeing your GPA drop. And it makes sense, since frankly someone who got a 92 generally does understand the material just as well as someone who got a 98 or a 100. So there was this idea of as long as you show you really understand the material, you get full marks on your transcript.

Doesn’t matter if you got a 90 or a 102, what matters is it’s clear you understood the assignment and could follow-through.

So think about a marriage that is really, really great and is founded on equality, trustworthiness, and friendship.

You can rely on each other, neither is overwhelmed or being exploited, but he leaves his clothes on the floor. Or maybe she collects coffee cups on her night stand. Or maybe one of them forgets to change the toilet paper roll.

If you’ve got 14 points to play around with, you’re probably just not going to care. Because it doesn’t matter, you’ve got a good grade. So you can cluck your tongue, toss the sweatshirt into the hamper, and laugh and move on with your day. You’ve got the wiggle room because you’ve demonstrated that, on the whole, your relationship is founded on really understanding the assignment of what goes into a healthy marriage.

At that point, the towels on the floor are simply taking you from a 100 to a 96. Or a 104 to a 92. Sure, it’s a mistake. But it’s not one that changes the overall feeling of the marriage. If you make enough of those little mistakes, yeah of course it would. But when it’s just a few little things, it really can be brushed off because it’s not emblematic of a larger pattern.

But what about someone whose marriage doesn’t have that base of excellence? What about a marriage that isn’t founded on understanding the basics of what goes into a healthy relationship?

What about a marriage that isn’t starting off with 100 points, but rather is starting off barely passing at a 54?

For marriages like these, something “small” like wet towels on the bed is a big deal because it’s emblematic of a larger issue–entitlement, laziness, inconsideration, or more. When I got back a test in university where I got a 96, I typically didn’t really bother myself stressing out over the lost 4 points because I figured a quick refresh would be all I needed. But if I got a 67 on a test I hit the books.

We need to recognize that marriages are not all the same.

Leaving wet towels on the bed is always a “mistake” the same way that a wrong answer is a wrong answer. But its impact is different based on the context of the relationship.

I think this hits the nail on the head! And I wanted to make sure that those of you who aren’t signed up to our emails still got a chance to see it.

And I wanted to invite you to sign up as well!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

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Wet Towel on the Bed: When Does it Matter?

So what do you think? Does this make sense to you, and what would you add to explain why the towels bother some people and not others?

Rebecca Lindenbach

Author at Bare Marriage

Rebecca Lindenbach is a psychology graduate, Sheila’s daughter, co-author of The Great Sex Rescue, and the author of Why I Didn’t Rebel. Working alongside her husband Connor, she develops websites focusing on building Jesus-centered marriages and families. Living the work-from-home dream, they take turns bouncing their toddler son and baby daughter, and appeasing their curmudgeonly blind rescue Yorkshire terrier, Winston. ENTJ, 9w8

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31 Comments

  1. Codec

    What a fascinating analogy

    Reply
  2. Laura

    Rebecca explained it well. I just wish I knew what Sarah Eggerichs’ side of the story was. How many years had she been having to deal with wet towels on the bed? I would not be surprised if there were more issues in that marriage.

    In the suggestions Sheila gave about setting boundaries regarding the wet towel issue, my mom always told my dad, brother, and me that if we wanted our laundry done, the clothes needed to be put in the hamper in the laundry room. Unfortunately, my brother was a bit lazy in bringing his dirty clothes to the laundry room. So, if he was out of clean clothes and wondered why, Mom reminded him of that rule. There was no nagging involved; just a simple, “If you want this thing done [clean laundry], then you need to do this thing [put your clothes in the hamper in the laundry room].

    Since every marriage is different, it’s hard to know what is the best advice to give. I think when there’s a power dynamic issue (obviously, in the Eggerichs’ marriage), then counseling by someone who is licensed and does not endorse L & R.

    Reply
    • Laura

      By the way: I live with my mom and do my own laundry. If I want to leave a towel on the floor, that’s what my bedroom is for. Now, if I ever remarry someday, then I will change that.

      Eggerichs seemed like he wanted to hang on to his bachelor days of being a slob and also teaching his sons that it’s okay to be slobs. I can imagine him saying something like this, “We’re males and we’re built to be that way [messy]. That’s why God created woman, so she could pick up after us.”

      Reply
      • Anon

        That’s the same attitude Gaston had in “Beauty and the Beast” when talking to Belle about what his ideal married life would be like:

        Gaston: “Picture it. A rustic hunting lodge, my latest kill roasting on the fire, my little wife massaging my feet while the little ones play on the floor with the dogs! We’ll have six or seven.”

        Belle: “Dogs?”

        Gaston: “No, Belle! Strapping boys, like me!”

        Gag me. 🤮

        Reply
  3. A2bbethany

    It’s amazing how a husband stepping up his help, suddenly becomes very attractive! And that happened because we changed our whole child discipline, on a trial run.
    I got very little from Wendy’s webinar, and I don’t have any money to spend on her materials. So I binged Supernanny on YouTube for free! Still don’t have all the questions answered, but I got plenty of practical tips and it’s working!

    I put a remind on my phone for 30 days, no matter what, no spanking. It was a hard transition for all of us, but now I have a happier home and a much more obedient 3 yr old. And it started with mostly just me, but I had to make hubby get on board helping me experiment with this. And we did it! Still definitely not perfect, but bedtime is better and she’s stopped being a terror to be out with. (Used to have screeching fits around other children and couldn’t share.)

    Reply
  4. Jane Eyre

    When I read this in the newsletter on Friday, SO MUCH made sense. It’s such a great metaphor, too – having extra points to play around with.

    Maybe it doesn’t matter if you miss question 7 when you get the other nineteen questions right. But you miss 7, you have no grasp of what is being asked in 11-16, you didny bother doing the math on the first three questions… looks bad.

    Likewise, if someone is griping about bad sex or wet towels, you cannot be all – but sometimes you don’t orgasm and that’s okay or everyone irritates each other. Is this a part of a systematic problem?

    Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      Sorry, that wasn’t exactly coherent.

      When someone is saying that there is a problem, the question is if it’s a one-off or an example of a systematic problem.

      People in happy marriage are like “I have those one-offs, too! Just let it go.” People in miserable marriages are like, “So tell me about the other 183 times that something similar happened.”

      It’s important to bank “points” in your marriage. Couples who cohabitate have higher divorce rates – turns out, women feel like they are waiting forever for a ring, and have committed totally to someone who hasn’t done the same for them in return. So by the time they get married, the relationship is starting off with very little room for error. It’s like needing to ace every test just to pass.

      I wonder if good sex is the reverse (wouldn’t know) – banking points with your spouse such that minor issues don’t really change your attitude very much.

      Reply
      • Tim

        I think thats right, and also very similar to what Harley said on the ‘love bank’ in His Needs, Her Needs (which has some dumb stuff in it imo and scores badly on the GSR healthy sexuality rubric, but is also one of the main reasons we’re still married so take the rough with the smooth I guess).

        My wife has a mildly annoying habit of putting hand towels in the laundry when they’re wet but not getting out a fresh one to replace it. Normally I just get the new one and it’s at worst mildly annoying (or more often mildly amusing as it’s become a running joke). But when we you’re struggling with big things, those little things that shouldn’t matter can seem like they do.

        Reply
        • Jo R

          “But when we you’re struggling with big things, those little things that shouldn’t matter can seem like they do.”

          There’s also the scenario where there may not be big things, but hundreds of little things do add up to become their own monolithic mass, becoming a big thing.

          Reply
          • Tim

            Yes, that’s a good point. And reading between the lines, perhaps what Sarah E was frustrated about in the towel story. Emerson writes “She complained about every crumb on the counter, every shoe on the floor, every wet towel left on the bed, every candy wrapper that missed the wastebasket”. It’s possible she might have communicated her frustration in unhelpful ways at times (who knows?) But there’s really no acknowledgement in the story as Emerson writes it that those are genuinely annoying things that he/his kids were doing, and much more so when they’re all happening at the same time.

          • Jo R

            “every crumb on the counter, every shoe on the floor, every wet towel left on the bed, every candy wrapper that missed the wastebasket”

            Exactly! The wet towel isn’t a one-off. There is a pattern of childishness in not being minimally responsible for one’s own self.

            And no healthy, normal adult is interested in being married to a child.

          • Tim

            To be fair, some of that behaviour is their kids. It’s not clear from the story how much, or how old they were.

            The most charitable (to Emerson) reading I can come up with is that the kids were responsible all the mess except the towels, and he’s giving his wife minimal support in training the children to be tidy, if not actively undermining her. And even if you’re prepared to assume all that I think his response to her “badgering and criticising” does come across very childish.

          • Jo R

            Well, if one is not prepared to be a responsible grown-up, then yeah, I guess reminders to be a responsible grown-up, or entreaties to children to stop being childish and therefore actively move toward becoming a responsible grown-up, are going to sound like “badgering and criticizing” as well as the ever-popular “nagging.”

  5. Connie

    It’s all in the attitude. If he’s generally thoughtful and once in a while forgets to pick up after himself, and also sometimes picks up after her, it’s one thing. If he treats her alternately like a mommy and a child, well, no wonder she doesn’t like sex. That feels like incest. It’s a power dynamic. Does he exercise power over her, or does he empower her? Everything God does, the world has the counterfeit for, and the church has picked up far too many counterfeits.

    Reply
  6. Jo R

    Megalomania induced by unconditional respect.

    Reply
  7. EOF

    I really enjoyed Friday’s email. That really is the perfect analogy.

    It makes me think of my early years in marriage when things were really bad and I couldn’t get any help from my church. My husband was having almost daily fits of rage and I was certainly receiving daily emotional, spiritual and verbal trauma.

    At that time I had these two friends who would complain about how their husbands never got angry and too eager to please. They complained about how nice it would be for them to get mad just once in a while. I can’t tell you how hard it was to keep myself from bursting into tears and when they talked like that around me. There was also a church lady who would constantly make “my husband is better than yours” FB posts, bragging about all the amazing things her husband did for her, so concerned that she always felt like a princess. I always felt like crap when her posts would cross my feed. Why would God give other women such wonderful husbands, but I was having daily anxiety attacks because of my husband?

    People who don’t have troubled marriages don’t get it at all!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think that’s very true. I’ve certainly been guilty of that in the past. I’m glad you guys are in a better place now!

      Reply
    • Ann

      I feel every bit of this! I have been with my husband 27 years married 19. We had a bad foundation and he rages over every little thing ….still. Except now I’m done I dont want to live the rest of my life like this , he always has an excuse . People have no clue .

      Reply
  8. Guest

    The whole thing can be turned back towards the HUSBAND. Why is such a big deal for HIM not put the towels away? Its about perspective. I struggle with organization due in part to ADHD and part to laziness but when my hubby mentions it, I don’t cop an attitude the way the Love and Respect author does about towels. I recognize the importance of needing to keep things in their place and how disorder affects my husband’s anxiety. I don’t take it as nagging. We often end up doing the cleaning together. The point is the Love and Respect author needs to grow up and get a serious attitude adjustment.

    Reply
  9. C

    My husband has never done the wet towel thing. I think you pointed out in another post that it showed in an incredible lack of insight on the part of the author(and his editor and the publishing company).
    Putting a wet towel where it belongs is a basic life skill.

    Many jobs, including most entry level jobs have basic “housekeeping” tasks associated with them. You put things back where they belong. You don’t let the trash overflow. You don’t leave a mess for a coworker that you should have cleaned up. How do the men who can’t take care of a wet towel function in the outside world?

    How on earth are the women who defend Eggerichs raising functional human beings if they think it is okay for the menfolk to model such disorder to the kids? The boys can be slobs and the girls can pick up after them?

    Reply
  10. Rachel

    If the premise of the book is that a wife needs love and a man needs respect – then the example of the wet towels does NOT look like *love* to me in any way! How can you say you “love” someone but blatantly disregard their feelings in such a way? I am thankful that I have a marriage that ranks in the higher per cent in your example – but part of the reason is because we do things for each other because we love each other. He likes his laundry to hung a certain way on certain hangers – and he has good reasons for his preferences. So that is what I try to do. Before we were married – he asked that I not leave my shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, hair dryer, curling iron etc. on the counter so the bathroom would look neat for company. That was not my normal routine -but because I love him and understood his reasoning – I still put away all of my things after 22 years of marriage – with NO resentment. It’s just became 2nd nature. But he also helps a lot around the house – he helps with laundry, dishes etc. He always takes his dishes to the sink, he puts his clothes in a hamper etc. So if there is an occasion when he doesn’t – I know he must have been running late, was really tired etc. and I gladly do it for him. I’m sure there are many things that he does just because I like things done a certain way. We work together – we are a team – we love each other. For a husband to totally ignore something his wife has asked him to do (with multiple good reasons of why you don’t want wet towels on the bed), something so simple to do – does NOT belong in a book that talks about love. I just can’t wrap my head around that. In addition – if we are to be Christians….we are to be Christians FIRST at home. There is nothing in that scenario (or in the hurtful remarks that followed) that sounds like 1. Do unto others 2.Prefer others before yourself etc. etc. and specifically husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church….and what??? Gave himself for it (Eph 5:25). Love their wives as their own bodies (Eph 5:28). Husbands love your wives (Col 3:19). None of us are perfect and we all have things we need to work on – but this scenario should only be used as an example of what NOT to do to show love.

    Reply
  11. Nathan

    It’s definitely an “iceberg” issue, where that’s only the tip of the story. If I left wet towels on the bed, and didn’t want my wife to complain as she picked up after me, there would probably be many other issues going on in addition to that.

    Or, as Homer Simpson said to Marge when they got free plane tickets to anywhere in the U.S. “This is a chance for you to cook and clean up after us in a whole new state!”

    Reply
  12. R

    This does make so much sense. My husband is wonderful, so it does t bother me if he forgets to put his jacket or shoes away, for example.
    But occasionally if there is a lot happening or I am overwhelmed (like when I was pregnant and nauseous all day long) I would get cross about these sort of things.

    Years ago, when we had not been married long, we had a little bit of friction over clothes. If my husband had worn something for only a few hours and it was clean, he would be planning to wear it again. However 9 times out of 10 he would leave it on the floor on his side if the bed, or hanging over the end of the bed. I would be doing the washing when he was at work, so I wouldn’t know if he planned to wear that garment again or not, so I’d just wash it. Then he would be annoyed that I’d washed it for no reason (or more usually, it would still be wet when he wanted to wear it haha!). I was like, “why would you complain about me washing your clothes?” LOL
    So I bought a small basket to go next to his bedside table – it was his “wear again” basket! If it wasn’t in the basket it was fair game for the washing machine.
    These days he tends to hang up things he wants to wear again, and takes his other clothes to the dirty clothes basket.
    When we were first married I also had to remind him to out his dirty clothes IN the basket, not drop them NEXT TO the basket.
    My husband worked long hours, so I did all the housework when we were first married – but that didn’t mean I couldn’t speak up about little things that would make my life easier if he just made a small adjustment in his habits. After all, a wife is not a maid. Some people (looking at you, “transformed wife”!)seem to think that if a wife has a servant heart then that means she shouldn’t ask her husband to make these sort of adjustments – that she should just be thankful that she has a husband to serve, rather than asking him to change his bad habits. Having a servant heart does not mean that you are a literal servant and your husband is the boss! Having a servant heart means that you love to serve and minister to others – and guess what? Husbands need to have a servant heart too, not just wives.

    Too many men seem to have a sense of entitlement, as though their wife couldn’t possibly ask them to make any small changes to make her life easier. And if a man is that entitled with towels, or washing – chances are he acts entitled in other areas as well.

    Reply
  13. Lisa M

    It’s perfectly reasonable to expect your spouse to do things that a five-year-old can be expected to do. All of my children are trained to pick up their towels, dirty clothes, shoes, wrappers, etc. Everyone needs a reminder on occasion but habitually not doing it is behaving like an infant.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly. And to join your sons in not doing it, and encouraging them to not do those things when Mom isn’t around, and justify not liking mom because she asks you to clean up? Not cool.

      Reply
  14. Jess

    I don’t think the problem was the wet towels, is about points, but attitude. In the wet towels scenario the at-fault spouse chose to insult his wife and intentionally continue with the offending habit. That’s very different from owning the mistake, attempting to change the problematic habit and simply forgetting, a lot. They might look the same in practice(at least initially), but they don’t feel anything at all alike.

    Reply
    • Tim

      I ended up getting this book out of the library to see if it’s really this bad (which it pretty much is, at least as far as this story is concerned). The towel thing is presented as forgetfulness, not intentional disrespectfulness towards his wife. He says elsewhere in the book he deals with them when he’s reminded and that it’s a bit of an in joke between them. Whether it’s as funny for her as it is for him, your guess is as good as mine.

      On the flip side, the towel thing Rebecca and Sheila have been focusing on is just the worst aspect of what comes across as general slobbishness. And I didn’t think the way he writes about it shows a lot of self awareness either.

      Reply
  15. Nikki Isom

    I keep thinking of Shel Silverstein’s book. They were little poems. One was about taking out the trash. Teach your boys to do the respectful thing with their garbage even when at work.

    Reply
  16. Michelle

    I talked to my husband about the “wet towels” discussion this morning. FYI, our marriage began 24 years ago under “hierarchy” dogma. Since he began literally studying “The Great Sex Rescue”, he’s broken many negative marriage role- related habits .

    At first, he responded that wet towels were a poor example to make an issue over in a counseling book. I responded that The lights came on for him. He said “That was the author’s habit? That’s unhygienic and STUPID to fight over. The guy’s a JERK!” ROFLOL

    Reply
  17. Tara

    Interesting read. I just recently found a Matthew Fray blog post entitled, “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink.” I don’t know if he’s Christian at all, but the author blogs about the small eroding behaviors that led up to his wife leaving him. He, admits a bit late and with the wisdom of hindsight, owns his contribution to the marriage breakdown, and shares his insights in blog (and now book) form. When I read your post about the ridiculous wet towel behavior and the above author’s wife asking him to stop, I thought Fray’s quote and perspective best applied to the scenario,

    “But she didn’t want to be my mother. She wanted to be my partner, and she wanted me to apply all of my intelligence and learning capabilities to the logistics of managing our lives and household.

    She wanted me to figure out all of the things that need done, and devise my own method of task management.

    I wish I could remember what seemed so unreasonable to me about that at the time.” – Matthew Fray

    https://matthewfray.com/2016/01/14/she-divorced-me-because-i-left-dishes-by-the-sink/

    I don’t know if he’s religious, but I really appreciated his perspective. Now that he’s a marriage coach trying to help other couples avoid divorce, I really appreciate his candor about small behaviors that can really erode the marriage partnership.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think he’s written some excellent things! I’m going to take more of a look when we do our marriage book.

      Reply

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