It’s okay to sweat the small stuff.
We talk a lot at Bare Marriage about the big things that wreck a marriage, and how when abuse is running rampant within a marriage, it’s important to acknowledge that it is a sign of a broken relationship.
But there’s also another type of marriage issue that destroys the connection between a husband and wife. It’s not something that is a clear poison, but it absolutely can kill the relationship: it’s the “death-by-a-thousand-cuts” marriage.
In Bare Marriage Podcast, episode 212,Rebecca and I discussed an article that had recently been published, She Divorced Me Because I Left My Dishes by the Sink by Matthew Fray. This article, which was also turned into a book, discusses how the little things, such as not doing his dishes, began to slowly destroy his marriage.
Then yesterday on the podcast Rebecca and I looked at a study that we’re incorporating in the marriage book we’re reading that debunks the idea that you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. Basically, in a difficult relationship letting things go can help in the short-term, but in the long-term it can be poison.
So let’s talk about sweating the small stuff before the small stuff turns into big stuff.
Why The Small Things Turn Into Big Things
Year after year after year, what so many women want to say is that, often, we feel helpless because as we’ve been told our entire lives that our job is to make sure everyone is comfortable around us.
Our job is to smooth all the waves over.
Our job is to look effortless while we do it.
Our job is to have everything be perfect and make sure it’s perfect. And if our husbands help, then that’s great. But it’s really our responsibility.
And so what happens if there are problems with in-laws? Do we speak up the first year? Year two? Year three? What about when the kids start to come and they continue to cross boundaries? What do we do?
We can handle these stressors fine for the first year. Maybe even the first 5-10 years. But as time builds and we find ourselves stuck in these situations, the resentment begins to build because the load we’re trying to carry just gets heavier and heavier with time and with no reprieve in sight.
We’ve been taught for so long to be quiet that often what ends up happening is that the silence leads to disconnection.
Think about a plane trip. If you go off course by one degree, it’s super easy to fix early. But if you’re eight hours into your flight, all of a sudden you’re in a totally different country.
And men can have these issues too, even if they haven’t been given the same messaging. You’re supposed to love her and show grace, and so if she is doing something that is making more work for you, and is making you miserable, you suck it up to be a good husband.
And you can do that for a few years.
But can you for a few decades?
When Marriage is Imbalanced, Bigger Issues Fester
The coffee cup on the counter is not just a coffee cup on the counter. It’s saying, “I won’t take the 5 seconds it takes to put this in the dishwasher, because I know that you will, and my time is more valuable than yours.” Leaving the coffee cup on the counter, assuming your spouse will clean it up, comes with the assumption that you are more valuable than your spouse is.
That’s toxic for a marriage, and that’s why little things add up.
While this can apply to either gender, studies do show that it’s skewed towards women. Women are taught from a very young age that we don’t get to forget. We have to do it because no one else is going to, and that kind of marriage just eats away at someone. Although this is not a universal truth, forgetting is often a luxury that men have within a marriage, not women.
Even Holly Furtick said on the reel that we analyzed yesterday on the podcast that she doesn’t have the luxury of being grumpy, because the whole family depends on her.
When everyone else has a luxury that you don’t have, that’s a big imbalance that is often unsustainable in the long-term.
Even if the small things are themselves small, they’re often indicative of a larger pattern that makes one person feel invisible or less important.
Sweating the Small Stuff doesn’t mean attacking you spouse
Bringing up these small issues doesn’t mean that you attack your spouse’s character or talk about how your marriage is horrible. It can look like simply saying,
“Hey, I’d appreciate it if you’d stop leaving coffee cups on the counter but put them in the dishwasher instead.”
“What about coming to bed with me, instead of getting caught up on the computer at night? I miss you when you’re not there!”
“I hate that we’re always late to events. What would it take to get out of the door earlier on a regular basis?”
Just mention the things that are bothering you!
If you’re finding they’re really making you feel badly about your marriage, you can expand it, like this:
“When you leave the coffee cups on the counter, it seems like you’re assuming it’s my job to clean up after you, and I hate that dynamic for our marriage. Let’s not do that, okay?”
Can you see how having those conversations early can end up better in the long-run, before habits are built?
It’s Important To “Sweat The Small Stuff”
Divorce-bound relationships have multiple phases.
Often it starts with the small stuff. The things we take for granted with our spouses, unaware of the resentment and disconnect that is building. As the years go by, these feelings grow and grow, until something big happens; there’s a fight or a sudden realisation of, “I just don’t know who you are anymore.” The marriage is now in full-blown crisis mode.
This is usually the point where many married couples seek out help through marriage counselling. However, studies have shown that if you seek help at that point, your marriage is likely already beyond the point of no return. Your flight has ventured so off-course that you’re now on the other side of the world.
(that’s not to say that counseling won’t help; only that it likely would have helped more if you had sought counseling much earlier!)
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If you seek help when there hasn’t been some huge blow up or existential threat, there’s a lot more hope. When you’re at the point of saying to one another, “We just don’t feel connected. We’re living parallel lives. We feel like we try to reach out, and we just don’t mesh as well as it used to. I’m feeling lonely”–if that’s the point when you’re reaching out for help, it can actually move you in a different direction because you’ve corrected your path earlier on in the flight.
Maybe right now, you’re kind of kind of trudging on, feeling yourselves drift apart, but thinking, “Well, it’s not that bad yet.” This is the time to fix it–BEFORE you’re not in crisis mode.
Death by a thousand cuts is still a death.
We long for everyone to have happy and healthy marriages, which is why we can’t ignore the little things.
Seriously, sweat the small stuff, because the small stuff can add up.
What do you think? Do you err too much on the side of making a big deal out of little things? Or do you clam up too much? How do we find the happy medium? Let’s talk!