Better Living through Communication

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.” –Ecclesiastes 4:9

Every week night, my husband and I spend some time cleaning a specific room in our apartment. This is a fairly new system, one we adopted soon after I changed jobs at the end of June. Before, our housekeeping style ranged from erratic to nonexistent. Between him working between fifty and sixty hours a week, and me working four ten hour shifts with a two hour round trip commute, it was all we could do not to fall asleep over dinner. We cleaned what we could, when we could, usually as individuals. Keeping the never-ending cycles of laundry and dishes creeping along felt like the best we could do. The idea of sweeping the bedroom or dusting the bookshelves seemed pretty laughable.

Now, though, I work eight hour days at an office less than a mile away from our place. I’ve actually walked there and back a few times, but the typical Alabama summer we’ve been having put a stop to that practice rather quickly, at least for the time being. I liked my other job, but I LOVE this one. I really didn’t realize what a difference that would make in every other facet of my life. For the first time in our marriage, my husband and I are able to sit down and enjoy breakfast together every single day. My generalized anxiety disorder, which less than a year ago ruled over me like a ruthless tyrant, hasn’t reared its head in nearly seven weeks. I’ve been getting enough sleep, I’ve been eating better without really trying, I’ve been reading recreationally again. I’m even looking into going back to school next year.

So now that stress and exhaustion no longer call the shots for me, I find I have energy to do things I’ve been neglecting pretty much my entire adult life, like taking care of the space I live in. Suddenly, dust bunnies and disorganization bother me. So we put together a system, and for the first time approached housekeeping as a team.

It’s been amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish together. Tasks that have before taken an entire day for me to complete by myself take less than an hour when we work in tandem. This is not because I’m bad at cleaning, really, but because when it comes to housework, I’m not so great at prioritizing tasks. If I try to tackle a huge project myself, I have no direction. I try to do a little bit of everything that needs to be done and, in the end, finish nothing.

Together, it’s a whole different story. My husband’s strength lies in organization. He looks at a room and comes up with a goal for the cleaning session. For example, when we tackled our living room last week, the goal was to rearrange the room so we had enough floor space to work out at the same time. After we have our goal in mind, he figures out what we need to do and in what order and comes up with a plan. He relays that plan to me, and we discuss and tweak until it suits both of us, and then we individually complete various tasks until we reach the goal. It’s really been an exercise in the importance of communication, which I’ve determined in my rather short experience with marriage is the lynchpin of relationships, the point on which everything else hinges. My communication studies professor hammered this point home again and again, and at the time I thought she was exaggerating. I’ve never been so wrong. (Sorry, Dr. Hardig.)

But that’s another discussion for another day. Back to cleaning!

Last night, the designated target was our bedroom and my writing office, which is really more an adjacent alcove than a separate room. They’re both small rooms, so the original plan was for my husband to take care of the bedroom while I cleaned my office. Even so, I rushed into the bedroom before him and started pre-cleaning my side of the room. There were some clothes that had never quite made it to the laundry room, some cups that had never quite made it to the sink, some trash that had never quite made it to the garbage can, and honestly I was pretty embarrassed about how it looked.

“What are you doing?” my husband asked. “I thought you were going to work on the office.”

“I am, I just wanted to clean my side of the room first so you wouldn’t have to see how bad it is.”

He tilted his head to the side and gave me a quizzical look. “I’ve already seen what it looks like,” he finally said. “There’s no use in hiding it. Let’s just take care of it.”

It hit me as I nodded and walked away, leaving a few stray peppermint wrappers and an empty can of root beer behind me, that this was exactly what marriage is about. We see each other’s messes, the stuff we hide from the rest of the world. The stuff we like to pretend isn’t there at all. We see and acknowledge all of this, the messes and faults and mistakes, and we choose to love anyway.

There’s no need to pretend that nothing went wrong, because it did. There’s no need to be ashamed of a past mistake if you’re already in the process of fixing it. The change that matters – the internal one, the one prompting you to work on your faults and be a better person – has already happened, and that’s what counts.

And when the time comes to clean up the messes, improve the faults, reverse the mistakes, we do just that, and we do it together. No shame, no embarrassment, no anger. Just forgiveness. Just love.

P.S. For the record, we ended up completely rearranging the bedroom in addition to cleaning it, and now it looks like something one might find in a fancy loft apartment in Manhattan. We ended it with the classic Jim & Pam high-five. Marriage rocks.

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