The Sink Trap

A few years ago I read an article about how to have a successful marriage. I'm a sucker for such articles, even though they often are obvious or so patently wrong they make me angry. I'm too lazy to look up this particular one again, so you'll have to accept my paraphrasing of it. The way to a happy marriage in the view of this author was acceptance. Now if you've seen my inspiration at the top of this site, you know I believe in acceptance. Limited acceptance. Only of things we cannot change. Remember that, for it will become important later in the story.

Ok, so one woman is quoted as being constantly irritated with her husband because whenever it is his turn to clean the kitchen at the end of the day, he forgets to empty the sink trap. This is disgusting, frankly, and she doesn't see why she should have to do it for him. Clearly. How she solves this problem? She reframes it. Instead of being annoyed that he hasn't cleaned the sink trap, she tells herself, "This is great. Now all I have to do is clean the sink trap." In other words, she thinks about how helpful her husband is so she only has one part of the clean up to do instead of all of it. How wonderful, right? Acceptance and a happy marriage!

NO FREAKING WAY. I read this and became instantly furious. Why should that stupid husband get to do a sub-par job on his day to clean the kitchen? Why should she have to accept that in order to be satisfied with his less-than-sparkling performance? Does HE have to "just clean the sink trap" when it's her turn? Of course not!!

And I referred to this marital problem as The Sink Trap henceforth.

What exactly is The Sink Trap? It's the idea that in order to have happy relationships, women end up just accepting whatever men contribute in order to have peace and harmony. But it's a trap because it's incredibly hard to get out of once you have fallen in. Once you have accepted that he will never clean the sink trap, and he knows you have accepted it, then guess what? He will never clean the freaking sink trap. Ever. This is one reason why women still do far more than their fair share of the raising of children and the household chores, even when they work as many or more hours outside the home as he does.

Many writers have covered this issue in more depth than I will here, discussing the "second shift" and the unfair burden that having children places on women to sort out their "work-life balance," but the reason I write about this now is that The Sink Trap is a major happiness barrier, a subject that is forefront on my mind these days.

I couldn't really see my way around The Sink Trap. It seems pointless to argue about the same things over and over again, and it seems completely ridiculous that women should have to accept less than their husbands' equal participation at home. So how to resolve this?

Let me first say that, like most husbands I know personally, mine is wonderful. Fabulous. Practically the best. He tries to help out a lot. So for the sake of marital harmony, let us just assume that I'm talking about someone else's husband here.

Back to the problem at hand. I think I hit upon a solution this past month while I was doing my most serious thinking about happiness and acceptance, and I decided that the answer lies in being able to do two things simultaneously: refuse to accept unequal treatment or participation AND refuse to get angry. I think not getting angry is the key. There is something about calm refusal to cooperate or accept the unacceptable that does a better job of getting results than getting angry and having Yet Another Argument.

If you know me, you know I'm a hothead and telling me not to get angry is a lot like telling me not to read books or not to breathe. But I'm willing to try it. For peace, for harmony, for the sake of not falling into The Sink Trap.

Things I can't change:
  • I'm home full-time this year and therefore run a huge risk of falling into The Sink Trap until I go back to work.
  • I work at a different speed and can get more crossed off The List than he can in the same amount of time.
  • It really does make me angry that women do so much more of the household and parenting work than men. Feelings can't be helped, only behaviors.
Things I can change:
  • I can listen when friends tell me about their own experiences with The Sink Trap and let them vent so they can try not to act out their angry feelings at home!
  • I can try to gather information and solve the problem before I act angry. Maybe there is an easy solution that will work for everyone and feel more fair.
  • I can negotiate a housework-life balance that doesn't make me feel intensely jealous and cheated out of having my own time.
Overall, I think this is just part of the difficulty that my generation has in figuring out what our roles are supposed to be once we choose our partners. My tendency is to keep trying to be Everything To Everyone, but having a son made me realize that if I don't do my part to raise him in an equal environment, I'm doing both him and a future child-in-law a grave disservice. Fortunately for me, both his father and I agree about that.  We are on the same team after all.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I like this one! The Sink Trap is so common and, unfortunately, so invisible that it is difficult to resolve. You are right that reversing the "half-empty" to "half-full" way of looking at things doesn't always work. Very helpful under other circumstances, but to reify the inequity is NOT helpful. I really love the sections where you identify what you can and can't change. I am trying to make that a part of my process when I ponder challenges in my life.