Sara: Jacob tells me exactly how I need to do everything — and then he checks to make sure I’ve done it the way he wants. For example, he wants the shoes lined up on the shoe rack in a certain way. He tells me that I have to do it that way because his system makes so much more sense. Honestly, I’m not convinced. But the point is, I’m the one who is putting the shoes and boots away every day and if I wanted his advice on how to do it, I’d ask him. I just want him to stay out of my business.

Jacob: Sara is inefficient. If I’m not on top of her shopping, she’ll buy a dozen bananas for the week and then end up throwing out half of them. When she piles the shoes up the way she does, mud drips down and the bottom layer of shoes gets dirty. My system works so much better. Also, the way she does the laundry ends up wasting both detergent and water. If I left everything up to her, our life would be a disaster.

 

When Right is Wrong

It’s possible that Jacob is right. It’s possible that his approach makes far more sense than his wife’s. And when a spouse’s actions would truly result in disaster — serious financial loss or harm to life or limb — then one must step in to modify the partner’s behavior. When imperfection, rather than disaster, is at stake, however, a different approach is required. After all, being “right” isn’t the main objective when it comes to marriage — being able to live together in harmony is.

Raphael: When I go out with the baby, my wife calls me every five minutes. She doesn’t trust me, so she asks me to send her pictures of what he’s wearing and what he’s eating. She tries to hide her real motivation by just saying, “I miss him so much! Send me a picture of what he’s doing right now!” but I know exactly what she’s up to because she’s always checking on me at home, too.

She’ll tell me I should feed the baby and then all through the meal it’s “Don’t hold the spoon like that, Raphael. Tighten his bib — it’s falling off. Wipe his face — he’s got food on his cheeks!” I feel like telling her to feed the baby herself if she’s so good at it, but I’m not the type to fight.”

Shira: Let’s face it — Raphael is incompetent with the baby. If I didn’t tell him what to do, the baby would freeze or starve to death or be a mess. I’m just trying to help him. I don’t see what he’s so upset about.

Shira is a competent mother who knows what works with her baby. By comparison, Raphael misses fine details, even though he can change a diaper, dress the baby, and get some food down the youngster’s mouth. He just doesn’t see or doesn’t care as much about some of the things his wife finds so important.

Bottom line: People do things differently. Shira’s desire to get her husband completely on board with her way of doing things must be measured against the quality of their relationship. Ultimately, what’s most ideal for the baby is a happy home.

Some couples put an end to “space invasions” by creating a distinct division of labor with the rule that when a person is in charge of a task — if the wife is making supper, for example — that person is fully and solely in charge of the task and can do it his or her way without having to receive helpful hints or direct instructions from a partner. If a child is in the husband’s care, the husband makes all the childcare decisions for that period of time. Help is only offered if it has been requested.

Each person may experience bouts of discomfort caused by having to tolerate a partner’s “substandard” actions. Hard as this can be, it’s comforting to realize that there’s so much to gain from stepping back and letting your partner be slightly inefficient. This helps you remain a likeable and lovable human being — space invaders are not generally well-liked! You’re also providing a healthy model for your children as you protect and nurture your own marriage. Let the crumbs fall where they may. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 600)