8 Lessons I’ve Learned About Love, Patience, and Cleanliness After 7,000 Hours at Home with My Husband
It’s 7 a.m. on a February morning and my husband Sam is hanging with our infant son, Julian. He has already let out the dog, made a bottle for the baby, and prepared a cup of coffee to my exacting specifications (lots of cream, two ice cubes). I am completely passed out in bed while all of this is happening, but please imagine me smiling as I sleep because I feel like one very lucky person every day.
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The year 2020 was a big one for us — for better and for worse. We got a puppy right before, well, everything happened; found out I was pregnant in May; bought a house in July; moved in September; dealt with unemployment, renovations, and a global pandemic; and welcomed a baby in January. We did all of it while spending basically 24 hours together, seven days a week — and we’re much stronger for it, even though it wasn’t always easy. (I’m very particular about tidiness and things being in their rightful place, while Sam is more laid-back about such things.)
In nearly a year of constant togetherness, we have both learned some big lessons about cohabitation, cleanliness, life changes, and love. While every day brings a new challenge, these tips have helped us keep our home a harmonious place and made us appreciate each other more.
Play to your strengths.
Sam is great at detail-oriented projects like building a bannister, deep cleaning the dishwasher, or painting the trim in the dining room, and he likes to cook. I am much better at daily chores, honestly enjoy cleaning the bathroom and doing laundry, and am generally ambivalent about cooking. When we split up household chores based on our individual preferences, everyone is happier — and the house is cleaner!
Maybe you hate unloading the dishwasher or shopping for groceries, but your partner doesn’t mind hitting up Whole Foods on the regular. Maybe they constantly forget to take the recycling out, but you always remember that the truck comes on Mondays. Split up such tasks so you’re doing things you excel at and chores feel much less tedious.
Accept each other’s annoying little habits.
Sam leaves beer bottle caps on the counter instead of throwing them away. I don’t always put the lid on the toothpaste and I make weak coffee. No matter how much you love your person, they do little things that irk you, but in the interest of harmony during a global pandemic, it’s best to suck it up, let those quirks slide, and pick your battles.
Everyone’s definition of clean is different.
Occasionally Sam has to remind me that we live in our home; it’s not a showroom, and it doesn’t need to be pristine. I need those reminders when I have a bee in my bonnet about dusting the radiators or washing baseboards at nine months pregnant. However, my husband notes that making the bed every day is not an option, and I prefer a kitchen sink free of dirty dishes — two general rules we agree on.
Even if you don’t always see eye to eye about baseboard cleanliness, it’s a great idea to have regular discussions with your person to align and set expectations regarding household chores so you’re both on the same page.
If they cook, you do the dishes.
That’s just being fair.
Give each other room to breathe.
For Sam, this means mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and birdwatching. For me, it’s thrifting and taking long baths with a good book (pre-baby, obviously). The two of us previously worked opposite schedules, so when stay-at-home orders set in, we were thrilled to spend more time together, but the key to not getting annoyed at each other is to do our own thing regularly. Now, we split baby duties to ensure the other partner has some much-needed me time.
As much as you love your person, you need some time away from them. Since gatherings with friends or weekends away are currently on pause, find activities you can do solo, or carve out a space in your home that’s just yours so you can get away when you need space.
Never underestimate the power of flowers.
Flowers make everything better. It’s science. They boost your mood, they bring a little bit of nature indoors, and they look pretty. Buy each other flowers, just because. (And yes, Trader Joe’s bouquets definitely count.)
Implement the “10-Minute No-Sit-Down Tidy-Up” each night.
Much like you should never go to bed angry, I believe you should never go to bed with a messy house. I just sleep better when I know my space will be clean and tidy in the morning, so we do what we call the “10-Minute No-Sit-Down Tidy-Up” on a regular basis. This means picking up dog toys, wiping the kitchen counter, putting shoes away, unloading the dishwasher, whatever.
Set a timer and divide and conquer. Future you will be appreciative.
Remember you’re a team.
From laundry to feedings to keeping the pacifier out of the dog’s mouth to managing to shove a sandwich in your mouth during the baby’s nap time, there’s a lot to do when a new baby is around. In this respect, teamwork can come in all shapes and sizes — thank goodness for grandparents, neighbors who leave casseroles, and friends who have been there, done that — but the fact that my husband and I support each other has helped me in immeasurable ways and through plenty of sleepless nights.
This applies to life and relationships in general, too: Even when things feel really hard, remind yourself of why you treasure this relationship in the first place. Ask for help — or a hug — when you need it. Listen, ask questions, be interested and invested in your person’s thoughts and feelings. Watch their favorite movie (again) even if it’s not your thing. Be there for each other, even when you’ve been sharing the same 1,000 square feet for nearly a year.