For Me

One of the greatest shifts in my marriage, possibly in my adulthood as a whole, has also been one of the smallest shifts. It has slipped by unnoticed in the mundane tasks of laundry cycles and dish duty, a simple phrase that has ever so slightly changed the energy in our home:

I’m doing this for me.

I used to have a bit of a martyr complex.

I’d spend my Saturday mornings waking up early with a baby, feeding and rocking and shushing, then get to work cleaning the house while Ken (deservingly) slept in. I’d put Bee on my hip and we’d de-clutter the entryway, sift through the junk mail, return 800 pairs of shoes to their proper homes, all while I’d run the subconscious script in my head that I’m doing this for my family, these lucky creatures.

And then, after an hour or so, the resentment would set in. I don’t know where it came from, it would just arrive, and suddenly I’d be fluffing throw pillows loudly and with fury (Did you know it is possible to fluff throw pillows with fury?). I would resent that Ken was sleeping while I was tidying. I would resent that Bee had so many baby toys. I would resent that the people I lived with were not naturally organized, not naturally tidy, that I would forever be spending my days moving things around, returning keys to the hook, shoes to the cabinet, detergent to the shelf.

You can imagine, then, how lovely it was for Ken to wake up on these mornings – a sour wife in a spotless kitchen.

I no longer let the script run on those nameless Saturdays. I’ve shifted it slightly, and the shift has left seismic waves in my life:

I’m doing this for me.

It has taken me many years to discover that the purpose of marriage is not to change your spouse into someone more palatable, more convenient for you, someone who never fails to return his own keys to the entryway hook.

But oh, how I’d tried.

The honest truth is this: the sweet, crazed people in my home could care less where the keys hang. Ken hates shower mold but doesn’t mind a cluttered desk. Bee makes her bed with the precision of a navy seal, but leaves artwork strewn about the house like confetti in the wind.

I cannot handle a cluttered surface but am forever failing to use the grease splatter screen on bacon days.

Et tu, Brute?

So when I spend my mornings de-cluttering the house, I’m speaking my own love language here. There is nothing remotely martyr-ish about it, no resentment necessary.

I’m doing this for me.

I hear women speak often of self care, of how vital it is to rest in this season of our lives. I agree wholeheartedly, and if you’ll give me a quiet afternoon with a short stack of books and a tall glass of Chardonnay, I am a changed woman.

But I also agree that many areas of self care are so easily overlooked, are so easily placed into the martyrdom category. We mix self care in with others care and we confuse servanthood with sainthood.

We fail to see that when we’re caring for our families, we’re also caring for ourselves.

I once witnessed the most glorious argument between my friend and her husband over a toaster. Every morning, he’d pull out the toaster from the bottom cabinet to make breakfast before heading into the office. Every morning, he’d leave it out on the counter, and every morning, she’d have to put it away.

“Have to,” she’d say.

She argued that he should put the toaster back where it belongs before he leaves the house.
He argued that if they’d just make space for the toaster on the counter, he wouldn’t have to get it out every morning, and she wouldn’t have to put it away.
She argued that there wasn’t enough countertop space for the toaster to stay out.
He argued that if she’d move her artisan candle collection to the dining nook, there’d be plenty of space.

(Never bring up a woman’s artisan candle collection in the heat of the moment.)

The crux of the matter was simple: the toaster was an eyesore, and the candles were not. She could choose form over function, but she’d need to recognize that it was her choice. She’d need to own it.

She’d need to say, simply: I’m doing this for me.

It was never a Her vs. Him argument. It was simply a Candles vs. Toaster argument.

(Candles won, obv.)

Last weekend, after a busy season of planes and plans, of sickness and schedules, Ken offered me an afternoon to myself. I’d had high hopes to crack the spine on a new library read, to take a nap, maybe catch up on my emails, perhaps sneak in a walk and some quiet dinner prep?

But the house had grown messy in our busyness, and my love for order won out. There was laundry to catch up on, paperwork to sift through, a kitchen to clean. Ken came home to a spotless house, and a not-at-all sour wife.

Thank you, he said.

No thanks necessary, I said. I did it for me.

Finally, it was the truth.

 

p.s. For those curious about my outfit in these photos, my friend Carly just launched her apparel collection – handmade in Guatemala from seams and dreams. You’ll love. I’m wearing this and this!

  • This resonated with me so much. I’ve been there, angrily fluffing pillows or throwing saucepans into the cupboard, while my boyfriend sits on his computer. But I’m need to remember I’m doing it for me because I like a tidy, organised house, and that I’m not doing it for him. But I know he’s grateful, regardless.

    Thank you for this.

  • Wow! So so so powerful! Reframing is such important and I’ve done it often but never in this context. I can hear the glass shattering!

  • WOW, did I need to hear this today! I always feel like I’m the one who cleans the kitchen (I can’t stand dishes being left in the sink and crumb-y counters). But then I always feel resentful while cleaning because, why am I always the one to clean up the mess! I’m going to start using your mantra for myself. Thanks for this post!

  • So needed to be reminded of this. I hope it helps me change the way I talk to myself :)!

  • You are so articulate to put this into words, and so courageous for being honest about how you were perhaps not being the ‘best’ wife you could be in the past where this is concerned. I really admire you for that, and for the latter particularly.

    I love that the shift you went through has made you happier, and your marriage better. I’m not sure I’ve made that shift yet (or indeed even want to), because in my head I’m thinking “I do this for us, I do this for us”. It’s better than “I do this for you”, though, and I’m pleased with that much! haha!

    I suppose the saving grace for me is that I know my boyfriend feels the same way as me – it’s something we’ve talked about a lot. I guess in that regard, we’re very lucky that order in our home and ‘acts of service’ to our home and one another are very important to us both.

    We don’t keep count of what one another has done (or hasn’t done), and agree that if we feel we’re doing 50% of everything, we’re probably doing more like 30% without realising… So, we both aim to be 100% responsible for cleanliness/order/chores, knowing that it means we’ll probably end up pulling equal weight overall. But if that’s not the case all the time – for whatever reason – (work commitments, tiredness etc), we’re both cool with it because we’re both on the same page.

    Not sure where I’m going with this comment other than I wanted to share that with you ! :) I just love to see how different couples see this kind of thing, and what they do to make the wellbeing of their marriage the priority. :)

    Flora
    http://www.theeverchange.com

    • Was reading through the comments and came across another Flora! There aren’t many of us- hi!

    • oh i LOVE this, flora – thank you for sharing with me! i LOVE how self aware you both are that you’re probably more at like 30%. i’ve always felt similarly — i’m doing far less than i realize — so it’s been a treat to stop keeping count entirely, ha. ;)

  • This post was everything to me today! How many times have I washed dishes so angrily, slamming them into the dish rack, that my partner comes in the kitchen and asks if everything is okay? But you’re right–it is for me! Thank you for reminding me to breathe and be conscious of my motivation.

  • I loved this. I have been married 32 years and never thought of it this way! Thank you.

  • THIS! I have actually been on my way towards this conclusion for about a week now, marveling at how when I want the house clean and Husband doesn’t care, or rather doesn’t even SEE the clutter, the resentment in me grow louder and louder with every bit of tidying I do. And I thought to myself just two days ago, what if, as an experiment, I try cleaning the house as if it were for me (which it is), as if it were my own home (which it is), as if it made me happy… which it does! I think part of it was the reluctance to be the stereotypical 50s Happy Homemaker, but honestly, a tidy space, a cared for home, these things do make me happy. Revelations abound. And then this post! Thank you for validating my own internal meanderings of the week!

  • I love this so much! I had much the same kind of shift, although it was less… ‘wholesome.’ ;) I would angrily throw clothes in the washer (again) and slam pots and pans (again) and feel very much a martyr. But one day I caught myself carefully removing myself from plans saying (very honestly), “I have to get my house in order and catch up before Monday. I hate starting the week with no clean clothes, groceries, and a mess.” I remember mentally stopping dead in my tracks. HOLY. COW. I grump when I have to do it and I grump when I *can’t* do it?! I decided then that I would appreciate my family and home to take care of and do those things for me because I felt loving, happy, and peaceful when I am taking care of the things and people I love. It fills my cup. World-shifting.

  • This had me holding my breath. I realized while reading your words that I can completely relate. MY peace and MY happiness are wrapped up in clutter free spaces. My husband and lovely one year old can happily go about their day even when the kitchen sink is full of dishes and the table has collected papers and random objects. I will huff and puff when tidying because I’m thinking that I’m doing this for us. For our family and our home. Why isn’t he?
    When really, truly, I am doing it for me and a peaceful mindset. I will remember this when I feel that resentment bubbling up. It’s been happening too often. Thank you, Erin. Your words are always so inspiring.

    • oh kristina, i’ve been there many times. so much love to you! (and man, that 1 yr old stage is hard. sending kindness and grace your way!)

  • I loved this so much. A related tip I learned from a therapist years ago: When I’m doing dishes/folding laundry/picking up my kiddos’ shoes for the 37th time I try to remember I’m doing these things *in favor of* a clean home rather than *against* a dirty one. <3

  • What a wonderful mentality! I could use this some days. Especially weekends… it’s crazy how much messier the house is when my husband is home! :)

  • This wasn’t at all what I expected but it was exactly what I needed. Beautiful insight. Thank you for sharing this.

  • I love this post so much!! I nagged my husband for the first six years of marriage (we’ve only been married 7) to put his tooth brush in the drawer in the morning. About 6 months ago I realized I could just do it without nagging him or even mentioning it ever again. The nagging wasn’t doing anything but frustrating us both. It took awhile but I realized him not caring about the toothbrush wasn’t because he didn’t care about me but it just wasn’t important to him and overall it was a truly unimportant thing. So I began putting it up every morning and tidying after him in other ways and just being thankful for a man that loves me and our children and goes to work every day so I can be home caring for our children and our home. But I hadn’t really realized that I was doing it for me and that’s ok…I like a tidy home (not clean bc with two small kids and a dog, that’s a losing battle) but no one else in my family cares. It’s fine that I want a tidy home but it’s not ok to make the home tidy with an ugly heart that overflows into other family life aspects. I was ruining the atmosphere of our home because I was bitter and taking it out on everyone…over a toothbrush!!!!

    • I HAVE SO BEEN THERE! i can completely relate to this:
      It took awhile but I realized him not caring about the toothbrush wasn’t because he didn’t care about me but it just wasn’t important to him and overall it was a truly unimportant thing.

      so much wisdom. :)

  • Oh how true this is. What a great reminder. Thank you! It is so incredibly easy to forget why we do those tasks. Every time I clean an area of my house, expecting a compliment over something no one asked me to do, my husband finally said one day, “I think that bothers you more than me” which is true. But then there’s areas that bother him more than me. And isn’t that the balance you need to have. We can’t do it all, but we can do our own part :)

  • I am the lucky wife with the husband who cleans the house “for him”. My struggle is not feeling guilty that i am not the one cleaning, so this is a good reminder for me, from the other side.

  • Where were you 30 years ago when I was a new wife and mommy? :) Thank you for putting the truth out there. This old dog will learn a new trick, as I still have a husband who doesn’t do things “our way”, but now I see that it’s actually “MY way.” Great post!

  • What you wrote here will change my life. No doubt. Most of the battles I’ve endured in these 9 months of us as first-time parents is because of this type of resentment. Dad would make time for sports viewing, meanwhile I’d do “everything else.” After battle number who knows, dad started to help and it feels like we’re a team again. Mostly. When/if the resentment returns, I’ll remind myself to “do it for me”. I know it will make a huge difference. Especially if I pair it with: I’m not cleaning the house, but refreshing it.

    • oh kay, i love this! and that parenthood adjustment is a HARD one. praying for peace and stamina in your household! :)

  • This is such a wonderful perspective! I struggle a lot with this, because I am work-from-home kinda mom, and I often feel like the martyr in my home. Thanks for reminding me that so much of what I do should be for me!

  • Wow, thank you for this! I am the same about clutter. I work myself into a frenzy over the weekends with all the things on my to do list and then get resentful that my boyfriend is just peacefully lounging while there’s so much to DO! But the things on my list are MY things. I do them for me. You’re so right. Thank you.

  • Erin, I just finished your book. Thank you for putting your words out there. You know…every once in awhile someone else is writing what is in your head. Thanks for that. The past 9 years (yikes!) I’ve been following along in your online life and have enjoyed seeing the evolution. <3 Erinn

  • Wow. This was so timely for me and exactly what I needed to hear. I was just thinking about this even today about how to have a better attitude about this and be kinder to my husband in my thought conversations. Thank you!

  • I come from a line of martyr complex women and have been working to break the chain. To that end, during my meditation retreat to Costa Rica last year, I realized “I do not let things fester.” Just last week, while listening to you podcast with Tiffany Han, I realized I and my day are NOT Forrest, and he’s not me/mine. And now, another lovely shift – I’m doing this for me. Putting on the new toilet paper roll. Wiping up the crumbs. Gathering the laundry…

    Thank you, sweet Erin, for sharing your shift so I could shift too. xoxoxo

    • omg i’m so with you on the shifts. they make ever the slightest difference, in such good ways. learning alongside of you, mama! :)

  • I just had a baby (can I still say that? almost 6 months out?), and this resonates with me SO much. How did you know I needed to read this right now? ;) Thank you thank you thank you. <3

    • hahah, i still find myself saying “we’ve got a newborn in the house” and scout is 8 months old! i feel you. ;)

  • Yes yes yes. Servanthood over sainthood. Thanks for this post, Erin. It really spoke to me.

  • This is exactly what I needed to read…. you could’ve easily been writing about me as you described your mornings and the resentment that would grow “angrily fluffing pillows.” ;)” I’m doing this for me… This is such a simple truth, yet it has the ability to make all the difference in the world. Thanks for writing this!

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  • This is amazing <3

    It's incredible what a slight shift in perspective can do for our overall wellbeing and also how much an impact this can have on our relationships. I've been a card-carrying member of the Martyr Club for way too long, so really REALLY appreciated reading this post today. Thanks so much for sharing it!

    XOXO

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