Communication and Dirty Dishes


Growing up, my family never had a dishwasher. Let me amend that, we did have a dishwasher, it was just a person instead of a machine. Now some people might call that old fashioned, and they may be right, but washing dishes by hand is something that has stuck with me since I moved out of my parents’ home and into my marriage. Of course, our tiny apartment doesn’t have a dishwasher right now, but that’s beside the point. I’ll always remember, every night after family dinner, my dad washed the dishes by hand without complaint. I hope someday to be half the man he is.

In case you wondering, we’re not just here to talk about dirty dishes. The Family Project is committed to helping individuals establish healthy family relationships, and one of the most important aspects of that relationship is communication. In fact, communication isn’t just essential in family life, but all aspects of life and in every relationship.

Today, I would like to further explore the relationship between washing dishes and communicating well, especially with your spouse. Early on in marriage, and even later on, this is an issue that, if not dealt with, could lead to a big fallout. For the remainder of this post, I will expound on some principles of washing dishes and how I think they relate to healthy marital communication.

Principle #1: Rinse after use

My wife and I are working this rule right now (both with dishes and communication) and I have learned a lot from it. If you rinse off your dish just after you use it, you get the big yucky stuff off that might have otherwise made washing later really hard. Have you ever tried to scrub hardened rice off a dish? Much harder than rinsing after use. The same goes for communication; if you get those big yucky parts of an argument out of the way right after it happens through apologies or other means, it makes it a lot easier when you’re calm and ready to approach the situation.

Principle #2: Don’t let the dishes pile up

Every Sunday, we have some extended family come over for dinner, which creates twice the amount of dishes than we are used to throughout the week. I have a really bad habit after they leave to tell myself I will wash those dishes tomorrow. Tomorrow comes, and breakfast dishes pile on. That night after dinner, the sink and I are overwhelmed with the amount dishes and I convince myself that somehow it will magically fix itself…eventually. It doesn’t. I get overwhelmed and try to wash them all at once. I give up. You know the story. If you let disagreements between you and your spouse pile up like I do my dishes, eventually you’ll have what seems like an endless stream of problems to fix and you’re bound to get discouraged. The solution: our next principle.

Principle #3: Schedule a time and take of it then

My dad always told me that “I’ll do it tomorrow” is my personal mantra, and honestly, he isn’t wrong. Tomorrow never comes, so putting it off until then is easy for me. When it comes to resolving conflicts through healthy communication, schedule a time with your spouse to talk. My suggestion is not to do it late at night as you’re getting into bed. You’re tired and have had a long day, the last thing on your mind is how to resolve and argument or issue you’re facing. Scheduling a time gives you time to think about the situation and assess your needs as well as your partners. If you schedule a time and stick to it, you’ll be able to have your thoughts together and have a meaningful conversation. The same goes for dishes.

Principle #4: Get the big stuff out of the way first

This is a dishwashing (and communication) principle I have learned since marriage. If I wash my cutting board, mixing bowls, cookie sheets, and knives first, the plates, bowls, forks, spoons, and cups don’t seem as bad. Getting the big issues resolved first usually solves a lot of the little issues as well. Don’t be afraid to talk about them, or they’ll pile up, and we already talked about the danger there.

Principle #5: Take turns

If I end up washing the dishes 4 or 5 times in a row, I feel much less inclined to do it the next time, because obviously my wife realizes it is her turn. So we wait. And wait. And wait. The dishes pile up and she asks me if I will do them. I do them, but I am not happy about it at all. Does this sound familiar? Do you feel like you’re the one bringing up all the issues? Starting all the hard conversations? Maybe what you and your spouse need is some metacommunication: communication about your communication. Talking about how you talk. It is a strange concept, but it really does work wonders. If you and your spouse take turns bringing up issues, you’re much more likely to listen and feel like you’re being heard. After a conversation about an issue, some good questions to ask might sound like the following:

  • Is there anything you need to talk about?
  • Has anything been bothering you lately?
  • What can I do to help make your day better?

Questions like these are sure to inspire confidence in your spouse that you are listening. Also, make sure you take turns washing the dishes as well.


At the end of the day

When the day is said and done, dishes are just that—dishes. They don’t make up the whole meal or kitchen, and are relatively insignificant compared to the meals and memories made with them. When issues arise, and they will, remember that if you rinse after use, don’t let them pile up, schedule a time to take care of them, take care of the big stuff first, and take turns, your arguments and issues won’t be as big as they seem. Neither will your dishes.

This is anything but a comprehensive list. I would love to hear from you in the comments below about what other principles you have found useful in your marriage, or any other relationship!  As always, please share this with your friends and email any questions to



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