We had finished eating dinner together as a family, and we were all busy cleaning up when it happened. It was a classic opportunity for a mountain-out-of-a-molehill marital spat—dirty dishes have a certain way of provoking things, you know? Here’s how it happened: I, being the model husband and father that I am, had stationed myself at the kitchen sink to scrub layers of scum and filth off some pots and pans. The rest of the family was sticking to the easy jobs: loading the dishwasher, re-loading the fridge, wiping the table.
I was almost finished laboring over my task when my wife Jane walked up and caught a glance of the dishwater in front of me. “Honey,” she asked, “would you mind draining that dirty stuff and drawing some fresh water for the last few dishes? I want to make sure they come out clean.” It was just a little suggestion, but it had me annoyed instantly. There I was, elbow-deep in dish sludge, selflessly serving my family, and yet my wife had the audacity to ask that I do things differently.
My reply had aggravation all over it. “Babe,” I said, “we’ve got just a couple things left here. It doesn’t really matter.” She didn’t relent. “But would you mind draining the water anyway?” Well, I drained the water. I filled up the sink again. I made those last three dishes sparkle like you wouldn’t believe. And I did it all with slouched shoulders and big exasperated sighs, so anybody within earshot would know just how horribly inconvenienced I’d been. When I left the kitchen counter, I even stayed mad for a while, just to make my point.
Fast-forward a couple weeks. Our family has just finished eating dinner at the home of some friends, and everybody is busy cleaning up. I’m stationed at the sink, washing dishes, when the lady of the house walks by and notices a gray color in the water. “Dan,” she says, “if you don’t mind, that’s getting kind of dirty. I’d love for you to draw some clean water for these last few dishes.”
“Okay,” I say, grabbing for the drain plug. “No problem.” And just like that, the dishes get clean and everybody feels happy and wonderful afterward. Everybody, that is, except my wife, who stands quietly in the kitchen, observing the scene and remembering a similar one from just a few nights back. Isn’t it sad how we let things happen like that sometimes? How quickly our behavior can get lopsided! In less time than it takes to wash a few pots, we’re treating our loved ones like dirt and giving our friends and acquaintances the world.
We’re offering the benefit of the doubt to the people we hardly know at all, and we’re assuming the worst of the ones we claim to care about the most. We’re pulling drain plugs left and right, yet we’re leaving our family sunk at the sink. It’s so common. It’s so easy. It’s so wrong. The relationships that matter the most should matter the most. We should reserve our best behavior, our most pleasant responses, and our biggest doses of love for the people who are most dear to us.
Our children shouldn’t feel tossed aside. Our spouses shouldn’t play second fiddle. Our parents shouldn’t take the brunt of everything. Our siblings shouldn’t have to face our every bad mood. Think about it: who’s been getting the best of your behavior lately? Compared to how you respond to others, do you respond to your family members in a similar way? Are you as forgiving, as kind, as considerate? Better yet, are you even better? Are you winning at home? Or are you winning everywhere else instead?