Don’t Pick Up After Your Husband

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Have you bumped into the “butthole wife” controversy? “Stop Being a Butthole Wife” laid down the law with Christian wives: stop your bickering and finger pointing and just pick up the dirty socks already. It got lots of likes and hearts and “SO TRUE!!!!!” from complementarians on my social media feed.

Then Christian Feminist Daddy fired back with, “Nope. Don’t you dare call my wife a butthole.” And that got lots of likes and hearts and “THANK YOU!!!!!” from the egalitarians.

At first, I didn’t read either. I kept coming across them in public spaces, and assumed “butthole wife” was something too embarrasingly kinky to risk a stranger looking over my shoulder. Then I learned that “butthole” is now (apparently?) a hip and holy version of “a**hole,” and (who knew?) it’s an adjective?

(Side rant: Christians, stop with the sanctified vulgarities. A**hole has a known meaning. Butthole conjures up the grossest of images. Please — swear, or don’t swear. Pick one.)

Well, now that I understood this was about jerk wives (and I certainly feel like a jerk more often than I admit), I read the piece. And I am still reporting that I am very much confused.

I get the part where blaming, shaming, and complaining day in and day out is a toxic thing for a marriage. But then there was the running theme of dirty laundry, to the point where many people easily made the takeaway that her worst offense as a “butthole wife” was complaining about picking up his socks every day.

If I was going to call myself a modified swear word, this wouldn’t be the offense that triggered it.

I support the article’s general idea of not nagging, nagging, nagging about everything your husband is and does, because such nitpicking shows a lack of perspective. But this is what I find most interesting and troubling: her confusion of being a butthole and feeling ticked off that she has to clean up after her grown husband like he’s one of her four kids.

Honestly, many women are juggling the roles of wife, mother, and homemaker — sometimes as their primary or sole identities — and those roles lack distinct boundaries from the other. Wives, as wives, hate feeling like they are their husband’s mother, but they’re so used to picking up after kids and tending the home that they feel guilty about not picking up their husband’s dirty socks. If you’re staying at home all day anyway while he works his butt off at a job, isn’t it your responsibility to pick up the slack?

(Side note: Is it just me, or is there a subtle implication, even by those who swear to the power and importance of homemaking, that a man’s career outside the home is more consequential than her unending labor in the home?)

Maybe I am a butthole wife, but I don’t consider picking up after my husband to be within the scope of marriage or homemaking.

In my marriage, we each retain a level of individual responsibility in many areas of life: I clean up the clothes I dump on the floor, he cleans up the clothes he dumps on the floor. If I make a mess, I pick it up. I keep track of my own stuff, he keeps track of his. If my car breaks down, I take it to the garage, if his car breaks down, he takes it to the garage. I keep track of my phone bill, he keeps track of his. We are responsible for putting our dirty dishes in the sink, our trash in the trash can, our books and toys and electronics away.

And if one person fails to act responsibly with their stuff, that is definitely grounds for husband or wife to confront the other person and say, “Look, you’ve been slacking to the point where it’s creating extra work for me. Can you not?”

This is kindergarten-level responsibility. I teach my own kids this: it is not my job to clean up after them. They wipe down their tables after lunch; they throw away their trash; they pick up their own mat; they fold their blankets; they clean up their toys when they’re done playing. It is not the teacher’s responsibility to clean up after them. It’s theirs.

And that is a sanity-saver — to hold my kids responsible for their own messes. It means I’m not the frazzled teacher running around with the sole purpose of picking up after nineteen six-year-olds.

I should think it’s the same for grown ups on the equal footing of marriage.

This isn’t to say I never pick up my husband’s socks or refuse to clean up after my kids. I just don’t consider it my responsibility, and don’t factor it into my evaluation of whether I’m a good wife or teacher. When I don’t pick up after them , it’s not abandoning my duty, and when I do pick up after them (and I do), it’s an act of solidarity: we are united in the common goal of educating your little brains or marriage, and I am happy to further that goal.

If the kids have to rush off to Spanish right after finishing worksheets, I’ll pick up their pencils and papers for them. If my husband and I are cleaning the house, I’ll toss his stuff in the correct place. If I’m doing laundry or straightening our dorm-level disaster of a room, I’ll fold and sort his clothes.

But it’s key, for me, to realize that I am doing no favors to my husband or my kinders by enabling them to think that somebody will be and should be there to clean up their own messes. That’s perfect ground for frustration and burn-out for the party always picking up the slack, and for ingratitude and entitlement for the party always let off the hook.

Neither bodes well for a healthy marriage or individual growth.

Now, I will say I have this easy for two reasons: one, both of us work full-time, so we share an equal amount of homemaking and breadwinning. (Read: no guilt.) If I were a stay-at-home mom, I would probably feel guilty if I didn’t clean up my husband’s messes (because that is a cherished virtue among women — household, motherhood, and wifely guilt).

And two, I am not a neat freak. I don’t require my husband or myself to keep an immaculate house. Some women seem compelled to pick up messes every five seconds, so walking past a husband’s pile of dirty laundry on the floor would be a Herculean test. It’s not for me, so we minimize our spats on clutter and reserve our energy for blowing up at each other if someone was supposed to do the dishes and didn’t.

(I kid you not, the dishes are the bane of our marriage.)

In a sense, then, I do treat my husband like a child: I expect the same responsibility and thoughtfulness from both my husband and my class, as they have a right to expect from me.

If that makes me a butthole, then so be it.

P.S. Letting little things slide and wifely submission

 

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20 thoughts on “Don’t Pick Up After Your Husband

  1. Rebekah

    I must admit that when I read the first article, I did feel convicted. Because I am a neat freak, I will often complain if a sock is left on the floor, or if a dish is left on the counter. And I probably do that too much.

    And I must admit that when I read the second article, I felt a little guilty for how often I pick up things that Daniel hasn’t put away. The author seemed to imply that that’s not treating your husband like an adult.

    So I found your article helpful. I am not responsible for picking up after him, but sometimes it’s just better to take the two seconds to put the sock in the hamper. For many reasons. For one thing, he never complains if I don’t do anything that I’m supposed to do around the house, and he is fully committed to sharing the burden of the housework equally. For another, marriage is about dying to self. And maybe my motivation for bringing up the sock on the floor isn’t good — petty annoyance rather than just simply pointing it out.

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  2. Steph E

    Oh gosh. I’ve seen the butthole wife posted SEVERAL times. I don’t like either assumption that women are naggers OR that men are incompetent at living in a general state of cleanliness. Being a nagger and being a slob are both bad, and I don’t like being around either. My husband & I have been reading a lot of co-parenting articles and blogs lately as we get ready to have a kid, and one of the things that has come up in several of them is this idea that women say they want to share housework and childcare, but then they have their own entire perfect system for how it has to be done their way. And part of sharing means you let the guy do it his way, and you trust he’s competent enough not to burn the house down or kill the kid. It’s this weird control issue. I’m still pondering what’s behind all of that. One of the things I’m intentionally trying to do is not read more books and come up with more systems for kid-rearing than David (even though I have more time than him at the moment and it’s all I want to do) because i don’t want there to be a knowledge imbalance- which i forsee as leading to less actual sharing. Anyway. Rambles.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bailey Steger

      YES! I read a co-parenting article addressing the same thing — let your husband be his own sort of dad. Don’t conform him to your rules.

      I’ve kind of made it a personal rule that if I want something done my way, I’ll do it myself instead of nagging my husband to do it my way.

      Liked by 1 person

    • codeinfig

      if you have a blog, please do a post based on this comment. it touches on one of the biggest obstacles to married couples working out things like chores and the modern sense of equality and fairness. virtue, plus reason! utterly refreshing stuff.

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  3. Jasmine Ruigrok

    Um… obviously I haven’t heard of either articles till now, but isn’t it as simple as: both be responsible, and both show each other grace? Like, DUH??? Both do your best to pick up after yourselves (responsibility) but where either of you fall down, pick it up for them (grace). The whole purpose of marriage is something you learn as early as kindergarten: teamwork. You take in turns saving one another whilst you strive to better yourself. Gosh. I hate that you have to write stuff like this Bailey, because it really is pathetic that such arguments or issues exist.

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    • Bailey Steger

      You’d think it’d be that simple!! The problems happen when one person starts neglecting his or her duty and being lazy chronically. (And that happens very frequently in our house….) Should the responsible spouse keep saying something even though it’s having no effect, or should they just do it themselves, or (and this is my argument) should they just leave it until the offending spouse starts being responsible again?

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      • Rebekah

        I think the responsibility/grace principle is true and simple, but the difficulty for me comes with the balance between the two.

        Let’s say that my husband, who is in grad school, is studying for a very important qualifying exam, and he leaves his dirty clothes on the floor. I know that he has a lot on his plate, and, obviously, we all forget to turn off a light or close a cabinet door or put a sock away every now and then. But let’s say he does it three or four times. Even though he’s studying and very preoccupied, it only takes five seconds to put the clothes in the hamper. When should I start showing grace? And when is it okay to be bothered?

        This can be harder than it sounds, because whenever I slip up in my own responsibilities — like announcing to Daniel at 4:00 p.m. that I don’t think I can make dinner because I’m too overwhelmed with work, even though I had been telling him that I was going to make dinner — he almost always does not complain and immediately picks up the slack. Yet him picking up his own dirty laundry — as he completely agrees — is a 100% reasonable expectation.

        So I think that there is a need for posts like this to discuss how married couples can figure out how to balance individual responsibility and teamwork.

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      • Bailey Steger

        Ugh, exactly. If everyone always functioned at 110% responsibility and grace at all times, this wouldn’t be an issue. But it’s hard to know when one is genuinely swamped or when one is using that as an excuse to get out of responsibility. It’s hard for me to even judge that of *myself.* Am I *really* just stressed out from work? Or am I just excusing myself? :|

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      • Jasmine Ruigrok

        I guess it comes back to whether each spouse’s goal is to honour God by honouring their spouse. If one comes to the other with a legitimate concern, the response should be to work towards a compromise. But if in the event the offending spouse is not willing to change, then yes. I’d agree with your approach. You train people how to treat you.

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  4. Elizabeth

    To be honest, the biggest gripe I have with the original blog post is a stylistic one, which the second blogger also pointed out: the “Hey you – stop *this* and do *this”. Its common with bloggers of all stripes – progressive, conservative, feminist or what have you. They all are guilty of it and it annoys me sooooo endlessly much. Plus, yeah, the butthole thing.

    But past that, I suppose I just don’t have the energy to care too much. I mean, I don’t think her point was that wives should just pick up the socks and shut up – I think her point was that she let a bit of neglect on her late-husband’s part totally ruin her day. She *never* says that we should never ask for help when we need it or ask that he be more considerate, but she says she was “bickering and manipulating” which *is* a truly nasty response to any small transgression.

    In the end its about ““Let us not become weary in doing good”, right? I mean, I get that people might not have made that the takeaway, but that’s hardly her fault. I think she was calling *herself* and people like her (who “manipulate and bicker” at small transgressions) buttholes, nobody else — including the second dude’s wife who, it sounds like, approaches him with openness and respect.

    Which brings me to point #2: the second blog ALSO uses an annoying rhetorical framework that I absolutely hate — “let’s read this post in the absolute most uncharitable way possible then manufacture outrage that I can turn into an open letter type response”. If this was read in the most charitable light, I think its easy to see she’s trying to say “appreciate life! Even the little annoying things can be signs of God’s blessings to us! Don’t sweat the small stuff” and that it has absolutely nothing to do with his marriage directly. Maybe I need to open my mind on this a bit, because honestly this read like the most benign, Ann Voskamp-light housewife blogging ever and really can’t see much remotely offensive about it — besides, of course, the word butthole which somehow seems more vulgar than the proper word.

    Plus, I’m allergic to men calling out women authors for having a stance they disagree with. It makes me itchy.

    And this leads me to my final point: I’m old and grouchy and at this point in my life, I realize someone’s advice is just a suggestion based on their personal experience; its not a commandment or a rule or a regulation or a condemnation. It (almost) always says more about them than about me, especially if it concerns the inner workings of family life. It is only helpful insofar our experience and worldviews are similar. So I don’t bother to get offended when someone says I should clear the table or split the chores or pay my kid allowance or just put a sticker on a chart or clean my husband’s laundry or expect him to do it himself because in the end I’m not going to listen to them anyways, I’m going to do what I want in the context of my own life and nobody (except my husband) will be the wiser.

    Unless, of course, I start blogging ;D

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  5. Bethany

    Well. I AM a neat freak and Aidan is a procrastinator who picks up when he has a day free. And since I do live at home all the time, I can only stare at dishes/clothes on the floor for so long before I go insane. It would be nice if we had the same OCD, but it’s just not a bone I want to pick since we BOTH leave messes. Our versions of “picking up” are just different. lol. Everything has a set place, and even if he nicely puts the laptop away in the corner it KILLS ME to see it sitting there. Haha. (I’m getting better now that I have a baby and am embracing clutter…)

    Oh, and spot on about the swear words. Made me laugh!

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  6. Rachel Self

    I’m a complementarian and I refused to read the article too. I love LOVED your comment about either “swear or don’t swear.” LOL. I seriously hate substitute curse words. I think if God looks at our heart then he doesn’t really care if we use a lesser-version of the same crude profanity. It all comes from the same heart.

    As for the point–it’s funny because I’m complementarian in my view. I do think we have gender roles and I do want my husband to lead our family, but that doesn’t mean I should be a doormat and he should be a slob. I consider myself a homemaker–not a maid. So I do primarily care for the children, cook the meals, and do the laundry. But everyone has personal responsibility. So my husband and children (even my 1-yr-old is learning this) should put their dirty clothes in the hamper and not leave their stuff scattered all over the house. There’s no way I can maintain the home if I spend my day following them around picking stuff up. They would never get a hot meal!

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  7. shawneelynn

    This post really sums up how I feel about my marriage. Thank you for sharing this :) Plus, I really appreciate the quote, “Look, you’ve been slacking to the point where it’s creating extra work for me. Can you not?” and I will use it in the future. I have been working on not being a nagging wife, so this really helps :) Thanks :)

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