Fish Knives and Marital Bliss

” It is not, in fact, very different from the conviction she would have felt at the age of ten that the kind of fish-knives used in her father’s house were the proper or normal or “real” kind, while those of the neighbouring families were “not real fish-knives” at all.”  Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis

Home is where you get to have your mashed potatoes exactly the way you like them.   But what happens when you make a home with another human, who likes their mashed potatoes differently?  I know this sounds stupid.   If you moved in with a roommate, you’d talk over your recipes and get it all sorted out before time to put dinner on the table.  But how many people, when they get married, don’t talk over this little stuff – and then get snorky because the potatoes are “wrong”?

Let the old married lady walk you through this minefield….. because it is a minefield, and it doesn’t really ever stop, because human preferences and needs evolve through their lifetimes.  (This is, by the way, not merely about mashed potatoes).

My husband and I got married a few days after his 23rd birthday, and a few months before mine.   He’d never lived outside the home, and my “outside the home” was limited to sharing an on-campus apartment with a bunch of other girls, with whom I didn’t share food or chores.   We each came burdened with a stack of assumptions about the “way things just are” (fish knives) that reached the ceiling of our first apartment, and they caused a lot of abrasions on their way out of our lives.

There was the Fuzzy Salsa Incident – or, if the cook assumes the non-cook will automatically do the cleaning up without being asked, how long will the jar of salsa sit on the table?

There was the Butter vs. Margarine throwdown.  (Does one save money by putting margarine on the table or in the food?  One saves marital joy by not buying margarine).  (This was in 1995 – well before we knew how bad it was for us).

Lots of things show up here – from how often you change the sheets to how clean is “clean enough” and what bugs who.   It all comes down to, “but this is how it has always been done in my home, and this is my home now, so why are you doing things ‘wrong’?”  Not to mention, “why do you keep buying those vegetables I hate?”

You’ve got to talk it out.  All of the things.   Sometimes you give way, sometimes you compromise, sometimes you end up with two versions of mashed potatoes on the table.   Mashed potato preparation doesn’t matter, but conflict and hidden resentments do.

This stuff doesn’t stop.   We finally got our food system down, which ended up being different from either of our families-of-origin, and then we went Primal for a few years, which permanently changed our taste buds and ability to tolerate carbs/sugars.   And then DH had his gall bladder removed, which has substantially changed all of that – we’re still settling those feathers – the lady weightlifter who prefers to keep her carbs around 150g/day does not appreciate a low-fat diet, and the guy without bile storage can’t handle most beef, and forget pork or lamb.

We’re changing how we do chores right now, as we adjust to this new season of habits.  Aging and accident have changed how we do stuff too.   There is no “one right way” to make mashed potatoes or change the sheets – there’s Bible admonition to obey the husband and love the wife.   How you live that will look different in every house.   So, you have to be flexible, and communicate honestly.

Forty-six is different than twenty-three.   We don’t get snorky about the differences now, we work together to find a way forward that hits both of our needs and respects our preferences.   If one person REALLY cares about a thing – or needs a thing – then that’s how you do it.  Otherwise, it’s all up for modification.

What kind of fish-knives are right for your house depends on what kind of fish you eat, or if you eat fish at all.

7 thoughts on “Fish Knives and Marital Bliss

  1. Elspeth

    So much good advice here, Hearth! I don’t know if there is anything I could possibly add to it, but thought your wisdom should be seconded.

    So I did.

  2. Vera Lee

    What? You don’t do exactly what hubby wants when he wants you to do it? Oh, the ungodly horror!?
    Snark off. This is excellent writing and excellent advice. What happened in my first marriage — the one to the insane revolutionary — was that we went nearly 10 years yelling at each other over this stuff. I think there is no one like a male feminist for not understanding that no one can negotiate absolutely everything about daily life (and then we had to negotiate absolutely everything in the most socially responsible way, whether that was actually humanly possible in our lives or not.) And I, as a young feminist, went right along with all this because I truly had no idea how very nutso this way of doing things actually is.

    Second marriage. Both believe in sex roles, both older wiser and tons more mellow. Both wish the other had been our first.

    Actually, this is one of those posts that should be required reading for the entire population, but that would mean re-education camps and as a refugee from The Revolution ™ I’m very much against that.

    1. hearthie Post author

      LOL I was into submission then and now, but if one does not TALK about things, one does not sort things out. The Butter Debate ended when we actually had the 5 minute conversation that went like, “I think that when you bake with margarine it tastes bad. Well, I think that margarine on the table is disgusting. You good if I just stop buying margarine? Yeah.” Talking instead of assuming – very important stuff. Not something I was good at at 22.

      The gall-bladder diet is feeling our respective ways in a dark room. I really do NOT do well on a low-fat diet, he really does NOT do well on a high-fat diet. But we talk about it now and work together, so it’s much easier to deal with.

      1. Elspeth

        A common misconception is that wifely submission means you don’t get to say anything, offer an opinion, or express your feelings about anything in the marriage. That’s not been my experience. my submission invites a greater desire on my husband’s part to hear from me, not a lesser desire.

        It’s unfortunate that somehow that picture of a marriage where the wife submits and the husband loves automatically puts the wife into some kind of oppressive arrangement.

      2. Vera Lee

        This has now caused me to reflect for some hours on the differences between negotiation, discussion, and just talking. I never have time to adequately explain myself, but just talking wins.

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