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  • Writer's pictureDonna McMillan

The dishes should be washed immediately after use – but do they?

Asian couple embracing in kitchen

When it comes to our relationship with our partners, one of the indicators to test the strength of the relationship is through living together. It isn’t until we live with someone, that we really get to know who they are. For some couples living together can be a blissful experience, and for others it can be an eye opener into whether we want to commit to this way of living forever. To understand why we do what we do, and believe what we believe, it’s important to understand where it all comes from. That way we can ascertain, is this really something I want to keep getting upset about, or is this something that goes against what I fundamentally believe?


Understanding our history – bringing up old stuff.

Caucasian family talking in kitchen

When we grow up in our childhood homes we must adhere to a certain set of rules and standards. Some households may be strict about certain things, others more relaxed. Some households will hold strong values and others will be more fluid. Whatever the household we grow up in, it serves as the model of the way we should live in our homes. This is evident due to Albert Bandura’s social learning theory. Depending on the individual, we either want to emulate what was shown to us or do the opposite. For example, if we saw our parents constantly needing to keep the house in order, as an adult we may learn to adapt these behaviours. Contrary to this, we may have disliked growing up in such a restricted environment, and when we become adults we want to let things get messy. For many of us, we don’t think about the way we like to do things, or why we like to live the way we do. We just know that we don’t like it when something opposes our own beliefs.

By exploring the beliefs we have, it can help to guide us on whether it still serves our values as an adult. For instance, if we have our own children one of our values might be to feel connected and spend quality time with our children. Yet, if our belief is that we must have a tidy home at all times but the upkeep takes the majority of our time, this may clash with our value with connecting with our children. “But there’s so much to be done, how can I let it go?” I hear you say. This isn’t about changing things completely; it’s about having self-awareness and being mindful of the actions we take throughout the day. As we move through our day to day lives, it’s important to take a moment to think about whether each action, is something we actually want or need to be doing. Or if it is part of a belief system that may no longer serve us.


Preference versus limits

Caucasian couple having breakfast

One of the things that can help us understand whether we need to keep arguing over the same thing in the home, is to break down whether it’s a preference or a limit. Everyone has preferences based on who we are and our own experiences. However, these aren’t facts, no matter how much we believe something to be true. We can make a choice about how flexible we can be. For instance, we like to do all the laundry on the Sunday, so we don’t have to worry about it throughout the week, whereas our partner likes to do laundry every day so that there is a smaller amount to fold and put away. Neither of these ways are wrong, they’re just preferences.

On the other hand, limits are preferences that we cannot budge on without giving up some of our integrity. We choose to hold on to these and if we must let some of it go, it may seep out into other areas of the relationship. For instance, we need notice when people come over, as we like to have a tidy home when they come, whereas our partner doesn’t mind having guests pop over at any time, as the state of the house isn’t an issue. In this example, letting go of some things in the house might be okay, but having other people see the house in disarray brings up feelings of embarrassment. And we would rather feel pride when people came over.


Learning how to live together

Now that we know more about understanding our history and deciphering preferences versus limits, what can we do now?

Depending on what the issue is, one of things that can help is to use the 6 steps of problem solving by Thomas Gordon.

Step 1: Define the problem. Allow each other to express any concerns freely. The best way to do this is through active listening, reflecting what you are hearing and summarising each other’s thoughts. Ask open ended questions to help you understand the issue, so you can get to the core needs of your partner.

Step 2: Brainstorm solutions. You can both come up with ideas and write them all down. All ideas are important.

Step 3: Evaluate solutions. Now is the time to cross off the ideas that won’t work, and discuss the ideas you are both okay with. Have an open discussion on why some ideas won’t work and why some ideas will work.

Step 4: Choose a solution. Pick the solution that you are both happy with, or get creative and select a combination of ideas. It needs to be a solution that works for both of you.

Step 5: Take action. What are the things you or your partner can do to make the solution work?

Step 6: Check results. This is to re-evaluate the solution and to ensure the solution is working.

If problem solving isn’t necessary, something else that can help is to practice acceptance. We all have preferences on the way we like to do things, but if our partner is doing their part just in a different way, ask yourself if you can accept that there are other ways of doing things?

If problem solving or practising acceptance feels challenging to navigate, relationship counselling or individual counselling can serve as a helpful guide.


What is more important to be right or to have a harmonious relationship?

We all have our quirks and ways of doing things. But it doesn’t necessarily mean it is the right way. Living together can be challenging, but it doesn’t always have to be. With some effective communication, self-awareness, understanding of each other’s differences and helpful problem solving, we can live together in peace.

Couple holding hands with dog walking over bridge at the beach at sunset


Cherry, K. (2022) How does observational learning actually work?, Verywell Mind. Verywell Mind. Available at: (Accessed: April 28, 2023).

Tuckman, A. (no date) The couples conference - 2023, Couples Conference - 2023 - Evolving Challenges in Couples Therapy. Available at: (Accessed: April 28, 2023).

When both of us own a problem: The six steps of the No-Lose Method (no date) Gordon Training International. Available at: (Accessed: April 28, 2023).


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