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  • Writer's pictureDr. D

Thank you for leaving the seat up

I try not to take sides when couples have a dispute. Sometimes one person is doing something that seems very wrong to me. In that case I might try to gently suggest why another approach might be better. But usually, there really are two sides to an argument.

Why can’t he put the seat down after he uses the toilet?

The classic is the toilet seat.

He puts the seat up because that’s what he’s been taught to do. This way he doesn’t leave urine where someone might sit. She gets angry because he left it up and she fell into the bowl.

Seems like a little thing to put the seat down, doesn’t it?

But his point is – I go to the trouble to put the seat up, why can’t she put it down? Better yet, why can’t she leave it up most of the time and put it down when she needs it?

Who's right?

Why can't he/she give me just five minutes to myself?

They agree as a couple that she will stay home until the kids are in school while he financially supports the family.

He’s hot and tired at the end of the day. He hits the door and the kids are on him. He needs to shower but they follow him everywhere, vying for his attention.

She’s making dinner and asks him to watch the little ones so she can get a meal on the table. He, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to sit down with his feet up and try to relax before he starts again tomorrow.

He tells her he’s tired and needs a rest. She gets mad and the fight is on.

She does the laundry, drags the kids to the grocery, not an easy feat since there are two of them and one of her. They get into a yelling match in the store where other patrons

give them dirty looks that say “muzzle your kid.”

She feeds them, cleans up their messes and referees their fights. If she doesn’t hurry, dinner will be late and everyone grouchy.

At this point, five minutes to herself would be welcome just to try to catch up on everything from the day.

He’s finally home to help but when she asks him to watch the kids until she gets dinner on, he gets mad. And the fight is on.

Who’s right?

Letting the little things build up

Neither person is absolutely right nor absolutely wrong. And with adequate communication and compromise, things can be made better.

The biggest problem is that often, we let things build up. We "keep score." Somebody has to "win." Relationships aren't like that, though. If you're intent on "winning," then everybody loses.

It's also true that sometimes the little things are really symptoms of deeper problems. Instead of talking about the big things like money, the future, concerns about the relationship, couples focus on the little slights.

They avoid the subjects that are at the heart of the issue.

Either way, focusing on little things and letting them build up from that small anthill to the giant mountain can be fatal to a relationship. And not talking about the big issues can be a recipe for failure.

A couples or family therapist might be able to help.

Sometimes seeing a neutral third party can help couples see their way to compromise. The toilet seat? Could be as simple as she puts it back up when she remembers, he puts it down if he thinks about it, and both understand that they share responsibility for this simple little exercise.

The end-of-the-day fatigue and short tempers? Get a schedule. Alternate nights as to him putting his feet up and her having some time to herself. Don’t be rigid. A bad day can be a good reason to renegotiate an evening sometimes, as long as it doesn’t become a habit.

If the little things really are masking more important issues, as they often can, a family therapist or other skilled professional can be of great benefit.

They may be able to help the couple translate what’s really going on when the little things take center stage.

Is the toilet seat really the issue? Or is it just a metaphor for she doesn’t feel listened to?

Does he really think he should have exclusive time every day when he comes home? Or does he feel unappreciated in his contribution to the family?

The answers to those questions and how the couple approaches those responses can have profound implications for the life of the relationship.

What to do if you see yourself in the above


1. Bring up a list of grievances.

If the subject at hand is really the difficulty, discuss it through to a solution. Bringing up the last time she left her wet underwear on the sink or the numerous times he forgot to take out the garbage can won’t solve a given problem.

Instead, it may be an indication that the true issue is deeper and a professional’s guidance might be needed.

2. Use “always” and “never” to describe the other person’s behavior. As soon as most of us hear those little words we tune everything else out and focus on the times we didn’t do one thing or did do another.

We no longer listen.


1. Talk about the issues when things are calm and no one is angry.

2. Decide together: what are some things that each person can do to lessen

the heat of the situation?

3. Let the other person know they’re being heard

4. Seek help if the hurts just keep building and communication isn't working.

Image of toilet by: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / siraphol

Image of arguing people by: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / yelet

Image of peace sign by: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / kaarsten


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