It was a Sunday, and we had just returned from a hospital stay with our medically complex daughter. We needed a reset—one of those “all house chores get tackled in a day” type of resets. We needed a fresh start.
Around mid-day, my husband Josh and I were both in full cleaning mode. The morning had been chaotic. Our daughter was struggling with seizures, and our son was still buzzing with excitement from two birthday parties he had attended the day before. As he begged for the banana bread in the oven to cook faster and for more episodes of Wild Kratz, Josh and I both struggled to maintain our composure. By the time late afternoon rolled around, we were exhausted but also keenly aware that we needed to press on if we wanted to complete all of our tasks and start the week off calmly. Inviting chaos to create calm—sounds a bit ironic now, doesn’t it?
As Josh cleaned his side of the sink, I switched loads of laundry. Being in the laundry room, I knew I would also have to do the one task both of us hated doing—clean the litter box. It needed to be scooped, dumped, and wiped down. The floor needed vacuuming and scrubbing. Trapped between a displaced rug and laundry baskets, I recruited Josh for help.
“Can you run down to the kitchen and grab me a trash bag, please?” I asked.
“I’ll bring you some grocery bags. The trash bags in the kitchen haven’t been holding up well with litter,” he suggested.
“Can you grab the oversized bags from the garage?” I asked. The thought of scooping litter into tiny bags made my skin crawl.
“No,” he replied, “I don’t want to waste those. I’ll get you the grocery bags, just trust me.”
I was on sensory overload level 10, trapped in a stinky space with cat litter everywhere, and certain that if there was ever a time for “yes, dear,” now wasn’t it.
“I’d prefer for you to get me the big trash bags, please,” I insisted.
Clearly annoyed, he disappeared through the hall and returned five minutes later.
“I couldn’t find the big bags downstairs,” he said. “I got you two of the regular kitchen bags and you can double them up.”
Now caving to my dysregulation, I snapped saying, “I said they were in the garage!”
“I didn’t hear you,” he replied.
We bickered for the next 10 minutes until our son gave us a nice little lesson in communication.
“Guys, it’s okay to be upset, but we gotta be nice,” he said with his hands on his hips. Overwhelming guilt surfaced in both of us. We had just been called out by our 5-year-old.
Deciding some space would do us good, Josh went to mow the grass while I finished the laundry and litter box inside. Despite my guilt, I still struggled to regulate my emotions and found myself doing what many highly sensitive spouses do during that time of taking space—I thought about my comeback.
I thought up a thousand different ways to ensure my perspective was heard, but in the midst of my silent rampage, I glanced outside to see Josh resting by the fence under the relentless summer sun. With a sigh, I chose to wave a flag of truce with a text: “Would you like some Gatorade?”
Later on, as we enjoyed a peaceful dinner, I stood up beside Josh’s chair, gave him a kiss and said, “I’m sorry I got so frustrated. I guess we really shouldn’t be fighting about trash bags.”
A smirk shot across his face as he nodded and replied, “Fair enough.”
We didn’t need to say anything else. We didn’t need to spiral into an hour-long communication rabbit hole. We didn’t need to become defensive. We both knew everything that needed to be said was wrapped up in one sentence: we really didn’t need to be fighting about trash bags.
These moments of clarity are necessary in marriage sometimes. The little disagreements that consume our energy are rarely worth the side effects of resentment. In my own marriage, this moment of clarity made me realize that we had battled so many bigger things in the last year. Trash bags paled in comparison to what we had endured during our first year of navigating medically complex parenthood.
I had to let go of these trivial things. I had to let go of that incessant need to be right and recognize the preciousness of time we have together as a family. It was time to choose kindness, understanding, and forgiveness over the need to prove a point. Life is simply just too short to fight over trash bags.