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It's Not Really About Dirty Dishes: 5 Tips to Strengthen Relationships

Posted by KB & Associates, LLC on February 18, 2020 at 12:40 AM

We ultimately get into relationships because we are initially attracted to our partner physically and/or emotionally, and then stick around if we believe they can meet our needs (however we define those needs, be they emotional, sexual, or otherwise). During the first weeks and months, we put our best foot forward to show our partners ourselves in our best light. During that initial “honeymoon phase,” a kind of pseudo-intimacy forms, in which we get to know who our partner wants us to believe they are.



Wait! Are you saying they’re lying? In a way, but if we’re being honest, so are you- no one wants their brand-new partner to know they sometimes forget to floss or have a bad habit of throwing their dirty socks in the hamper inside-out. As humans, we are imperfect, but in a cloud of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, our brains tend to ignore the imperfections in our chosen mates, and our partners help us by conveniently omitting their all-too-human flaws. And when sex is thrown into the mix, oxytocin – the “attachment” chemical – further clouds our judgment.



Eventually we start to wake up and realize that our partner isn’t quite the perfect person we initially believed them to be- and they are probably realizing the same about you. So whether you’re just starting out in a new relationship or want to give your current relationship a level-up, here are 5 tips to help strengthen your relationship.



1. Communicating Needs


This one might seem cliché, but all relationships require open and honest communication as a foundation, so let’s start at the very beginning. This tip is also deceptively simple: we may think we are communicating clearly to our partner, but then we find ourselves bickering or fighting. Fighting can be healthy – and it’s important for couples to learn how to fight – but often fights break out over seemingly insignificant things (“Why can’t you just load the dishwasher like I asked?”), when what we are really fighting about are needs. Do you really need your partner to load the dishwasher- or do you need for them to listen to you and hear you? Is it really about dirty dishes, or about feeling you have taken on more than your fair share of domestic responsibilities around the house?



This tip requires some introspection. When you start feeling upset with your partner, ask yourself if you are really upset about this situation, or if you have an unmet need whose button was pushed by this situation- and if so, what is that need, and have you honestly and openly talked about it with your partner? It’s unfair to expect our partners to be psychics, so unless we fill them in on what our personal needs are in the relationship, they have no way of knowing what they are, or what they can do to fulfil them.



Instead of yelling about the dirty dishes or accusing your partner, a more productive approach might be to figure out why you are angry, and then calmly present your case to your partner in terms of feelings and needs. For example, “I’ve noticed the dishes are still in the sink. I feel that I’m not being heard because I have expressed that it bugs me.”



2. Picking Your Battles


Some things just aren’t worth fighting about in the grand scheme of things. Dan Savage calls these things the “price of admission.” Maybe your partner constantly leaves the toothpaste out, but if you take a step back and realize that overall your needs are being met in the relationship, it might be easier to just put the toothpaste away yourself. No one is perfect, and your partner is no exception. If you feel your relationship is strong otherwise, it might be worth it to just accept their annoying idiosyncrasies as “part of the package.” Let’s be real, it takes you less than a second to put the toothpaste away yourself, but a lot of energy to have the toothpaste fight (yet again) with your partner.



3. Responding vs. Reacting


Your partner told you they would FaceTime you at 7. It’s now 7:15. You find yourself getting angrier and angrier. You tap out a text full of righteous indignation. This is a reaction to the situation, full of emotion.



Take the same situation. But instead of jumping to anger-texting, you pause and think things through. They haven’t done this to you before, and you know they have been working on an important project at work. You send a message asking if everything is okay. This is a response.



Reactions are often over-the-top relative to the situation. Taking a moment to take a breath, objectively think about the situation, and respond to it, can keep you from starting unnecessary fights, and help you be more effective at communicating your needs.



4. Learn Your Love Language


There are 5 main ways people give and receive love. You and your partner may both be desperately trying to communicate love to each other, but if you’re not in-the-know, you may as well be trying to speak to each other in a different language. It can’t hurt for both you and your partner to take the quick quiz separately and then talk about your results. Then you can both try to gain fluency in each other’s native love language. Take the quiz here.



5. Taking an Interest in Interests


You might like going to the Opera; your partner might like playing Call of Duty. Although you have no desire to play video games, your partner will likely appreciate you taking an interest in one of their favorite pastimes. Who knows, you might even discover you like hurling turtle shells at cartoon go-carts. Even if you end up hating it, your partner will appreciate the effort, and you will walk away with a window into their world. At the end of the day, it might still be their “thing,” and that’s okay- you made the effort to understand something they value.





(n.d.). Discover Your Love Language. Retrieved February 9, 2019, from





Chapman, G. D., & Green, J. (2017). The 5 love languages: The secret to love that lasts. Chicago:


Northfield Publishing.



James, M. B. (2016, September 1). React vs Respond. Retrieved February 9, 2019, from





Levine, A., & Heller, R. (2011). Attached: The new science of adult attachment and how it can


help you find – and keep – love. New York: Tarcher/Perigee.



Popova, M. (2017, July 3). The price of admission: Dan Savage on the myth of “the one” and the


unsettling secret of lasting love. Retrieved February 9, 2019, from





Wu, K. (2017, February 14). Love, actually: The science behind lust, attraction, and


companionship. Retrieved February 9, 2019, from





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