Our Marriage Rulebook

There’s a reason why it’s been said that marriage is a lot of work. It’s because there’s so many stinking rules!
Take my husband and me for example. We both assumed sharing everything was a perk to getting married. He’d get to use all of my guns and I’d get to drive his pickup. Neither of us realized that the other person had stipulations on their stuff.
His “rules for tools” established the earliest clause to our marriage the first time I used his wrenches. After trying half a dozen before finding the one that fit the bolt I needed loosened, I just returned them all to the general vicinity of the tool box. I didn’t bother putting them back in order on the special wrench holder. My system didn’t flatter him.
Similarly, I wasn’t impressed when I found the brand new white hand towel I’d set out for company, all crumpled and a mottled, dingy-grey color. That’s when I clarified the bylaws for cleaning up with kitchen and bathroom towels. Since then, it’s been nothing but more and more rules regarding the stuff we share, and an ever-expanding rulebook.
Most rules get established after something’s been misused. His tin snips for example, aren’t for pruning lilac bushes, and my kitchen shears aren’t wire cutters. His small folding saw for elk hunting, saws bones, not tree limbs, and my high-dollar kitchen knives aren’t for cutting open plastic or cardboard packages. My vacuum and its attachments are not allowed to clean out old ranch pickups to be traded in. My mixing bowls and wooden spoons can’t be used for mixing milk replacer, and the kitchen broom isn’t for sweeping grimy debris out of pickup boxes. My husband’s shop floor has to be swept clean if I spill pet food or hay from the bale bed, and make a mess. I can’t turn his cute pan for collecting motor oil into a planter or use his railroad ties for landscaping, and the see-through thin shirts he calls summer work shirts, are not to be torn up for rags. He wants DVD’s back in their designated cases, not whatever’s handiest, and he insists that if I have room spray in our only bathroom, it will save our marriage.
The rule on the freezers, pantry, and kitchen cabinets, is the same for pickup consoles and behind pickup seats. The person in charge of the appliance/equipment will do the organizing, cleaning, and discarding—no matter how senseless the system/mess may seem. When encountering problems with each other’s equipment, like the windrower or computer, the same rule applies: DO NOT continue if you’re not sure what to do; stop and ask the expert.
We both have systems for doing things. He likes horse trailers parked a certain way (that’d be parallel and straight), and I like clothes overlapping on the clothesline, not spaced apart. We don’t hesitate to clarify our preferred way of doing things, if each others’ job details differ. And out of respect for each other’s time, we follow rules each of us has to avoid unnecessary maintenance or cleaning on highly depended upon equipment like the tractor, rake, and windrower, or microwave, stovetop oven, dishwasher, and washing machine.
It’s taken years, but we’ve learned the most important rule about our marriage. It isn’t nearly as much work when we do things by the book.
column originally published May 17-23, 2009

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