Dueling Over the Dishwasher

Dear Robin:

Ok Ms. desCamp, in the grand scheme of problems, this ain’t worth a hill of beans, but,I am greatly annoyed by a husband who continues to reload the dishwasher, despite my continually bitching at him to “knock it off, you controlling bastard.”  Since (my choice) I do all the cooking and almost all the cleanup (I am a control freak in the kitchen) my philosophy is that once I have put things into the LG dishwashing machine, they should remain as-loaded. I have a friend whose spouse does the same thing, but he does almost all the dishes, so that’s more OK (though it pisses her off as well.) I know I should let this slide. Husband and I clearly have opposing goals, dishwasher-wise.  He believes one must get the maximum amount of stuff into the machine before running it.  My goal is that the dishes should get as clean as possible, and not leave water in the upper shelf dishes, to pour all over the otherwise-clean and dry dishes.

To make it worse, this is my second husband possessing this trait of compulsively re-doing my dish tasks. And first husband did this to second wife as well, so it is not just me!  I know you will say that this is small and petty shit, but I hope you have more to say than that.  If not, at least your comments will be entertaining and allow me to think about something other than the chock-full, poorly-reloaded dishwasher.  Control issues anyone?  Thanks in advance:)


Dear Molly:

I’m a little hurt that you assume I’d consider this issue small and petty.


It isn’t.  I see two parallel tracks of trouble running here:

1. Your husband is controlling, may have OCD and doesn’t listen to you; and

2. You keep marrying the same type of guy – you seek out controlling men and then become frustrated when they act as controlling men do.  That’s like being surprised when you stick your remaining arm in a lion’s cage and he bites that one off too, or continuing to bet money on the Huskies to win even after you’ve lost your savings.


As to your husband’s OCD and controlling manner: you have already taken the requisite first step: you told him this bothers you and asked him to stop.  He has refused, so I suggest the second step: Molly goes on strike!

If you are doing all of the cooking, stop.  In fact, stop everything you do in the home and see what happens.  At some point, perhaps after he hasn’t eaten for a few days, he will initiate a conversation with you that will go something like this:

“Hey Molly, what gives?  I’m hungry and you aren’t cooking anymore!  And there’s no food in the fridge!  What has happened to my formerly subservient wife?”


And you can respond:

“It’s 2013, asswipe.  I wasn’t subservient, I was extraordinarily wonderful and did almost everything around here.  All I ask from you in return is to step outside when you fart, kill spiders and don’t undermine me by reloading the dishwasher.  Since you have continued doing this against my express wishes that you stop, I am on strike.  Enjoy your hamburger patty and frozen vegetables, since I know that’s the only thing you can cook.  To the extent I express my culinary skills in our kitchen, these will be meals for one: me.”

Expect some blustering and perhaps even an effort on his part to survive on his own.  Don’t worry, it won’t last long.  When he does come crawling back to you with apologies and a promise to change, sit down with him and explain that this isn’t just about the cleanliness of the dishes.  The real issue is that when he repeatedly and against your wishes reloads the dishwasher, he is communicating to you two things: he doesn’t care about your feelings and you don’t do things well enough.  I’d also discuss why this type of controlling behavior is especially troubling to you, given your history with the first husband.


Of course, this brings me to my second point: isn’t it interesting that this the second time you have had this problem?  This leads me to believe two things:

1. Despite the fact it makes you unhappy, you are drawn to controlling men.  This is a common characteristic of women who had a very difficult childhood, especially if they are the children of domineering fathers.  Was that the case for you?  If so, you should address this issue head on either through therapy, reading some books on the subject or spitting on your father’s grave.

2. Have you ever considered that you may be really lousy at loading the dishwasher?  I mean, come on, what are the odds of this being an issue in both your marriages?  Perhaps you can take a class or something.


Your letter mentioned a couple things I found notable.  First, you indicated that your request to the husband to cease and desist took the form of “continually bitching” at him to “knock it off, you controlling bastard.”  Prior to going on strike as described above, perhaps the sit-down could take place prior to the strike instead of during, and your selection of language and tone could be adjusted.


Second, you admitted that you are also a control freak in the kitchen, so this is a great example of the proverbial pot calling the kettle black (kitchen idiom, how awesomely appropriate!).  Maybe your husband is staking out this one area in your territory out of defiance and in reaction to your kitchen OCD.  Does that mean he wants to cook more?  I’m not sure, but something is going on here.  Maybe he feels left out or worthless when it comes to meal preparation, and that may be your fault as this is a paradigm of your own construction.


I say that only because I have the exact same problem.  I would rather handle every aspect of a large dinner party (except the dishes, I’ll leave that to you and your husband) than have anyone else help me, especially Tom.  It’s not that he’s incompetent per se, but I just have a way of doing things and damn it, he isn’t qualified.  My constant hovering over and corrections of his cooking have included a lengthy dissertation on the proper way to boil an egg and a lecture regarding equal butter distribution methods for toast.  My actions finally drove him out of the kitchen altogether.  Mission accomplished, right?

I’m not so sure.  I think he feels left out of what is actually a very intimate and primal family activity: nourishing one another.  In addition, implying that a man is worthless in the kitchen is pretty similar to implying that the wife is worthless at dishwasher loading or mowing the lawn (OK, that one may be true).  Maybe you could just try to let this one go?  At least your husband is doing something in the kitchen in an effort to be helpful (or to drive you insane via passive-aggressive behavior).  Just a thought…


I may be totally overthinking this thing.  Here’s my advice: have the talk, and be nice.  If things don’t change, go on strike.  He’ll come around, and if he doesn’t, perhaps you can starve him to death and land another controlling husband?


This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. echinachea

    Love the response and making a plan/rehearsing the “talk.” Rethinking the tone should help! You could save a lot of relationships with all your food for thought, so to speak!

  2. wishful thinking

    shit woman, you crack me up. and have helpful advice. can i be you if/when i grow up?

  3. Your Ancient Auntie

    Huh. You and I are very closely related to a certain controlling male who constantly reloaded the dishwasher after every single dinner I ever went to at his house, so we all just stopped helping clean up after dinner. I’m afraid this behavior is hereditary — your grandparents had a hilarious story about decorating the Xmas tree the first year they were married. Your great-aunt re-hung every single damn ornament they put on the tree. Finally, they just sat down and watched her decorate. I like to think they drank some eggnog while they watched her create the perfect tree. She is now 95 and still does everything perfectly and we all love her to pieces.

  4. Hedgehog

    In our house, dishwasher loading is equal parts art, science, video game, and a set-up for easy dish removal. Not everyone can load a dishwasher well, nor do they plan ahead for putting them away. People vary in the degree to which they pre-clean dishes before loading (I’m middle of the road and do a passable job of removing sauces, chunks, cheese, etc.). They also have different ways to load dangerous items (e.g., oversized knives, carving forks, Cuisinart blades), any of which can result in a trip to the ER. In a modern family with active kids and spouses, there’s the usual cups, mugs, bowls, plates, pots, pans, cutting boards, cooking/eating utensils. Add to that the daily sustainable crop of kid-food containers and water bottles (and all of their lids) and you’ve got a several-hour game of dishwasher-loading Tetris on your hands.

    My goal isn’t to maximize the amount of dishes stuffed into the dishwasher or to proclaim myself King of the Kenmore (or the kitchen for that matter), it’s to get dishes clean and put away for the next day. We have a nanny and two parents who load the dishwasher and three kids who vaguely know what a dishwasher is. As the person responsible for putting away dishes early in the morning, I do a final check after dinner to make sure things are in the right place. Many times, I have to relocate items even if I placed them there at the start. Some relos are convenience issues; others are safety issues. If I’m OCD because I put likes together for easy put-away or to make the contents less likely to stab or slice me, then I can live with that.

    Dishwashing shouldn’t be a Machiavellian or Freudian exercise in control or psychosis, nor should anyone experience a Winter of Their Dishcontent; it should just be dishwashing.

    1. echinachea

      I don’t disagree with anything Hedgehog says above, but want to assure him/her that It is seriously not as big a deal as I made it out to be–but a pesky yet chronic annoyance. I stand by my assertion that the party doing 99% of the dishes and 100% of the unloading should be able to load the machine however said party sees fit. Love the “dishcontent” reference and plan on re-using (but not reloading) it. And there is nothing wrong with being OCD–I sure as hell am. I just want him to express his obsessiveness in another room–like cleaning the toilets or running the vacuum.

  5. Ali Whiting

    LOVE the Ecard that loading the dishwasher is an art!! I wanted to share it but couldn’t figure out how to do so. And for cripes sakes-I can’t get anyone to put anything in the dishwasher. You want to re-arrange? Have at it. This may have been my favorite answer yet!

    1. echinachea

      Love that ecard too! All the art-addons are hysterical, except when they are serious and wise. Msometimes both!

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