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From Clutter to Connection: How Cleaning the Breezeway Transformed Our Marriage

Posted on December 16, 2023 in: Marriage

From Clutter to Connection: How Cleaning the Breezeway Transformed Our Marriage

The breezeway between our garage and house has always been a source of conflict between my husband and me.

I like it to be clean, uncluttered and a place where I can sit three seasons out of the year. The lovely wicker set placed there creates an inviting space for me to read, or a cozy spot for the two of us to sit together on a warm summer evening.  To me, it is another room in our home.

For my husband, it’s a utility closet, a spot to keep the recycling bin and returnable bottles and cans and store tools, bird food and any other odds and ends we don’t know where else to put. As a result, over time, this ‘extra’ room became a cluttered space or, shall I say, a constant source of frustration and embarrassment for me.

Recently, we hosted a large family celebration at our home with more than 30 guests. We planned it as an outdoor party, but a foreboding weather forecast forced us to change our plans to accommodate “Mother Nature.” The issue was no longer how we were going to juggle cooking all the items on the menu or where to park all the cars to how we were going to house 33 people in our home.

The answer: clean the breezeway. We’ve hosted family gatherings there before and can easily accommodate up to 20 guests seated at a few six-foot tables. “You’re going to clean the whole breezeway in one day?” my oldest daughter asked incredulously. “Where are you going to put all that stuff?” She saw it as such a daunting task that she and her husband offered to hold the party in their spacious house.

Pride got the best of us, however, and not wanting to admit defeat, my husband and I hunkered down and, working together, spent an entire day getting the breezeway ready. While my husband took the bags of trash and recyclables to the landfill, I sat down on the wicker loveseat (for the first time in more than two years) and reflected on how we got into this situation.

It was hard for me to admit, but I had developed an “it’s not my fault” attitude about the breezeway. That, coupled with an “I have a right to be angry” attitude about the situation, led to the negative behavior of blaming my husband for the messiness and chaos. Acting defensive was another negative behavior that prevented me from taking the first move toward cleaning it myself.

Negative behaviors have a nasty way of creeping into a marriage and, if left unaddressed, can destroy the intimacy we work so hard to create with our spouse.  Those behaviors usually come packaged with an attitude. Worldwide Marriage Encounter teaches that an attitude is looking at the world through a filter that each of us has formed in our minds. In my mind, my husband created the mess, so it was his responsibility to clean it up. But while cleaning it out, I noticed I was just as guilty at contributing to the mess as he was.

My negative attitudes about the situation helped feed my negative behaviors and rather than address my honest feelings about the situation with my husband, or take ownership for contributing to it, I avoided the issue. Had I opened up and shared with him how I felt about the condition of the breezeway, rather than making sarcastic remarks aimed at him, maybe it would have been cleaned much quicker. And any tension it created in our relationship could have been prevented.

The day after the party, I suggested we both work together to continue to keep the breezeway in its orderly condition. “Let’s start by returning the empty bottles and cans promptly rather than having them build up,” I proposed.

“Good idea,” he said. “You can start by returning some of them yourself.”

I cringed. He knows that’s something I don’t like to do, and anyway most of them aren’t mine. Oops. I caught myself. Expecting him to do it by himself is acting irresponsibly, which is another negative behavior. And saying, “It's not my job” is another negative attitude. So, I changed both, loaded the bottles and cans into my car and adopted a positive “we’re in this together” attitude, while turning around to admire our inviting, neat and clean breezeway.

By Mary-Jo McLaughlin

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