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August 20, 2015
The Real Issue
Pick up the Curtain!
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Editor's Note: Cyndie Swindlehurst is out of town this week: This column is a rerun from September 5, 2013, but we thought you would enjoy it just the same:


Four months ago, a curtain fell down in our bathroom when the rod came loose. I thought my husband would fix it because it is his job to fix things around the house. But when I mentioned it to him, he just asked me why I hadn’t picked it up, since I’m supposed to keep the house clean.

That was four months ago, and the curtain is still on the bathroom floor. I have enough work to do without adding my husband’s jobs to my chore list. And if I pick it up, he’ll think he can always leave his mess around for me to take care of.

Who is right? Is this a fix-it job or a cleaning job?


You are asking the wrong question.

The right question is: What should I do when I see a curtain on the floor of my bathroom?

The answer is: Pick it up.

This is still the answer if “picking up the bathroom” is not “your job.” Or if it was your husband who knocked it down. Or if your husband was just in the bathroom and could have picked it up himself.

(If a child knocked it down, go fetch him and show him how to pick it up and what to do with it. This is good training for a child. But it is not your job to train your husband.)

It is a good rule of thumb, when you see something out of place in your home, to pick it up and put it away. You should train your children to follow this rule. There is no such thing as “not my job” when it comes to keeping things picked up around the house. It’s everyone’s job to make sure things stay tidy.

But your problem is not a housekeeping problem. Surely, you both know what to do when a curtain is on the floor. Your real problem is that you and your husband are squabbling and keeping score like children. You have taken the simplest of problems, an item on the floor, and turned it into a serious marital conflict.

Instead of worrying about keeping the house tidy, or helping each other, or doing what a reasonable person does when he sees a curtain on the floor, you are more concerned with making each other do something, just to prove a point.

This is no way to run a marriage! Keeping score and winning points and getting your way and proving you’re right — it’s exhausting! No one wants to live like that! So don’t. You can’t change your husband’s behavior. But you can change your own.

So I suggest you end the standoff. Go pick up the curtain. Then get a screwdriver and fix the curtain rod. If you don’t know how and can’t figure it out, ask your husband casually and pleasantly — without huffing, muttering, or sarcasm — if he wouldn’t mind showing you what to do. If he’s not home, find a tutorial on YouTube. If your husband taunts you for “giving in” or makes fun of your efforts, smile and ignore him.

That will be hard, but if he wants to gloat that he has won the Battle of Fallen Curtain, let him gloat. He didn’t actually win anything because picking up a curtain isn’t actually hard.

It is tempting, when you feel overburdened and underappreciated, to make a stand about something silly, like a curtain. But you should resist this urge, even if you do most of the housework. Even if your husband is selfish and unpleasant and ungrateful. Even if your husband is a lazy lie-about who treats video games as if they were a vocation instead of a recreation.

Why? Because this problem is not about him — it is about you. Are you are going to dig in your heels and stew about something stupid? You are not! You are going to take control of the problem and solve it on your own. Picking up a curtain is not hard. It’s not worth fighting about. You can do it in about four seconds, and save your problem-solving energy for actual problems.

And don’t complain that this curtain represents all of the other problems in your relationship. If that’s true, if the mere sight of that curtain causes you to catalogue all of your husband’s faults and reflect on your marital dissatisfaction, then you need to pick it up double quick.

“Focus on the positive” is well-worn marital advice because it’s completely true. If you take every opportunity to criticize your spouse, out loud or in your head, you are never going to be happy or satisfied. Instead of obsessing about your spouse’s faults, you need to focus on his good points.

So if your wife is a wonderful athlete and a terrible cook, admire her athleticism and the genes it adds to your gene pool. If your husband is a great Scout Master but an awful home teacher, be proud of his talent with young people. Treat your spouse the way you want him to treat you: gently, with kindness and affection. Point out his strengths instead of his weaknesses. It will not transform him into a different person, but it will make you a better person.

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