One summer day a few years into our marriage, my husband huffed upstairs from the basement, holding a hammer between two fingers. I heard frustration in his voice. “One of your cats,” he said, “peed on my tools.”

My mother always told me, “Don’t air your dirty laundry in public.” I know my stinky bit of laundry should stay in the basket, or I risk a tombstone that reads: “Here lies a woman whose cat peed on the floor.”

But there are times when the greater good trumps discretion. There are times when the cause of better relationships demands that I selflessly wash my laundry in public tubs and display it on the public clothesline. My cat’s wayward pee taught me four truths about discussions with one’s spouse. I feel honour-bound to share them.

Truth Number One:    Reason will not prevail.

When your cat pees on your husband’s tools, it does no good to point out that he was a victim of his own carelessness when he left the tools on the floor beside a spare, albeit empty, litter box. Nor does it help to mention that Bailey, the alleged perpetrator, is trying to do the right thing – he’s house-trained. He will pee in that litter box whether or not it holds sand. And – especially do not mention that Bailey is aging and, like the other older male in the house, occasionally misses the intended receptacle and hits the floor. Should he be put down because he misses? Should the cat?

Truth Number Two:     Timing is everything.

If you really want to make all of those comments, choose your time wisely. Do not make those comments while your husband’s favourite hammer steeps in a pungent yellow brew. While it acquires an irrepressible and distinctive aroma that will re-appear whenever his hand wraps around the hammer’s handle and warms it.

My very rational observations were met with a look that conveyed how irrational my husband thought they were. And how unwelcome. In response, my husband put forward his own observations.

Such as: How did I manage to spoil my cats so completely? Why can’t Bailey be more like a dog and go outside to pee? Why can’t Sadie (the other possible criminal in our house) puke her hairballs onto the hardwood instead of the rugs? And would I please agree, in writing, that our next house will have no doors that admit any animal with more than two legs.

Irrational, unwelcome observations.

Truth Number Three:      Think before leaping.

At this point, when your spouse responds to your comments – don’t ratchet things up a notch or two. Seriously,  are you really willing to tell a judge that errant cat pee and a stinky hammer are the reasons you want a divorce?

Truth Number Four:      It’s for better or worse.

We all bring an extra something into a communal relationship. Some call it baggage. (I call mine payback for my husband’s sins.) Whatever you call it, your spouse accepts that he or she may encounter the fall-out from previous romances gone bad or from the trauma of a misspent youth.

The surprise, to some, is that your partner’s baggage may not be psychological. It may consist of the 22 blow-up lawn decorations, complete with sound effects, a friend’s husband puts out every year for Hallowe’en. It may be the 237 pounds of geological samples my husband stored in our basement. Or, as in my case, it may be orange, and pad into the basement, silently but so urgently, in search of a place to pee.

I implore you. The next time you are in the midst of a sensitive discussion with your mate, when you feel your blood pressure rise, when the perfect comeback is on the tip of your tongue, remember my dirty laundry. And zip it up. Your relationship will thank you.

© Charlotte Morganti

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