Rosie Green: Chore wars? I’m throwing in the towel

My boyfriend is admiring the new matting in his garden – and I am finding this triggering.

Matting, for the uninitiated, is a sheet of mesh-like fabric laid on the beds to stop weeds growing through. It is then covered with bark, so the garden becomes more low maintenance. This means it always looks neat and tidy, but also, to my mind, a bit municipal. Think council roundabout vibes.

Why is all this so disquieting to me?

Because when my ex-husband was asked by his friend – our friend – why he wanted out of our marriage, his response was that it was because I wouldn’t sanction matting in the garden.

I know that was only one of the reasons he left me, but it stuck in my mind.

Image: David Venni

The truth is, I like wild country gardens. A bit scruffy and overgrown. Conversely I hate regimented planting with a passion (eg, pansies, planted equidistant).

At the time I thought it was a ridiculous reason for walking out of a 26-year, mostly happy relationship.

But four years on, looking at the pride and the relief that my boyfriend gets from ticking off a job that was weighing on him, it makes me think about how much this mattered to my ex, and how I dismissed it.

Sometimes it’s the micro, not the macro annoyances that destroy a relationship. Death by a thousand cuts, rather than a fatal stabbing. The feeling of not being heard. Repeatedly.

I read a piece in this very paper by relationship expert Matthew Fray, saying his wife divorced him because he left his dishes in the sink. He just couldn’t be bothered to load them in the dishwasher. He wrote that he had thought he was a good husband – that being faithful and reliable was enough – but confessed that he valued his thoughts and feelings above his wife’s. He dismissed her domestic requests as silly, but they mattered to her. They impacted her workload and life. So she left him – and now he can see why.

In the division of jobs in our marriage, garden maintenance fell to my husband and he felt responsible for it. Weeds made him stressed and he felt that putting down matting would ease that pressure.

I’m not excusing my ex’s actions overall, but I do think that, in this arena at least,
I didn’t consider his concerns to be as worthy as mine. I thought that I was right and he was wrong; that a bit of outdoor messiness shouldn’t bother him.

And yet his lack of regard for my domestic tasks infuriated me. The childcare, sheet washing, food ordering, school uniform labelling – all my domain. And those pressures weighed heavily on me.

So if his actions (or lack of them) increased my workload, I was peeved.

A big friction point was the rinsing of breakfast bowls, because I knew that if Weetabix was left unrinsed it would mean me attacking the cemented-on fragments with a Brillo pad until my hands bled (no exaggeration).

Ditto if he put soggy towels in the laundry bin it would result in me having to wash everything in there twice so it didn’t smell fusty.

Maybe he wasn’t bothered by stinky towels or eating from cereal-encrusted bowls. Just as I wasn’t bothered by weeds.

But now I’m older and wiser, in my new relationship I’m going to try hard to see my partner’s viewpoint as being as valid as my own. Weeds as being as stressful as Weetabix bits.

In the name of harmonious relations, maybe I can live with a bit of bark. Just please, no pansies.


Read more of Rosie Green’s columns here