I work at a hardware store. Not Home Depot, but instead at the largest ACE Hardware in America. Yep, I’m quite proud of that. However, this land of plaid and lumber is the last place that I expected to receive the best relationship advice I’ve ever heard. Anybody who has gone to the hardware store, decorated a house, or co-habitated with another human, especially one they love, can understand the trials of a relationship.
After all, you have to determine who’s going to wash the dishes, how many basins a sink should have, and what color the faucet should be. I have to tell you, I’ve never seen a couple argue in IKEA like they do in the hardware store. Maybe it’s because IKEA pillows are so easy to change while the kitchen faucet is not. But I digress. Let me tell you how this story came about.
I was helping a couple with a door one day and they were discussing what type of door they wanted to buy. The wife wanted an ornate door, with an electronic deadbolt, a fancy handle set, and a new paint color on it. I’m sure if they could have, she would have wanted a side window with stained glass next to it. He wanted a door with a small window at the top and a basic set of four panels underneath. He wanted a basic lockset and he wanted it white.
I’m sure this sounds familiar to all of you reading this. We all have out own ideas of what the perfect space is. We know the colors that we like and we know the textures that we like. For example, my boyfriend loves super, dark blue colors and wants the whole house to be vibrant. I prefer gray, white, and maybe a touch of color. Unfortunately, we argue almost every time we discuss our own home improvement.
It wasn’t that my customer didn’t want to pay for the fancy door, which the argument that I expected. Instead, he was frustrated because he didn’t think his wife would get the result she wanted with the fancy door. When I asked what he meant, he explained it to me. They live in a house that the front door is actually on the side of the house. Sadly, visitors more often than not went to their back door, which required her to walk around the dining table and move things out of the way to let them in. Rather than accept this, she was trying to direct people to the correct front door by making it ornate and obvious as the front door.
The Relationship Advice
The problem was that I could see both sides of the story. I understood why the wife was trying to do what she was doing. I also thought the husband was correct in that they wouldn’t get what they wanted. At one point, the wife said she needed to go check something out.
I asked the husband when he was going to give his wife what she wanted. You could tell that they loved each other but you could also tell that she was going to get her way. He looked at me calmly and hit me with absolutely the best relationship advice that I’ve ever heard.
He said, “Every time I feel like there is an argument we cannot get through, I tell myself the same thing: This is not the hill we are going to die on.”
I was stunned. I was speechless.
I stared at the man. He was probably somewhere around 60. You could tell that he had a few sore joints but had lived a good life. He sat there and stared back at me. I wasn’t thinking about the door anymore. Screw the door. This guy was like Oprah and grandpa rolled into one single human. Except that if he had a longer beard, he could have passed for an opinionated Santa. I asked him to explain more about the relationship advice he had just told me.
He explained that he and his wife had been married for years and, over the years, he had developed this theory. In short, when you are frustrated with somebody, you should pause and think. Think about your life with them. Remember all the times you’ve had with them. Remember that time you went on a hike together and realized halfway through that nobody had water. Remember when you had a bad day and a hug from them made everything better.
Then to think about what is frustrating you. They didn’t do the dishes, like usual. You are the only person who’s cleaned the toilet in the last month. The man in front of me asked, “Is that frustration a hill worth dying on?” Is that frustration a reason to destroy all of the other times you’ve had with that person? Are the dishes or the toilet so important that you don’t think talking about it will help and you are ready to never love that person again?
The Thought Behind It
Once you pause and consider this hill, the issue probably isn’t worth dying over. The dishes being dirty in the sink constantly is not a hill worth dying on, it’s worth talking about. Your desire to sit on the couch rather than working extra shifts to help pay the bills is not a hill worth dying on. You can always discuss changing your habits or request that your partner changes theirs. We can all listen to each other and help each other up that hill.
In the matter of home improvement, are you so attached to that single basin sink that you will never love your partner again? We’ve all had something that we feel strongly about, but if your partner is one that you love, you will be able to find a common ground. I let my boyfriend paint one wall with that dark blue that I find too powerful. He loves the wall and I still love him. Compromise.
How Did It End?
I’m sure you are wondering how it turned out. They bought the fancy door, with fancy paint, and a fancy handleset to put on it. As they walked away from me, I asked to shake the husband’s hand. I thanked him for telling me his relationship advice. It has saved my relationship so many times by now that I can’t begin to count them. Not only my romantic relationship but also my relationship with my family and even my friends. I constantly remind myself that they are more important than the hill that is my minor annoyance with them.
I told him that he had made me a better person and I would never forget it. His wife had already made it to the check stand, thinking the whole time that she had won a big argument. He smiled at me, looked at his wife, and calmly followed her out the door. I just stood there watching them leave, dressed in my plaid shirt and holding my tape measure. Who knew that every day, the lesson I learned at the hardware store would stay with me. Thank you sir!