Measuring cups askewWe were getting ready for work one morning at my apartment, before we bought our house or had even talked about getting married. I came out of the bathroom to find him unloading my dishwasher. No asking, hinting, or prompting on my part. I thanked him delightedly thinking, “Wow! What a great guy!”

Minutes later I opened the cupboard to get my vitamins, and noticed that the measuring cups weren’t nested properly. They were stacked willy-nilly, askew, teetering precariously on the lazy susan where they normally reside.

Now, everyone knows how measuring cups are supposed to work. They’re designed to nestle—snugly, tidily, happily—one against the other in a comfortingly solid stack, like warm puppies in a whelping box. And here were mine, doing no such thing.

So I did what any normal person would do. I opened my mouth to speak, something like, “Oh, honey, when you put these away next time, would you stack them properly?” But something made me stop. I stood there, mouth slightly ajar, as a question hit my consciousness. “Is this really important to me?”

I was 36 and in the first really serious relationship of my life. This man was marriage material. “Is this really important to me?” I thought of all my friends who complained about their mates not doing chores, not helping around the house, not helping with the kids, and I wondered. Somehow I had stumbled upon a man who willingly, unprompted, unloaded the dishwasher. Do I really want to mess with that? For measuring cups?

In a flash I saw a few months of “Oh, honey…”s and wondered. I remembered my friend Paul complaining how his wife insisted on the towels being folded The Right Way, in thirds and then halves. And Paul’s wife complaining back to me that he never helped with housework. Is this what happened to all those “unhelpful” husbands? Had women unwittingly ruined them? [This applies to gay couples too, and of course sometimes guys are more into housework than women.]

What if we inadvertently train our spouses out of helping through our tiny reminders? Imagine you are leaving for the grocery store. You’ve been grocery shopping for thirty-plus years. And your partner is telling you, “Make sure you take the coupons. Do you have the list? Don’t get the regular cheese or the fat-free cheese, get the reduced-calorie cheese.” Mightn’t you get a tad irritable? Mightn’t you think, “Hey, I’ve been buying groceries for 30 years! I know how to buy groceries!”

Now imagine that you went ahead and got the groceries after a long day of work and your partner complained about which store you went to, how much you spent, and what you did and didn’t bring home. Mightn’t you be inclined to just let your partner do the shopping himself? And the laundry, the cleaning, and anything else around the house that he complained about?

I realized at that moment, looking into my cupboard, that I was assuming that my way is the right way, and not just about the measuring cups. The endless supply of jokes about men helpless at housework seems to back me up. But what if they simply just do things differently? What if—radical thought—we left them alone to do it their way and simply kept quiet? I love watching guys hold babies like footballs, and it doesn’t seem to hurt the babies one bit.

Sure, you might risk a few laundry disasters. (Solved that one—anything needing special care goes into a hand-wash bag that he knows to ignore.) You might have to live with one checkbook being unbalanced, or find blue-frosted Pop-tarts in the cupboard and the coupons you clipped left forlornly on the counter. But if you can stand to keep quiet, you might find you have a mate who grocery shops, does laundry, and takes care of the yard work too. Fifteen years later, he still does all these things differently than me. I figured out how to work with the checkbook in a way that doesn’t make either of us crazy, and while we no longer eat Pop-tarts, he still surprises me with something fun that wasn’t on the list. We trade off shopping and I happily pronounce how much I saved with the coupons when I return, victorious. He smiles, knowing how much I love to save with coupons. It all works out.

Is this really important to me?” My mouth was still slightly open. I closed my mouth, turned around, and gave him a big kiss. “Thank you so much for unloading the dishwasher sweetie!” And I thought, maybe I can do this relationship thing after all.

A version of this essay first appeared in The Huffington Post. There is a lively discussion going on in the comments section there (including marriage proposals, rude comments, and everything in between). Feel free to check it out.

Today’s post is part of our mission to help you rebuild your health through food and lifestyle choices. Look for posts on Mondays featuring gluten-free, sugar-free recipes made with healthy plant-based ingredients, Wednesday essays, and Friday giveaways (when available).