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My friend Ali Stoyan told me about a blog post from 2016 on Huffington Post called She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink. In this passage the author, Matthew Fray, gets at why he thinks such conflicts are fundamentally about respect:

He wants her to agree with him that when you put life in perspective, a glass being by the sink when no one is going to see it anyway, and the solution takes four seconds, is just not a big problem. She should recognize how petty and meaningless it is in the grand scheme of life, he thinks, and he keeps waiting for her to agree with him.

She will never agree with him, because for her, it’s not ACTUALLY about the glass. The glass situation could be ANY situation in which she feels unappreciated and disrespected by her husband.

The wife doesn’t want to divorce her husband because he leaves used drinking glasses by the sink.

She wants to divorce him because she feels like he doesn’t respect or appreciate her, which suggests he doesn’t love her, and she can’t count on him to be her lifelong partner. She can’t trust him. She can’t be safe with him. Thus, she must leave and find a new situation in which she can feel content and secure.(Emphasis in original).

This made me think about my dishes conflicts with roommates, especially when I was in Brazil. I think respect is a big part of it. I felt disrespected by the roommate who refused to clean up after himself even after I let him know how I felt, leaving me with two options:

  1. Be anxious about the mess and have it inhibit my ability to cook, which in turn meant spending more money eating out.
  2. Clean up after him.

It’s about respect, but it’s also about power. Divorce is exit and exit is a form of power. When women didn’t have the option of divorce (or it was very restricted) they didn’t have the power of exit, the power to demand respect and leave if they don’t get it.