WRITTEN BY Aileen Kelly

Standards of Care: Aligning for Harmony


When is the kitchen clean?

Think about that question. Think about the state of your kitchen right now. Is it clean?

This is not a moral judgment. You can be a good person and have a kitchen that looks like a cyclone hit it.

The Meaning Behind Kitchen Cleanliness

Clean or dirty or somewhere in between (where most kitchens live), the state of your kitchen can say a lot about your relationship with your partner.

My idea of a clean kitchen is that all the dishes are clean. They can be stacked to the ceiling in the dish drainer, but they are clean. The sink is clean. Not sparkling, but there can be no food bits lurking in there. The sponge is squeezed out and drying on its little rack. The trash is at least half empty. The floor is swept and dry, no puddles. The counters are clean (no toast crumbs) but do not have to be clear. Things can be sitting on the counter, but they have to be kitchen things – no tennis balls, or backpacks, or stacks of unopened mail.

That all goes on the dining room table.

Personal Standards vs. Shared Standards of Care

I have a very clear idea of what I think of as a clean kitchen. Your idea might be different and that is okay.

But if we lived together then we would have a problem. 

If your idea of a clean kitchen includes counters with nothing on them  (no toaster left out or paper towels left to randomly roll around the counter because I am too lazy and cheap to go buy a paper towel holder), then you would be annoyed at the way I left the kitchen after I told you that I would clean it up after dinner.

I think we all know where this is going. If you don’t then either you are very lucky or have lived alone your entire life.

Or you are about to live alone and do not know it. That is not a threat but a fact. 

The Impact of Different Standards in Relationships

People end relationships over differing standards of care, they just don’t know it. 

Let’s take a moment to define what I mean when I say standards of care. Clearly I’m not talking about the legal and medical definition of standards of care. What I mean is when I get to a point in a process where I think, “This is as done as it is ever going to be” or “This is done to my satisfaction” and I stop.

Standards of Care
Picture Credits: Pexels.com

This can apply to cleaning but it can also apply to helping kids with homework or researching summer camps. It applies to every single thing that we do as human beings, from playing with the dog to taking care of elderly members of our family. 

And if you and your partner do not agree on those standards of care there will be an endless amount of friction in your relationship.

Finding Common Ground

Trust me, I know. I know a couple that has been married for over 40 years and they rub along beautifully because their shared standards of care are in line. Their standards are super tidy and their house kind of scares me, but they are happy. 

And then there are the rest of us, sniping and seething, our relationships being undermined by one dirty dish left on the counter rather than put in the dishwasher at a time.

Self-Reflection and Understanding Your Partner

What can you do today? 

Begin examining your own standards of care. Write them down if that helps or talk them over with a friend or your partner if you feel comfortable. What matters to you? What doesn’t? What makes you cringe when you walk in the door? What makes you smile?

By beginning to understand your own standards of care you begin the process of eventually understanding the standards of your partner.

Recommended Reading

There are a lot of excellent books available to help learn more about how to work on aligning goals and standards. Here are a couple that I recommend.

This is How Your Marriage Ends by Matthew Fray is a thoughtful, down-to-earth, contemporary guide to help partners identify and address relationship-killing behavior patterns in their own lives.

Equal Partners by Kate Mangino is based on interviews with the EP40, 40 partners who are leading equitable lives with their loved ones. It’s filled with inspiring stories and actionable items.

If you wish to other read relevant post:
Let’s Talk About Caregiving and its Impact on Women