The Sounds of Silence (Habit: Can’t Pack a Dishwasher)

From the section on House Rules

When we moved into our house in Georgia about 15 years ago, one of the first things to get on my wife’s nerves, other than me, was the dishwasher. It worked fine. The dishes were clean. The problem was the noise. It was LOUD.

“Turn the TV down!” my wife would call from upstairs. “I need to get some sleep. I have to get up early tomorrow.”

“If I turn it down, I can’t hear the dialogue over the dishwasher.”

This was such a problem that my wife re-did our remodeling budget, figuring out a way to add in a new dishwasher. She chose an energy-efficient one that could practically do more dishes than we had. Best of all, it was nearly silent.

Unfortunately, the “silence” created a new issue. The new dishwasher was barely audible, even to someone in the kitchen. If I was cleaning up after dinner, I could load it, turn it on, and my wife wouldn’t know it was running. This was a problem as she and I have different impressions of what constitutes a “full” dishwasher. Some mornings, she got up, saw dishes in the sink, and assumed the dishwasher was full. Then, she would open the dishwasher, seeing both clean dishes and excess space . . . enough room for the unwashed dishes in the sink.

“Honey, there’s plenty of space in this thing,” my wife would say. “It can handle more dishes than our old one. You need to pack it correctly.”

“Yes, honey.”

I would watch as she explained, nodding to show that I understood or at least feign that I did. She would then continue. “Make all the dishes face the same way and you can pack more in.”

“Uh huh.”

“Pack these items on top and these on the bottom.”

“Uh huh.”

“Stack the smaller utensils here and the larger utensils here.”


“And always wash the pans by hand.”


No matter how much I tried, the dishwasher wasn’t packed correctly by her standards.

Sometimes, I compensated by overpacking. I thought I did great job. I soon found out I was wrong.

“Honey, there’s too much stuff in here,” she would say. “Not everything’s getting clean.”


Frustrated herself, she began stopping the dishwasher if she realized I’d started it, inspecting it to assure herself it was loaded correctly. She even asked me to stop running it, saying that she wanted to check the dishes first. Still, when it got late, I loaded the dishwasher, assumed it was fine, and turned it on.

My impression has always been that most wives would be happy when their husbands clean up, but the way I did it never seemed right. I briefly tried leaving the dishes in the sink, a habit I used to have when we got married, but this didn’t go over very well.

So what happens now?

After many years of marriage, my wife has learned to live with it. I load as best as I can, and she spaces out her complaints to make them occasional. It is irritating to me that I just can’t get what she wants. It is irritating to her that I still play dumb on the issue. However, I do have a measuring stick to judge all of this by. Early in our marriage, I did all of the ironing as she claimed she didn’t know how to iron. She has kept this charade up just as long.

Let me know. Is not knowing how to pack a dishwasher a common problem?

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