Norma has told me she prefers I stay away from the laundry, since I have a habit of messing up things. But if I "must" help, she's instructed me to put her clothes in the dryer for no more than five minutes, then hang them up.
One day I noticed that Norma was washing a load of her clothes. Since she was busy on the phone, I thought I'd do something nice for her: I'd surprise her and help do her laundry.
When the washing cycle finished, I removed the load from the washer and put it in the dryer.
I really did intend to take them out and hang them to finish drying. But something distracted me, and two hours later, I remembered, "Oh no, Norma's clothes!" I rushed to the dryer, but it was too late. For a moment, I was tempted to put them back in the washer, thinking she'd never know. I guess I wanted to believe I could rehydrate them.
With fear and trepidation, I told my wife, "I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that I dried your clothes that were in the washer."
"What!" she said, and I sensed the tension rising.
"But the good news is," I quickly interjected, "Taylor [our five-year-old granddaughter] has a whole new wardrobe!"
My attempt at humor didn't defuse the problem as much as I'd hoped.
"It takes me a long time to find nice clothes that will fit me properly," she said, frustrated.
I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I had never realized that it takes her extra time to find clothes that will work. I'd been thinking it wasn't a big deal—mostly because it takes me about 30 seconds to buy clothes.
It would have been easy for me to sulk in self-pity, thinking, Yes, I messed up, but she should look at the thought behind the action. I meant to help her, to show her I was thinking about her.
She didn't view it that way, though. "I ask only that you respect my desires," she told me. "I appreciate your willingness to help. But you don't follow through. And now this will cost me more time and money because I have to go out and buy something new."
As Norma shared her frustrations about what I'd done, I had to make a choice. I could get defensive and angry, or I could really listen to her side. I chose the latter. I decided to assess, What is Norma going through? What is she feeling? What is she thinking? Is there any damage to our relationship? Does anything need to be repaired? Where was I wrong? As I reflected on the situation, I knew there could be damage to our relationship, and it was my responsibility to make things right. I realized, Yes, I knew. I've been told a million times not to touch her clothes.
I asked for her forgiveness and handed her my wallet as a gesture of repentance. While she was still hurt, she forgave me.
"Thank you for apologizing," she told me. "I know you want to make things right. Thank you for that."
To ask for forgiveness is hard, because pride, by its nature, doesn't want to let go. It wants to prove it's in the right. Men in particular seem to struggle with this issue. Often, even when they recognize the importance of asking for forgiveness, they'll react first, then later admit they were wrong. That was me!
Yet, even if it's delayed, admitting your wrongs is better than trying to cover them up.
Doing Norma's laundry reminded me that to keep marriage flowing smoothly, we need to make things right as soon as possible. In Romans 12:18, the apostle Paul writes, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." I discovered that applies even to doing laundry.
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.