We seek peace in the toothpaste war

I squeeze; my husband rolls. Was there room for compromise?

John Kehe

My husband and I dated for six years before we got married. And we’d known each other for four years before that. We went to pre-marriage counseling with my pastor. We even took a test. It said we were compatible. 

So, after knowing each other for 10 years and taking steps to ascertain our marriage-readiness, one might assume there was nothing left to learn about one another. 

But one would be wrong.

All was going smoothly in our new marriage. We shared the household chores, figured out money management, and agreed on religion. No problem. Then came the trouble with toothpaste.

Crest Tartar Control brought us to our knees and demanded to know what we were made of. You see, my husband likes to carefully fold and roll the toothpaste tube. I like to grab it in the middle and squeeze. I might call his folding a bit obsessive. He might consider my squeezing careless and rude. This difference in style may seem benign, but it caused the first trouble in our newly formed marriage.

At first it was a little joke. I’d squeeze. He’d roll. Ha, ha. I’d squeeze again. He’d roll again. Irritating. I’d squeeze even when I wasn’t brushing my teeth. He’d sneak back in to roll, roll, roll. 

After sneaking and squeezing, tip-toeing and rolling for two weeks, it was inevitable that we finally met face to face in our tiny pink bathroom with our hands on the toothpaste. We actually yelled at each other. I may have even cried. Why was he so obsessive? Why was I so vindictive? Why couldn’t he loosen up? Why couldn’t I get it together? Were we still talking about the toothpaste?

The toothpaste had become more than something to brush our teeth with, it had become a stand-in for aspects of our individual personalities that we did not always care to reveal. Maybe I was being a little vindictive. Maybe he was being a bit obsessive. Maybe it really didn’t matter how we dealt with the toothpaste. But maybe it did.

Thankfully, we thought of a solution. And it was simple but significant: We bought two tubes of toothpaste – one for me to squeeze and one for him to roll. And that made all the difference. Keeping the small things small conserves your energy for the bigger things later on. 

And there are always bigger things. Like loading the dishwasher: My husband has a particular way of loading the dishwasher and it differs from my way.

But it matters more to him, so I let him load the dishwasher. The same goes with doing the laundry. I like the clothes folded a certain way, so I fold the clothes and put them away. Why focus on the differences that could separate us? Instead, I think it’s better to split the duties, or buy two tubes of toothpaste, and live in relative harmony.

So, how do you measure compatibility in marriage? By how well you share a tube of toothpaste? How completely you agree on how to load the dishwasher? Or can it be measured by how you and your partner respect and handle your differences? I would argue the latter.

Now, 22 years later, the trouble with toothpaste is over. We still have our own tubes. Our daughter has her own, too. But every so often, when one tube runs out, we sometimes forget to rush to the store to get another. Instead, we share the toothpaste for a while. Sometimes I squeeze it, but mostly I roll. I admit it does keep the tube neater. And every so often I catch my husband squeezing (just a little) when he thinks I’m just brushing my hair.

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