Revisiting the Toothpaste Conundrum

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Confession: I am a big, fat hypocrite.

Well, maybe not so much a hypocrite as someone who might need to seriously re-think previously held beliefs.

You see, three years ago I wrote my third blog post (!), Marriage: Separate Paths to Nowhere, which included these words:

Now, a surprisingly large amount of people have asked me for marriage advice over the years. I find the request bizarre, since I would think I’d be the last person to know how to make a marriage work. And generally I only feel comfortable giving these three simple words of advice:

Separate. Toothpaste. Tubes.

This is both a giant metaphor… and also quite literal.

You see, the toothpaste tube is something that people have been using their whole life, multiple times a day. They’ve become accustomed to a certain way of using it, and they are by no means ready to change their habits. Some squeeze from the bottom, some from the middle. Some throw it out when it’s near empty, some will manage to eke out of there a whole extra week. And some close the cap like they want to permanently trap the toothpaste, and others are annoyed that a stupid cap is slowing them down all the time.

Then they marry. And they share tubes. But they never speak up, because who cares about a stupid toothpaste tube? And as time goes by, resentment builds in the smallest doses, until this one dumb thing results in a full-blown fight. And it all could have been prevented… by having separate tubes!

The simple message: Small things matter. They just take longer to be real problems. And it’s downright silly to let small things get out of control when prevention is so utterly simple.

My Toothpaste Confession


My confession: My wife and I have been married for almost two years now… and we share the same toothpaste tube!

I know what you’re thinking.

Horror! How could you, Jaffe? You know this doesn’t end well. It’s completely irresponsible!

Now, I could take the easy way out.

I could just say everything fits because we click on the three main issues. We’re both bottom squeezers. We both use every last drop of that stuff. And we’re both really good about making sure the cap’s on tightly after usage.

Advice Upgrade

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But it’s a copout answer, if you consider everything I said earlier. Perhaps one of us is compromising on our toothpaste values to try and preserve our union longer. Maybe Devorah wants to throw that thing out weeks before I do, or perhaps I’m a closet squeeze-the-middle freak. And each and every day resentment is silently building in our hearts. How can we ignore our own wants and needs on a daily basis? This will never end well.

Well, I’ll say this right off the bat: I still agree with my original advice. Having separate tubes will, in most circumstances, prevent little issues and minor resentment. It’s a good long-term strategy. And, as it is also a metaphor, I’d say the words retain their initial strength. There are so many little things that if left unaddressed could become bad or even destroy a relationship.

But the original advice needs an upgrade. It needs to be revisited after two years of contemplation of why neither of us has beaten the other to death with our toothpaste tubes.

The Big Picture

Wide Open Spaces Photograph by Scott Bean

My working theory is that the little things are easier to overlook when the big picture of the relationship is powerfully intact. If your values are still strongly connected, the conversations together are still interesting and plentiful, and you continue to have abundant amounts of fun together, it’s significantly easier to look past minor irritants. So even if she (like a psycho) were to just leave the toothpaste tube cap somewhere else on the counter, I might be able to just put that thing back on and move on with my day without any frustration.

Now, I said “might” in that previous sentence, because I don’t know. It could be that if I were to do that every day for a couple of years, it would eventually turn me into a Hulk-esque rage monster. And I’d rampage through my home breaking things while shouting about toothpaste caps. It could also be that long ago I would have just purchased another tube and moved on like there was never anything that bothered me.

But I’d like to believe that the problem was solved the day I married the right person. That somehow when that first decision was well-considered and two people truly love one another, the trivial grievances get buried under heaping piles of love and care. Or that problems get solved seamlessly, and just fall to the side like they were nothing, never to come back to haunt the relationship again.

So what does this mean for me?

Nugget of Toothpaste Wisdom


Is my whole life philosophy completely incorrect? I have been spouting my toothpaste nonsense for years. Many have told me I was ridiculous and didn’t know what I was talking about. Others thanked me for the sage wisdom.

I had a friend who basically said she and her significant other had circumvented the system by purchasing a toothpaste they both loved that didn’t even use a tube. And she was proud to prove me wrong… until one day he traveled for business and took the toothpaste with him. And she spent her day without fresh breath.

Perhaps there is still a nugget of wisdom left in my words.

Separate Toothpaste Tubes Revisited

A marriage that can be damaged by something so trivial is probably not a marriage worth being in. Click To Tweet
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But my current situation gives me hope for a better world than the one I’ve been envisioning for so long. A marriage that can be damaged by something so trivial is probably not a marriage worth being in.

Perhaps a life exists with quality communication, where separate toothpaste tubes is something that sometimes works, and other times everyone can share and be happy. And when little things creep up, they are dealt with calmly, intelligently, and in a loving manner, so they don’t slowly erode the beautiful view.

May we all be blessed with such a life!

2 thoughts on “Revisiting the Toothpaste Conundrum”

  1. I have been married for 22 years and we share toothpaste. I think the answer is to train each other (Him) how to use the toothpaste properly to avoid the toothpaste war.

  2. Oh no Nic. Marriage is not meant for training your partner to change. That I believe is truly what marriage counselors are seeing all the time – and can not solve.

    Otoh, life is not without challenges, and marriage has a huge share of them. How to solve challenges (without insisting the other change) is indeed what can make us all grow. You are very blessed, Jaffe’s to have found each other. May your blessings enrich this world.

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