Could a dishwasher manual be the key to saving your marriage?
The greatest threat to my marriage came into my life about eight years ago. She was sleek and attractive, with lovely lines. She spoke softly, at a steady 49 decibels to be exact. OK, she was maybe a little boxy, with few feminine curves, but she was hard-working and uncomplaining. She was perfect.
Yes, everything changed the day our AEG integrated dishwasher was installed. A hitherto loving and harmonious marriage was threatened. In fact, even though I stopped stroking her fascia long ago, she is still a source of discord.
To paraphrase the late Princess Diana, there are three of us in this marriage, only one of whom came with a four-year parts and labour guarantee.
At first, simply having a dishwasher was thrilling enough to disguise the marital strain. There was a novelty value to loading and unloading the dishwasher, pressing her function buttons and admiring her beeps and whirrs. She even said "Hello!" when you switched her on.
But soon, the novelty wore off. Familiarity bred contempt, or at least impatience.
"No, not that way!" my wife would say as I put plates beside bowls or mugs beside cups.
"Here, let me do it!" I would cry as she put egg cups in upside down or placed wooden salad servers in the cutlery tray - a real deal-breaker in my book.
Apparently, we are typical of a dishwasher-owning couple. Stacking the dishwasher is such a source of domestic rows that manufacturers are looking at ways to simplify the process.
A study in the UK by home-improvement retailer Betta Living found that 31pc of women cite "dishwasher etiquette" as the biggest cause of marital disharmony, while a survey by Bosch of their US customers found that 40pc of them fought over the best way to load the dishwasher. Flashpoints include where to place plastic containers, whether knives should be stacked pointy end up or down and whether to pre-rinse plates.
There's even a Bosch YouTube video featuring "Dahlia the dishwashing marriage counsellor".
"If ruining your plastic containers has plagued your marriage," says Dahlia, "then Bosch has the answer". (They have a concealed heating element that stops plastic from melting, apparently).
Experts at manufacturing companies such as Bosch and Miele have been studying "dishwasher usability" for years. General Electric, for instance, divides dishwasher users into three types.
"Protectors" want to load utensils with the handles up so they don't touch the eating end when unloading; "organisers" just want to load up everything as fast as possible, and "curators" stack plates in order of height from back to front even though they don't have to.
More recently, these companies have been joined by a team of researchers from Birmingham University who studied dishwasher function at the molecular level.
The Birmingham team used a technique they called Positron Emission Particle Tracking to examine the way the water jets and food stains interact. They concluded that dishes with carbohydrate-type stains be loaded towards the centre of the tray, with protein-type stains around the outside.
They reckon 60 degrees is the perfect water temperature for washing dishes, and that a circular pattern around the cutlery basket was the optimum stacking arrangement.
This research did not go down well in the environs of our AEG appliance. I was prepared to follow the science; my wife thought the process was more intuitive, even though, as a qualified nutritional therapist, she quite liked the carb-vs-protein part.
Part of the problem is that we both believe that we stack the dishwasher better than the other person.
My wife thinks I horse in the crockery as if I were pitching hay, whereas I think she crams it to the gunwales with every piece of delph in the house. I sometimes think she'd put the dog in, too, though only on a fast-wash programme.
Each of us re-stacks things when the other is not looking. Each of us tutt-tutts when unloading a wash the other has stacked. She cites Martha Stewart on her side. The US housekeeping guru told the Wall Street Journal recently that she has 17 dishwashers in 21 properties and does not believe in the "dump and turn on approach".
On my side, I cite Dr Raul Pérez-Mohedano of Birmingham University and the age-old belief that men are simply better at this sort of thing. "You just want it all to look neat and pretty," I say. "No, I just want it to come out clean," she replies.
Both of us, however, bow down before my wife's aunt Tricia, the acknowledged queen of the dishwasher. When staying with her, we both load the dishes and she comes over to inspect our work.
"Good," she will say. "Almost perfect".
And she will move this and slot that and somehow be able to fit in another 12-piece dinner service.
A visit to Tricia is like dishwasher marriage guidance. We both accept our flaws and promise to be better stackers in the future.