If you and your partner are totally opposite in how clean you need things to be, there is a solution. Note: it will take patience, communication and compromise. First of all, TALK. Stop the grumbling in your head, or the constant fighting, and communicate in a way that your partner will hear. Without communication, the issue will continue to fester and cause more and more discord. Here are some tips that will help.
FOR THE NEAT-FREAK
Ask for what you want and be specific. For example, you might say, “I’d really appreciate it if you would take the garbage out when you see it’s full.” An example of not being specific might sound like this: “I’m sick of the mess in our house. You never help me and I can’t stand it anymore. Get off your butt and help me.” See the difference in the approach? When nothing specific is asked for, or it’s said in a mean-spirited way, it is easily dismissed. Specifics, compassionately said, are harder to ignore. Also, you would do well to ask for only one thing at a time. A list can be overwhelming. And this is where patience comes in.
What if the slob does it once or twice, then gets a case of amnesia? If that happens, the next step might be for the neat-freak to say: “I see the garbage is still piling up. Can we come up with a way that will help you do this regularly? In making this a “we” thing, it’s easier for the slob not to get defensive. One solution in this particular instance might be to get a larger trash can so it doesn’t have to be taken out so often.
When your partner does the chore, be generous with your praise. AND, don’t chastise him/her for not doing it YOUR way. You have to let them do it their way…even if it doesn’t meet your standards and burns little holes in your gut. In the long run, this will pay off.
Also, don’t be a martyr. When something hasn’t been done, don’t give up and do it yourself. This teaches your partner that if they wait long enough you’ll just do it, which simply reinforces the old pattern. Not what you want.
FOR THE SLOB
If you are the slob, and a reasonable request is asked of you, avoid getting defensive and do your best to comply. After all, it’s your house too, and your partner needs help. If the garbage piling up all over the kitchen doesn’t bother you, take it out anyway because it bothers them. A stinky house is not a pleasant house. Your nose has become desensitized.
If you find that you have an overblown reaction to a request, like feeling enraged when something benign is asked of you, realize that your reaction is inappropriate. It’s not coming from what’s happening in the present, it’s coming from your past. Perhaps your parent(s) were overly controlling, and you had to do what they wanted so matter how unreasonable it was. Now, when something is asked of you, it takes you back to your childhood and you react violently. If this is the case, be aware when it happens, and curtail your rage. It’s not your partner, or the request that’s causing your anger, it’s your past. Explore your past and discover what causes you to act inappropriately in the present. Awareness is the first step to changing your reaction.
Talk to your partner about what you discovered about your past and how it affects you now. Let them know that you get triggered when they request anything of you. Also tell them that you know your defensive reaction is inappropriate and that you are going to do your best to control it. Letting your partner know what’s up with you is vulnerable and allows for more understanding, which means fewer upsets and a smoother relationship.
FOR BOTH OF YOU
Here’s the good news: not everything about your divergent ways is negative. For example, the slob can teach the neat-freak to loosen up and stop the sometimes constrictive need to be spotlessly clean. On the other side of it, the neat-freak can help the slob take more responsibility for making their home nicer. This allows him/her to feel more grown-up instead of like a little kid whose mommy/daddy takes care of them.
When there is shared responsibility, couples become a team which bonds them together. It’s also important to remember the big picture when dealing with this issue, and not to simply focus on the problem. Remember, you are more than your problems. And oh yeah, don’t forget that you love each other.
Check out my book, The Affair: From Breakdown to Breakthrough, A Therapist’s Real-life Journey, for more great tips and insights about relationships. You can buy it worldwide on Kindle from all Amazon websites, such as amazon.com