CAN A NEAT-FREAK AND A SLOB CO-EXIST?

Okay. Here’s the truth…my husband is really not a slob. He’s more like someone who picks up after himself, but doesn’t see the recycling bin when it’s overflowing, or little smudges of food left on a plate after he washes it. (Note he does wash the dishes after I cook…a big deal!)  And although I’ve been accused of being a neat freak, I am not…oh, okay, I really am. I’ve gotten better over the years but can still fall into old habits that wear me out.

So here’s how our conversations about this goes… Me: “I would really appreciate it (see how damned polite I am??) if you would take the recycling out, vacuum occasionally, and sweep the balcony when the leaves pile up.” Him: “I am happy to do these things…just tell me when you need something done.” Me: “No, I don’t want to be your nagging mother; I’d like you to notice stuff and just do it. Him: “Okay.” Then…it’s fine for a while, but before long, amnesia hits and he’s back to what was.

I watch and wait…and wait some more. The grumbling in my head gets louder and the resentment starts to build. So what do I do short of killing him? First, let me tell you that I thank him profusely when he is on top of his chores…AND, I don’t mention it when the job he does isn’t up to my standards. This is in line with the dictum: praise your mate when they do something good; don’t chastise them for falling short of your standards. You gotta let them do it “their way”…even if their way burns little holes in your gut. In the long run, this will pay off.

Another thing to avoid: when something hasn’t been done, you do it yourself. This is an example of the “martyr syndrome” which I happen to be very good at, but which doesn’t work. It teaches him that if he waits long enough I’ll do it, which only reinforces the old pattern. It’s better to let the recycling container overflow until it fills up the house and he has to kick cans and bottles to get into the house to watch the news. Then I’m thinking he’ll notice. I’ve also found that the phrase… “I’m getting resentful,” works wonders. Apparently this is not a state he likes to see me in (I wonder why?) so he usually hops to. It’s important to find your own “trigger” that ignites a call to action.

Let me add, that not everything about our divergent ways is negative. For example, my husband’s less than perfect domestic habits help me to loosen my grip on the obsessive cleaning thing. From a different perspective, he’s actually helping me.  And on the other side, his taking more responsibility for our little hovel makes him feel all “grown up,” rather than like a little kid whose mommy takes care of him.  He can also see there are definite benefits to doing stuff for me, i.e. he feels good about himself, I’m appreciative and loving.  When there is shared responsibility, couples become a real team, For me, it’s also about wanting him to see me, notice and appreciate what I do for us, and lend a hand if I’m over-working.

Let me add this very important caveat: It’s not good for me to simply focus on these things and forget that we love each other and are MORE than these annoyances. I do my best to remember the big picture, which doesn’t mean I don’t want help; it just puts everything in perspective.

Do you have a similar problem?  What do you do about it?  I would love to hear.

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 on Kindle worldwide from all Amazon websites, including www.amazon.com

 

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2 Comments

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  1. Yes…I do have the same problem. I am a clean freak and he is not. In fact it’s creating a bunch of spin off problems that I hadn’t anticipated. I moved into his house – a frat house with potential. The house was so dirty…three years later, I’m still finding spills on doors from prior parties. The bathtub was black. The fridge had so many science experiments in it, it took me 6 hours to clean it thoroughly. Over the last 3 years, I have managed to put aside my anxiety while we renovated – knowing that at some point in the future, it will be a really nice house to live in. I thought that the renovations would make him want to appreciate the house more…and me. I am one of those people that like to keep things in good shape – reasons why I have a 14-year old leather chair with no visible damage – he doesn’t see the need. My cleaning annoys him – his non-cleaning annoys me. He can walk past a dust ball the size of a watermelon 20 times and not notice it. He opens cupboard doors (our new, beautiful kitchen ones) with food on his hands. He uses the guest bathroom when we have 3 other personal ones…and doesn’t clean up his “mess”. The annoyances are spilling into other areas of our life and our once very good, strong, loving relationship is showing some signs of fracture. I never in a million years thought that this one issue could cause so much angst and division. I’m heartbroken and confused…N

    • Thanks, Noreena, for your comment. I certainly sympathize with your situation. It’s not an easy one to deal with, but there is hope if each of you is willing to compromise for the sake of the good, strong, loving relationship you once had. Check to see if this has become a power struggle, with each of you holding onto your positions because you want to “win.” If you do find you’re in a power struggle, ask yourself if you would you rather be right, or happy? Hopefully you both choose happy and are willing to loosen your grip on your positions. Sit down together and have a talk. Let him know how distressed you are that this issue is hurting your relationship. Tell him that you are willing to compromise and ask him if he is as well. Then start with one thing that is really important to you and ask him to do it. Tell him how much it would mean to you if he did. Go slowly, and understand that this is not going to change overnight. Also, it would be very helpful if you could afford a maid every once in a while. That would take some of the strain off of you, and in turn would benefit your relationship. Hope this helps.

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