Q&A: How to live with a messy spouseWritten by Focus on the Family
What's inside this article
Question: My husband and I haven’t been married long, and I’m just now discovering that he is a "messie." Apparently his roommates were neat and tidy, so I never noticed the problem while we were dating. Since I’m the one who likes the house clean and orderly, I’m the one who picks up after him and does all the housework. I’m getting tired of this arrangement, but I refuse to have a messy house. What should I do?
Believe it or not, this is a fairly common problem. When you and your spouse fell in love, you weren’t thinking about housework. Strategies for keeping your future home as neat and clean as possible probably weren’t on your radar. Now that you’re married, it’s a whole different ball game—as you’re discovering the hard way.
To complicate matters, this isn’t the sort of issue you can easily brush off or ignore. The concept of "home" holds a place of vital importance in the human psyche. One way or another, most of us are profoundly affected by the physical state of our living space. If you’re not a "messie," clutter and disorder can become a source of real stress and anxiety in your life. On the other hand, if you’re the kind of person who happens to "organize" his life according to a "different set of standards," it can be equally oppressive and constricting to live with someone who is constantly harping at you to get your ducks in a row. Clearly, there’s potential for serious conflict here. If your marriage is to survive and thrive, you’re going to have to find a mutually satisfactory way to manage this aspect of your life together.
The real conflict beneath the mess
It may help to remember that, to a certain extent, this is just a question of conflicting personalities. Creative types, for instance, are often far less concerned about "neatness" than people who take a more "left-brain" approach to life. When you feel as if you’ve come to the end of your rope, remind yourself that you willingly chose to marry this person, not only because you shared some similarities, but also for the differences. You felt the need to be completed by someone who is unlike you in some significant ways. The key is to work together to change the habits that can be changed and learn to accept those that can’t.
We realize, of course, that in a case like this you may reach a point at which your willingness to co-exist with a different personality won’t be enough. There are limits beyond which no spouse should be expected to go. If nothing else, basic health concerns demand that "messiness" should never be allowed to become "uncleanliness." If this is the situation you’re facing, you need to come up with a proactive plan to improve it.
Change is up to you
Ultimately, nobody can change another person. The only person you can change is yourself. But you can make positive alterations in your living situation and your marital relationship if you’re willing to approach the problem with patience, understanding and lots of love. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind as you attempt to deal with the issue of your husband’s "messiness":
- Be upfront and honest. In an effort to coax constructive change in a spouse, some people resort to manipulative measures. They leave pamphlets or books around in the hope that their partner will get the hint. Don’t take that route. Instead, if you have a concern, assume ownership of your feelings. Voice them candidly and respectfully. Sit down and talk about this facet of your marriage relationship. Approach the situation as equal partners and work out an arrangement that’s acceptable to both of you. You’ll be glad you did.
- Don’t attack your mate. When you attack your spouse, you crush his or her spirit. Confront the problem; don’t belittle the person.
- Discuss ways to bring about the desired change. Change is hard for all of us. Let your husband know that you’re on his side. Explain your personal need for order and cleanliness in language that he can understand. Help him see that this issue has serious implications for your own mental health and the future of your marriage. Enable him to find practical ways to alter the slovenly habits that you find so annoying.
- Encourage your spouse’s growth. Acknowledge progress in the desired direction, and offer praise and expressions of appreciation for your mate’s efforts.
- Recognize that change takes time. Be patient, and let your spouse know that you’re in this together for the long haul.
- Pray for your spouse. God is ultimately the one who makes change possible. So pray for your mate’s efforts. And since some behaviors may never change, ask God to give you grace to accept the differences between you.
As you go through this process, try to view it as an opportunity for cooperation rather than conflict. A key to the challenge of marriage is striving to understand each other and seeking to meet each other’s needs. This is a great area in which to put these principles into practice. If you need help drawing up a workable plan and putting it into effect, we’d highly recommend that you seek professional counselling. Our staff would be happy to provide you with referrals to qualified therapists in your area who specialize in marriage and family concerns. They’d also consider it a privilege to discuss your situation with you over the phone. If this option appeals to you, feel free to call our counselling department Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800.
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