Catalyst Lindsay Burke Answers Relationship Question—I Love Him, But He's a Slob! Should I Stay?
Note: the response was made towards women who have male boyfriends/spouses due to the source, however, this can apply to either gender and for LGBTQ couples.
My boyfriend and I have been living together for almost a year now and, all in all, things are going great but we are starting to fight constantly over one thing mostly- him being a slob! I wouldn't call myself OCD and I let things get untidy here and there, but he is a train wreck. Any time I even begin to approach the subject he gets annoyed and just storms off, or he'll try to clean but it just consists of stuffing things into drawers, corners and closets. I am getting to the point where I am questioning if he's the right guy for me, but I feel like breaking up for these reasons would be so shallow. It's just that I cannot live like this! Any suggestions?
Organized and Tidy Girlfriend
Dear Organized and Tidy Girlfriend,
I absolutely relate to this.
I am married to a man with ADHD, by the book. 2. Cleaning for him always felt like a punishment growing up...not a daily activity. Thus, he feels so badly doing it that he avoids it for as long as possible. Yes, it's difficult to teach an old dog new tricks. On the other hand, he is one of the most intelligent men I know and I have so much respect for him as a person. He simply lives and prioritizes differently than I do. Here are some things that helped me cope with the mess and disorganization while also building his cleaning/organizing muscle:
- Rome was not built in a day. Set your expectations appropriately. If you think by next year he will be Mr. Clean, you are setting yourself up for failure. It took my husband years (YEARS) to begin initiating cleaning/tasks around the house, and we still have different standards. He would rather go out and buy new socks than have to wash worn ones.
- Figure out what a "clean/organized" home means to you. Many of us were hounded by our parents growing up- that the state of our home is a reflection of us, or our success, as a human. Home and Garden Magazines do not help...just like COSMO impacts our vision of "beauty," Pinterest and design magazines are constantly setting unrealistic standards for how our homes must look.
- To set a realistic goal, think FUNCTIONAL. What would be a task that would IMPROVE his life? That would make it easier and more convenient, in a way that he would reap the rewards...not just you saying "Thank You." The idea is that he realizes HIS life gets better and easier when he does these things...he's become more organized for HIM, not for you.
- Talk about your needs. Not "You need to be cleaner..." That is a "should." Not "I'm not coming over here until your place is clean." That is a threat of rejection. Share how you feel and be SPECIFIC. Such as, "Babe, when your place has clothes on the floor and dirty dishes filling the sink (see how specific???) it makes me really uncomfortable. I'm wondering, is it something that just doesn't bother you, or it's just a lot of work and you get overwhelmed?" Then ask if there is anything you can help him with. Maybe help him devise a system. This system does NOT include you doing it. Even if you would do it much differently (admit it...you're thinking "Better"), remember, this is new to him. No skill is mastered in a day.
- Respect individual space versus public space. If you are getting aggravated because every time you attempt to sit down all the chairs are covered with stuff, I get it. But if you are not using his closet just yet, let that one go. When my husband and I moved in together we devised what we now call "The Pit." Since I prefer clean surfaces, and he has a tendency to leave things (unintentionally) around the house, I don't mind picking them up but it takes too much time to put each individual item away. So, I put it in The Pit! Yes- it fills up quickly! But it's on HIS side of the bed and when it's overflowing, it crowds HIM, not me. Thus, he's motivated to put his things away and I can breathe freely in the rest of the house!
- Positive reinforcement for the small steps. Okay, he did 45% of the laundry. Recognize that he did more laundry than usual and thank him for taking care of that...sharing your feelings...like "When you initiate those things it is such a relief to me. I really need you in that department."
- Do NOT nag your spouse/partner. This is disrespectful and the first step towards an unhealthy relationship. Not even a reminder. Be calm, assertive and patient. Remember, you most likely have little "habits" that drive him crazy. Focus on the things he does and you will be surprised how quickly he begins picking up the pace with cleaning. I look back and think, wow, my husband has come a long way from that messy bachelor in an all-men's dorm. He now initiates many cleaning sprees and is an incredibly hard-working, organized man. I also respect when he chooses not to tidy or clean...because he REALLY DOES have more important things to do! I have also learned to let loose a bit!
Best of luck with your partner!