Ever heard the statement: I choose not to die on that mountain?
I don’t know where it originated, but I’ve used it throughout the years to define the battles I will and won’t fight.
When my daughter was young, we would often argue over what she wanted to wear to school. Her style was…shall we say, eclectic.
I realized quickly that it was not a hill I was willing to die on.
I wasn’t willing to destroy my relationship with my daughter over clothes. At least not ‘those’ clothes.
It wasn’t an issue of ‘too revealing’ or skimpy outfits; it was simply style. And I wasn’t willing to make it the main issue in our relationship. So we compromised.
Many people find they are in similar situations with their spouse.
The issue? Messy.
I was quite surprised to find messiness as one of the big issues Ericka Souter discovered when she surveyed women about their biggest marriage problems.
It ranked #2 on her list. Falling right behind money issues.
Whether it’s a messy house, cluttered space, or a pile of clothes on the floor, messiness is an issue in many marriages.
Don’t let stacks of papers, wet towels, and messy habits destory your relationship.
Since this is an issue that can’t be ignored (it’s one of those in your face, I see it all the time problems), how do you deal with a messy spouse?
Here’s 7 Things You Can Do Starting Today to Deal with A Messy Spouse.
1. Watch Your Attitude
For starters, realize that you will make more progress if you are kind. Never underestimate the power of kindness. It goes a long way to resolve conflict and move forward in negotiations.
Too often we enter into attack mode when things don’t go our way.
Don’t! Attack mode will always backfire. No one (including you) likes to be confronted in a hostile way.
It’s okay (and possible) to be honest and up front without anger, resentment and bitterness.
Attitude is everything when dealing with sensitive issues.
So put on your happy face when approaching this issue. It will get you closer to your goal and help keep things positive.
2. Practice Empathy
Before you cast off the idea of empathy as insignificant, here me out.
The first step…the very first step…in any negotiation is to enter into the other persons world.
Jim Camp, who is considered the greatest negotiator (the FBI even changed their negotiation tactics based on his work) says:
You have to enter into their world and see it from their side.
One of the best examples of this is from Jancee Dunn.
Jancee is the author of How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids. (affiliate link)
When she contacted Julie Morgenstern for help. This is one of the replies she received:
“Focus on the person and not his or her stuff,” she says. She tells me to have Tom walk me through the house, without comment or criticism from me, and explain why his systems, as bonkers as they might seem, work for him. “If you ask for a tour in the spirit of seeing it through his eyes, it will change your relationship to the situation. You will understand that he simply views his stuff differently than you do.”
And while it didn’t completely fix the issue, it certainly gave Jancee an understanding of her husbands world (how he processes information).
More times than not, when we choose to lay aside our irritation and emotions, we can see things differently.
Agreeing is not the issue. Seeing is the issue.
Seeking to understand is what’s important. Once we understand, we can move toward compromise.
When dealing with sensitive issues, don’t just try to be heard…try to listen and hear!When dealing with sensitive issues, don't just try to be heard...try to listen and hear! Click To Tweet
3. Communicate Specifics
It’s easy to fall into the habit of generalizing problems. We use statements like:
You always leave your clothes on the floor.
You never clean the toilet.
I’m always picking up after you.
You constantly leave dishes in the sink for me to clean.
Rule of thumb: Don’t use words like, always, never, constantly, etc.
Generally speaking, we stop listening after those words.
Here’s what to do instead:
Make a list of the specific things that annoy you (or you want to change).
Identify the negotiable things, and the non-negotiable ones. Let your spouse know what you would like to see change, and what absolutely must change.
Don’t make negotiable things non-negotiable. Don’t make everything an issue. Keep to the big things.
Finally, discuss ways to bring about what you desire.
This is NOT to be a monologue where you dictate what is going to happen.
It MUST BE a discussion.
The minute it becomes a finger pointing monologue, you lose. Remember empathy will keep you engaged with your spouse.
So encourage their input.Conflict resolution is not a monologue where we dictate what is going to happen. It is a dialog where we discuss what we both want to happen. Click To Tweet
Important Note: Don’t be touchy if they respond by saying you nag a lot. Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t. That’s not the issue (at least at this point in the discussion).
Try to diffuse the situation by saying:
I’m sorry if I’ve nagged. What I would really like to do now is try to work together to find a solution. Is that fair?
Seems hard, I know. But try it.
The goal is to enter a negotiation to resolve the problem.
When you identify the specific things that you would like to change, it’s easier to find solutions.
But if all you do is generalize, there are no specifics to work on.
Think about it; what does ‘help me keep the house clean’ actually mean?
It’s easier to make progress by identifying things like:
Not leaving clothes in the bathroom floor.
Put dirty dishes in the dishwasher.
Knock the dirt off your shoes before you come inside.
Get the point?
Ok. Let’s move on…
4. Learn to Compromise
Our goal is to negotiate for your desired outcome.
Don’t expect perfection from your spouse. Obviously, it’s not in their wiring.
Truth is; none of us is perfect. Neatness may be easy for you, but there are certainly other areas that don’t come so easy. Remember this.
You may not get everything you want from your negotiation; the goal is to make progress.
This means you have to learn to compromise.
If your spouse forgets to do something you’ve agreed upon, instead of attacking them, ask them to help you with that task.
It’s easier to criticize. But it will not get you the results you desire.
Why not say, ‘Hey honey, can you help me put the dishes in the dishwasher now that we are finished with dinner?”
This actually may remind them that they forgot.
More often than not they will respond by saying, ‘I’m sorry. It slipped my mind. I’ve got this.”
If not, at least you get help with the work.
Remember, a habit takes time to build. What we are talking about is establishing a new normal for our spouse (and our relationship). This takes time. And effort.
5. Establish neat zones
Total neatness may be out of the question – beyond reality.
Create neat zones. Areas where you both agree to keep tidy.
These are usually areas of high traffic where people frequently gather. It’s the areas you ‘see’ the most. Make these a neat zone.
Starting small will help create a ‘neat habit.’ Simply barking orders and demanding ‘the house to be neat and clean’ is overwhelming to a messy person.
But if you establish one or two areas that need to stay neat, it is not overwhelming. It’s doable to the most messy among us.
6. Share Cleaning Responsibilities.
Honestly, this may not work in every situation; after all, your spouse is the messy. Right?
I can hear you say: ‘Hey, this is the problem. I don’t want them to help because they are terrible at it.’
Look. I get it. My spouse is not the neatest person on the planet.
In many situations, sharing the responsibility of keeping the house clean helps your spouse take ownership. It’s a pride issue.
Let’s face it, on average, the messy spouse is usually the husband. This is not a sexist issue. It is simply my observation from years of working with couples.
This is what I’ve found; most men will take pride in something when they have an investment.
This works for several reasons:
1) They see how difficult it is to keep a house clean.
Unlike the guy in this video who apparently thinks there’s a cleaning fairy.
2) It’s a pride issue (in a good way).
Men like projects. They generally like to see the fruit of their work. Sharing chores provides them an opportunity to see their work (aka the clean house) and take pride in it.
3) Working together to accomplish something creates a bond.
Believe it or not, one of the key psychological factors in building connection between two people is by having a shared experience.
The bigger the event that is shared, the stronger the bond.
The longer the event, the stronger the bond.
When we share responsibility over a long time period (weekly cleaning the house), we build stronger connections with one another.
4)Finally, we get the cleaning done faster.
This gives us more time to do things that both partners really enjoy.
Free time equals play time.
Couples that work and play together, stay together.
7) Let Love Win
Remember, you are married because you love one another. Don’t let something like ‘messy’ destroy your life. Trust me. It’s not worth it.
So, how do we ‘let love win’ in situations of mess?
One simple way is to focus on the good things.
Sure, your spouse may be messy. But what do they do that is good?
Don’t let situational blindness keep you from seeing the good things.
In other words, don’t let this one bad habit keep you from seeing the positive parts of their character.
Choose to be blind to the things that irritate you; and see the things you love.
Two final suggestions:
8) Hire a house keeper.
In some cases, it makes sense to simply hire someone else to make sure the house is clean and neat.
This eliminates the opportunity for conflict between you and your spouse.
This is not an option for some people, but if it is in the budge…
And the issue is big enough (it’s messing with your peace), then pay to have someone else do it.
9) Get counseling.
Before you let your spouses habits drive you apart, go to counseling.
There may be reasons a marriage should dissolve. (Very few reasons honestly).
But ‘messy’ is NOT one of them.
You may be surprised to find that the real issue is not ‘their’ messy-ness, but your control issues.
Didn’t mean for that to sting, but it’s always worth exploring WHY we react the way we do.
Most often there are deep seated issues that can (and need) to be addressed.
Change takes time.
Realize this issue will not go away over night. Any new habit (that’s what we have to establish – new habits) takes time to establish.
Just remember, keep the main thing the main thing.
Your marriage is more important than the condition of your house.
This is coming from a recovering neat freak myself.
I’ve learned that peace comes from ultimately accepting our spouse as they are, and loving them unconditionally.
- Watch Your Attitude
- Practice Empathy
- Communicate Specifics
- Learn to Compromise
- Establish Neat Zones
- Share Cleaning Responsibilities
- Let Love Win
If things aren’t improving, either hire a house keeper or seek out professional help.
Bottom line: Don’t let messy make a mess out of your marriage.
Celebrate the little wins along the way. It makes life sweeter.
It’s Your Turn
I would love to hear from you.
Do you live with a messy spouse?
How have you handled the conflict?