His Wife's a Slob

Q: In our 30 years of marriage, my wife and I have had the same challenges anyone could face, including both of us straying here and there. But we were always crazy in love enough to find forgiveness somewhere and, as they say, time does heal all wounds. One of my biggest sacrifices in this relationship has been to let our home's cleanliness level to stray way out of control. Sometimes, if I got fed up enough, I would re-structure a week out of our lives to play catch-up and get the house squared away and neat and tidy. In earlier years, I would go ballistic over the housecleaning she had agreed to do and wasn't doing, as she wasn't working. Even when we both clean, its quite evident what areas she cleans and which I've done. About ten years into the marriage, we almost broke it off over this issue. Each time I'd blow up she would toe the line for about a week, then it slowly returned to something out of reality T.V., as far as the level of pileage we would get in all areas. We even got evicted from our rental property: the landlord said his house was suffering excessive wear and tear due to the lack of a proper housecleaning regimen.

I finally decided that, as she was the love of my life and no matter how much I complained she just did not have the capacity to change. So for years I have succumbed to having a dirty and out of control living arrangement. How can I fix this? -- Chris, 51

Dr. Susan: Yours is a common complaint on the part of the tidier halves of many couples. I hate to tell you that some of the changes will have to be on your part. Now it's up to you to get creative.

Try some of these: Hire a good cleaning service. Then once a week before they show up, make it your task to tidy up so they can do a good job of cleaning. Yes, it takes time to tidy up after someone who just drops things here and there, but if you keep on top of it, it won't become burdensome.

Tell her that from now on, when she walks away from cups or plates or food items, you will silently point until she remembers to put them in the sink. Take over the dishwashing in exchange for her doing some other routine task. Tell her that when you find piles of papers or clothing, you will on a weekly basis toss them all into a large box in the closet or an out-of-the-way corner, as though she were a child you were training. Take action and cut down on your unneeded mail by going to CatalogChoice.org, and by paying your bills online and not having paper copies coming in. Cut down on the clutter in general (lots of books and sites out there on that). Agree to limit her mess to one room, or agree to have at least one room that sooths your tidiness anxieties by being untouched by her.

Finally, and I find this works for me sometimes, when you feel most annoyed by her messes, imagine her gone for good and your house neat and tidy but oh so empty of her presence. That can help you be more forgiving.

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