Why is the laundry not folded?
Why are the breakfast dishes still in the sink at dinner time?
Why are all of the jars open?
Living with a messy partner can be one of the most frustrating things about your spouse. Sometimes it can seem like you just can’t get through to them. But messy and clean “odd couples” can work out, it just takes some work from both parties.
How To Live With A Messy Partner & Not Lose Your Mind
1. Be Very Specific About What Bothers You
Not only do you need to use “I” language with a messy partner — but you also need to explain things clearly.
Most messy partners truly can’t see the mess that they’re leaving around.
The reason they can be messy is because the clutter simply doesn’t bother them. So when you ask them to do something to fix it, it’s harder for them; they just don’t have the visceral reaction you do.
Try to outline things for them from a functional standpoint: “I prefer it if you wash the dishes immediately, because otherwise it will attract ants or cockroaches.”
2. Distribute the Chores Fairly Rather than Equally
Try not to get too caught up in what’s “equal”, try to focus on what’s “fair”.
Your partner may want to take turns doing the laundry or turns doing the dishes, because that’s “balanced.” In truth, though, there are some chores that people just hate and other chores that people enjoy. Distribute the chores fairly based on what’s easiest for the individual.
If someone enjoys yard work but hates laundry, it makes more sense to distribute the yard work to them. Likewise, if someone absolutely hates dishes, they may need to take up a couple smaller chores to make up for never doing the dishes. The important thing is that no one is doing significantly more work that they loathe.
3. Try Not to Get Irritated
As long as your partner is genuinely trying to help out, getting irritated is only going to cause animosity.
Rather than getting irritated when a chore isn’t done or a mess is made, treat it as a mistake and request that they fix it. Too often couples begin to treat their partner’s mistakes as intentional acts of aggression; with a messy partner, it very likely isn’t intentional at all. Instead, they simply cannot see the same mess that you do. That doesn’t mean you have to put up with it, but taking it in a more positive direction can help your mood as well.
4. Get Rid of the Excess
You can’t have clutter if you don’t own clutter, right?
One of the best ways to limit the amount of messes that a partner can make is simply to eliminate unnecessary items in your home. Dishes are a great example of this. If you constantly find that dishes aren’t getting done, one way to get into the habit of doing them is to put all dishes away except for a few that you use. This forces you to wash dishes on a regular basis because you simply don’t have enough of them to keep cycling through.
5. Create Positive Reminders
Some tasks, such as taking out the trash at the end of the night, can simply be forgotten.
Setting alarms on smartphones and other devices is a good way to remind yourself and your partner that it has to be done before you to go bed that night. You can even set up a system for alternating chores, so there’s never an argument regarding who is supposed to do something next.
6. Work With Them Rather than Against Them
Try to think from your partner’s point of view. Sometimes with someone who is absent-minded, it isn’t a matter of not wanting to do something; it’s a matter of forgetting altogether.
Often you can eliminate problems simply by altering the environment. For instance, if your partner tends to leave clothes on the bathroom floor, you might be able to resolve the problem by putting a hamper in the bathroom instead of the bedroom. Providing organizational tools can feel like a defeat, but as long as you aren’t “parenting” your partner in other emotionally exhausting ways, it may just be one of those little things done for the health of a relationship. That being said…
7. Try to Avoid Parenting Your Spouse
When you’re sick of tidying up after your spouse, you may end up parenting them instead of treating them as a partner.
Parenting occurs when you start feeling that they’re so irresponsible that they need to be taken through things step by step, and when you assume they are doing things incorrectly intentionally because they are lazy.
Remember: for the most part being messy isn’t some inadequacy; it’s a minor incompatibility. People live in different ways and grow up with different tolerances for mess. By approaching it with them rather than against them you can turn it into an exercise in bonding rather than a constant fight.
8. Teach your Children to Clean Up After Themselves
Dealing with children on top of a messy partner can be a hair-pulling level of frustration, but it can be somewhat mitigated by teaching kids to clean up after themselves.
Agree early on deciding the types of chores that you’ll teach children (such as picking up their toys, or bringing their cups and dishes into the kitchen), and make sure that you teach them these skills consistently. That way, even if you still have a messy partner, you don’t have messy kids.
9. Learn to Make Some Concessions
Acceptance can be a huge step if you can concede: my partner is disorganized, and I’m going to have to live with it. There may be some small concessions you have to make, such as letting them keep their personal office in disarray, or allowing them to leave their own clothes unfolded in their drawers. There are some things that truly just don’t bother messy people, and where it doesn’t directly impact you, you may just have to leave them be.
Are you living with a messy partner and need to vent? Tell us your craziest stories!
(Update: read part 2 of this post here)