If you find that you and your spouse each have a different tolerance for mess and clutter then you may well find yourself frustrated.
Learning how to deal with a messy spouse when you are a more tidy person can quite frankly be annoying and hard. Their messy habits seems obnoxious and at times almost like a personal attack. It can also have an impact on your marriage.
Pew Research Center found that 69% of married couples believe that helping with housework is part of what makes a marriage work. They also found that 31% of married couples said having a messy spouse could collapse the relationship.
Let’s take a look at the bigger picture. Your marriage is far more valuable than a clean house. Or a house that is clean by your specifications and definition. So in order to avoid being in the 31% who would allow messy people to collapse the relationship here is what you can do instead.
Defining A Messy Person
What counts a being a messy person?
Is there one correct answer to that question?
Every person has a different clutter threshold or a different definition of clean versus messy. There may well be some universal characteristics that even your messy husband / messy wife would agree is unacceptable. However, the different ways that we each view the definition of messy will go a long way towards how you deal with a messy spouse.
One person may say that the living room must be free from clutter, the kitchen table cannot have anything sitting on it unless it’s meal time, and leaving clothes in the laundry basket rather than putting them away is offensive. Another person believes that having a few cups left on the coffee table, leaving the toilet seat up, and huge piles of clothes waiting to be washed is just part of life and not worth stressing out about.
There is not one singular definition of what counts as a messy home. For that very reason many couples find they disagree and even sometimes have conflict over the best way to manage their living space.
Therefore, the first step towards figuring out how to deal with a messy spouse is by accepting that you and your spouse are approaching the ideas of messiness and cleanliness from different perspectives. Go into this knowing that this is not about right versus wrong. Instead, you will be working on figuring out how to take your two unique ideas of mess and fit them together so that each spouse has a voice in the running of the home.
When A Neat Freak Has A Messy Spouse
At the end of the day the most important thing is your marriage. A happy marriage does not just fall into your lap. It takes hard work. Part of that hard work will be working with, not against, your messy spouse on developing new habits for both of you.
The first thing I recommend you do, before addressing the issue with your spouse, is to write out a list of the various chores around your own home that you would like to see taken care of more frequently. What are the things not getting done that are frustrating you? What items or areas do you feel need to be cleaned up more often?
Once you have made out your list go back over the list and determine your non-negotiables.
Your non-negotiables will be the items on your list that you feel very strongly you cannot let go. These are the items that have a negative impact on your mental health. Not every single task you listed is going to be a non-negotiable. Rather, aim to have no more than 3-5 top offenders from your overall list to set as non-negotiables.
These 3-5 items are the ones that you will take to your spouse when you are ready to have the conversation. It is important to remember that you are not going to your spouse with a list of grievances or complaints about the things that he or she does wrong. This list is to assist you in narrowing down your focus on what really matters to you the most so that you will be better able to communicate that to the love of your life.
How To Deal With A Messy Spouse
Communication. The number one key to addressing any source of conflict in your marriage is respectful communication.
Your spouse is your teammate and your partner. Your spouse is not a child that you can course correct or bark instructions to. Lecturing your spouse will get you no where. If you struggle with quality communication in any area of your marriage I strongly recommend that you take a look at the resource I have linked here.
Avoid making an emotional decision or having an emotional outburst when you are approaching this subject with your partner. Keep in mind that you are speaking to a grown man or grown woman. You should not be lecturing or talking down him or her.
Model The Behavior You Want To See
You are not likely to make much progress with your messy partner if you do not clean up and do your part of the household chores on a regular basis. However, if your spouse can see the effort that you are making as well as gain a different perspective on how much time you spend cleaning up the house then he or she is much more likely to “buy in” to your request for help.
If, for example, you prefer that the dining room table not be a cluttered space then start by cleaning your own clutter or your own mess from the table daily. Let your partner see the effort that you are putting into achieving a clean home. Pick up your own dishes as soon as the meal is over and take them to the sink to be rinsed and put in the dishwasher. Model the behavior. This tactic is not only a good way to encourage your spouse but also to set the standard for your children as well.
Much of learning how to deal with a messy spouse starts with focusing on your own behaviors and old habits. You are the only person you can truly control so the majority of the work and extra effort will start with you. As you open the door with respectful communication and find common ground with your partner and teammate you will start to see little things change from them as well. However, keep in mind that it starts with you and what you have control over.
Modeling Respectful Communication
Modeling the behavior that you want to see is about more than just completing your part of working on the messy house. You also want to model the type of communication that you would most like to see from your spouse.
In all areas of married life approach moments of conflict or tension that your spouse brings up with the same willingness to listen and work toward change that you want him or her to give you. If you blow up or have a strong emotional reaction when your spouse comes to you with a problem or concern then you should not be surprised when he/she is equally unwilling to work on a problem that you bring up.
Again, I encourage you to model the behavior you want to see. If you spouse engages you in a conversation about something that is bother him/her be sure to listen more than you talk, really take the time to pay attention to what is being said, and make a genuine effort to find a solution.
In essence, treat him/her the way that you want to be treated.
Establish A Daily Routine
Working together with your spouse decide what tasks need to be completed in the home on a daily basis. You can refer to this resource on daily cleaning routines for more information.
Address your daily cleaning routine as a common problem that the two of you share. When you both share a problem and both work together to solve the problem the situation is more likely to be resolved. Work towards finding common ground with your love. Remember always that it is the two of you against the problem and never one of you against the other.
I recommend that you start by making a list of the things that need to be completed daily in your home. You can download my free cleaning guide to guide you through this process. The guide is broken down by each room in your home. For every room you will be provided a list of items or chores that need to be completed daily, weekly, monthly, or seasonly.
Create Clear Responsibilities
As the two of you are working together to establish your daily cleaning routine be certain that you are crystal clear and specific about each person’s responsibilities.
For example, do not say “the trash needs to be put on the curb every Thursday”. Rather it is better to say, “Sarah will take the trash to the curb every Thursday.” When you are not specific you run the risk of both parties knowing the trash goes out on Thursday but assuming that the other person is going to take care of it. Always be specific. Never assume.
The same applies to all of the chores that you have listed out for your daily cleaning routine. It is not enough to say that something needs to be done but you must also determine WHO is going to be executing each task. By being specific about who will complete a task you are setting yourself up for future success and a better chance of maintaining your routines.
For tasks that you both will need to be responsible for then be clear that each person is expected to hold up his/her end of the bargain. You may say something like, “We each agree to clear the bathroom counter after we get ready each morning.”
Establish Positive Reminders In Advance
After you have established your cleaning routines but before you jump into action it is important to discuss what kind of positive reminders that each person is more comfortable with.
There will always be times where one of you, even the clean freak, drops the ball on a chore. Life does not slow down just because you have decided on a routine and things will occasionally come up. Before that happens discuss how each of you prefers to be gently reminded that they are slipping on their duties.
Some options for reminders might be:
- a reminder app on your phone
- a calendar appointment with an alert
- setting reminders on Alexa/Google/Smart Device
- creating a chore chart
- verbal reminders
Ask your partner how he/she would like you to verbally remind them. What kind of language should you use or not use? Be sure to also tell your partner how you would like him/her to speak to you when they need to give you a verbal reminder.
The words we use and the tone that we use are important. Remember to always be respectful and polite when you are speaking to your spouse. They deserve your very best and you deserve theirs. Yelling, nagging, being sarcastic, and using hateful statements is not going to get the house clean but it is going to cause conflict and hurt feelings within your marriage.
There are going to be hard time in the future. Some seasons of life are more difficult than others. One or both of you may experience a stressful time at work, a loss, an illness, or any number of rough life circumstances. In those moments be sure to choose kindness and keep your priorities in check.
It is okay if you need to make adjustments to your routines as life ebbs and flows. And it is certainly okay if one partner needs to carry the load for a time while the other navigates a rough patch. In these moments choose kindness. Choose to love and value your spouse more than you love and value a tidy home.
Be Willing To Compromise
The messy husbands and messy wives are a part of your home just as much as the tidy people are. Your spouse should be allowed to have personal areas of the home that are just for them. Please remember that your home is first and foremost a home far before it is a showpiece.
Creating a positive home environment starts by including ALL of the preferences, tastes, and quirks of ALL members of the household. A place where everyone feels loved, accepted, and valued is a dominant part of homemaking. That may mean that not every space in your home is decorated or tidied in a way that meets your personal preferences.
In my own home my husband is in charge of the decor and tidiness of his office. I also refrain from clearing off his nightstand and I make a big effort to include his hobbies and interests throughout our home decor. We allow our children to have an age appropriate say in their bedrooms. A happy marriage and happy family is worth more than being right or getting your way. Having a house that could be featured in a magazine is worthless if it does not feel like home to the people who live there.
Consider their perspective. For your husband/wife living with a neat freak may be just as frustrating for them as it is for you to live with a messy person.
Final Thoughts For How To Deal With A Messy Spouse
- Communication is key
- Do not be passive aggressive
- Every person has a different clutter threshold or a different definition of clean versus messy.
- Just because you are frustrated does not mean you are right
- Do not parent your spouse or belittle them
- Do not belittle the way your spouse was raised
- Offer positive feedback genuinely and often
- Hire professional help when needed
- A house keeper is better than a divorce
- Model the behavior you want to see
- Establish a daily and weekly cleaning routine
- Be clear and specific about responsibilities
- Choose kindness always
- Be willing to compromise
- Consider the other person’s perspective
- Having a house that could be featured in a magazine is worthless if it does not feel like home to the people who live there.