I am a clean freak, and, before we moved in together, we agreed that we would need to adjust so that we weren’t making the other one crazy: I would relax about tidiness, and he would try to pick up more. The problem is that I am still constantly picking up after him (even after I explicitly tell him to do something), which makes me angry, which makes me pick a fight with him, which admittedly I know I’m in the wrong about.
Here’s the catch: We are both very, very busy and pretty stressed out 24/7. He’s a law student with a part-time job; I’m doing two master’s with two part-time jobs. I get that he’s busy, and I don’t mind doing the bigger half of housework since I’m the one who is more demanding of that stuff. But his total lack of consideration for picking up after himself is, quite frankly, disrespectful, and I’ve told him that. But he feels like I’m constantly attacking him — and maybe I am. I’ve tried leaving subtle hints, expressly telling him what needs to get done, praising him for doing something and not mentioning the stuff he hasn’t done, using “When you __, I feel __,” statements, asking for and putting a system in place (like “Every Sunday you do X” or “Mail only in the mail holder”), and nothing seems to work for either of us. He’s still messy, and I’m still nagging.
I’m at a total loss. I don’t want to be hurtful. But I cannot live with messes everywhere. So what do you think we should do? Am I overreacting? Is he? — Living with a Slob
You say a couple of times that you have some responsibility in this issue: In your own words, you say you attack him and you pick fights with him. You also say that you both agreed to adjust your expectations/behavior; you said you would “relax about tidiness.” Well, have you done that? If you haven’t adjusted any of your own expectations, it’s hardly fair to attack your boyfriend for not adjusting his behavior. But beyond that, it sounds like you have made an effort to get the kind of behavior from him that you want and nothing is working, so I have a few tips:
1. If you can afford it (and I realize it would be hard on students’ budgets), consider hiring a cleaning service once a month or once every two weeks. Cleaners will help straighten up, but will also give your boyfriend an added incentive to pick up after himself at least before they arrive.
2. Designate areas of your home for messes and no messes. Is there a room that can be off limits to your boyfriend that you can go to unwind and get away from the mess elsewhere in the home? Can you have separate bedrooms?
3. If your busy and stressful schedules play a large part in your short temper and your boyfriend’s reluctance to clean up, perhaps you need to live separately until you’re both done with school and the stressors and time limitations on your schedules ease up enough for you to find more happy compromises living together.
4. If you’re unable to move out immediately or really don’t want to go that route and you can’t afford cleaners and you don’t have a room in your home that can be off limits to your boyfriend and his mess, find another place besides home where you can go to relax. Maybe that’s a friend’s house or a coffee shop or a spot under a tree in the park. Wherever it is, you need somewhere that is free from clutter where you can re-charge and collect your thoughts before facing your boyfriend and taking out on him your day’s frustrations.
5. Decide if this is a deal-breaker. If it is, MOA. If it isn’t, keep trying these different tips and make some plans for the future that include the tips you might not be able to afford just yet (regular cleaning service, a bigger home with designated “no-mess” areas, etc.).
Has anyone else gone through a similar experience? How did you deal with it?
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.