My very patient husband is not like me at all. He’s neat and punctual, and he doesn’t lose things. He’s one of those people who doesn’t even keep a case on his phone because he knows he will never, ever scratch or damage it. I feel terribly guilty when my dumb mistakes cost us time and money. My husband is usually very kind about it and takes my mistakes in stride, but sometimes I can tell he’s frustrated and irritated with me. And rightfully so — I realize he feels like he’s always cleaning up my messes, and, besides, car damage can be expensive to repair!
It probably won’t surprise you that this is a pattern that goes back to my childhood. I was the youngest/messiest/most-absentminded child in my family. I’ve always been the one that needed cleaning up after. I would love to do better/be better, but I don’t know how. I’ve tried telling myself, “From now on, I’m going to pay more attention to what I’m doing, stop being so absentminded, and start being more careful,” but this just hasn’t worked.
Do you have any advice on how I can stop being such a hot mess and start being/feeling more like a competent adult who has her life together? — Hot Mess
I’m not sure that you can change who you are at this point in your life or change a pattern that dates back to childhood. But you can certainly reframe the way you see your behavior, you can employ some strategies to help you be more mindful, and you can open communication with your husband and give him an opportunity to express his frustration or alleviate your concerns that he’s upset with your behavior.
First, are you filling your day solely with activities that you are either obligated to do or that support your emotional and physical well-being? For example, you are obligated to do your 9-5 job because you need to keep the job to pay your bills. But you are not obligated to keep a rigorous work-out schedule or write a novel in your free time. Do those activities bring your joy and make you feel good? If not, perhaps it’s time to think about dropping them or adjusting your time investment in them. You could replace some of the time you spend working out with meditating (practicing mindfulness) instead, making lists to help you remember stuff, or doing things that will help you run more efficiently throughout the day (like packing your bag or purse in the morning or the night before with everything you’ll need during the day). You could set some alarms on your phone to alert you when it’s time to do things that will help you feel more calm, like take five minutes to sit with your eyes closed and breathe deeply or leave for work ten minutes earlier.
But let’s be honest, there’s only so much effect these little changes are going to have, overall. There’s a good chance you will always be someone who runs late, makes messes, and loses stuff. If you’re concerned that your husband is frustrated or that your behavior is costing you money, be proactive and talk to your husband about this. Tell him: “You know I have always been absentminded, and lately I am feeling that this is frustrating you and I feel bad about that. I want to change my behavior, but I don’t know if it’s possible. I think this may just be who I am. I feel especially bad when my absentmindedness costs us money, and I’m wondering if you have any ideas for how I can make it up to you.”
Maybe he will assure you that he is NOT frustrated. Maybe he will have some concrete ways you make things up to him. Maybe — hopefully — he will remind you that no one is perfect, and if losing keys and making messes and running late are your worst traits, well, that’s a whole lot better than being cruel or narcissistic or lazy or unfunny. And if he won’t tell you this, then I will: There are far worse personality and behavior traits and habits to have than the ones you feel so bad about. And clearly, the traits are not deal-breakers for your husband or he wouldn’t have married you. Spouses are going to be a little annoyed and frustrated by each other sometimes. The key to not letting resentment build up is to express gratitude for the things you appreciate about your spouse (like being understanding of your limitations) and express acknowledgment of the things about yourself that you know can be challenging to live with sometimes. Doing this really does create a culture of appreciation and understanding, and it goes a long way to lightening the burden one might feel in not being perfect all the time.
P.S. You sound way more like a “Cathy” than a “Pigpen.”
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.