Q: Any advice on how I can train my husband to be less of a slob?He works long days and is wiped when he gets home. (Aren’t we all. But really, 12-14 hour days.) As soon as he walks in the back door, he starts shedding clothes, which isn’t nearly as sexy as it sounds. He leaves his shoes somewhere between the door and the dining room, his smelly-ass socks on the living room rug, the tie tossed on the kitchen counter, and his coat thrown onto the dining room table, before he can plop dramatically on the couch while munching on a snack — even though the living room rug is beige and white and we’re supposed to have a no-food-on-the-couch rule to avoid under-cushion crumbs and inevitable spills (did I mention he’s clumsy?)
IF the clothes make it up the stairs on a good day, they’re invariably in a pile next to the bed rather than in the conveniently divided/labeled laundry baskets TWO FEET AWAY. He wipes the bathroom counter about once every three months and I’m lucky if he pulls his hair out of the drain after a shower. He acts like doing the dishes after I cook dinner is bj-worthy material (and half the time he doesn’t even wipe down the counter).
Please do not get me started on the taking out the trash situation. The dumpster is perhaps 20 feet from the back gate, yet he thinks it’s cool to let the bags pile up on the patio. I am too short to easily hoist the dumpster lid, so he is supposed to deal with the trash. Sometimes the stray cats tear into the bags for some tasty snacks. Sigh.
FWIW: I work full-time and am in grad school. In addition to keeping the house not-falling-apart, I do most of the cooking and grocery shopping, 95% of the yard/patio work and I’m unsuccessfully trying to teach the cat to work the steam mop. Will keep you posted.
THINGS I HAVE TRIED: Talking. Explaining. Making checklists. Throwing a shitfit. Giving up and not cleaning anything. Dumping all of his crap in his office (it hasn’t moved). Not caring about the mess (ugh, that failed.) Constructing a legit mountain of stack-the-trash on the back patio. The silent treatment. Lots of loud sighs.
RESULTS: He vacillates between a few options. Occasionally remorseful, cleans up his shit for the next two days, then falls back into old habits. Claims he has no idea that I clean so much (really). Usually joking, in a he-thinks-it’s-funny-but-I-ain’t-laughing kinda way, “Ha ha yes the coat does TOO go on the dining room table!” Remarks, “But I just cleaned that (two weeks ago), why do I have to do it again?” OR — overly sensitive, acting like I called him a smelly horrible person because I explained the dirty dress socks (polyester!) on the couch STINK AND WOULD HE PUT THEM AWAY.
Please help. I feel like I need supernanny, grown-up edition. And also a drink.
BTW, I love UfYH, but I felt like she might need the full team on this one.
(PoM here) A: I see a lot in your question to unpack. First, you’re extremely resentful, which is certainly understandable when you feel like you’re pulling far more than your fair share of the work around the house. You’re frustrated and angry and fed up. Again, all understandable. I see a rundown of your husband’s flaws. I see you getting more and more annoyed and angry. I see you feeling like your husband is acting like a child, and you feeling like you need to treat him like one.
We’ll start with this: I believe that housework is the responsibility of everyone who lives in that house. I don’t buy the gender role BS. And I also believe that in any living situation of two or more people, one is always more invested in the housekeeping than the other(s), and that person is almost always angry about it. And I also believe that the people who are less invested in the housework aren’t actively trying to sabotage the efforts of the person who is doing the work; it’s just that they either don’t care or don’t think about it. And how do you make someone care?
Short answer? You really can’t. You can, however, employ a few things to bring them around to at least helping out. Do you feel like you shouldn’t have to do that and that it shouldn’t be your responsibility? Absolutely, and you’re right to feel that way, but you have years of evidence that it is, in fact, necessary if you want him to help clean up. I’m looking at your list of things you tried, and I see three useful tools (talking, explaining, and making checklists), and seven passive-aggressive or aggressive-aggressive behaviors. The funny thing about human nature is that passive-aggressive behavior never works. It just doesn’t. It’s sometimes satisfying for the person doing it, but the person who’s receiving it will generally ignore it or push back against it out of spite and feeling insulted.
In my opinion, you primarily just need one tool: talking. One tool broken down into a series of different things, sure, but really, all you need are your words. Sit down with him and have a straightforward conversation about the state of your home. Resist the urge to be spiteful or to snipe. Act as though this were the first time you were discussing this. Make it a conversation, not a lecture. He may give you some indication as to why he isn’t helping out. If there’s something you need him to do and he’s not doing it, ask him. Ask him without resentment or sarcastic commentary. Ask him in the way that you’d want someone to ask you. If he doesn’t do it, ask again. Feels like nagging? “Nagging” is an obnoxious social construct designed to make people (women) feel bad for asking for things. Fuck that. Give a timeline. Ask, “Can you please take out the trash sometime before bed tonight?” Ask him if it would it be easier for if there were a hamper closer to the back door. If not, ask him to put his clothes in the hamper instead of doing it yourself, full of resentment and anger.
You indicate that he’s capable of changing for a few days and then it’s back to old habits. Habits take time to form. And in that time, you’ll probably have to keep talking. Keep asking. I can feel you bristling at this from here. It shouldn’t be your job. Why should you have to act like his parent? Well, given what you’ve written, you’re already reacting as though he were a naughty child because you’re angry and frustrated. The thing about children is that they need to be taught how to do things. Yes, it’s obnoxious and annoying that it’s your responsibility, but you’re the one who’s invested, and he’s the one who’s not performing to expectations.
Note in all of this, I never say, “Pick up after him,” or “Be his maid.” That’s not where we’re going, because habits will never change if someone else is doing all of the work. The other important thing to remember is that as soon as you get passive-aggressive or angry, the whole process will be set back. Unfair? Yup. You need to be the bigger person, and that sucks. Marriage takes a lot of work, and a lot of teamwork. If you love and like each other, you’ll each be willing to put work into fixing the problem. If you resent one another to the point where you start disliking each other, well, that’s another story. Part of being married or cohabiting with a romantic partner is that, in addition to all of the other parts of your relationship, you’re also roommates, and that brings a whole other set of issues into the situation. But unlike roommates, you have the foundation of loving each other and being able to communicate on a more productive level to get past the resentment and anger about the housekeeping.
Opening the question up to the editorial panel:
Hillary: You can’t make him care about the mess. I know this because I’m someone who doesn’t care about the mess and leaves socks all over the damn place and it doesn’t bug me at all. What you can hopefully do is make him care about YOU. Explain that the state of the house has become a source of major stress for you, and that while you understand that it doesn’t bug him, he needs to understand that it bugs YOU and that his refusal to do even the bare minimum makes it feel like he doesn’t care that he’s making your life harder. It’s not really about the mess at this point so much as it’s about the disrespect that he won’t do his part to make your life easier. Hopefully he’ll realize that picking up his fucking socks is easier than pissing you off on a daily basis and having to get lectured.
Slay Belle: I have to concur here — you can’t make someone care about the mess. I’m not a particularly tidy person, something that bugs my husband to no end. I’ve come to appreciate his viewpoint to some degree — UfYH will be pleased to know I make my bed every day and do the dishes (he cooks). But I’ll never be a “tidy” person.
So the answer has to be getting him to react to something he does care about — namely you, your happiness, and your well being. You’re not his maid. You’re his partner, and he’s stressing you the fuck out by leaving his shit everywhere. You should tell him that in those terms. This isn’t just about the house, it’s about the respect and care he’s showing to his partner.
And as the messy person, I’d also say you have to decide what fights you’re willing to give up on. Can you live with the trash being taken to the dumpster four days of the week instead of every? Or letting him have his couch chips? My husband hates the way I put pots and pans away, but he just has to deal with it if he wants me to put the pots and pans away. And I like to do the dishes in the morning as part of my routine rather than at night, when I have to work. You might have to nudge the mountain a little closer to him if he’s willing to start walking towards it, you know?
Sally Lawton: I echo everything Slay and Hillary have said here. I am usually the tidier person in the relationship, so I totally relate to the writer of this question. One thing I would add is to cultivate compassion rather than tolerance. To tolerate means you let things happen even though they are making your life more difficult. The fact is, you don’t like a mess. And tolerating his messy habit isn’t doing you any favors. The alternative is compassion. He has never been trained to be a tidy person (you were). He doesn’t get that things need to be cleaned on a regular rotation. It’s just not in his vocabulary. And he’s dumping his clothes on the ground because he’s tired and the last thing he wants to do is put them away at the end of a long day. I’m sure that’s something you can have compassion for. So with compassion, work with him to come up with strategies that work with his limited cleaning vocabulary while also not tolerating his plainly disrespectful actions toward your need for clean. Perhaps you put a hamper by the door so he can just disrobe as he comes in, provided he agrees to put the clothes away when the hamper becomes full. Is there a chore he can get behind? He probably hates all chores, but he may prefer some to others. If he hates laundry but doesn’t mind mopping, you do the laundry, he does the mopping (on a regular rotation). Remember, he never learned the skills. Don’t tolerate his messiness, but have compassion for the fact that he just doesn’t have your cleanliness tools.
I would also add to say thank you in some way when he does something right. While doing the dishes is not BJ-worthy (why do men do this?) it is something that is new to him. Put it this way: If you’re learning a math problem and aren’t that great at math, when you figure it out, you feel like you deserve ALL the gold stars. And an A+. But the person sitting next to you for whom math comes easily may very well look at you and think they deserve the A+, you deserve the B. If you don’t get the gold star, you may get discouraged and think, well, I’m just not good at math so I’ll go be the English major I always thought I’d be. He may be feeling a bit like this. If he does the dishes, that IS probably a big deal to him, even if it’s just everyday stuff to you. I’m not saying to give him a BJ, but a simple thank-you (genuine, not passive-agressive) and a hug or a kiss or even a little Post-it on the bathroom mirror can go a long way. The funny thing is, you both probably aren’t feeling appreciated in this situation. You don’t feel appreciated because you are doing all the work with little help and acknowledgement that it is a lot of work and he’s not feeling appreciated because what little work he does do is probably (and here I’m making a leap) always considered not enough (even though for him it’s really awesome that he decided to put away that sock that one time). Definitely do the talking and the compromise, but when he does do something you want him to do, say thank you, lovingly and with genuine appreciation. I think that might help both of you.
Liza: Spray bottle.
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