Ask UfYH

Ask UfYH: You Can’t Make Someone Care

Q: How do you get someone to care about cleaning? My SO helps me clean because I ask them to, but they literally do not get the point of cleaning. What are the magic words to illustrate what will happen if I don’t clean up?

A: You can’t, and there aren’t any.

It is an indisputable fact of human nature that you just can’t make other people care about things they don’t care about. In this situation, the best you can do is to make them care about how it affects you, which seems like it’s the same thing, but really isn’t. Doing this won’t make anyone magically see the benefit of cleaning, but it might make them participate in spite of the fact that they don’t get the point. Your SO cares about you. Your SO doesn’t care about the messy house. You can’t make someone care about the messy house if they don’t already, but you can make them care about how the messy house is making you unhappy.

In this, as in all situations involving people who share your space whose actions or inaction make you frustrated and angry, my advice is to talk to them. Tell your SO that it’s very frustrating to you that you’re doing all of the cleaning by yourself, so what are some tasks that you can delegate? Your inclination might be to stop cleaning to show your SO how bad the place will get (“…what will happen if I don’t clean up”), but trust me on this: passive-aggressive behavior never works, and your SO will either not notice or not care how bad the mess gets, which will almost certainly leave you angrier than you were to begin with. So just skip that step entirely and have a conversation. Ask for help. Understand that you may have to ask for help more than once, because, again, the clean house is your priority, not theirs.

You’re actually in a pretty good position in that your SO helps when you ask for help. What you need to make peace with is the fact that they’re probably only going to help because you’re asking. The likelihood of someone suddenly having an epiphany about why a clean house is a good thing because someone asked them to is slim to none. People tend to have these types of epiphanies on their own, and no amount of prompting from someone else can trigger one. So, in the meantime, consider yourself lucky that you can get help when you ask for it, and just keep asking.

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