Wifey Wednesday: When Mr. Clean Marries Mrs. Messy

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I post on a marriage topic, and then you all can link up your own marriage posts, or leave a comment with your own advice!

Every Saturday I throw up a Reader Question of the Week on the blog and let you all take a stab at it. Sometimes this is because some of you may have experience at something that I don’t, but often I have my own opinion, but I want to let others have their say, too. There’s often wisdom in a multitude of counsel.

But I did want to comment on last Saturday’s reader question about conflict over housework because I think we can learn some important marriage principles from it. So here was the question:

I have a really hard time cleaning, I hate it and my definition of clean is more like tidy. Even that, though, is a stretch for me. When I was living at home I used to fight so hard with my dad because my room was always a disaster and many times it trailed out with me. Even at work, I am messy as I go about my business but I clean everything up at the end of the day.

Once my husband and I were married, I would pick up after both of us. I was constantly picking up his dishes and socks. So many socks. Doing our laundry, cooking our dinners… Everything that I figured would make him think I could be a good house wife.  But that’s not me. So when my husband would travel on business, I began living in my house the way I normally would. It never really got to the point that I thought was terrible but when my husband would come home on the weekends I would make a mad dash on Friday to clean the house because I knew he would freak out. With my limited time however, it never really got “his clean”.

Now we are having it out because he is home and gets to see that my daily routine doesn’t really include cleaning. He’s really upset by this and wants me to clean more, but I don’t feel like that’s me. And we can’t seem to come to a compromise. I think it’s my house, too, and I need to be allowed to set some of the standards. What should we do to get past our conflict over housework?

Lots of you left some really thoughtful comments! If you’re looking for practical solutions about cleaning, the comments section does have quite a few, and they’re great!

One theme that was repeated a few times was “hire a maid”, and this can be a good solution for some. Personally, I tried the maid route at one point and it never worked. Maids come to clean, not to tidy, and if you have stuff lying around, they can’t do their job. So before the maid arrived, I had to massively tidy. It was more work for me than not having a maid! And tidying takes way longer than cleaning. Cleaning is not the problem; it’s keeping things in their place, especially when you have kids. And I also wanted to make sure my kids grew up knowing how to clean. So a maid isn’t always the best plan.

But I think the reason that a maid can’t always solve the problem is that when we’re having conflict over housework, there’s actually something bigger going on, and it’s this:

Most conflicts in marriage aren’t about the issue itself. They’re about the question: do you really love me? Do you value my opinion? Do you care?

In this case, the husband wants to know, “do you care what I think about the house enough to leave your comfort zone“? And the wife also wants to know of the husband, “do you care what I like enough to leave YOUR comfort zone?” So it’s hardly surprising that they both dig in, because the issue is not how tidy the house is. The issue is, “do you care about me enough to change?”

That’s what a marriage is all about: it’s a give and take, and adjusting to one another, and finding a new way of living that works for both of you. But when we’re first married we’re often really insecure about that. We want to know that we matter. And the thought of having to change or do things “his way” is very threatening because it feels like he doesn’t love me for who I am. And this is just “who I am”.

Here’s the thing, though: when you married, you promised that you would now be “one flesh”. That doesn’t mean that you cease to exist, but it does mean that what he wants needs to be important to you now, too. And we are called to consider others interests ahead of our own (Philippians 2:4). We are even called to submit.

So if your husband isn’t happy with the home, that should matter to you, because HE should matter to you.

I actually wrote in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex about a very similar situation that my husband and I faced. I said:

When my children were six and four, I was very active with them. We ventured out to the library twice a week, to playgroup once a week, to women’s Bible study, to friends’ homes. We had other children in our home. We made crafts. We baked. Our home was fun, but it was also always a complete mess.

One day Keith sat me down and told me he was sick of coming home to a disaster in the living room. He could handle the basement being a mess; he could even handle their rooms or the bathroom being a mess. But he just wanted to open the door and see an inviting house.

I did not take that very well. I think the words “maid” and “Neanderthal” escaped my lips. But looking back, I can see how I was telling him, “I know what’s best for the kids; I’m home all day; so you need to bow to what I say.” My husband was not the kind who would retreat, for which I am eternally grateful. But I can see why many in his situation would. He was being told that his opinion didn’t count for anything, and that while he wanted a place in this world that reflected him, I was more interested in what I envisioned for the family.

Ladies, if you have already walked down the aisle, remember: he is your husband. His opinion about how the household functions matters, even if you’re the one who primarily cares for it. If something is important to him, it should matter to you. Some men retreat simply because they get the impression that they aren’t wanted, and so they try to carve out a place in the world where they can escape. Before blaming him for running away emotionally and sexually, ask yourself if you have done anything to push him out. And if you have, maybe it’s time to ask his opinion and start honoring it again.

If you’re always in fighting with your husband about housework, take a deep breath and think of this in its wider context. Should your husband’s opinion matter? Do you want him to feel like this is his home, too, or do you want him to retreat elsewhere?

If you married him, you made a promise that he mattered. So do something about it!

I’m not a naturally neat person, but I’ve learned how to put little habits into my day that make things work more smoothly. After my shower I make the bed and throw a load of laundry on. I keep the piles of papers on one place in the dining room, and clean off the kitchen counters, living room surfaces, and dining room table. Every evening before dinner the girls and I do a 15-minute tidy up (it’s amazing how much you can get done in 15 minutes). Honestly, if you just stick to little things throughout the day, the house will not get impossible. And sit down and ask your husband which areas he really, really wants tidy. Maybe the front hall matters to me because it’s the first thing he sees. Maybe he just wants to see a tidy kitchen, or a living room without toys in it. Uncover what’s the most important, and then make sure to honor that. It doesn’t need to be onerous. And it’s just showing him that you value him, that you want him to feel at home when he is at home, and that you’re willing to go out of your way to make sure that he does.

That’s a good message to send to your husband. It keeps you on the same page!

But with conflict over housework, as with most conflicts, remember that the reason for the conflict is usually not the thing we’re fighting about; it’s the search for the answer to that central question, “do you really love and value me”?

If we can see that this is really the issue, perhaps we’d have an easier time compromising and reaching out.

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Leave the URL of your own marriage post in the linky below, or leave a comment and tell us how you’ve resolved difficult things!


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Comments

  1. Excellent insight!

  2. My husband doesn’t have many opinions about what I do while I’m home with the kids during the day, but he has very kindly told me that there are two things that bother him: 1) walking in the door to toys covering the floor and 2) crumbs all over the kitchen floor. I also wanted to scream at him, “Don’t you understand how impossible it is to keep the floors clean with three boys under the age of 4?!?!” However, he’s only asking for two small things. So, now I wait until shortly before he is coming home and tidy up the toys that have made their way into the living room and kitchen. And I also try to sweep up the crumbs or vacuum before he comes home as well. I think he really appreciates it!
    Elizabeth@Warrior Wives recently posted…The Year’s Most Scandalous Marriage Book – Part 1My Profile

  3. My husband only asks for two things, too: A clear path to his chair and his chair free of toys so he can sit in it. The conversation came about when I was lamenting my difficulty feeling like interacting with the children was a waste of time. I told him that I feel like I don’t accomplish anything if I don’t keep a clean, tidy house but rather interact with the children. He reassured me that spending time with the children is more important and that he doesn’t care what the house looks like so long as he can walk unobstructed to his chair and his chair is free of toys. Yes, there are days when I can’t even give him that, but I do try. If he does come home to his requests unmet, I do my best to make sure he doesn’t have to clean it up. I’ll do it or have the children do it.

  4. I used to keep baskets around for quick stash-and-dash moments. One on the end table for paper clutter, a big one by the door for shoes, one under the end table for toys, etc. It REALLY helped when the kids were babies, and while I was trying to get into a better cleaning routine.

    Here’s the thing: someone has to do the cleaning. They just do. If your house is dirty, you’re inviting all manner of disgusting pests into your home. Mice, rats, cockroaches, ants, etc. They carry disease and are generally just gross. So the house must be cleaned. If you’re the person who’s home most of the time, you’re making most of the mess, so it stands to reason that you need to be doing most of the cleaning. Now, I can understand not wanting to clean his messes, especially things like socks. So strike a compromise of sorts. You clean up your stuff before he comes home for the day (better if you clean up messes as you make them so they don’t get overwhelming), and at some point in the evening you and he take 5 or 10 minutes to clean up the little messes that have accumulated since he’s been home.

    • Oh, just a thing if anyone uses the basket idea: you do have to empty the baskets from time to time! Don’t wait until they’re full either. Try to do each basket once a week. Maybe paper clutter gets sorted on Mondays, the shoe basket on Fridays, etc., so you’re not doing them all in one day. If you have to do them all at once, that’s too overwhelming and it’s too tempting to procrastinate. But one a day is manageable. Set your timer for 10 minutes and just work on that basket until the timer goes off. Bet you’ll get it done before the halfway mark. :)

    • I love the basket idea! And one thing that has really helped my girls and I get in the cleaning mood is watching episodes of “How Clean Is Your House” on YouTube. Seeing truly dirty houses just makes you want to clean! Because you’re right, it just needs to be done.

  5. Great advice, Sheila. We are called to serve. This is how we show love as Jesus washed His disciples feet. This means we are called to serve and please our husbands. In doing this, we will find the most joy.
    Lori recently posted…Keep Holding Hands!My Profile

  6. Gorgeous George says:

    Great post, Sheila! I think you nailed it.

    I’d add that if couples can budget about $100 a month, they can have a maid/housekeeper come and do a lot of the tougher/grosser jobs (toilets, showers, tubs, etc.). To me, that is a lot cheaper than letting the frustration and tension build up to the point where you need marriage counseling! (MC is usually needed more frequently and more expensive per hour than a housekeeper!)

    Also, enlisting the kids into helping tidy up is good for them too. It gives them a sense of accomplishment, and a feeling that they are productive members of the family “team.” Besides, they need to do something to earn their allowance, right?

    • Having worked with a maid company for a little while (which is a job I absolutely HATED!), I can tell you this – they notice everything, and they gossip about private details of the families they clean houses for – details they are able to pick up simply by cleaning the house.

      Even if that weren’t the case, I would never, ever, ever, EVER allow a stranger to come into my home and have access to what comprises my personal life. It’s my responsibility to take care of my home. Sure, I don’t always like to do it, but I do get a great sense of satisfaction because I know I’m blessing my husband by cleaning. Knowing that you’re showing love to the person you love most is a great reward, and makes the not fun stuff worth it. My love language is physical touch, and it didn’t come naturally to me to show love that way – not to mention I always hated cleaning – but my husband’s love language is acts of service, so I learned to look at it differently. You don’t have to do everything all at once – keep doing little bits at a time. There’s no reason for frustration and tension to build – simply do what needs to be done, as a way of loving your husband. If your love isn’t strong enough to do something as simple as cleaning – well, that’s a problem. That’s not to say that everything has to be perfect every day. I’ve been having severe anxiety and panic attacks lately, so some days I’ll just do one simple task – but I’m always able to something, even if it’s just cleaning the bathroom counter and mirror; and my husband understands those days. But there is no excuse to habitually ignore something as basic as keeping the house clean.

      Of course, I was raised by a mother who always does what needs to be done, even if she “doesn’t feel like it” – to her (with exceptions, such as illness), that is no excuse! If something needs to be done, you do it – as simple as that. My mom raised four very rowdy kids and her house was always spotless. I remember her stripping and waxing the floors while we played outside. And she spent so much quality time with us – she even homeschooled all four of us, and did a darn good job, while always putting my dad first. I don’t know how she did it, but she is the example I try to emulate.

    • Toilets aren’t so tough when you have kids to clean them! I’m only sort of kidding. I’ve never thought toilets were that hard though. It’s BEHIND the toilet that’s hard!

      • Maggie, I’m with you! My kids always thought toilets were kinda fun. All that scrubbing and bubbles. But yes, behind the toilet is hard. And gross.

  7. Awesome response to this! I agree 100%. I agree that hiring a maid requires more work than the actual cleaning requires.

    Marriage is such a sacrificial relationship and a beautiful example of the relationship we have with God. There’s a reason he calls us His bride. He gave the ultimate sacrifice for his bride….I think a few uncomfortable choices to show our mate how much they are valued is such a bare minimum of what we can do for our marriage.
    Jennifer recently posted…My BodyMy Profile

  8. Ours is sort of reversed. I am not Mrs. Clean but I would like the house more tidy. My husband just..doesn’t care. I am home more during the day but I don’t make nearly as much mess as my husband and older two kids. I usually pick up after myself (though I am very bad about leaving my shoes in random places!). When I do finally get past being overwhelmed to getting the house straightened, it gets trashed when the older kids and my husband get home.

    Home matters have created so much stress and tension in our relationship and home in the past that anymore I try to find a way to release my bitterness over feeling like I’m just a sex toy and maid without confronting him too much. Ten years of marriage with many requests throughout those years that he help out a bit (he won’t scrape food from plates at all… just leaves it sitting somewhere, leaves dirty dishes and empty wrappers or containers in our bedroom on the floor or around his laptop on the table, never helps clean up – including his own messes – unless company is coming, never really helps out with the kids even when he’s on vacation, etc)… well those requests go unheeded. I’m a single parent in a two parent family. I am trying to get the kids more involved with cleaning but I am seeing a pattern: my boys see how Dad is and then they think they can get away with it too. I can at least put some smack down – so to speak – on them. ;)

    I avoid much confrontation anymore because I don’t want to worry my kids with any more tension they’ve already witnessed. Otherwise it might get rough around here. Something has to give, though, and I would prefer it NOT be my sanity! I started praying today that he have a change of attitude. I have prayed for myself for months on how to deal with these situations and I credit my new-found ability to cope without a blow up and days of bitterness to answered prayer. Now I’m just asking for him to see things from my perspective. He gets very “What about me!?: and “But I want..” when I question anything he wants or does, so just once I would like to know that his perspective isn’t so self-centered.

    • Please keep praying and have faith that your husband’s outlook can change. I speaking from a place where my marriage had pretty much fallen apart, but I kept praying. My husband finally “woke up” and decided on his own that he wanted to work on his marriage. And guess what? His housekeeping actions were part of his turnaround.

      Prayer really can change this situation. Please have faith. I know how hard it is (believe me–I have been there) but be encouraged! Even if your prayer life isn’t much, even quickie prayers can be really effective. James 5:16 “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

      • Thank you for your comment. I haven’t been married too long and so we’re still figuring this out, but praying about it and being patient is some good advice. I just don’t want it to get ugly. I worry about how attitudes like that would affect children, but then I remember that I just finished screaming and I am thinking that my response is worse. I am going to pray about it :)

  9. Kelly Galambus says:

    One thing that has helped us is to get the kids involved. My almost 9 year old is in charge of laundry and dishes – and she vacuums twice a week. The younger child tries to mop and dust. We give them an allowance for these chores (got the idea from Dave Ramsey). So that frees me up to concentrate on picking up and more detailed cleaning.

  10. “I’m not a naturally neat person, but I’ve learned how to put little habits into my day that make things work more smoothly.”

    I learned this “habit” principle from FlyLady. It’s changed the way I do things. Also, the idea of 15 minutes…FlyLady also taught me that idea, and now cleaning tasks do not seem as daunting anymore. I don’t follow FlyLady’s routines and ideas to the letter, but I did use them as a starting point to changing “how I am.” Highly recommend.

    http://Flylady.net

    I have a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old. I never can get a ton of work done during a typical day, but I have found that doing this one little thing changes my whole day…I make sure the dishwasher is unloaded first thing in the morning. The habit is to run it every night, then unload it every morning. That is a spring board for me. I then have a place to toss dirty dishes as I use them. And a clean sink makes me want to keep other areas clean, too. I hope these ideas help. P.S. My husband got in on the dishwasher habit, too, and it has changed the way he looks at housekeeping, too.

    • My mom kept telling me to do flylady, because cleaning didn’t come naturally to me and I would often get overwhelmed trying to get everything done. It has changed my life! Like you, I have just adopted the principles as a way to change the way I approach cleaning, and form my own habits. Some days I get more done than others, but I always do SOMETHING – for example, yesterday I had two bad panic attacks, but I still swept and mopped the floors, wiped down the sink and counters, and gathered the trash. It took less than half an hour. It’s amazing how quickly you can clean a house if you really put your mind to it, honestly. Like flylady says, set the timer for fifteen minutes – and wow, you can get a lot done in that fifteen minutes!

      • I know, Jenny! I’ve taken that 15 minute rule and used it a TON in my life, and not just with cleaning. Whenever there’s something you don’t want to do, just try for 15 minutes. It works with exercise, too.

        • I do it with exercise too! :) Even if I really don’t feel like exercising, I think to myself, “well, I can do anything for just fifteen minutes.”

  11. We discovered something this weekend. At home, I’m messy and he’s clean. When we’re camping, though? I become a crazy neat freak and he becomes a disaster! I really try to keep the camper picked up because it’s so small, any tiny amount of clutter makes it unlivable. But my husband just throws crap EVERYWHERE. Clothes, bedding, dishes, everything. And when the camper gets messy it makes the packing up process at the end of the weekend take twice as long. Now if I could only translate that mentality to when I’m at home! I try but I am finding it a little hard to keep up recently.
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  12. I enjoyed your post. I’m the tidy one; my husband is the messy one! Communication a must.

  13. “…I was more interested in what I envisioned for the family.”
    When my kiddos were young this is exactly how my life was. My life revolved around the kids and their schedules that I had set into place. I know we are told to put our husbands first. I would try but fail miserably as my energy was completely tapped. He’s a wonderful husband and father and would help out if and when I asked, but I know it frustrated him to come home to a messy house. Somewhere along the way I too began to feel crazy seeing the mess everywhere and started to at the very least, just pick up, tidy an area a day. Before long it wasn’t too terribly difficult to tidy up before hubby got home. Visitors always commented on how clean our home was and I’d always chuckle and say don’t look too close. Ha haha But there’s a LOT to be said for a tidy house! It LOOKS clean even if there’s an inch of dust on the baseboards! Floors and all horizontal spaces clear of debry sends the message of orderliness and helped put my frazzled mind at peace. Now a days you can usually tell how I’m feeling by seeing what condition my house is in!

    Your post is spot on in that our spouse’s needs should matter to us and not just in the matter of a clean house, but in every facet of our marriage.

  14. Oh! And I have to add that I totally chuckled about your comment about having a maid and that it was way MORE work! So been there! I too found myself cleaning before the cleaning ladies arrived and I thought this is just plain dumb! If I’m going to this extent to prepare for maids to clean I should just take it the next step and do it myself!

    What I really wanted was to be lazy and have someone else pick up after me the way I did it for everyone else! But that’s not very mature now is it or logical. Ha! I just needed to feel that I mattered, was loved, was taken care of. And I realized that my hubby did care for me, loved me and that I mattered by way of words of affirmation and allowing me to go and do something just for me and by giving me occasional gifts like spa treatments.

    • My aunt had this cleaning lady for over 30 years. She didn’t just clean; she actually tidied and organized. She knew where everything went in the house and she would actually tidy it up. I always was a little jealous of that!

      I quit cleaning ladies when I realized they made more work for me, because I had to have absolutely everything tidy at one time so they could clean. If I was organized enough to do that, I didn’t need a cleaning lady! Because my kids could do the actual cleaning anyway.

  15. Various comments above talk about not getting everything done, just some things. Or getting just a little bit of something done.

    I am SO there. Especially with little ones running around, you make choices as to what you can get done. For example, Yesterday, I worked very hard on the bedrooms and took the little ones into whichever room I was working on, so I could keep an eye on them. It takes me twice as long to accomplish the tasks because of this (because they are mini-tornadoes), but at least I can keep them out of trouble this way and still accomplish SOMETHING. Anyway, that is why the downstairs wasn’t tidied. I had to choose. But I find that I can live with those choices during this season.

    BTW, my husband doesn’t mind the mess in one room when he sees a very clean other room. He’s watched the kids enough on his own…he knows we make choices. And if that bedroom is nice and clean…oooo, baby. Other things go very well. If you know what I mean.

  16. In my house, it’s the opposite. I’m Mrs. Clean and my husband is a mess. The house needs to be upside down messy in order for him to take notice and think something should be done. I am constantly cleaning up after him, washing the dirty dishes, throwing dirty socks in the laundry bin, making the bed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not so much a chore because I enjoy seeing my house clean and in order but still, I take issue with this husband because if he likes to have his house clean then, WHY DOESN’T HE HELP CLEAN IT? This is what I’ve had to do. I don’t sit and expect him to magically change and realize that cleaning and organizing are important and make me feel oh so wonderful, though sometimes he does help me with cleaning and surprises me with a nice vacuum or something of the sort. I am SO grateful for those little gifts because it matters to me. I think the dilemma in my own marriage is easily overlooked because it fits the stereotype of the wife being the one who cleans, washes dishes, vacuums, and keeps the house in order as a good “helper” should do. But what happens when it’s the opposite and the wife IS the messy one? Should the husband not step up and clean if that’s the way he likes his home to be kept?

  17. My husband complained about this and then he had the nerve to talk about my weight as well.

    Right now I am going through a depression and his comments just shut me down even further.

    He says things like I never get anything done, or nobody likes me when I do the negative talk out loud etc etc.

    He is only helping with the hindrance and I function better when things are slightly messy.

    He is not working and I am the one who is out while he is on disability. The fact that he is the one who is home I figure he can be the one who cleans as well and he’s not a bad cook either.

    My 4 pet peeves with him are
    1: wasting water, (he leaves the tap running while brushing his teeth, doing the dishes)
    2: wasting food (he throws out anything that’s leftover on the fridge that’s over a week and a half old or anything frozen he can’t identify)
    3: his way of cleaning up, it’s like he has OCD he moves everything around! (As long as its put away in a drawer it’s cleaned up) After we renovated our upstairs now all of
    my belongings are in the basement and good luck trying to find them. I purchased the house before he moved in so maybe some of you can understand my resentment?

    4: He wants me to lose weight, and go to the gym but he is constantly buying junk food and bringing it home and I’m the one who ends up eating it. I came up with a solution finally to put all of his junk in a basket where I can’t reach it. If its left out I just throw it up there. Maybe it will help.

    Overall I can’t keep up with his put downs. I’m feeling very sensitive to what he tells me and I’ve only been married to him for less than 6 months with previous living together for about a year.

  18. Mrs.Momof6 says:

    OH! How did I miss this underlying point, when so often I have also said to myself “I just want to know you love me!”
    DUH.

    Thanks.
    Going to go apply said wisdom.

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  1. […] question is not so much about how much I should clean (I did read your post on When Mr. Clean marries Mrs. Messy). I truly do understand the desire for a clean place to come home to. I have tried to accommodate […]

  2. […] bulb” essay several times since then, but have never found it.  Instead, I found this reader question on another blog which expresses some of the same […]

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