Reader Question: When Mrs. Messy Marries Mr. CleanHello all, and welcome to the revamped Reader Question of the Week!

Today we’re going to tackle what to do when you have different standards for housework. One woman writes:

My husband likes the house to be clean. I don’t mean just picked up and somewhat neat, but spotless, everything in it’s place, every dish put away, every surface wiped. Every day. He claims that if there is something that is not done in the house that he cannot relax and be happy. While I don’t feel that I am a dirty person, I am certainly not a neat freak. I am fine with a pile of papers on the desk or doing the dishes in the morning instead of right after supper. This has been a source of stress in our marriage from day 1. We have been married almost nine years and I feel that I have made huge adjustments to try to accomodate his needs.

My 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 that. I feel that I am bending over backwards taking care of our two kids, working part time, cooking meals, and taking care of the house. I try to be submissive to his requests. If this is something that he thinks I should be doing, should I be trying harder to do it? My questions is how much should I feel responsible for his happiness?

Wow. Now THAT’S a loaded question, isn’t it? I want to answer this by giving a few thoughts that may steer people in the right direction. It’s hard to give advice to any particular person because I don’t know the whole story, and we don’t know the husband’s side. So here are just a few things that may help people to work towards a solution.

When You're Married to Mr. Clean1. When you’re married, the other person’s needs/desires do matter

It’s very likely that you and your spouse are opposite in some ways. Maybe your spouse loves to socialize and have people over for dinner while you don’t. Maybe your spouse loves outdoor stuff and you really don’t. Maybe your spouse really wants to go to bed early and you’re more of a night person.

Once you get married, you can’t just keep forging ahead according to your natural tendencies. Your spouse’s desires and needs matter, too. So if it’s really important for your spouse to have a clean house, then putting some effort in that direction is definitely warranted.

However, it sounds like this woman is already doing some of that, so:

2. When You’re Married, You Find a New Balance

Marriage should be about finding a new balance–not his way, not her way, but OUR way.

Just as she should go out of her way to keep things neat if he likes them neat, so he should also go out of his way to recognize her desires to sometimes just put her feet up and concentrate on other things.

Both spouses need to figure out what a new dynamic is. And that means that you have to talk about it–and communication really is the hardest part of marriage. It’s often difficult to have that conversation because it feels like you’re fighting. When you don’t agree, and you talk about it, it seems as if you’re angry, even when you’re not. But it FEELS as if something’s wrong, and that can be scary.

So lots of couples just simply don’t talk about it.

In this case, I think a conversation is definitely warranted so that they can both sit down and hash out THEIR new normal–not his normal, or her normal, but THEIR normal.

Here are some starting points for discussion:

1. Let’s define “spotless”. Is clean the issue, or is it tidy? Is there any leeway?

2. What areas of the house are most important to you? Assuming that I can’t keep everything perfectly neat at all times, especially with children, what areas of the house would you like me to concentrate on? The living room? The kitchen? The bathroom?

3. Let’s talk about priorities. What are your big priorities for us as a family? Now here are mine: kids who love God; a happy, active family; a comfortable home; a good marriage. All of these things matter. I’m wondering, though, how I can raise happy, active kids, and stay involved in their lives, and still keep the house perfectly spotless. It seems an impossible task to me. How do you see me spending my day?

4. If you want the house cleaner, what do you think I should cut out of my day? Can I stop working part-time?

5. Can we afford to hire a maid?

6. Can you work with me to teach the kids to clean, and can you help me enforce times when they also must do their chores?

3. Where Do Expectations Come From?

Another thought I have, specifically when it comes to how to keep the home, is the root of these expectations. Often people dream of having a home just like their mom kept. But what they often forget is that mom took 30 years to figure out how to clean that well. She likely didn’t do it that well right off the bat.

And we only remember the recent years. We don’t remember the house when we were small. If you have a mom who keeps a perfectly clean house, it’s unlikely it was spotless when there were toddlers.

4. If Someone Wants Something that Requires a Lot of Time and Effort, in General that Person Should Be Responsible For It

Here’s my rule of thumb in marriage: we all do reasonable things (of course defining “reasonable” is always difficult, but we all put in effort where we can, while still leaving time for self-care, relaxation, parenting, and marriage.

If someone wants something that takes away from any of those things, then the person who wants it most should be most responsible for it.

For instance, my husband likes having people over for dinner. I enjoy it, too, but usually we’re inviting his work colleagues or students. I don’t mind doing that, but the deal is that if we’re going to do it, it can’t all fall on me. So he has them over on nights when he gets home a little earlier so he can help clean up and prepare the food. It’s most important to him, so he helps.

Keeping a perfectly spotless house when there are kids is a lot of work. I would say, then, that she should definitely put in an effort, especially in the parts of the house that are most important to him. But because this is so crucial to HIM, then it should also fall on him to do something about it. If he’s having a hard time relaxing if the house is a little untidy, then perhaps he should help clean, too.

5. If You Can’t Agree, Ask a Mentor Couple to Sit Down With You

If you just can’t agree, get some third party advice. Sometimes seeing how another couple navigated this landmine can help. And they can often help you just to talk things out, too, which can be so difficult for us.

I know this is a really sticky subject, but like most things in marriage, it’s just about two people coming together and having to find a new balance. For marital peace, ideally both people need to be willing to set aside some of their own expectations and desires so that they can honor their spouse.

I hope that helps! Let me know in the comments how you’ve dealt with this.

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