There is tons of issues married couples deal with everyday and vowing eternity with that person goes beyond the promise you made during your wedding day. It means accepting and dealing with some not-so-desirable traits you’ve just discovered recently. And yes, it includes your spouse’s untidiness!
Here’s a conversation with Keith, a husband to Mary for a year and a half. Let’s see what lessons we can learn from this couple’s experience and what relationship advice we can have…
Q: Mary and I have been married for a year and a half now; we have always been fond of each other and there are so many qualities in her that have made me love her, and eventually marry her, well, except for this one thing: Mary is a sloppy and very cluttered person. It may sound a little weird as most of situations like this happen the other way around. She tends to jumble her stuff anywhere in the house. One morning before going to work, she hurriedly dressed up and looked for her favourite pair of stockings which I found in the kitchen! Her shoes are all over the house too; you’ll probably find a pair under the bed, in the laundry and sometimes in the living room! I am not a spick-and-span type of person myself but I do know where to put things to avoid clutter in the house. I have tried to tell her nicely about this so many times but I see no improvement with Mary’s messiness. What else is there left for me to do in order to elicit Mary’s cooperation with this and to have good relationship?
A: You sound somewhat frustrated and annoyed with Mary’s behavior. This is not an unusual marital problem, especially to new married couples like you and Mary. It would greatly help you resolve this issue by realizing that despite you two having common interests, you also have differences because you are two unique individuals with diverse personalities to begin with. Prior to living with Mary as husband and wife, you were living with other person, which means you have yet to discover certain behaviors that are quite normal to her. Furthermore, you were raised by different families with different values, practices and behaviors, so this could also contribute to Mary’s behavior and to your good relationship. When you understand this concept, you will realize that not everything that is a must-do for you is the same for Mary; this issue on being organized and tidy could be something that Mary does not pay too much attention on since she has constantly been busy with work.
Married couples do not necessarily have the most common practices and behaviors; in fact, these differences are what compliment the couple. Think about it this way: since Mary is not too particular with cleanliness, this is some influence you can inject into her life; on the other hand, Mary also has some influences she can impart to you, precisely why marriage is a give and take relationship.
Q: Okay, so maybe our family practices and behaviors have something to do with our habits. I remember how keen my mother was about washing our hand before and after meals and putting soiled clothes in the hamper. Maybe Mary’s family was not that particular about these practices. But my second concern that sprung from the first one is how Mary reacts to my criticisms which I try to sound constructive at all time. Everytime I bring the topic up to her, she becomes furious and exasperated! The ending is yet another unproductive talk with still unresolved issue. What best ways can you suggest that won’t anger Mary each time I bring this discussion up to her?
A: Try bringing up the topic to Mary whenever both of you are not stressed out; for instance, do not discuss the issue with her right after a long day at work as this can only result to heated arguments. And also, mind the tone of your voice. It is possible that the moment you begin the conversation with “that” tone, Mary already knows where the conversation is heading.
Here are some helpful guidelines you need to understand before you start the conversation with Mary about her orderliness habits and practices:
Are you opening up the topic the right time?
Decide to talk with Mary about her orderliness behavior when both of you are relaxed and not stressed nor tired from work. Bringing up the issue during stressful moments can only result to negative responses. Try talking to Mary on weekends over a movie, for example, during which she have had a good rest from a day off from work. After work and before meals (which means the person is hungry) are often the stressful moments which are not good timing for having a conversation that involves honest criticisms.
Are you discussing the issue at the right place?
Conversations that involve issues between family members or married couples are best discussed at home. The home is the only place where you can openly discuss any concern without the worry of embarrassing anyone from strangers. If you have kids, make sure you do not tackle the issue within their audible range as this can upshot humiliation and disrespect.
Are you approaching the conversation with the right tone of voice?
The tone of your voice usually determines the kind of conversation you will have with Mary. When you present the issue with exasperation and annoyance, she will most likely hear that from the tone of your voice. The way you feel dictates the kind of tone your voice conveys. So, if you want to avoid a heated conversation with Mary, try discussing the issue with her only when you are relaxed and not upset as this will be very evident in the tone of your voice. This is a very common reason for couples going into fights and heated discussions; so you better know how to control
Are you choosing appropriate words to use when discussing issues?
Discussing a sensitive issue with your spouse requires proper word screening. Avoid using harsh and mean words as these can only fire up the conversation. Furthermore, when you use respectful and kind words, your spouse is most likely to listen even more instead of reacting negatively to what you are saying. For instance, instead of saying, “Mary, your untidiness drives me crazy! Can you not at least try to put a little shot at being organized?” say, “Mary, these days I feel a little bothered with how you leave your shoes in the kitchen. It’s important to me for our kitchen to be clean because this is where we cook our food. Can you please put your shoes in the shoe rack next time?”
Q: What’s wrong with being upfront about how I feel? I tend to sound like the first example.
A: When you begin your statement with “you”, you are apparently pinpointing Mary’s mistakes right away and this can only aggravate the situation. On the other hand, when you begin your statements with “I”, you are considering your feelings about what has been going on which could make Mary rethink and re-evaluate. Furthermore, instead of inquiring “why she can’t change her behavior”, it is more therapeutic if you put emphasis on whether she is willing to work with effort on changing her behavior.
Q: I see the difference there; but will example number 2 really work?
A: Example number 2 appears to be less critical; the composition of the statement conveys a person who is willing to solve a specific problem rather than accusing somebody of a problem.
Keep this in mind: When discussing a concern with your wife, you need to be very specific about it.
ü When you follow how example 2’s statements are being delivered, you are clearly stating your feelings every time Mary becomes very disorganized and untidy.
ü Try using example 2 as a pattern or model of how you convey your feelings to Mary.
ü You are clearly pointing out your concern to Mary when you ask a direct question to her about what actions you’d appreciate for her to do.
Q: Mary and I have discussed this concern so many times; I am afraid the next discussion will just be another argument. Will the probability of a peaceful discussion turned into a fight be most likely to happen again?
A: Do not view the outcome to be negative yet, instead be hopeful that with everything you have learned on how to deal with this relationship matter, everything could turn out great for Mary and you.
Here are a few points for you to mull over:
ü Keep in mind that the issue is an emotional aspect.
Since this is a very emotional topic, it is understandable that your wife may have emotional responses like annoyance or even anger.
ü Keep you cool and try your best to show patience and understanding while dealing with the issue.
Remind yourself to stay calm and not retort with annoyance. It is likely that your wife will show unsupportive or uncooperative responses; acknowledge her feelings and reaction and do not get upset.
ü Acknowledge the existence of an issue and convey this to her genuinely.
When you look Mary in the eyes and sincerely request her to help you with this ongoing issue, she will hopefully see your sincerity and can help you find solutions to your problem.
ü Think of solutions and provide help for instance:
(1) Both of you can agree on a convenient and accessible place with hangers available for Mary to use each time she undresses and uses her clothes. This way, she can simply reach out for a hanger to use so that her stuff won’t clutter on the floor.
(2) You can move the hamper nearer to the area where she changes clothes so she can simply drop her clothes in it.
(3) Another option is to have clothing basket in her closet where she can organize her clothes.
Q: Those are great suggestions but I am not that confident that I can carry those because I am very much frustrated in her. Is there a way I can control this kind of attitude?
A: Of course there is! Try to have a problem-solving mindset as this can help you reach out and share your efforts with Mary. As you strive to learn the tactful way of conversing with her, it is most likely that she will acknowledge your efforts and hopefully work cooperatively with you on this matter. When you show how willing you are to solve this issue with her, she can put her confidence in you and choose to work with you to solve the problem. Furthermore, when married couples choose to join forces in resolving any marital conflict, the chances of finding solutions and successfully eradicating the problem are high. When you work together, you can expect a positive change – something that will make your relationship a better one! Good luck!!!!!