Q: My spouse sits on the couch and watches me cleaning like a cave girl high on Windex. Does he move? I wish I could hook him up to a battery charger. I just want a clean nice home, you know, one where I can open the door to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and my mother in law. I am searching for a formula that will work. There must be one. Am I fighting a losing battle? Should I surrender to the mess? — Seething Windex Wife
Dear Seething Windex Wife:
I hope it’s somewhat comforting to know that what you are going through is very common. Nearly all of the married women I know struggle with the same problem. “My husband is a hopeless slob” ranks pretty high on most women’s complaint lists, with “he can’t get his lazy ass out of bed to deal with the kids” and “he communicates his desire to have sex with me by rubbing his boner on my thigh” running a close second and third.
And there’s hope. I once had the same experience as you. I’d spend hours scrubbing my husband’s pee off toilet seats and removing his dirty underwear from the hallway floor. He’d occasionally look up from whatever was on TV and say things like, “Thanks for cleaning the house, honey,” assuming he noticed at all. Now, he unloads the washer, runs the vacuum, and picks up our daughter’s toys without being asked. And when he sees me cleaning, it’s an automatic trigger for him to get his butt off the couch and help.
Here’s what I suggest.
1. Try to see things through his eyes. He probably doesn’t see or care about the mess. Asking him to care about a clean house is similar to him asking you to care about the color and height of the grass in your yard. Women notice dust and fingerprints. Men notice crabgrass and yellow spots. It’s just one of those weird genetic differences between the sexes.
Most women are taught how to clean from a young age, too. My mother, for instance, had a dust rag in my hands by age 10, and she supervised my work. I also happened to work as a hotel maid one summer between my junior and senior years in high school.
My husband? His mother did everything in that house, and no one lifted a finger to help her. He did not work as a hotel maid, or any other job that would have taught him how to clean fast and effectively. I once showed him how to make hospital corners when making the bed. He stared at me as if I were from Mars, wondering why the heck anyone would care about making perfect corners in a set of sheets.
Cleaning makes many men-especially those who have not been taught how to do it-feel inadequate. It’s similar to how we women feel when we have to dispose of a rodent caught in a glue trap. Sure, we can do it, but we’ll avoid that poor critter for as long as it takes, in the hopes that our lovely husbands will take care of it first.
I’m not saying that you should just accept his slovenly lazy ways. I’m only saying that, if you learn how to understand it and see it from his perspective, it might help lower your anger a notch, so you can address the problem more civilly.
2. Understand the Law of Household Entropy. All houses naturally fall into a state of chaos over time. You simply cannot keep a house clean and orderly every moment of every day, especially if you have children or pets.
Because of the Law of Household Entropy, you must be willing to come to a compromise with your spouse. How much chaos are you willing to have? Do you want your entire house clean once a week, with it gradually falling into a state of complete disarray by week’s end? Or would you rather always have one room that is clean and presentable (that you clean up daily), and others that you let go most of the time (cleaning only in the moments just before the mother in law visits)? What types of household chaos bug you the most? Perhaps you are okay with dust but you really can’t stand having mold in your toilet. Once you understand what bugs you most, you’ll more easily be able to ask your husband for the help you need.
3. Think about why you value a clean house, and go beyond jokes about Jehovahs. How does a disorderly house make you feel? How does it affect your mood, energy, and sexual health? Being able to put this into words will help your husband to understand your point of view.
4. Hold an intervention. Sit down when you are calm (probably not while or just before cleaning). Talk about how a clean orderly house makes you feel: happy, stress free, calm, like having sex. Explain how you feel when you clean it up while he watches TV: unloved, taken advantage of, exhausted, angry. You might say, “I don’t like feeling taken advantage of. I don’t like feeling this way about you. I really want us to have a good relationship, and I really want to feel calm and stress free in my house. Can you help me with this?”
Then, get solution focused. Maybe he takes on some chores and you do others. Maybe you clean together. Be creative. Whatever you do, make sure your solution is specific. Remember: he’s blind to the mess. He needs an instruction manual, as in, “I would like you to pick up everything on the floor-including your empty beer cans, socks and banana peels-every night before you start watching TV.” Leave no room for misinterpretation.
5. Whenever you notice him cleaning, reward him. Hug him. Say, “Thank You.” Jump his bones. Make him want to clean again.
Tips for Training Really Stubborn Men
So, let’s say you do all of that and your man resists. Let’s say he claims, as my husband did initially, that he already does plenty of housework.
Hold a contest. Create a big chart and list all of the indoor and outdoor chores. Over a month’s time, check off which chores you complete and how long it takes to complete them. At the end of the month, compare results. I did this with my husband and it really blew him away. He truly thought he’d been doing more than he really was doing.
Here’s another excuse that might pop up. He might accuse you of being too uptight. For instance, he’ll whine, “I work hard. When I come home I just want to relax. What’s wrong with relaxing? Why do you have to always be working?”
This is when you tell him that you want to relax, too, and you just can’t when your house is messy. Ask him to help you come up with a compromise that will make both of you happy and relaxed. Maybe, for instance, the two of you clean the house while you are dressed up as a French Chamber Maid. Then, once the house is clean, the good lazy boy gets a nice reward.
Just saying. It might get you a really clean house. In fact, your husband might want to clean the house every night.
Do you have advice for Seething Windex Wife? Leave a comment.
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A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.