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I have had numerous clients – both men and women—who are in severe distress because their spouses are messy and/or are not doing their fair share of the housework, and it is driving them crazy. Some have been so miserable that they have seriously considered divorce. They have tried everything and it isn’t working, and they just can’t live like this anymore. If this is you, here are two strategies that may help.

First, understand that your spouse may simply not know what to do.
That seems incredible to people who thrive on order and cleanliness, but it happens more often than you would think. A typical scenario is that your messy spouse was a messy child, and his/her born organized parent just cleaned because it was easier than trying to teach the child (your spouse) how to do it. Born organized parents can often be impatient with messy children because they think it is so obvious how to do something, their child must be mentally challenged, passive-aggressive, stubborn, lazy, etc. Sometimes it is really NOT obvious to the child, and (s)he needs to be trained in a different way. I am not blaming your in-laws! There are many well-meaning parents who have done this.

Or, your messy spouse had a messy parent, and that parent didn’t know what to do either.
In that situation, the parent often yells at the child to “go clean your room!” thinking (I guess!) that if (s)he gets louder and more upset, the child will just “figure it out” because the parent “just can’t deal with it”. Oh, dear. Your messy spouse might be a little traumatized about housework. So, as annoying as it is, your loved one’s habits may have more to do with his/her past, and have nothing to do with how much (s)he loves you. Maybe housekeeping has damaged his/her confidence so much that (s)he avoids it. Don’t worry! We are not going to leave him/her there! But it helps to start from a place of compassion.

And now for the second strategy…
if you would like more help and neatness from your messy spouse, spend some time making your house VERY EASY to clean BEFORE you ask your spouse to change. Yes, I know he is a doctor, so why can’t he do the laundry! However, think of your spouse not as the accomplished, talented adult you see before you, but as the overwhelmed eight-year-old (s)he was. So, specifically, go through your house piece by piece with the eyes of a child, and try to make it very easy for that child to help. For example, if you want your child to pick up his/her toys, ditch the pretty fabric boxes with lids and ribbons, and put out clear plastic shoeboxes with no lids on low shelves, so (s)he can just throw the toys in the box. If you want your child to put away his/her laundry, make sure there is room in the chest of drawers, so that putting away clothes does not require repacking the whole drawer. Spend some time decluttering your house and making things simpler. It will pay off more than you can imagine.