Larry James' BLOG

Monday, June 10, 2013

How to Stay Together When One’s a Neat Freak and One’s Messy

Lori & Bob Hollander, Guest Authors

No one warned us 25 years ago that one of our major challenges would be how neat or messy we kept our home. Bob and I have struggled with this issue for years. I was the more meticulous one and Bob was, shall we say, more relaxed about how the house looked.

unmadebedWe often argued about who was right. I felt clothes should be put away each day and Bob thought putting them away once a week was enough. I liked the bed made up in the morning. He said, “Why make the bed when you are going to sleep in it again at night?”

When I came home from work I knew exactly what he’d had to eat since there would be a trail of wrappers and cups left wherever he had consumed them. When he came home to me there was no trash left around.

I thought the dishwasher should be emptied every morning so dirty dishes didn’t pile up during the day. Bob didn’t mind putting away the clean dishes at night and then loading the sink full of dirty dishes from that day, or even from the day before. When I cooked I cleaned up as I went along so there wasn’t such a large mess to clean up afterwards. Bob felt it was more efficient to make a full mess and clean it all up after we ate. Our tolerance for mess and clutter was at opposite ends of the spectrum.

We had countless arguments about this like many couples. Here are just a few of the comments you would hear in our home:

“You never clean up after yourself! I can’t stand it anymore. How many times have I asked you to wipe the crumbs off the counter so we don’t get ants?”

“You are so compulsive. Why does everything have to be perfect? It’s always got to be your way. You don’t know how to relax.”

Notice the focus is on justifying our own position and blaming the other for his/hers. One day we finally started to talk about our underlying feelings and dug deeper to find the root of the problem.

I realized that when the house wasn’t straightened up, I couldn’t relax. I was very sensitive to and aware of my environment. Bob realized that he didn’t even notice when the house was a mess because it didn’t bother him; he could let things go until he felt ready to do them.

When we started listening to each other’s perspective without making the other one wrong, is when we began to solve the problem.

He began to understand how stressful it was for me when things were in disarray and I saw his point of view, that it was ok for the house to look “lived in.” We compromised and worked toward the center. And we appreciated the other: I noticed when he cleaned up for me, and he noticed when I would let things go so we could spend part of the evening together. Now Bob and I joke that in our relationship OCD married ADD.

DishesStickyNote• How does this issue play out in your relationship?
• Are you miles apart in your tolerance for clutter?
• Do you compromise on this or is it a chronic conflict?

Next time this issue comes up for you and your partner remember the following:

1. Don’t make your partner wrong. Everyone has different views about the degree of cleanliness and clutter in the home.
2. Ask your partner to explain his/her feelings about the issue. Listen to each other and respect your partner’s point of view even if you don’t agree with it.
3. Work together to come to a compromise.
4. Encourage each other by appreciating when your partner does something the way you like it.

We would love to hear how you and your partner work out the neat-messy differences in your relationship on our Facebook page.

BONUS Article: For Men Only – More Housework… More Intimacy!

Copyright © 2013 – Lori & Bob Hollander. Lori Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD, and Bob Hollander, JD, LCSW-C, are licensed counselors and co-founders of Relationships Work, an innovative therapy practice and online resource center. Together, they encourage couples to consciously co-create their relationships in order to achieve a deeper, more intimate connection. You can visit Relationships Work online at: Follow them on Facebook.


CLoveLOGOLarry James is a professional speaker, author, relationship coach and an award winning nondenominational Wedding Officiant. He performs the most “Romantic” wedding ceremony you will find anywhere. Something NEW about relationships is posted every 4th day on this Relationships BLOG.

Subscribe to Larry’s FREE monthly “LoveNotes for Lovers” eZINE. Contact:, P.O. Box 12695, Scottsdale, AZ 85267-2695. – and

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