Mixed marriages
April 19, 2012 4:47 PM   Subscribe

What are your strategies for maintaining sanity in relationships where one person is much more organized/a planner than the other -- from the perspective of the more disorganized partner?

99 % of the time my boyfriend and I get along amazingly well -- he's kind, thoughtful, very intelligent, we agree on life goals and values and we've been talking about marriage. We rarely argue and when we do the conflicts are usually resolved quickly.

The one area where we do have small conflicts from time to time is when it comes to organization and planning. My boyfriend is one of those, if it needs to be done, let's do it now kind of people. This is actually great, as he influences me to get more things done as well, which has been good for my productivity. He also plans things well in advance -- for example, he remembers to buy cards and presents not just for my birthday but for a large number of relatives and friends. If I could think of one word to describe him it would be -- conscientious. I am not precisely the opposite, but definitely a lot less so. My messiness never reaches apocalyptic proportions these days -- but I'll have a lot of clothes hanging on a chair, or stacks of books everywhere. He often picks up the slack for me in small ways: in the mornings when I'm rushing around trying to find all the things I need to take to work and do my makeup, he will pack my laptop and lunch and wash the breakfast dishes. I love to cook, so I usually cook 90 % of meals and he does 90 % of the dishes in general. He'll also do laundry, hang up clothes, take out the trash etc. He says that he doesn't mind doing these things at all and is always very careful to thank me when I do chores for him. I'll note that we currently don't live together, but will be moving in together in August, so all these issues will matter even more.

Our conflicts are small but I think indicative of some real problem areas in our relationship. Examples:
1) He cleaned up and organized my room for me -- down to hanging up all my jewelry and devising different drawers for different categories of stuff. This held for some time but it soon got fairly messy again. One evening I noticed that he seemed rather upset about something and when I asked him what was up he said that he was frustrated that my room was messy again after he'd spent so much time cleaning it for me. We talked it over and ultimately we came to the conclusion that I needed to be better about picking up mess as it happened, but that he also needed to realize that I just didn't "see mess" as quickly as he did and to *gently* prod me when things were starting to get bad again. I think we've both improved in this area.
2) I don't tend to plan as much as he does so sometimes I rebel against a lack of spontaneity. For example, on Friday he tends to ask me what I'd like to do on the weekend -- we'll discuss any work obligations we have, any dinners planned, movies or shows we want to see etc. Most of the time I'm glad about this, as we do more on the weekends than just veg around, but sometimes I want to veg around, or just randomly decide to go somewhere without having had a whole planning conversation about it beforehand. He is less open than me about trying new experiences, so I sometimes have to coax him into doing something new.
3) In the mornings I tend to start up much slower than he does. Today was an especially egregious case of that. Last night we watched a movie until a bit past midnight. We had been planning to have sex but I was feeling too sleepy and suggested that we have morning sex instead. In my grogginess I forgot to set the alarm on my phone, which I usually do and we woke up half an hour later than planned. In any case, he was feeling sick and like he was coming down with something so we didn't end up having sex after all. Anyway so he immediately jumps out of bed, puts the kettle on to boil for tea and starts dressing. I was still in bed and started reading the NYTimes on my laptop. He came to haul me out of bed saying come on, come on, it's time to get up. I was grumpy, and said give me five minutes. Anyway I eventually got up at which point he pulled me close in a big hug and said sweetheart, are you never going to be able to do things immediately? This upset me and we both ended up in tears -- I overreacted I think because I'd been feeling particularly stressed about work and him being critical on top of that was too much. I started to worry about us ever being able to make this work and what would happen when we had kids and challenging jobs (we're both in the same excellent grad school). He kept kissing my tears away and saying he loved me and that we could make it work.

But honestly, I think he's getting frustrated at having to constantly tell me things and from his POV I can see why. At the same time, this is part of me -- I'm a little harum-scarum, absent-minded and 21 years of living with my super-organized mother hasn't drilled it out of me.

TL;DR: What are some strategies my super-organized boyfriend and I can use to ensure we don't get frustrated with each other over different standards of messiness, organization and productivity. Oh and I'm a woman, FYI.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm, well for starters, give him hassles back. "Oh sweetie, aren't you ever going to be able to let things unfold in their own spontaneous way?" Or better, "Oh sweetie, aren't you ever going to accept me as I am?"

But on a more adult note, I think you should have a conversation with him about how you two have different time sensibilities, that you can't promise yours will change entirely, and that it makes you happy to take it easy and be spontaneous sometimes.

Being defensive won't help. This is who you are. It probably comes with a lot of advantages (e.g., flexibility to last minute changes, maybe being good at brainstorming).
posted by salvia at 4:57 PM on April 19, 2012

He needs to understand that you aren't like that because you want to be.

You need to understand that he isn't like that because he chooses to be either. Many organized people are like that because disorganization revolts them, aesthetically or morally.

The two of you need to work on coming together to a happy medium, but that will likely be about 75 percent toward him and only 25 percent toward you. Get a smartphone with a calendar and to-do list. Make yourself look at it many times over the course of the day (yes, you can set an alarm just to check your phone -- I do it myself). Set aside a particular time each night to update it and coordinate with him.

One major thing that he can do, though, is to learn to recognize when your disorder actually affects him. In your #3, his best course of action would have been to say, "OP, you are about to be late for class. I am leaving now."
posted by Etrigan at 5:01 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Okay, so you and your boyfriend are me and my boyfriend, basically. When we had our own places, he would do his dishes every single day, sweep his floor a few times a week, never leave piles of clothes/books/papers around. Me? I was raised by a mother who worked constantly (his mom was stay-at-home, which I think is where a lot of this derives from) and didn't know anybody actually ever swept or vaccuumed unless company was coming over. I'm certainly not a slob, and my apartments have never been what I think of as "gross," I'm just messy and kind of disorganized and I really really like to pile things up. I don't see piles as messes, just piles!

So anyway we moved in together about two years ago. Here's what happened: he very slowly started becoming more like me (we sweep the floor like once a month now), and I would like to say that I'm neater and more organized but that would be a lie. I have my designated areas these days where I can make my piles -- the rocking chair in the bedroom is mine to pile with clothes (although I try really hard to hang things up/put them in the hamper at the end of the day), and there's a table in the living room where I can put my library books -- but now I do the dishes every single day, and don't leave messes on the kitchen table, and every once in a while spontaneously clean the bathroom. And whenever he gets in a Sunday morning cleaning frenzy mood, I jump right in and grab the dustpan.

What it boils down to is this: if it's gonna work out, you're both going to have to adapt somewhat to each other's quirks. Give him a few days' notice if you want a lazy no-plans weekend so he can plan for that. Every once in a while, shock him by doing his chores (trash, laundry, etc.). And make sure that once you're living together, you have your places that can be yours in all their disorganized glory. Your messy jewelry drawer is yours - don't let him take that away from you.
posted by jabes at 5:04 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's the thing. It sounds like you guys communicate very well, and are mature loving adults. No relationship is perfect. There will always be bumps. Always. Forever. It's not the glitches in the relationship that matter--it's the fact that you all can talk about it and be kind to each other in the process without being passive aggressive. If this is the only thing that bugs you about each other, it will probably end up being the kind of thing that you all laugh at each other and yourselves about over the years and you will continue to be forgiving of each other in this area. And that's great. You and your partner are compromising on this issue continuously. Since neither of you are likely to change, you will continue to compromise for the duration. Which is exactly what you should be doing. I really see nothing wrong here except for the occasional misunderstanding and hurt feelings, which you all seem to resolve exceptionally well, which every relationship has. It's how you deal with it that matters. Bravo. You guys are doing everything right.
posted by greta simone at 5:06 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

TL;DR: What are some strategies my super-organized boyfriend and I can use to ensure we don't get frustrated with each other over different standards of messiness, organization and productivity. Oh and I'm a woman, FYI.

He's my wife. You're me.

She used to get bent out of shape by my flakiness - and really, I am a flake. I'm not a moron, and I'm not lazy*. I'm not a bad person. I'm a pretty smart and creative person.

But, it is a simple truth : I am also very scatterbrained and impulsive and forgetful, and while that is sometimes an asset, it's sometimes a hindrance.

Do not get down on yourself about it. You're good at different things than your boy is all. Stop thinking of this as something wrong with you in general.

I'm certain there are particular moments that could have gone better - accept that you will make mistakes and resolve to not repeat those mistakes when possible. Beyond that, learn to love who you are. You're a fine human being.

She had to accept that the dishes will get done before we'll need them, even if it is a few seconds before and if I forgot to grab milk on the way home, we won't starve. I try to be more attentive to not leaving things where I used them last and doing chores before I really feel like I have to do them.

And it works out. Most times. Usually.

* actually, I am pretty lazy.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:03 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

He came to haul me out of bed saying come on, come on, it's time to get up. I was grumpy, and said give me five minutes.

I totally relate to being the more disorganized partner. However, this sounds to me like you are not dealing like a grownup with some of your leftover childish issues and inclinations. It doesn't matter whose idea it was -- was it time to get up and go or wasn't it? If it really was, then your grumpiness seems childish and misplaced, clearly leftover angst about being ordered around. If you don't want to be prodded to do things by other people, then you need to adjust your settings a bit so that YOU'RE the one prodding yourself. If there was no real reason to get up right then, other than your S.O. wanted to spend that time with you, then you still should probably consider it a bad moment to dig in your heels.

Being the lazier, less organized person is a way of being controlling, because you passively cause everyone else to conform to your timetable -- which itself happens to change totally at your whim.

I know that's hard to hear. I'm the laziest sumbitch ever. This is partly why I left office jobs and have been working as a freelancer for years now -- it is the truest test of my ability to look after myself and trust myself to act in my own best interests. And it turns out that while I hate being told what to do, I really enjoy deciding what to do, and I wind up getting WAY more done than I ever would if someone was actually asking me to do this stuff.

It sounds like you guys are dealing with the friction mostly okay. There are all sorts of issues of control and agency mixed in here -- giving someone permission to ask you to do things, even if you don't want to do them, is pretty challenging. It gets better with time, especially if you guys keep talking it out.
posted by hermitosis at 6:11 PM on April 19, 2012 [12 favorites]

Being the lazier, less organized person is a way of being controlling, because you passively cause everyone else to conform to your timetable -- which itself happens to change totally at your whim.

As an organized, oft-described as "anal retentive person," I definitely feel manipulated by people who are less organized and flaky. I think conscientiousness is something that you should strive for, even if you're not a super clean, get up early kind of gal.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:29 PM on April 19, 2012 [9 favorites]

It sounds like you're doing pretty well, and communicating better than the vast majority of couples. There is some good stuff upthread, too.

Responding to each corresponding part:

1) set a few off-limits places that he doesn't touch. Woman version of a man-cave. They will work best if he can close the door/cupboard/cover on your mess, but you should designate an area that you can mess up as much as you want free of meddling. The compromise is him accepting one cluttered place in the house, and you keeping everywhere else a little less cluttered.

2 &3) Both of you can become comfortable being a little more independent within your relationship. Not everything needs to happen together. Both of you can find how to be okay Doing Things alone or with someone else, and also be okay with opting out of your partner's activities. "I'm going without you" and "go ahead, I'll chill out here" can be initially difficult to practice and accept, but when it is done with love and honesty, without judgement or resentment, it can be liberating.

For times when the conflicting styles are more acute, set up a yellow flag of "have mercy, I need my way right now". Give it a superpower code word, something extraordinary to invoke, so your SO (or you, when he invokes it) can back off and not pressure you unless it is super critical, in which case you both can look for creative solutions.
posted by itesser at 6:50 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't think that being less-organized or less willing to jump out of bed in the morning is necessarily controlling. I do think that cleaning someone's room and expecting them to keep it that way, and nagging someone out of bed, is, at least for me.

What I'm reading is that you want help with how the two of you should deal your "problems" and to a certain degree, I think you already are (regarding example 1) whereas he should perhaps try to be more flexible (example 2) and frankly example 3 as well, unless you were somehow making him late for something. The fact that there's already dialogue is great. But I'd like to hear more from you (or for you to express to him) about how his habits affect you/make you feel, because that's where the advice can be most helpful - in how you both can compromise.

Because I think there needs to be more compromise on both sides, here. I think it's just as good to be conscious and considerate of how your messiness can put someone in a foul mood as it would be for him to be more conscious and considerate of how planning every minute of the day can be stifling for some people. You may need to sit down and pick your battles about what is more important to who.

Possibly more helpful, just in terms of strategy: My boyfriend and I are more equal in terms of organization, planning, and time management than you guys are (he's definitely more organized, but I'm the planner and more conscious of time; we're both pretty flexible) but one thing that we unofficially started doing early on was that on the weekend we usually have one day where we make no plans, and play it by ear, and one day where we have some plans. We kind of take turns making the suggestions for this.
posted by sm1tten at 6:57 PM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I hope greta simone is right, and that you have such a solid handle on this issue, communication-wise, that it will never turn into a problem. But the fact that you have asked this question makes me think it is beginning to gnaw at you.

My own experience with the planner-organized person/messy-disorganized person dynamic comes mainly from living with my parents, with the roles inverted - my mum is the planner, my dad the disorganized one. Ever since I was a kid, this has made for really tumultuous living, with us, the kids, caught up in the middle, and the atmosphere in the house was frequently poisoned. I've since seen quite a few other couples (including of co-habiting friends) for whom this issue created a lot of bad blood, and sometimes provided a hook off which to hang other, unrelated, relationship issues, even leading to break-ups. Because even though the whole degrees-of-orderliness issue seems trivial when you compare it with all that's good in the relationship, or the love there is between two people etc., nonetheless it does appear to be a gateway through which the four horsemen of relationship apocalypse ride in.

This is my analysis of where things went wrong for them (and continue to do so, after several exhausting decades): it is not actually the messiness versus orderliness which is the main problem, it is the way they dealt with it (or not) that wreaks havoc. It was quickly established between the two of them that the problem was my dad - not the relationship dynamic created by this unequal approach. My father completely accepted this criticism (which was initially expressed jokingly, lovingly, etc. before it turned to vitriol), and made efforts to become a better man and partner (in my mum's eyes). Sadly, even though these efforts cost him a lot of energy and adjustment, for my mum they were sorely wanting or downright unnoticeable. And so it continued after this pattern, where nothing short of becoming a completely planned out, super-tidy carbon copy of herself would be sufficient for my mum, my dad sort of humbly accepting himself as wholly inadequate in this respect and allowing himself to be ironized and laughed at (when the mood in the house was at its best) or berated, screamed at, nagged etc. at all other times. This gradually seeped, over many years, into many other interactions, not directly related to this issue. He explodes periodically (nobody would be able to take so much criticism and contempt and humiliation), and then the whole charade starts all over again.

I think there are a few things which would have contributed to a much better atmosphere between the two of them. These things happened in all other relationships which I witnessed going well despite this disparity in attitudes.

1. Each of the partners needs to accept himself as what he is, and respect him/herself as such. If you are messy, happy-go-lucky and disorganized, you got to be able to stand by that and not devalue yourself on that basis (but see point two).

2. Each of the partners needs to figure out how much they can/want to go out of their current orderliness status quo and make steps towards the other end of the spectrum. As a messy person, with or without partner, I would ask myself "how much does my disorderliness/whatever interfere with my life?" "how much does my messiness bother me?" "what kind of environment would I prefer to live in?" "what can I do to achieve my ideal standard of organisation/ cleanliness etc. independent of partner?". Having established this, and taken steps towards achieving the necessary changes in habits, I'd then ask myself "to what extent do this changes bring me in line with partner?" If they still don't, it is time for a discussion, in which the two of you reach workable compromises which do not aggravate or humiliate the other person.

3. Acknowledge the differences between you as (actually mostly minor) challenges to the relationship rather than moral failings on the part of either of you - I've also seen the more organized partner devalued as rigid, robotic, lacking in spontaneity (this delivered as a negative judgement etc). I think this is very, very important, and quite difficult, especially for the more organized partner. The problem here is that, as kids, we are frequently trained into being more organized and orderly by either being lauded as "good" when we conform to standards or by being devalued as "bad" when we don't - and this message is all around us, in our homes, school, then in the workplace etc. (Sometimes you get a weird kind of positive valuation as the chaotic artist/scientist type, but that's tough to uphold unless you're a da Vinci or Darwin. Most of us don't have genius as an excuse for not confirming to the standards). So the organized partner largely has no positive role-models for saying "You know what, you're quite different from me, but that's great - let's just see how we can make these differences work for rather than against us on a day-to-day basis". Instead, we're surrounded by the message that ending up as more messy, less organized, more happy-go-lucky than is generally seen desirable is a moral failing and makes you "bad". As I said, sometimes the anti-model kicks into action, and the planner is seen as departing from the norm and from desirability, - he/she is too rigid, inflexible, whatnot, and that, too, is delivered as a moral judgement etc. Whether you get the model or the anti-model in action depends on a number of things, such as each partner's experience, temperament etc. The worst is when both are in action, and each partner emits criticisms and judgement (and ends up harbouring contempt) coming from the two antithetical "moral" standpoints.

Anyway, the upshot here is - under no circumstances is either of the partners allowed to use degrees of organisation/tidiness to morally evaluate/judge the other. Or, god forbid, that either of you suffer from a disorder which needs curing, like someone suggested above (I'm not saying that there are no disorders which present with either too much orderliness or the opposite - just that there is no reason, in your case and most others, to assume psychological dysfunction just because there is a difference of approach between partners). One or the other approach can be more effective depending on circumstances, and can at different times present challenges to the relationship - but steer clear away, both of you, from judging yourselves or the other person. Since this requires difficult work - as I said, these are ingrained attitudes that we started cultivating or had cultivated for us in childhood, so what is needed is a change in deep-seated beliefs - I wonder if it would not be a good idea to go to some couples' counseling for this. Just to have someone else help you with the transition to a different way of looking at these things.

4. Before you move in with each other, come up with an action plan. For instance, whilst keeping common areas tidy and pleasant for all users is everybody's business - and therefore, everybody should make an effort towards this goal - what people do in their "area" should be their own business. Currently, your own room has a double functionality - it is both your space and a common area - but, to be honest, I still think it is not your boyfriend's business to get overly involved with how it looks.

So, with a view to moving in together, and starting with the realistic assumption that you will not overnight turn into the female version of him (and remember - you shouldn't! You are not broken! You should each take steps towards each other) I'd discuss:

- an order of priorities with regard to the various spaces and the standards to which each has to be held. For example, keep common spaces tidy. Or, you can go more fine-grained, for example, table-tops and kitchen work-spaces have to be spick and span, food needs to go into the fridge as soon as it is no longer needed, but floors can wait etc.

- establish some messy spaces for yourself. Being "messy" and "disorganized" is more often than not due not to laziness, but to a heightened tolerance of ambiguities, slight chaos in your environment, whatnot, which actually frequently reflects a need for going with the flow, for an environment which feels more organic (to such people too much planning and orderliness feels suffocating). If you are one of these people, you will need a bit of randomness, as it were (and disorderlines is a form of randomness) to function properly. Depending on how big the new place you will be, you might be able to have a separate room. If not, have a "my side" of the wardrobe, or your drawers, or a corner of the common space sheltered from view by a screen, etc. Your boyfriend needs to accept that what happens there is entirely your business - just as you have to make the effort for him in the common spaces.

- beyond what you two figure out together as your priorities (and, as I said, you too have to have input here - you gotta be absolutely behind the common plan, rather than just WANT to be cause otherwise you'd be the bad one), anything your boyfriend does as the more organized, tidy one is done of his free will and with full understanding that it does not commit YOU to anything. If he wants to tidy your drawers - fair enough (but still, you have to actually agree to this - there is no reason why you should automatically comply to him bringing his standards into your zone - maybe you want it messy). But that does not oblige you to then keep to the same standards in all perpetuity, for fear of saddening him. His heart seems to be in the right space, and his intentions are doubtlessly good, but still, this amounts to emotional blackmail on top of criticism. Destructive.

- with regard to planning versus going with the flow - he needs to learn how to distinguish between plans which are important to him and plans which he thinks are important because he likes planning. The former he can then announce as such, and you can then react to them as such (by either discussing them, or keeping more rigidly to a schedule than you normally would). For you, this kind of plan is more like a plane flight - if you want to catch it, you better proceed according to plan. For the other plans, which reflect more his needs to have things organized - come up with alternative approaches. For instance, every now and again the plan can be to do something spontaneously. You can play games to figure out what the spontaneous thing should be: upon waking up on a week-end morning, play word-association games and see where they lead you. Or go with your own spontaneous inspiration, etc. Alternatively, you can come up with several plans, and leave the choosing part to spontaneity. etc.

Anyway, this is awfully long, and I see a lot more people responded since I started, so you will have a lot of good ideas by now. Good luck.
posted by miorita at 7:50 PM on April 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

he pulled me close in a big hug and said sweetheart, are you never going to be able to do things immediately? This upset me and we both ended up in tears

this would have made me furious, personally.

I don't know if it will work, but it might be worth it to try to say something like: "Sometimes, I need five minutes to collect myself, finish up something that I'm reading or doing, or just to be able to put myself into the mental frame that I need to switch gears to what needs to be done next. I know you don't need this sort of time. But I do. If you find me taking longer than five minutes, by all means bug me about it! But I need you to respect my five minutes."

Him making you feel inadequate because you might never live up to his norm for his behavior? This would be a major issue for me.
posted by jann at 9:07 PM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh and for planning, one of the things that worked for me in the past (in the context of a shared trip) was to compare lists of what each of us wanted to do and include on my list "time to explore/get lost" as a fairly high priority.

Other things that worked for planning weekends was to have a day every few weeks that was my surprise—I would plan the day to my level of comfort in planning and have him trust me that it would work out. Of course, knowing that it would have to live up meant that I'd probably do a bit more research than otherwise, but since I actually enjoy research, this also let me feel more comfortable about being a bit more organized with my plan.
posted by jann at 9:14 PM on April 19, 2012

It would make me crazy if someone had cleaned my room without my asking them to and then got annoyed that I didn't keep it clean. I don't think he's being entirely fair to expect that of you, and it seems pretty controlling to me. As people have mentioned above, set some frameworks around the way you live your life, like I need five minutes in bed to myself or lets set aside some time for aside on Saturday to make it up as we go or whatever. It shouldn't be you trying to live his way all the time- you shouldn't have to do things immediately all the darn time and at his pace.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:27 PM on April 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

We talked it over and ultimately we came to the conclusion that I needed to be better about picking up mess as it happened, but that he also needed to realize that I just didn't "see mess" as quickly as he did and to *gently* prod me when things were starting to get bad again.

Oh man. My husband is you, and I am your boyfriend. I'm very much of a pick-it-up-and-put-it-away-when-I-walk-by kind of person. If I'm going upstairs, I look for what is downstairs that might need to go up. If I'm going to the kitchen for a water refill at the end of dinner, I bring my plate along and put it in the dishwasher. I wash dishes as I cook. My husband is not like this. He does not see clutter. He does not clean as he goes. Out of place stuff just doesn't ping on his radar.

I love the advice above about both partners being able to see themselves as equal and OK. It's easy to get into thinking the other person is a slob, or a control freak, or to start thinking those things about yourself. But as long as you're not promoting rodent infestations or scrubbing your hands raw, both ways of being are valid and acceptable.

That said, one thing that has really helped my husband and me is to have a VERY SIMPLE chore schedule. It consists of: no dirty dishes stay in the sink overnight unless we're both really, really tired and agree to leave them; sheets and towels get changed on Sundays; garbage and recycling goes out on Wednesday nights. My husband takes care of these things a lot of the time, because I do so much other needed-in-the-moment chores around the house. I'd be ok with just emptying the bathroom garbage can when it gets full, but if the garbage emptying is left up to the person who notices that it needs to be done, I would always be the one emptying the garbage. So tidying up is left to me, because I notice when it needs to be done, and my husband doesn't have to try to notice the dirty sheets or the full garbage, because he just knows that when it's X day he deals with those things.

He says he feels a lot less stressed out now, because he's not trying to force his brain to work in a way that it doesn't naturally go, and he's not worried about disappointing me. And I'm a lot happier because he is helping with the chores.
posted by vytae at 10:48 PM on April 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

You do not need to live his way 100% of the time. It's great - GREAT - that he is willing to do the extra bit of work rather than just nag you all the time. That's pretty uncommon and very generous of him as you recognize.

But - why can't you spend five minutes in bed? Why does he care what your chest of drawers looks like? (OK, it's really painful to fold someone's laundry for them and then it ends up in a pile. You know the solution? don't fold their laundry for them.) Seriously, if you don't care whether your things are sorted by color or whether your shoes are all in a pile in the closet, why should he? Your clothes are for your use.

That's not the same as saying that he shouldn't care about your side of the bed or whatever - if it's visible to him then it can be really unsightly and unpleasant and grating on the sensibilities of someone who prefers more organization. But there isn't anything morally wrong with relaxing sometimes.

Same goes for vegging on the weekends. Just tell him that you're claiming that time to watch TV or read a book or laze around. Some people do have a sense that they need to be doing something 'useful' all the time, I'm certainly one of them, but it's been really really really good for me to have my boyfriend's influence to tell me to freakin' relax once in a while. He always takes a few minutes to change tasks but man, if I ever said "can't you just do something right away?!?" he'd give me an entirely deserved what-for. "Hey, I'm having a pleasant morning here, and you just waltz in and interrupt my reading with an insult? I will gladly come join you if you could just ask nicely and give me my five minutes!" If there's something important that requires your immediate attention he should say as much, and give you some space otherwise.
posted by Lady Li at 11:38 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your first bit is my happy marriage! I LOVE this question!!

My lack of organization and messiness (except in the kitchen) is the joke between my husband and I. You described my life here:

" -- but I'll have a lot of clothes hanging on a chair, or stacks of books everywhere. He often picks up the slack for me in small ways: in the mornings when I'm rushing around trying to find all the things I need to take to work and do my makeup, he will pack my laptop and lunch and wash the breakfast dishes. I love to cook, so I usually cook 90 % of meals and he does 90 % of the dishes in general. He'll also do laundry, hang up clothes, take out the trash etc. He says that he doesn't mind doing these things at all and is always very careful to thank me when I do chores for him. I'll note that we currently don't live together, but will be moving in together in August, so all these issues will matter even more. "

Actually, as long as you bring strengths to the table where he has deficiencies, it might be the BEST relationship ever.

I bet there is something important you can do for him, that you do brilliantly, that he is totally inept with.

Find that thing and DO IT MORE OFTEN.

Do everything you can for him, including improving yourself.


When someone loves you, and you love them, there is no "keeping score." Your partner is moving in with you, he loves you, he's not keeping score!

But you are correct, the relationship WILL die if you don't work on your end to contribute significantly, albeit differently, to your shared corner of the universe.

Becoming a better person and curbing your bad habits, or ditching them entirely, is a solid place to start. Anything that makes you feel, "Oh, I should not have said/done that," is exactly what I mean. So no Grand Gestures are required - simple improvement in overall pleasantness and communication dynamic will MORE than make up for his material efforts.

A more lovable you? What a gift to be with someone who becomes more mature and genuinely lovely the longer you know them!


Your guy likes to clean rooms and organize your joint lifestyle - and you don't. Great! Try to be less of a slob along the way, and put tons of effort into giving back in any way that you enjoy, which he needs.

The rest comes out in the wash. Really.

Be GOOD to him. The rest is bean-plating.
posted by jbenben at 2:05 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'll just address the first issue (as a messy person in a LTR with a very neat person).

Do not let him organize your things for you. I'm guessing since you said "your room" that you don't live together. It's nice that he wants to take care of you, but his organizational strategies will never work for you, and that is something you both need to learn. If you want to be less messy or more organized, you need to find an organizational system that makes sense to you, not to him. This book has some helpful advice on how to organize stuff (such as don't stack things, you'll be less likely to put things away, get storage containers that are clear, every room needs to have a garbage pail) and some of it is less helpful (throw out all your socks and buy all new pairs of the same brand and style so you never have to match them).
posted by inertia at 7:54 AM on April 20, 2012

Our societal roles and compatibility measures have changed and more often than not, we are seeking to--or think that--finding a partner who is like us is the best possible match. I see the difference as a greater sign of compatibility to a healthy degree. In your situation it is important to communicate your feelings as you have done, but also realize that the sum of both of you will make you better people. Relax and allow him to do those things that are not so natural to you and vice versa. Changing the paradigm and not seeing it as control or wanting to change you may give you some perspective.

With past boyfriends, I was more like you and seeing it as a way to control me made things not work in the long run. Feeling suffocated and trapped like they were trying to change me. I resisted and fought it to a degree that my relationship did not work.

My current boyfriend is more like you and I am more like your boyfriend, but after some time I feel like we are more balanced in many areas. It took communicating about my needs and preferences as well as his; it was not about control for me, but creating a more harmonious environment for both is to be together in. When I stay over I sometimes do laundry, dishes, organize stuff, cook just because I happen to be there and want to relieve him/us of having to do those things so we can spend more time together. He has a demanding job and I have a flexible schedule so it just works out that way. I also know It's okay not to do those things if I don't feel like it because it is not about control. To my surprise, he had kept up some of organization and has never expressed feeling like I was getting into his things. I think it worked out nicely for us.

On another note, with a roommate I had, it was the same dynamic. We both had things that were priorities for us so we discussed them when we moved in together. I did those things that were important to me and she did what was important to her. It was a nice complimentary relationship and one that has lasted far beyond our time living together.
posted by i_wear_boots at 8:36 AM on April 20, 2012

One other note: In terms of the not planning ahead I did have to revise my thinking a bit as well. My feeling was that my boyfriend not planning and doing things last minute was something I interpreted as not being thoughtful, caring enough or even wanting to spend time with me. It also caused frustration because not planning ahead makes for missed opportunities. It is something I still struggle with, so be sure to address that with him. He may feel that way about your lack of planning, so assure him it is not that, if it truly is not that. My boyfriend addressed that with me and has shown me he is capable of planning ahead, but I know it does not come natural to him.
posted by i_wear_boots at 8:50 AM on April 20, 2012

Mod note: From the OP:
"Thanks so much for all your suggestions and comments. It's really helpful to look at this from different perspectives!

I just wanted to clarify a couple things that came up repeatedly:
1) My boyfriend didn't organize my room or drawers without my permission. In fact, I'd been talking about how messy it had gotten and how the lack of organization was hampering my getting the mess under control. At this point he volunteered to help organize it since he's good at that sort of thing. We came up with the organizational scheme together with plenty of input from me. He also helped me sort through some clothes that were too big for me now and which I wanted to donate and then we took them to the Salvation Army. So I totally think that was a kind thing to do and not really passive-aggressive or anything like that, though I could see how it would come off that way from what I wrote initially.

2) A couple of people suggested that the best thing for him to have done in the third situation would have been to just leave and say come when you're ready. Actually, that is something that he has suggested in the past -- he sometimes feels that he's being too controlling in the mornings especially when it's because of his 9 am meeting that we're leaving early or something like that. I have occasionally taken him up on this, but in general I do like to get to work early even if I don't have a meeting so I like the extra impetus to get up early. I understand that I can't really have it both ways though :)

hermitosis and ablazingsaddle -- I hadn't really thought of my procrastinating behaviors as controlling but I can definitely see how it could end up that way. Food for thought.

miorita, thanks so much for your wonderful long answer. I'm familiar with Gottman's work and hope it won't apply in our case. I'll definitely keep an eye out for early signs of the four horsemen.

jbenben -- I really loved your answer. I was trying to think of things that I do that I could do more of to show how much I appreciate the little things he does for me all the time. One big thing is cooking -- I love to do this and he loves the food I cook and is always super appreciative of things I make. He often comments that I have this uncanny ability to take five random ingredients from the fridge and turn it into something very tasty half an hour later -- this is something that of course also appeals to the creative, last-minute part of my brain. Of course I'll also work to curb the bad habits I sometimes fall into so that he doesn't end up feeling frustrated in the future.

Inspired by your answers I had a little discussion about chores and my habits and his yesterday evening. He felt that there was nothing major to worry about. He said that he was just a little concerned that there be fair division of chores in the future when we were living together but that he didn't intend to be any sort of scorekeeper -- just in the most general terms. We agreed to put up a chore chart on the fridge so that we each had a clear idea of what had to be done when. I'm feeling quite optimistic that we can make this work.

Anyway, thank you so much for your responses and please feel free to add anything else you might think of, since I'll continue to monitor this thread."
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:58 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Two thoughts:

First, I get the feeling from your wording that you think his way is more "right" or what you ought to do. Neither way is "better"; don't second guess yourself because you are doing things your way. You have managed yourself for all the years before his tutelage. I do not see your actions as being controlling at all; you have more than met him half-way on coming to agreements. He seems a bit rigid, don't let his expectations for you excessively change your expectations of yourself.

Second, you are not responsible for each other. Of course your decisions affect each other, but you are still independent people. Do you HAVE to leave for work together? If you don't then why does your being late for work stress him out? That's on him to deal with. If your lack of planning makes you miss the boat on something, it's on you to apologize and do what you can to contribute in the future. It's on him to not attribute that to some morally reprehensible character flaw of yours and get himself in gear (even if he has to go alone) to plan/attend the really important things.

I think my bias is showing :) but really I am a personal mix of both of you. I would be soooooooo beyond peeved if my bf had done what yours did in #3. That's just so unnecessarily patronizing. You did not over-react. Don't second guess yourself because he has some moral high ground because he's organized! Hint: He doesn't!

I also wonder what your repeated mentioning of "planning to have sex" has to do with #3... Just curious, maybe reading too much between the lines. ....
posted by Katine at 11:44 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

If he's able to relax about things a bit, slow things down a tad...and you're able to be a bit more conscientious about things, speed things up a bit...then you'll both be showing each other that you care enough to push yourself a bit out of your comfort zone for the sake of the other person. That's a very good thing.

Having said that: more than one person should be bending, and the amount of bending should be fairly equal and enough to make you both happy. If it isn't...then you'll either have to accept each other for who you are and develop coping mechanisms for putting up with each other's irritant, or you'll have to move on.

But really, try this: clean something up you normally wouldn't, and drag yourself out of bed quickly, and feel how uncomfortable it makes you. Realize he will feel equally uncomfortable lazing around in bed and leaving something messy...and so suggest he do it, too. Discuss your mutual uncomfortableness living in each other's shoes. See where that leads you.
posted by davejay at 9:05 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older The $12 Cup of Coffee   |   Help the stats-challenged understand an odds ratio Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.