How to get home repair/maintenance done when husband can't make decisio?
February 18, 2017 2:12 PM   Subscribe

Any strategies to work with a husband (aspbergers) that can't deal with taking care of the house?

My husband is on the spectrum and is in therapy just as an FYI.

So we bought a house about six years ago and then... nothing. No maintenance, repairs, yard work has ever been done (minus a couple times our parents cleared out the yard). Gutters have never been cleaned, the yard has overgrown, etc.

There is a lot that needs attention inside and out. It's at the point professional help is needed to clear out everything (think hoarders type thing).

What little furniture we have is broken and we just make do. The garage is filled with boxes of things never unpacked from when we moved in. Stuff comes in, nothing goes out. Looking at how we live you would think we are struggling financially since everything is broken (stained ripped couch, mattress with no frame right on the floor, two broken dressers with drawers directly on the floor and piles of clothes filling it that haven't been worn in years).

I'm happy to get rid of anything and pay someone to get the yard in shape, do the required maintenance.

The hurdle: my husband cannot deal with the thought of any of that. He is paralyzed by making any decision and when I try to hire someone or make plans to get this stuff done, he won't agree and will instead say he needs to "look into it." That means absolutely nothing happens.

I understand this comes from his struggles with the idea of change and making the wrong choices but it's become intolerable to live in our house which isn't usable. Certainly I can't have company over and I'm embarrassed by the outside of our home.

He's been going to therapy for a few years. I don't know what else I can do. I made a list of everything that needs attention in the house and said if we could tackle one minor project (clear out old clothes etc) in a month and one major project (new roof, get the yard done etc) by the end of summer it would make me feel very good.

There's been no progress toward any of it but always excuses (work, being sick, too busy). I'm fully willing to take on these tasks myself but that's not acceptable to him.

Help me brainstorm ideas for how to tackle this. I need to get my house in shape soon!
posted by rainygrl716 to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Could you set a time limit for "looking into it"? Like, "I want to get the gutters cleaned. I've picked this guy (here's the info). If you want to look into some other way of getting it done, that's great; tell me what you find by next Wednesday morning. If you don't find anything better, I'm going to call this guy on Wednesday to schedule the work."
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:18 PM on February 18, 2017 [28 favorites]

What happens if you just start a project? Say you just started organizing and cleaning out your own clothes without touching his?
posted by Karaage at 2:19 PM on February 18, 2017 [7 favorites]

Sell the house. Move to a rental (house if you can cope with lawn care, apartment if you can't). Maintenance is now somebody else's problem.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:21 PM on February 18, 2017 [12 favorites]

This has happened with my husband and I, except I'm the aspie (and I have huge triggers about living around broken things in the house) and he's the indecisive one. What ended up working for us is that I would just hire people to come fix, deliver, or take away things while he was at work, and I didn't tell him until it was already done.

It never involved any tasks where HE really needed to make a decision that I couldn't make for him; like I wouldn't have done this with a pile of his personal items that he might want to look through, but I would hire a person to come repair the fireplace and carpet, I picked out a sofa and paint colors that I liked, I took things to the dump, etc.

Would something like that work? Does he leave the house for work so you can have things done while he's not there to stop it? If he has difficulties handling something being thrown away because you haven't used it in years and it sits around collecting dust, that is probably something he can ask his therapist to help him through.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:24 PM on February 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

I like the time limit thing. I do this occasionally with my boss or staffs at work which are prone to being indecisive. LobsterMitten's script is great. This is a slight adaptation using what I do at work.

Hey Mr. Rainygrl716, it is time to get the gutters cleaned. I've identified guy1, guy2 and guy3 as experienced tradespeople who are available to complete the work. I'd like to select guy1. If I don't hear back from you by next Wednesday, I'll call guy1 to schedule him to come over. If you have an alternate individual you'd like to select, let me know by next Wednesday. Thanks!

Incidentally, as someone who has people on the spectrum in the family - indecisiveness is not a trait I normally associate with being on the spectrum. Could you talk to your husband about this trait and see if he has any proposals for a more collaborative coping strategy? Also, how did he feel when the parents came and cleaned out the yard? Did they ask first? Did he feel relieved, frustrated or something else?
posted by arnicae at 2:24 PM on February 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Move out for the time being and take your own stuff with you. Six years is a long time. This is a situation which is not showing any signs of change. Would you stay with your husband if things were exactly how they are now, for the next six years? For the next ten years? Is this healthy for you?

You don't deserve to live in a space that you describe as intolerable, where you cannot invite your family or friends. You don't deserve the emotional and financial stress that his inability to make a decision is causing.

Even if you can resolve this in some meaningful way, it sounds like owning a home is a really bad setup for someone like your husband. Move to a rental where these kinds of things are taken care off by an active maintenance staff, and there's no decision making to be done beyond calling the property manager to make them aware of something.
posted by zdravo at 2:25 PM on February 18, 2017 [11 favorites]

In your shoes I would just do what needs to be done in order to make my life livable. So, take on the projects myself. No longer acqiuesce to my partner's inaction.

In doing so, I would hope for the best result: knowing that I have to take on this aspect of running the home because they cannot, my partner accepts and becomes grateful of this situation and that I never become resentful of it.

But I would also prepare myself for the worst result: it reveals a fundamental incompatibility that ends the relationship.
posted by danny the boy at 2:37 PM on February 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

I also sort of wonder - is it possible he has attention-deficit too? The scatteredness of having a million projects on the go, and never any forward progress because of inability to make a decision, sound familiar to me. That might give you some other angles of approach.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:40 PM on February 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

In other words I would say that not every decision in a healthy household needs to be a consensus agreement. Part of being in a relationship is knowing where your strengths complement the other person's weaknesses.
posted by danny the boy at 2:44 PM on February 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

What are his reasons for not trusting you to take care of things on your own?

Is he this indecisive in other areas in his life (including at work)?

How aware is he that this is a serious problem, and has he been working on it in his therapy at all?

How does he deal with other types of conflicts, and other types of looming or unpleasant things that need to be done?
posted by trig at 2:45 PM on February 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't have autism, but have other mental health issues, and I'm pretty sure I would behave exactly like your husband if I owned a house (which is why I've avoided owning one.) In my case, it's because I feel like I would need to think through and determine a completely optimal approach before tackling any given problem, but either feel too intimidated by the amount of research and thought I'd have to go through or always feel as though there are other, more important things to think about and plan.

So if your husband is like me and you haven't already tried the following, I think the best tactic on your part might be to propose goals framed as an intermediate or temporary solution to the problem, which don't foreclose coming up with a perfect solution at some point in the future: like, we'll pay someone to clean out the gutters just for now, and maybe next year we'll figure out if we need a better guttering and drainage system. We'll pay someone to mow the lawn now, maybe next year we can research and figure out all of lawn care and the best way to do everything and the best lawnmower to buy.

(I should say, though, that if it's as stressful for you as it sounds like it might be, I agree with others that you'd be in the right to put your foot down or issue ultimatums. The things you want are things that are expected parts of a relationship and living with someone, and mental health issues only go so far as an excuse; they definitely don't need to buy six years, or eight, or ten, of you not able to have friends or family over to visit for your own mental health.)
posted by Sockpuppet Liberation Front at 2:50 PM on February 18, 2017 [12 favorites]

Him having veto power when you're ready to get things done isn't very fair. His system isn't working. I'd go for the approach several people have suggested above. If he wants to make a counter-proposal before a tight deadline, fine. If his counterproposal is just a veto, that's not acceptable. You've given him 6 years to do it his way. Give yourself the same. It's not a benign problem; it's damaging your ability to enjoy your home and could also erode your relationship with hubby.
posted by quince at 3:21 PM on February 18, 2017 [23 favorites]

You don't need permission to stop living in squalor.
posted by jbenben at 3:31 PM on February 18, 2017 [43 favorites]

If he's anything like I am, and it sounds like he may well be given that I have struggled similarly, just go ahead and make things happen over his objection. He might be a bit upset about the principle of not being consulted, but will be relieved that things are in a better place and will get over the sudden change.

Once things are better, pay people to come maintain things on a regular basis and he'll be fine with it because that is the new status quo.
posted by wierdo at 4:33 PM on February 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

How would he react if you got him out of the house for a day or two and had some professionals work on the outside and one issue inside? Would that be a small first step that he could handle?
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 5:11 PM on February 18, 2017

You could get a storage space as a staging area, just in case there's one or two things he is really attached to. Move the old/broken crap from the house to the storage space, then, if he doesn't kick up a fuss, from there to the dump. This way you can take unilateral actions with the ability to "undo".

Set an expiration date for each item. Give him the schedule: on this date, this item is going to be thrown away. Now he has to actively recover something if he really wants it. This flips the default setting from "here until you do something" to "not here unless you do something".

It sucks that he's not helping, and this means you're doing even more extra work, but the reward is a nice living space for you. Since I am the messier one in my relationship, I am feeling a mix of empathy and shame - there's probably an untranslatable word for it in another language.
posted by metaseeker at 5:37 PM on February 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think this is a situation where you're well within your rights to just start calling housecleaners and yard maintenance people and making appointments, as well as making arrangements to get new furniture and get the old, broken stuff taken away. I also like LobsterMitten's idea of giving him a very short deadline and then going ahead with your plan if he doesn't come up with something else.

I know that you've probably gotten into this situation because you've been trying to be a good partner and not hurt his feelings, so you may be reluctant to just start doing stuff without getting his agreement. But consider the fact that your feelings matter too, and for the last six years, you have been trying to accommodate him and not hurt him but he has not been doing the same thing for you. Why does your hurt and discomfort and embarrassment matter less than his? (Short answer: it doesn't).
posted by colfax at 1:41 AM on February 19, 2017 [5 favorites]

I've lived with my Aspie OH for nearly 30 years.

It is hard to read answers from people who don't have a family member on the Autistic Spectrum because they nearly always comment on how unfair things are to the NT person, as if some of these behaviours are a choice Aspies make to mess with us.

I usually explain by saying, if my OH was paraplegic I would not expect him to walk up the stairs, but I would expect him to come with me to that movie we were keen to watch, because obviously we would choose an adapted cinema where couple like us are not excluded from having the same experiences that 2 able bodied people can have.

The indecisiveness is related to perfectionism and to a lesser extent to control. If he can't do this perfectly he'd rather not even try, and he appears to have been socialised enough to see this as what is expected of him, which will lead to quite an amount of insecurity since as he is not a tradesperson for each of these specialisms he knows they will not be done to his own internal exacting standards. He would probably prefer to oversee the activity which would be unbearable for all involved. This sets up a paralysing circuit of inactivity.

I have an unfinished brick build space to the side of the house that only requires a roof and a door to become a greenhouse. The roof elements too 4 years to complete, (utterly perfect, hours of research, they'll prob outlast the house) and 5 neighours to put in place, this was 3 years ago, still waiting on the rest. I feel your pain!

so the key for me reading this was why exactly you do not arrange for professionals to come in when he is not there without discussing it and do these things piecemeal?

In my experience, if you start with the things furthest away from his safe space, that spot he goes most often to to decompress from a world of NT expectations and interactions, he will prob not even realise things are getting done for quite some time.

Can you harness helpers from within the family or friendship group to act as distractions if he is not regularly away from home? Start with the small jobs, chip away with a cleaner, a tradesperson, regularly until you get to the large bits.

another issue is that many Aspies, simply do not see the annoying things we do in the same way we can. They can literally NOT see things that upset them, whereas we cannot UNSEE the things that upset us. This is why I believe he will not notice some of these until your plan of action is underway.

And at that stage the technique I have found most useful in getting action is appealing to his sense of justice. Most Aspies have a very strong sense of justice, of fair play, so I would appeal to this and the script would read a little like this:

Love, it is not fair to expect me to live with these issues, I have lovingly supported you in the fact that you have such difficulty making decisions that impact our shared space, I am going to take those decisions from now on because that is fair.

It is fair to me and fair to you.

Part of a loving relationship is identifying each person's strengths and weaknesses and developing strategies together so we can cover each other's backs.

Don't buy into a societal construct that because you are male, you have to do all this work, and if I am buying into that construct and expecting that of you when I can see 6 years of evidence that it is not working, I apologise for being unfair.

If you were in a wheelchair I would not expect you to somehow get upstairs to our bedroom without some kind of workaround, that would be more than unfair, that would be cruel.

While Asperger's is a condition, elements of the condition can be disabling in the same way someone can have a physical disability so the workaround I am going to insist on is getting the help I need because I really can't live in this environment.

It is unsafe for my Mental Health.

I realise you can actually pass these broken things and not notice them, but for me they are like a low grade torture in what should be our safe space.

I do not feel our home is welcoming to me, and so I need you to let me do this.
I know you want me to feel safe, happy and welcome in our shared space.
When that happens it is truly our home.
posted by Wilder at 2:53 AM on February 19, 2017 [18 favorites]

sorry, I also wanted to say, the way your Ask is framed, you seem to think therapy for him will assist him in behaving like an NT person, and this will help with this problem. That isn't the way Therapy for someone with ASD works, so please don't hold out for profound behaviour change. Therapy is mainly helping him live in a world that really doesn't get him, so again, go with your own health and wellbeing and make those changes. You can only change YOUR behaviour.
posted by Wilder at 3:12 AM on February 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to the challenges of living with someone on the spectrum.

However, I was married to someone whose method of coping with something uncomfortable was avoidance. The situation you describe--where you're faced with the choice of (a) deal with something necessary yourself, and face repercussions in the relationship or (b) live with it not being done at all--is very familiar to me.

I think fundamentally what you choose do boils down to boundaries. What are you willing to tolerate? At what point does taking care of yourself matter more than disturbing the peace in you relationship?

It can be really difficult to draw the line and say "this condition is not acceptable to me"... but where you do says a lot about how you value yourself.

Obviously this relates to the material condition of your house/property--but it also relates to the dynamic of your marriage.

Yes, every person has strengths, weaknesses, foibles. Yes, partnerships are supposed to be about care and compassion and accommodations are sometimes necessary. But partnerships are also supposed to be mutual in that way. You are trying to support your husband in the face of his struggle around the mess, but is he doing the same for you?

There is lots of advice in this thread about tactics (call someone in, when he's home or not; or how to broach the subject, etc.) and I think they're basically good. But I think what's really underneath this question is uncertainty about whether and how to draw the line about something that's really unacceptable. If you're struggling with that, and it can be a really tough thing in relationship for sure, talking it through with a therapist would be a good idea.
posted by Sublimity at 4:53 AM on February 19, 2017

I can't tell by your question if your husband is aware of how much this is stressing you out. If you've been trying to gently get things done and it's difficult for him so you drop it that's one issue, but if he IS aware how much you're affected and STILL refuses to meet you halfway, then you have a different issue.

In either case, I like Lobstermitten's idea. If he still refuses, then you should get some marital counseling. Since he already works with a therapist he knows the benefit of a neutral sounding board. What's going on isn't fair to either of you. You both deserve a calm home, you shouldn't have to be his parent, and he needs to learn some skills to move past frozen indecision and become more of a partner.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:27 AM on February 19, 2017

Just get professional help and clean up. He'll crack the sads for a while, probably quite badly, but then the new state of things will become the new normal and he'll get over it.
posted by flabdablet at 9:58 AM on February 19, 2017

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