Clean house, perfect marriage?


Clean house, perfect marriage?


your avatar   J, 29-year-old woman

I've been married for 3 years. My husband and I were friends for 8 years. I have 2 children, a girl aged 8 from previous relationship, and a boy aged 2.

My husband and I have an ongoing conflict. It goes like this: Clean house equals happy husband, and unclean house equals unhappy husband. My husband and I have been having the same conflict for the past few years, and more so in the last two years. I am unable to keep the house spotless. I have a full time job and two kids, one that is in the terrible twos. It is very difficult to maintain a full time job, spend quality time with the kids and keep the house clean. I try my best, but still fall below my husband's expectations. I told him that if he wants a clean house I need to quit my job and keep the house clean OR he needs to hire a maid. He says both options are out. He does help out with some things like cooking, washing dishes, etc. My problem is I keep everything! Every project my daughter completes or colors, I keep. So there is a little clutter. But I do try to keep it out of the living area and in the other rooms.

How can we resolve this conflict? Do I need help? Is my husband being unreasonable? What can I do besides run myself into the ground trying to be everything to everyone? Please help because I love my husband and we are great friends. I would hate to lose this relationship because the house was more important to him than his family. Thank you.


    Melanie Fisher,

Dear J,

I have a few thoughts about your problem with your unclean=unhappy hubby and can offer you a couple of things to try or even just consider.

I have two different perspectives to offer. Number one goes something like this:

You ask - do you need help? My answer is an unequivocal "yes". You most certainly do need help. You need a maid. Paid help. Is your husband being unreasonable? Yes again if he expects you to bust your rear to tend to his need for order. You ask what you can do as an alternative to self-destructing - that's an excellent starting point. I ask you, what can you do? What will or won't you do. I think you already know the answer - stop doing it and let him adapt. Tell him everything you told me. Then tell him you've tried adapting for him and now you need to ask him to take his turn.

I can tell you think highly of your husband. You can tell him with sincerity that you are certain he is capable of handling and adapting to a not spotless, sometimes cluttered living quarters. Let's face it, you have a two year old and an eight year old. As my six year old would say, "get real mom!" If it turns out that he simply cannot tolerate it then he may actually be in need of psychiatric services. He may suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (O.C.D.) one of a cluster of the Anxiety Disorders. Most anxiety disorders can be successfully treated with a combination of newer psychiatric medicines and cognitive/behavioral therapy.

There are ways you can help by trying the following things to tame the "clutter-monster". In my humble abode we house two adults and at times as many as 4 kids (aged 6-17) in a one-floor 900 square foot house. I suggest mapping out a few clutter-clearinghouses throughout your home. That way people can at least get their stuff close to the eventual target. For your two-year old, a toy box would be perfect. He could start to learn about putting things away. Your eight year old can have every other day trash patrol duty. Place a decorative basket here and there - I use big ones of odd shapes and sizes. Have one right inside the front door, lined with a trash bag, for tossing the junk mail. Save all of your son's artwork for one year, then each year choose a few (hundred ;-)) special ones to keep permanently and take out everything else to make room for the coming year's prizes.

Here's that second perspective I mentioned earlier. There is a high likelihood that this issue is not at all about the house being clean. You have a conflict that has endured since what sounds like day one of your marriage. Can the two of you talk to each other, using reflective listening skills? If so, talk about how each of you defines "clean" and "unclean". Try to achieve a perfect "10" rating from your partner in how well you are listening and understanding your partner. See if you can reflect on what your conflict looks like metaphorically or symbolically. There may be an answer or at least some clues there.

J, I wish you and your family all the best. Take care of yourself.


Melanie Fisher

This question was answered by Melanie Fisher, L.S.W, A.C.S.W, she is a licensed social worker and professional psychotherapist in private practice in Pennsylvania. Trained and experienced in clinical social work, she uses the theoretical framework of attachment theory, object relations and ego-psychology. Her specialty areas include mood disorders, family dynamics, relationships and addictions.For more information visit:


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