The Neatnik and The “Relaxed” Housekeeper

This morning on the radio while I was driving to school, there was an interesting issue being discussed on the Christian station.  The show hosts received an e-mail from a woman asking for advice.  I don’t have an accurate quote since I’m operating from memory here, but the woman indicated her husband is a neatnik and she is not.  She feels like she cannot meet his expectations and is a failure. 

I wanted to call in but couldn’t get through – not at all uncommon, of course.  But the more I thought about it the more I realized this situation is a great relationship snapshot with a whole lot more to say than anyone can attempt to express in a one-minute (or less) phone call.

The problem is there are so many things we don’t know with just this information.  There is no answer possible because we don’t know what the problem really is.  One thing we do know – situations like this affect every married couple.  The blending of two people always has these places that don’t blend.  The situation serves to spotlight areas we need to change and grow, for both partners.

For instance, how can we know what “neatnik” means?  Is this husband truly obsessive about cleanness?  Or does he simply prefer things clean and tidy?  Is the wife genuinely a slob – completely unkempt, filthy home; unsanitary conditions; packrat to the point rooms can’t serve their given purpose?  Or does she have a child or a few, a busy life and a messy home as a result?  Do dishes get done once a day or so; bathrooms cleaned when mold is visible but not before then?  Hey, she’s not alone there by any means!  Real life doesn’t look like a magazine cover.  Real life doesn’t work like the 1950’s stereotype either.  There’s a big difference between being messy and being a slob. 

Anyone who is obsessive about cleanness has issues deeper than cleanliness.  Anyone who is obsessive about clutter, collecting more stuff than they have space, and about completely failing to clean also has issues deeper than dirt.

Another thing we don’t know is whether this husband cleans up after himself and this wife is feeling judged when in fact her husband is not upset by her housekeeping.  In this case, the issue is one the wife needs to address because it really doesn’t have anything to do with the husband.  Why does she feel inadequate, within herself?

Or does this husband occasionally vent about the mess, but he’s just letting off steam and doesn’t really expect his wife to reach perfection any time in this life?  This is something they can work on together, understanding their differences and giving each other grace to express themselves respectfully.

Or does this husband nag his wife constantly about the mess, pointing out everything that doesn’t get done to his satisfaction?  Does this husband help out with household chores or is he all mouth?  Does he help with the housework in addition to nagging, using his “help” as a weapon in a manipulative abusive twisted way?  These would indicate a serious lack of respect on the part of the husband, and could even be symptoms of deeper issues of abuse.  He needs to take a close look at Eph. 5:25-33, especially at what it says to the husband.  The focus is on how the husband treats the wife.  It is his responsibility to do what is right first and always, regardless of how his wife keeps the house.  He needs to get this right before anything can change in his marriage.  It’s not about the housework.

Is it possible for this couple to sit down and talk through the issue and reach a mutually-acceptable compromise between two naturally-opposite people?  There were some great suggestions called in to the program.  One woman who has a neatnik husband makes a point to keep one room completely clean for him; that is his refuge.  This works for them.  Another couple sat down together, made a list of all the work around the house with a 1-3 difficulty designation, and on the weekends they divide the work between them.  The point is that these couples have worked out agreements and compromises that not only keep their sanity at home, meet their material needs, demonstrate mutual respect, but also make their relationship stronger.

The little “stuff of life” that happens in our homes is often not as little as we want to think it is.  And these ordinary events have the power to unlock significant change and growth if we can find understanding of what is really happening.