Help! My husband has perfect standards for cleanliness–and I don’t. It’s difficult to live with him because he’s always expecting more from me or disapproving of how I keep the house. I get tired of his complaining. How can we resolve this?

Les Parrott's Making Happy
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Differences! This is the stuff that makes marriage so incredibly frustrating and interesting.

Remember back to your dating days—how cute it seemed when he went out of his way to clip coupons and save twenty cents on a loaf of bread. Or, how delighted you were with how chatty she was, never at a loss for words. Now, years later, these same traits drive you crazy.

I suspect the same dynamics are at play, though I’m in no way minimizing the severity of the situation. One person’s neatness can be the consternation of the one who’s more comfortable with a bit of clutter. By the same token, that clutter can infuriate the one who thrives on neatness.

The key to these issues has to do with level of severity. A “germophobe” has taken neatness to an extreme. A “hoarder” has taken clutter to an extreme. Any extreme personality trait or behavior pattern can stretch you or your mate’s tolerance beyond capacity.

Now, I know what you’re thinking:Who defines extreme? This is usually a judgment call, and judgments often are not well received. Notice in this situation that you’ve rendered a judgment—“perfect standards for cleanliness.” In matters such as this, where a judgment about another’s behavior is causing problems, the situation needs to be handled in a delicate manner. I will offer some guidelines.

First, be extremely careful not to judge each other’s behavior. Scripture encourages us this way: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7: 1). So even though your mate’s behavior is very concerning, be careful not to make a harsh judgment about it.

Second, invite your mate to share preferences, not judgments. There’s a big difference between your mate telling you you must become neater to suit his standards, and working with you to satisfy his preferences. Ask him to speak to you—in language that doesn’t shame you–in terms of preferences.

Recognize and honor his preferences and ask him to do the same for you. Make an agreement not to shame each other for inclinations and preferences.

Finally, collaborate to find solutions. Every couple is stretched to find ways to accommodate each other’s preferences. Every couple must guard against getting into fights over preferred styles of living. The key is recognize preferences, attempt to honor them, and seek solutions that work for you both.

In summary, remember that differences drew you together and now can be a source of pleasure rather than friction. The key is how you talk about and handle them. Good luck, and please let us know how these strategies work for you.

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