Mandy Kloppers

Living With a Messy Partner: How to Keep Housework From Hurting Your Relationship

Just for fun, go on YouTube and search for “Chinese woman cleans panda pen.” You’ll inject laughter into your day, especially if you parent a toddler. Every time the poor soul gets the basket filled with leaves, those rascally pandas dump them. They maneuver their way underfoot, even climbing inside the baskets and stealing the broom while the hapless cleaner struggles. 

Living with a messy partner can make you feel a lot like that beleaguered panda pen staffer. 

However, you don’t want to let something as trivial as cleaning stand in the way of true love. Here’s how to keep housework from hurting your relationship. 

1. Get Mindful

The first thing to do is take a step back. Choose a time when you’re not rushed and feel calm to sit in meditation. Before you dig into the nitty-gritty, start with loving kindness — you can find guided ones for this purpose for free on YouTube if you need assistance. 

Otherwise, evoke an image of your beloved partner in your mind, letting yourself bathe in the happy glow you feel when they hold you in their arms or do something that shows how much they care. Visualize a favorite memory, covering yourself in feel-good vibes. The idea is associating all that positive ooey-gooeyness with the one you love. 

Now that you’ve reminded yourself how much you cherish your partner and want them by your side, mess and all, it’s time for the hard work. Dig deep. What is it about their habits that irritate you the most? Do you have hygiene concerns because of your children? Are there only certain things they do or neglect — like leaving wet towels on the floor — that drive you batty? See if you can figure out why these behaviors bug you so much. 

Rest assured that you aren’t alone if your mate’s household habits drive you buggy. Research shows that a cluttered, untidy home increases feelings of stress. A study of 60 dual-income households found that those in restorative environments had significantly lower cortisol levels. Too much of this pesky hormone can lead to heart disease, weight gain and tummy trouble. 

Once you know what bothers you and what you can let slide, it’s time to sit down and chat with your partner. 

2. Divvy up the Load 

Your first order of business when you and your mate chat is dividing the household chores. Everyone does so differently — any arrangement you agree is fair is fine. 

For example, some couples go 50-50, tackling half the chores on the weekly list. Other partners might not mind doing more work inside the home if their spouse is the primary breadwinner and mows the lawn weekly. The trick is expressly agreeing to your arrangement — not considering it implied then simmering with resentment when you don’t get the help you want. 

Accountability is your next step. You don’t want to turn into a nag, nor should you have to remind your mate what needs to be done and when. The solution is to hang a chart on the fridge, restaurant bathroom style. You each sign off and initial when you complete a task, so there’s no question that you finished everything. 

3. Keep Your Communication Lines Open

How many times have you worked yourself into a fury at your partner with your thoughts? “They never pick up their dirty clothes! They treat me like a maid! They just think I have nothing better to do with my time than wait on them hand and foot!” 

Holy all-or-nothing thinking and overgeneralization there, Batman. Slow down before you start WWIII with your beloved. 

Hurling accusations isn’t the same as communicating, but there’s an easy trick to stop it. Preface the angry tirade you’re about to spew forth with the words, “The story I’m telling myself is …”

You go from an accusation to an expression of how your partner’s behavior makes you feel — note that “I” language. Doing so takes them off the defensive, allowing them to hear what you’re saying without feeling like a child receiving a scolding. 

You’re also not manipulating — you’re explaining. Remember that loving-kindness meditation? You cherish and respect your partner, and you know they don’t really consider you their handmaiden. Your goal isn’t to make them feel bad — it’s to make them see how their messy behavior affects your relationship.

4. Create “Sacred” Spaces 

Virginia Woolf once wrote that a woman needs a room of her own to write. This rule should apply to everyone, regardless of their profession. Even if you share nearly every waking second, everyone needs a personal retreat. 

You and your partner should each create a “sacred” space that’s yours and yours alone. It can be challenging if you share a tiny home, but you can get creative. A folding room divider and some plants transform a corner of your back porch or balcony into a heavenly yoga haven. The only clutter allowed is your mat — and maybe a Buddha incense holder. 

If you have the space and the means, there’s a reason man-caves and she-sheds are so popular. Anytime you get overwhelmed with the hubbub of family life, you can beat a hasty retreat and adjust your mindset until you’re ready to face your clan again with a smile. Just knowing you have one tidy place that no one can touch can lower your cleaning stress levels. 

5. Consider Calling for Help 

Divorce is expensive. Even if you can afford the attorney fees, you might pay maintenance for years. It’s foolish to call it quits over trivial matters, unless there are deeper problems in your relationship than dirty socks. 

It’s less expensive than you think to hire a cleaning crew. While some big-name service companies might require contracts and minimum hourly requirements, there are tons of folks out there looking to earn a little extra cash. Use apps or websites like Craigslist and Nextdoor to hire a local — you’ll trust a neighbor more.

Work with your budget. You might feel pacified if you call in the pros once a month, handling simple dusting and trash disposal in between. Those with bigger bankrolls might have someone come in once a week, even every other day. You can probably find help that costs a lot less than separation, whatever your price point. 

Keep It Clean

Falling in love might be easy, but marriage is a lifelong commitment that requires work — including around the house. The unfair division of daily chores causes no end of resentment in partnerships. 

Follow the five tips above to keep housework from hurting your relationship. The right approach can let you have it all — a loving partner and a tidy home — without endless arguments.