Handling a Messy Husband

Question: My husband doesn’t pick up after himself. This drives me crazy. I’m either nagging him or feeling like I’m his slave. I don’t want to resent him but how can I get him to care about my feelings and be neater? (Sherry in NC)

Answer: Your dilemma is classic because it is often the minor irritants of married life that challenge our ability to respond in a God-honoring way.

First of all I’m going to assume that you’ve already talked with him about your feelings. I’m also going to assume that he is not uncaring or generally disrespectful, but that he is not in the habit of picking up after himself, and his need for neatness is not at the same level as yours.

That said, you have two options. God calls us to love, even when we don’t feel like it, so what would loving your husband look like in this situation?

First you could love him by giving the gift of acceptance. (See my book, How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong for more details on the gifts of love). All of us enter married life imperfect. Part of our own growth and maturity is to learn to forbear with our spouse’s weaknesses in a gracious way. When you truly accept your husband’s messy habits, it means one of two things. First, you either learn to live without complaining, criticism or disrespect in a messier home, or you accept he doesn’t value neatness the same way you do. Therefore, because it’s important to you, you take care of it and pick up after him, without criticism, complaining or disrespect.

A totally different way to handle the situation with godly love is to implement the gift of consequences. What that means is that you don’t pick up after him but allow him to experience the consequences of his own messiness. Unfortunately when his messiness spills over into mutual living quarters, you too suffer.

Let me illustrate how the gift of consequences works. One of my clients hated that her husband never put his dirty clothes in the hamper. Instead of nagging or criticizing him however, she decided to implement the gift of consequences. She said, “Honey, I’m tired of nagging you to put your clothes into the hamper. I know God doesn’t want me to be resentful and angry about this.” Her husband’s ears immediately perked up because he was tired of the fighting. She continued, “But I don’t want to feel resentful toward you either. So from now on, if your clothes don’t make it into the hamper, you’ll have to wash them yourself. I won’t nag or ever mention it again.”

And, she didn’t. It only took several weeks of unwashed clothes for Bill to realize that his wife meant what she said. His clothes now found their way into the hamper.

Either of those two approaches will help you love your husband and respond to him in a God-honoring way. Don’t forget, he too has to live with an imperfect wife. Remembering that helps us live with our spouse’s weaknesses with greater tolerance and humility.

 

2 Comments

  1. Anonymous on May 1, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Dear Leslie, this is standard advice to a large problem, and I think it goes deeper than that. God does want us to be humble and loving, but He addressed men and women, not only women. I think the real consequence for living with a disrespectful husband should be graver – it is a passive form of violence and "messiness" should not be seen as a minor irritation. Bad habits result in a bad character, and a bad character results in bad actions. God wants us to help our spouses to walk the path of righteousness, we must snatch them out of the fire, which is why in severe cases of mess and disrespect marriage counseling should be attended.
    Sincerely,
    Beatrice

  2. Leslie on May 1, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Beatrice,

    If you notice, I said in the beginning of my answer, I assumed that there was not a bigger problem of general disrespect. If there was, then yes, bigger measures are called for. But I think it's a fine line between learning to live with the human failings of one another in a family and not trying to play the Holy Spirit on what specifc changes someone needs to work on and learning to speak the truth in love and set appropriate boundaries. Some people need to learn more forbearance, some more truth telling. But I don't think we disagree, just coming at it from two different perspectives.

    God Bless,
    Leslie

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