Dear Dr. Darcy:
Ever since my boyfriend and I decided to move in together, our relationship has been suffering. Actually, I have been suffering. He’s a closeted pig. A slob. He doesn’t pick up after himself and there’s no methodology around how housework gets done. As a result, I do everything. I have turned into the proverbial nag and I hate what I sound like. How do couples negotiate housework? He tells me he’s going to do things like clean the bathroom or put the dishes in the dishwasher and he never follows through. Every time I walk into the apartment I’m hit in the face with evidence that he hasn’t done what he’s promised me he’d do. It’s really affecting my ability to trust him and I’m starting to think there’s no hope. How did I find the one gay man who is a slob?
Your question is a great one because while it seems like a light-hearted issue and one that will get squared away over time, the truth is that it’s serious and if it’s not addressed soon, it could be the thing that sends you running.
Relationships are like emotional bank accounts. Every promise followed through with is the equivalent of a $1.00 deposit. Every failure to follow through on a promise is equal to a $10.00 withdrawal. If the failures aren’t kept to a bare minimum, you will rapidly effect the foundation of the relationship. And since it’s not you whose not following through, you’re probably wondering how you can control this.
Stop asking and/or expecting the boyfriend to do anything. Start living as though you live alone. Do everything yourself. It’s the 100% – 0% Principle. If you ask him to do nothing, if you take full responsibility for everything, you will immediately stop the bleeding in the emotional bank account. Now let’s address your resentment that will undoubtedly begin to build over time…
You are not perfect. There are ways in which you are a closeted pig. You have a drawer, a car, a desk at work, something that isn’t perfect, and most of the reason why you’re so intolerant of his imperfection is because you can’t face your own. Maybe cleanliness isn’t an issue for you. If it’s not, I’m betting it’s because at some point in your life you were shamed for making a mess or for failing to clean up after yourself. Unable to tolerate the emotion of shame, you (likely unconsciously) learned that the way to avoid feeling that way was to swing in the opposite direction. Tap into your compassion for him and for his struggles. He’s not so different from you. And there’s a lesson to learn on flexibility here. If you don’t want to learn it with him, you’ll learn it with your next partner. But there’s no avoiding the lesson. You’re just postponing it. So actuality, while he may be a task procrastinator, you’re an emotional procrastinator. See? No different. And if you want to learn more about the 100% – 0% Principle, I’ve linked to it here.