Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes: My husband is really messy. He does grocery shopping and ferries our three kids around, but the housework falls to me, and what I really hate is picking up after him. He leaves a trail of stuff from the moment he walks in ... coat here, socks there, keys, etc. Talking about it hasn't helped. Early in our relationship we fought a lot (about other stuff) and I love the peace we have now. How can I handle this in an adult way that brings real change?
Let him pay for help
Hire a housekeeper. Problem solved. (And, obviously, the hubby pays for it.)
Barbra Cooper, Toronto
Try the hurricane pile
Assign him a "hurricane corner," a desk top, a chair, a corner of the room. All his stuff that's lying around gets placed in his own hurricane pile. He can either clean it up, or leave it alone and use the geologic-stratum system to find what he's looking for. (I last used my keys two days ago, so they should be ... under that newspaper.) It's a great system.
Marieke Rummens, Calgary
Just suck it up
There are lots of things worth fighting about in a marriage, but housework is not one of them. I had the same problem, so I took a careful look at the time and effort it would cost me to pick up after him. Socks and underwear: about a second; hanging his jacket: five seconds; gathering up his tie, phone, loose change, receipts, etc., and placing them on his desk: a minute and a half. A neat house is important only to you, so just do it and focus on the numerous positive things in your marriage.
Patricia Stewart, Brampton, Ont.
THE FINAL WORD
Yours is a conundrum that pierces to the very heart of heterosexual couplehood in the 21st century. In the late sixties, when revolution and upheaval were everywhere, feminists were ridiculed for focusing on housework. Kids were dying in wars, while a gaggle of well-to-do housewives griped about having to do a few dishes?
But who's gonna do them? Below the surface of that innocent question is the more insidious subtext: Whose job is it to do them? When I was in this situation I became infuriated to the point of mouth-foam by the old "But you notice the dirt and I don't" chestnut. The implication being that since one partner remains cheerfully oblivious to his own filth, the other has no right to impose her uptight standards of cleanliness onto the groovy, "free to be me" half of the relationship.
My counter-argument: Would this be acceptable in a roommate? No, because you share the living space. While Person A might believe the kitchen counter provides a reasonable surface on which to place one's balled-up sweatsocks post-gym, Person B - about to cut up some vegetables on that same counter, perhaps for a meal intended to be shared with Person A - can only read the sockball as a message that says: "Hi! I have contempt for you!"
Then there was the suggestion that, since my partner's messiness was (somehow) only my problem, the King Solomon-like solution was for me to simply delegate household chores, to him, whenever I wanted them done. And here we are back at the nasty crux of the matter, the assumption that only one partner is responsible for maintenance of hearth and home and - surprise - it's the one who wears a bra.
Men are wonderful, hard-working people, but some don't entirely understand how this issue oppresses us womenfolk. You're given two options: Become Mrs. Pigpen or become a nagging mother to the man you'd rather be in bed with.
Have him hire a professional cleaning service - not a "maid." Don't pass on this poorly remunerated drudge-work to yet another woman.
Next week's question
A reader writes: Ten months ago I started a new job and clicked instantly with my co-project manager. I was happy to have a colleague who shared the same outlook, and excited about the work. A few months in, he confessed he was in love with me. Since he is married with two kids, I tried to talk him out of his feelings, but instead I fell for him too. Eventually, we agreed it couldn't work, but both of us behaved badly. Now we do not speak. Is there any way to bridge this painful mess - even return to a working relationship?
Let's hear from you
If you would like to participate, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions are published anonymously, but we will include your name and hometown if we use your response, which will be edited.
Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy .