Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V, Living With My Messy Boyfriend

Venus Nicolino holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Her column addresses Love, Life and Relationships.

Dear Dr V,

My boyfriend and I moved in together a few months ago. Our relationship is suffering, and I’m worried that it may end badly if something doesn’t change soon. I’m not sure exactly what the problem is; I do know that a lot of his behaviors I was unaware of are driving me crazy. Some of it is standard guy stuff: leaving dirty laundry on the bedroom floor, his side of the closet’s not neat, leaving the kitchen a mess, etc. Some of it I think may be my fault. I’m always asking him to be neater and he’s not doing it, which is driving me crazy! Sometimes I feel like he’s annoyed with me before I even say anything to him, and I’m starting to wonder if it’s my fault for being a nag.

We’ve already been together for just a year (we moved in together right before our first anniversary) and I don’t want to just walk out on this, but I don’t want to stay on a sinking ship either. What do you think?


Dear Kirsten,

What you and your boyfriend are going through is, from my experience, par for the course. Even when two people just move in together as roommates there are some inevitable “growing pains” as two individuals learn to live together. Combine this already existing stress with the added complexity of a romantic relationship and it’s easy to see why you two could both feel under the gun and out of sorts with each other. I think you can get through this with your relationship intact, and perhaps even stronger, if you are willing to keep an open mind and compromise. The trick is to know if and when one of you is compromising too much, and sacrificing your happiness and/or emotional well-being for calm in the house.

While I think it’s personally reasonable for you to expect “common” areas to be kept neat and clean, you may need to accept that messiness is simply an aspect of your boyfriend’s nature that may only be able to change a minimal amount. You’ll also need to accept that there is nothing you can do to alter that part of him; it’s part of the package. The question is whether or not all the other positive things he brings to the relationship make putting up with a little bit of mess here and there worth it.

Now, I don’t mean you should resign yourself to living in a hovel filled with old magazines, take-out boxes and dirty socks hanging from the ceiling fan; that of course is out of the question (and rather unsanitary). However, in your letter you mentioned that his side of the closet was messy. I wonder, if you two could reach and honor an agreement where his mess could be confined to his closet, (or other areas of the house specifically “his”) and the rest of the house kept neat, would that be an acceptable compromise to you?

What concerns me in the bigger picture here was the way you ended your letter, in reference to whether or not you should get off the “sinking ship.” You also said you don’t want to just walk away, which leads me to believe you have at least somewhat strong feelings for this man. Before you make any drastic decisions, there are some issues worth considering.

You should know that one the most common, and really understandable, mistakes people make in a relationship is trying to change their partner to fit their idea of how that person “should” be. The old cliché is true: “Nobody’s Perfect.” You two have been together a year, and I’m sure in that year there were moments where aspects of either your boyfriend or yourself were revealed that proved to be less than attractive to the other.

However, whatever these things might have been, they were not enough to drive either of you to end the relationship, so they were accepted and things moved on. Perhaps some of those overlooked issues have resurfaced now that you are living together, and this is also adding to your stress. You stated your boyfriend’s becoming irritable with you. I would imagine he is feeling the pressure as well. Perhaps each of you had a preconceived idea of what living together would be like, and the reality is falling short. Again, what you both must resolve for yourselves is if, for lack of a better phrase, the plusses outweigh the minuses. In other words, do the good things each of you offer each other negate those facets of yourselves you find less than desirable?

As I said, all of these issues are common and even expected for a new couple moving in together. Your relationship has just made a quantum jump to a new level, and perhaps the two of you are still figuring out just who and how you should be in this new dynamic. I can tell you that any relationship worth its salt goes through these rough patches, because it is most often these times that afford us the greatest opportunity for growth. It could be that if you two can find a way to work through this tough spot now, you just might discover yourselves feeling closer and the emotional bond you share to be deeper and more meaningful.

My suggestion to you is to vent the frustration and negativity you’re dealing with in a healthy, non-destructive way. Then, focus on why you moved in with this guy in the first place. Try to move yourself to a place of empathy and understanding. This way, when you open the discussion on not just housekeeping, but the general state of your relationship, you will hopefully both be in a state receptive to what the other has to say, and ready to take positive action in moving things forward. Who knows, you may end up doing some changing yourself.

With Empathy,

Dr. V

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Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.

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