Resolving Organizational Conflict When Standards Differ

source: Shyald
source: Shyald

As I’m putting the finishing touches on my ebook, How to Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too — all about being a mother and pursuing your own passions — I’m reposting some of my favorite posts from the archives! If you want to be notified when the ebook is ready, just submit your email address here.

Let me start by saying that I don’t follow these tips or ideas perfectly. In fact, as I was thinking about this post, I realized I’ve been kind of hard on my husband for the last week or so. You see, when things get stressful, one way I initially react is by working harder to keep control of our house – staying on top of chores, making sure everything is in its place, et cetera. Add to that the fact that nesting is kicking in big time, and I’ve definitely been expecting my husband to live up to my standards.

1. Accepting the Differences

Which brings me to my first piece of advice: accept the differences in your standards. I was transcribing a marriage seminar a couple of years ago when something the speaker said struck me. He talked about how his wife needed to have the bed made every day but how for him it had never been important since he was just going to climb into it again at night and mess it up anyway.

And here’s the key. He pointed out that not making the bed did not make him a bad person, lazy, undisciplined or anything else. It just wasn’t a priority to him.

I think a lot of times, the more organized person in a couple can grow a superiority complex that causes them to look down on the other person for their lower, or differing, standards and assign all kinds of bad character traits to them over what is really just a difference in opinion and priority.

2. The Person Who Cares More Does It

Accepting these differences brings me to the second point, which is that the person who cares more about the specific way a specific chore should be done is the one who takes responsiblity for doing it. A caveat to this is that it only works in healthy marriages. It’s not an opportunity to say, “Well, I don’t care about that, so I’m not going to do it” as a way to put more responsibility on your spouse instead of contributing.

But implemented properly between two people who really have each other’s best interest at heart, it can eliminate a ton of conflict.

For example,when it comes to entertaining, it’s important to my husband that our house be sparkling clean. I don’t feel the same way, but it’s important to me that the food and atmosphere be nice (which is a struggle because I’m really not a great cook, so I find it a little bit stressful). This means that when guests come over, I start by helping him straighten the house to what I would consider presentable, and then while I cook and set up the kitchen, et cetera, Sean worries about all those tiny details that just don’t make much difference to me.

3. Choose Your Top Three

Having said that, I don’t think it’s wrong or unfair to let your spouse or roommate know about the things that are really, really important to you. Don’t inundate them with a list of dos and don’ts that just make them feel criticized and unappreciated (which is where I’ve been failing lately). Rather, choose the top three things that really make a big difference to you and let the other person know how important those things are.

  • As I’ve mentioned before, having the bed made each morning is easily at the top of my list. I usually make it without a second thought, but when Sean’s off work and sleeps later than me, I’ll ask him to help me by making it when he gets up. And because I know life is going to be chaotic with a new baby, I recently asked him if he would be able to take over that chore for just the first couple of months after she arrives so that it’s not bugging me when I’m unable to get to it.
  • On the other hand, the girls and I had gotten into a routine for a while where we were moving the bar stools to the end of our counter (rather than at the breakfast bar) for them to work on projects while I cooked or cleaned in the kitchen. Sean mentioned that coming home to the bar stools out of place really drove him a bit nuts, and it was an easy fix for me to ask the girls to put them back each time they finished using them rather than just leaving them out for my convenience.

Obviously these are small little things. By picking your top pressure points and asking your spouse to help with those things, you’re less likely to leave them feeling overwhelmed and smothered by your standards and more likely to work together to have the home that both of you love.

What tips would you add for dealing with different organizational or cleaning standards? Has this been an issue you’ve dealt with? Are you the more or less organized person in your home?

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