According to a 2014 poll by Money Magazine, 70% of married couples fight about money more than anything else. Apparently, my husband and I are not normal! While I can’t remember ever having a big fight about finances, there is another area that causes us constant relational friction and distress – the clean vs. messy state of our house.
Twenty years ago, when we got married, it seemed like Scott and I would sail through life without any conflicts or disagreements. We have similar personalities and seemed to see eye to eye on everything from religion to politics – until we actually started living in the same house.
What we didn’t realize during our years of dating is that Scott is a “neat freak,” and I am definitely not. It wasn’t a huge problem at first, but as the years went by, and five kids and a dog joined our ranks, our opposing preferences started causing serious stress in our marriage.
In our day-to-day life, it meant that Scott wanted things to be picked up and in their place almost all of the time. He valued a neat, tidy house without a lot of toys or papers lying around. I, on the other hand, wasn’t terribly bothered by toys, unmade beds, or messy counters. I liked the house to be generally clean, but dusting certainly wasn’t at the top of my priority list.
It has taken us years of clashing, arguments, and hurt feelings to finally see progress in this area, but recently we seem to have gained a small victory over this particular issue. The funny thing is, the solution can really be summed up in one single word – compromise.
For years, I thought of myself as unfairly tormented by an overly picky husband and waited for him to change while I staunchly defended my position. Meanwhile, he thought of himself as unfairly tormented by his overly messy family and waited impatiently for us to change our ways.
Isn’t that the way it goes so often? Whether the disagreement is with a friend, neighbor, or family member, whether it’s about something as trivial as messy countertops or as weighty as politics – we dig in, defend our position, and wait for the other person to cede the battle.
Scott and I were at a stalemate until we really listened, put our own preferences aside, and determined to serve the other. When my husband shared that disorder and clutter makes him feel unsettled and anxious, I became more sympathetic. I was able to see his complaints, not as an attack on my housekeeping skills, but as a desire for our home to be a place of peace and comfort after a stressful day of work.
When I shared that I felt overwhelmed trying to pick up after the kids all day so that the house would be tidy when he got home, he made a real effort to hold his tongue when he walked in the door. These days, it’s common for him to vacuum after work and make sure the kitchen is cleaned up before bed. He does this with an attitude of love and humility, without comment on our messy ways.
Instead of holding our ground and hoping to see a change in the other person, we’re both moving toward the middle. We’re deliberately “losing” in order to love and serve each other better.
James captures the human tendency to be right when he says, “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?” James 4:1
It’s hard to compromise, to put ourselves last, to give in to another person’s desires. This, though, is true love. Jesus Christ, our highest example, “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28
A servant’s attitude can make a big difference in our marriages, our friendships, and our ministry. It takes the focus off of ourselves (where we like it be) and puts it on others (where it belongs). You probably aren’t disagreeing with your husband about whether or not the carpet needs vacuumed, but there’s probably an area in one of your relationships where you could compromise, put someone else first, and show love.