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Shared Spaces, Lie-Measurement, and the Manageable Hassle

1. I’ve been with my husband for four years, although we have just been married a few months. We have a really great relationship, with just a few issues, and the biggest one for me is housework. He does NOTHING. And it drives me insane. I think it’s a combination of a lot of things — his parents are hoarders so he grew up in a very messy house, and he has adult ADD which can make it impossible for him to focus on things, especially things he doesn’t want to do. He feels bad about not helping, he apologizes, and he laments over the difficulty of changing. But after four years, I’m at my wit’s end. I know that this is partially my fault — I mean, I knew what I was getting into! And he’s a good person, very loving and caring, and our relationship is otherwise very good. I know I have my own faults and craziness, so I try to appreciate the other things he does for me. But I feel this issue building inside of me like a big, ugly resentment monster, and I just don’t know what to do.

I’ve tried different ways of approaching this — from letting him choose chores he prefers to do, from weekly lists, from angry outbursts, from leaving everything a mess to see if he’ll step up in his own time. Nothing has worked. We both work full time, and my job is very stressful, and I feel like I’m running two people’s lives in addition to work. It’s exhausting and I feel disrespected that he’s not even making an effort, and I also worry about how things will be when we have kids. In the past we talked about hiring someone to clean for us, but money is tight and I don’t know if that will be a good long-term solution. When I hear about my friends’ spouses installing new lighting or taking their cars to get fixed or surprising them with a clean house, I want to cry, because I’ve never had anything like that. What can I do?

This one made me wince, because I was that guy, though I’m less that guy now (though not-not that guy either, alas).

So I’m going to steal the Choose Your Own Adventure-style answer: If you think “If this stays this bad forever, I’ll divorce him,” pick Answer A. If you think “I want this to get as much better as it can, but I’m not going to bluff on an ultimatum I wouldn’t actually use,” go to Answer B.

Before I do this, though, let me say two things in passing, either of which may get me burnt in effigy in the comments. The first is about hiring someone to clean: Do it if you can afford it. A lot of women, for reasons I don’t really understand, regard having a clean house as a moral issue rather than as a practical tradeoff of invested time to subsequent benefit.

A great way to trade time for benefit is to earn money to buy benefit, as with going to a movie, or out to eat. Cleaning is just another item in this list; you may not be able to afford it, but you know that little voice that insists, whatever creative or professional ambitions you have, that you must also clean your own house? That voice is not your friend.

Second, many women also seem to think that we men expect you to clean for us. There are indeed some men who do, but I think the majority of us don’t expect you to clean for us so much as we are perfectly content to live in squalor. It’s not like we lived neatly by ourselves and when we met you, we just outsourced the work. We just thought the sink was an ideal place to store dirty dishes for up to a week. I recognize that this is not our most winning trait, but we also don’t mean it as personally as you all often take it.

On to Answer A: Bombs Away.

Tell him you’re leaving for a weekend to go visit your mother, friends, etc. and that the house has to be in some kind of shape when you return, because you have to go right to work Monday morning. Then go and return.

If he’s kept it in even moderate shape, thank him clearly, and tell him that you’re grateful because when you have kids someday, you’ll both need to keep the house clean. (The kids thing was a big part of me improving on this score.) He’ll backslide, of course, but you can then present backsliding as an active affront rather than as a passive failing, given past evidence of his successful performance.

If he can’t keep the house on his own, even when you’ve made your demands clear, tell him you’re not sure you can stay together, since you’d need his help cleaning to take care of kids, and right now he’s looking like lousy father material, which means lousy husband material, and he should explain how he’s going to change, because much as you love him, this may be it.

A couple of notes on Answer A: This is a one-shot strategy. “I’m leaving” loses its potency if used with any frequency. This is also a “Now rather than later” strategy; the grout is not yet dry on a marriage a few months old, so its easier to re-set some of the tiles. And, as the self-defense experts say, never threaten anyone with a gun unless you are able to pull the trigger. Which brings me to…

Answer B: Co-working and Orca

If you’re just trying to get what you can without an ultimatum, there are two things you might try (in addition, I recognize, to the many things you have already tried).

First, clean with him. You both do the dishes. You both straighten the house. You send him off with the laundry while you dust. It doesn’t buy you what you want — he’s cleaning when you’re not to balance you cleaning when he’s not — but it does share the work somewhat, and it may lower the resentment, and it may train him a bit, while giving you a bit of leverage of the “But I’ve seen you do it before” variety.

Also, a lot of women seemed to like the advice in that article about training Shamu the Orca and what it means for changing your husband’s behavior. It was all over the straight-lady internet a while back — here’s the link in case you missed it.

These, btw, are two things my wife did to change my behavior (alongside bearing a couple of children), so they can work somewhat, in at least some circumstances. And if he’s incapable of cleaning even alongside you, you may have to reconsider Answer A.

2. How long have you been married, and can you compare your marriage to … an animal, or a musical instrument?

A dozen years. The animal our marriage is most like is an axolotl. The musical instrument is a sarrusophone.

I mean, a marriage isn’t a thing like that — nobody lives happily ever after, we just manage the tradeoffs. My wife’s basic life question is “How can I avoid making a mistake here?” Mine is “When I screw up, how can I recover?” On good days, having two different strategies is great. On bad days she thinks I’m too careless and I think she’s too rigid, and some of those days can be quite bad indeed.

Tolstoy was wrong, is what I’m trying to say. Living with other people always takes work, and even the happy families still have to develop their own ways of snatching joy from the jaws of anguish.

3. My boyfriend of three-plus years (with whom I now live) just dropped a bombshell on me. We had sex pretty early on when we started dating (more like hooking up and hanging out, then turned into “dating”). It wasn’t great for the first few weeks, but I attributed it to not knowing each other well, and that he was maybe kind of a jerk who didn’t care about my satisfaction in bed? Then we talked about it, it got much better and is now pretty amazing.

We had “the talk” and also “the other talk” about how many people we’ve been with, etc. etc. He told me he’d slept with two other girls, but they weren’t relationships and it happened only once or twice. (For reference, my number before him is three, one of them a serious boyfriend.)

Fast forward two years, we’re in a fight about something related, and he tells me he’d never *technically* had sex before me, he was actually a virgin, only came close one time; he was afraid to tell me in the beginning and lied. AHHHH. I love this guy so much and we’ve talked about marriage and we’re super in love, want to be together for always. But I’m worried now that he’ll be curious at some point about what sex would be like with someone else. What do we do? Open relationship for a brief window? We’re both jealous types, so that would be hard, but I would consider it (not sure if he would). I’d always been glad he’d slept with girls before me, like it was a safety net for our sex life, he kind of knew what else was out there; but that’s gone now.

There’s also the issue that he was capable of maintaining this huge lie for a few years (and lying about other things in order to cover this up). I understand how it was intensely personal and embarrassing for him, that lies can snowball, but … still. I’m kind of scared because we’re definitely good communicators and believe in talking about everything, and he’s a really good and honest man, but this has made me see him in a different light. 

In the history of bombshells, “I fucked fewer people than I told you about” is way down at the Pop Rocks end of the scale.

It is difficult to convey how shameful it is for a straight man to be a virgin, and how the single most humiliating way this fact can come out is in a conversation with a woman he finds attractive. Even writing this, I can remember being in bed with my high-school girlfriend, working up the courage to tell her, in a strained whisper, that I didn’t know what I was doing. (She was wonderful about it, but even at a remove of decades, I can still recall the pain.)

So I’d cut him some slack. As lies go, this seems more Match-style profile padding than Madoff-scale mendacity, particularly if you sidled into dating from hooking up.

Also, to your worry about him being “…curious at some point about what sex would be like with someone else.” Unlike who? All those guys who say “Once I’d slept with 3 (or 8, or 17) women, I was all done being curious!” Doesn’t work like that. My first date with my wife was in the 1990s, I haven’t so much as kissed another woman since, and when I notice someone attractive, I’m still curious about what the sex would be like. We’re men. It’s what we do.

So here’s the deal. Men who don’t cheat have one thing in common: We decide not to. And then we keep deciding not to.

Monogamy isn’t some switch in the limbic system that gets flipped when a person meets The One (though it can feel like that for the first year or so.) It’s a social overlay on a species that isn’t actually monogamous. So the question isn’t “Does he fantasize about sex with other women?” (which: duh) but “Do you trust him not to act on those fantasies?”

From your letter, you seem to find him trustworthy in general, so I certainly wouldn’t let the fact that he hid a deflating fact from a hook-up partner he ended up falling in love with convince you that he’s a bad person to be in love with.

4. My boyfriend of two years cheated on me three times: The second time (I thought it was the first until recently) was an extended Skype and Facebook flirtation with a mutual friend that really only amounted to emotional cheating but seriously hurt my feelings. I told him then that if he cheated again, I would dump him. Fast forward to last Christmas: an ex-girlfriend was sleeping over at his house due to some sort of car problem. In the morning he got into bed with her and they started doing the dirty, but they stopped before anything serious happened because he felt terrible about what he had done. According to the ex, he completely freaked out emotionally and spent a lot of time crying and dry-heaving afterwards.

The two of them planned never to tell me what happened, because they didn’t want to ruin our relationship. But the next week rolled around and he couldn’t keep lying to me, so he told me what he had done and asked for forgiveness. Then he said, in the interest of complete honesty, that he had had sex with different ex about a month after we first started dating. He had taken her, and some other (mutual) friends, with him to his family’s lake house while I was starting a new job in a new state. Thanks, bro.

I wanted to break up with him then, but we’d purchased tickets to go to Germany to visit his grandparents and I’d spent quite a bit of my savings on the trip already. By the end of the trip he’d convinced me to give him another chance.

So now, it’s been almost a year since the last incident of cheating. Prior to that, we had been talking marriage and he’d told me I was the most serious relationship he’d ever had. Since then, we’ve lived together, adopted a dog together, etc. He is my best friend and in spite of his unfaithfulness, we make a great match. Our life goals are the same. I love his family, he loves mine, he’s talking about marriage again (he’s 23, I’m 21). The only problem is, I still don’t trust him completely. He’s promised never to do it again, and I consciously believe him, but I’ve developed jealousy issues in the last year that I’d never had before. I don’t like my new jealous self and I don’t like wondering where he is or what he’s up to, who he’s talking to on the nets, etc. I can’t marry someone I don’t trust, obviously. How much time is enough time to trust somebody? Am I deluding myself? Are we doomed?

Moving in concentric circles out from the basic facts: You are 21 years old.

Your boyfriend has cheated at a current rate of more than once a year.

He let his ex sleep at his house. (“Car problem”? Srsly?)

When you wanted to break up with him, the thing that kept you from doing it was sunk cost of air travel.

You characterize your reversal of opinion not as “I changed my mind” but rather “He convinced me.”

You don’t like who you have become because of his actions.

I mean, I could go on, but believe me, your adopted a dog, cute though it doubtless is, would be pretty thin compensation for marrying someone you don’t trust, and he’s given you enough reasons not to trust him that I’d find it pretty hard to reverse that in anything like the time it would take you to find someone better.

5. My boyfriend and I dated for a year and half before moving in together. And we’ve only been living together for three months, but the hard part is, I’m starting to think I made a mistake.

I had been in the same living situation (sharing a house with roomie friends from college) for more than a year and wanted a change. He was graduating from law school (had been supported by his parents all the way through law school) and needed to find a more affordable living situation since he was going to get cut off (at age 26) after taking the bar exam. At the time, finding separate living situations and negotiating the back-and-forth for another year seemed ridiculous. I had concerns about moving in with someone starting out on his own for the first time, rather late in life, and without a job lined up. I did, really. But somehow they took a backseat to our actually finding a place and putting our stuff in it together.

If it helps, I’m 27 and have been financially independent from my parents for a LONG time, so I am truly having trouble understanding what he’s going through. I also think, shamefully, that he is really freaking spoiled.

Now I find myself living with a man who’s driving me bananas, has no idea how to budget, and has no current income. We’re less than halfway through our lease and I’m wishing we hadn’t moved in together. We don’t have sex, we bicker a lot, and in general it just feels like we’ve lost our connection. Yes, we have talked about this. Yes, I am even seeing a counselor about this. I still think that maybe, the relationship is over, and the only things stopping us from breaking up are plans for the upcoming holidays with each other’s families and this signed lease. Help?

Let’s see, you’re asking which would have the more negative effect on your life, walking away from six months of a lease, or sticking it out with a spoiled man-child with whom you have a bickering, sexless relationship?


You don’t even go through the usual Advice Column motions about how he’s a great guy and all, except for this one thing. It’s just a description of why you think you’ve made a mistake, and how unravelling it will be a hassle.

And it will, god knows, be a hassle, because real estate, but speaking not just as a married dude but as a re-married dude who got engaged the first time much too young and out of inertia, let me tell you from bitter, lived experience that doubling down on chronic suck just to avoid some acute suck is a long-term bad proposition.

So I hereby induct you into the large and distinguished body of “People whose letters asking for advice answer those very questions in that very letter.” Go forth and find someone more your match.

Previously: Stay-at-Home Dads and the Confrontation-Averse.

A Married Dude is one of several rotating married dudes. Do you have a question for A Married Dude?

Photo via Flickr/boynton


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