AdviceHelp Me Rhonda

A Sloppy Apartment and a Sloppy Breakup

Dirty Dishes

My partner grew up in a very nice “Leave It to Beaver” household, with a housekeeper and a mother who picked up his laundry. But now he’s 35. We’ve lived together for five years, and I feel like he’s failing to hold up his end of the bargain as far as household chores go. Example: He constantly leaves trash and dirty dishes lying around the house, but when I recently called him out, he bit back with the fact that I’d forgotten to toss my PJs in the hamper that morning. I’m trying not to be a nag, but our home is tiny, our work schedules are identical, and I spend a lot more time cleaning than he does. I’m starting to resent him for it. His response is that he literally doesn’t notice when things are messy. It’s not even like I’m a neat-freak, but I’m just talking about basic hygiene here.

How do I approach this without sparking WWIII? Have I damned myself to an eternity of sweeping his crumbs off the counter, because I let it slide for too long ?


This is a problem, Cinderella, and you have to address it for the sake of your relationship. There will be times when it seems infinitely easier to just pick up the mess yourself instead of working with your partner to get him to understand how important it is to you. And it will be easier, in that minute. But you’ll come to resent the housework and your partner. And that will poison your relationship.

As with any touchy subject, bring this up at a time when you’re not actively fighting over it, when you haven’t just washed the dishes he left in the sink. I suggest telling him that you’ve been thinking about something and want to talk to him about it. Suggest a time when the two of you can talk about it. This will signal the seriousness of the topic, give him some time to get used to the idea, and prevent him from saying, “Do we have to talk about this right now?” when the time does come around.

When you do talk about it, tell him that you realize you’ve picked up a lot of the cleaning responsibilities unconsciously, and you know you’ve fallen into a pattern. Tell him that it’s started to bother you. He will say, “If it bothers you, don’t do the dishes. Just leave them in the sink.” You have to make him understand that the dishes in the sink are what bother you. If he says he “literally doesn’t notice,” he needs to understand that he can learn to notice. Talk to him about the general level of cleanliness you need to be comfortable—trash thrown away, dishes washed, etc. 

Then, don’t expect dramatic results after this first conversation. Let it lie for a couple weeks, then have the same conversation again. Start this one with appreciation for specific things he’s done to contribute more. You may have to repeat this conversation several times; you’re both figuring out how to change long-established habits here.

And, for your interest, you might read The Politics of Housework by Pat Mainardi.

Post-Break-Up Living

I’m used to the kind of breakups that go down in flames. My freshly axed ex (boyfriend, not husband) insists, however, that I can continue living in our shared home, in my own bedroom—of course. I worry that this will be unhealthy and cause unnecessary strain. However, I do appreciate the low housing costs, stability and comfort I have here. Additionally, the breakup wasn’t tragic and horrific, as per usual. Just two adults mutually agreeing that we can’t make it work. Do you think this is ever a good idea? And what will future significant others think of this living arrangement? Will they, with good cause, dump me on the spot when they find out he’s one door over?



Not only is this not a good idea, it is a terrible idea. Really, really terrible. If you want to guarantee that you fall back into a relationship with this guy at least three times, continue living with him. If you want to ensure that nothing develops with potential boyfriends, continue living with this one. If you want to make certain that your feelings for him never wane, keep living there. Neither one of you will be able to move on in a real way until you separate your lives. If you don’t believe me, imagine a letter in this column written by a guy you date in the future: “I’ve been dating this girl for a few weeks, and she’s awesome, except for one thing—she lives with her ex-boyfriend.”

His offer, and your consideration of it, are grounded in good things: He wants to make things easy for you (and for himself); the breakup was amicable, etc. BUT! The fact that something is easy and comfortable is not an indication you should do it. AND! The conversation in which you both agree to end the relationship is only one part of a breakup. The process of ending the relationship started before that conversation and will continue after it. If you keep living with your ex, you will interrupt that process. 

You can keep living with him for two weeks while you look for your next stop. After that, though, give yourself and your ex the physical and emotional space required to move on.

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