As Valentine’s Day approaches we are reminded of the challenges couples face managing clutter in a shared space. “Clutter” is incredibly subjective. One person’s state of chaos is another’s state of total harmony. Do a quick Google search on “couples and clutter” and dozens of articles and statistics come up. You’re not alone if you’re feeling frustrated.
What to do when your styles and thresholds for clutter don’t match up?
Relationship researcher and expert John Gottman identified 4 key behaviors that undermine relationships and are barriers to communication: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Each has an antidote. In our next 4 posts we are going to illustrate how each one can show up when navigating clutter between couples. First up…Criticism.
Expressing a legitimate complaint is different than launching into a criticism. Criticism uses blame which can backfire and hinder communication. Talk about your feelings using I statements and then express a positive need. What do you feel? What do you need?
The antidote to criticizing is to state your complaint in a gentler way. A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, while a criticism attacks the character of the person. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame.
Example: Messy Bedroom
Criticism: You never put your clothes away. Why are you so lazy and messy?
Complaint: The laundry on floor is making it hard for me to move through room. You said you would put them away today – what happened?
Example: Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Criticism: Who told you you could move my stuff without asking me? You’re such a neat-freak!
Complaint: I’m having trouble finding things after you clean up. I was late today because I couldn’t find my work bag. I want to be part of the process for deciding where my things live. Can we choose a dedicated spot for my things?
Example: Paper Issues
Criticism: PG&E is going to shut off our electricity! Are you so busy that you don’t have time to take care of this simple task?
Complaint: We just got a late notice from PG&E. You are in charge of the bills and this isn’t the first time they didn’t get paid. Can we talk about how to resolve this?
Relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects. Successful couples learn how to manage and live with differences by honoring and respecting each other.
Our next post is about Conquering Contempt.