Q. My husband is remodeling our house. Apparently his specialty is demolition. My kitchen has been without counters and a floor for seven months. My bathroom, which he started before the kitchen, also remains unfinished. Last night, he started eyeing our living room! When I tell him he needs to finish one project before he starts another, he tells me I'm nagging. How can I get through to him that these "projects" are driving me crazy?
A. It sounds as if your husband has some features of attention deficit disorder, especially that of being easily distracted. The good news is that he cares about your home, he wants to make it a better place for you and the family, and he likes to spend some of his free time making his home a better place to live. At least that's his intention. Give him credit for that.
Make a list of all the projects he's started and left incomplete for the last several years. Include the date he started each project and when he finished. For the unfinished projects note how long each has been left incomplete.
Let him know that while you appreciate his desire to make your home a better place to live, the way he's doing it has become a problem. Using a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being low-ticket, 10 being high-ticket) let him know just how important this issue is to you. It sounds like it's a 9 or 10.
Then share your list with him. Let him know which projects are most important for you, ask him which are most important to him, and together make a list of which projects will be completed in order of importance to you both. Set time to work on the projects and ask him how you or friends could help.
Some people use the word nag in a manipulative way when they're tired of being reminded of their irresponsibility. Don't let yourself be manipulated by words. Ask him to define what he means by "nag" and how you could communicate your concerns to him in ways that won't come across as nagging but will lead to action.
Worst case scenario, if he is using the nag word to manipulate you, then offer a deal. Once he begins to take responsibility to finish what he's started, he will never ever be "nagged" about that project again. That's a win-win that should be music to his ears.
She won't help
Q. My wife wants to be waited on, she doesn't like to hear the word no, and she won't help around the house. I'm exhausted!
A. Try this exercise with your wife. Each of you fold a sheet of paper down the middle. At the top of one column write "husband's responsibilities" and on top of the other write "wife's responsibilities." Without discussion or looking on each other's paper, fill both columns with what you think a wife and husband should be responsible for. Then compare your answers. Put a plus by the ones you agree with and a minus by the ones you disagree with.
Each of you can pick one of the minus items from your partner's list that would be the easiest and least painful for you to do. Resolve to work on that one for the next week—regardless of what your spouse chooses to do. Without exception, the hundreds of couples I've had do this exercise have discovered that expanding their definitions of what they thought their responsibilities "should" be was not nearly as painful—and actually much more positive than they could have imagined.
Another suggestion is for you both to make a list of chores that need to be done. Now you both can track who does what over a two-week period. If you're doing everything on the list, it will be obvious for her to see.
Gary J. Oliver, Ph.D., co-author of Mad About Us: Moving from Anger to Intimacy with Your Mate (Bethany House), is executive director of The Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University. www.liferelationships.com
Copyright © 2008 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.