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Q & A

A Clutterbug, a Workaholic and an Insanely Jealous Wife

After three years of marriage, my wife turned into an incredible clutter-bug. She buys tons of junk and never gets rid of anything. Life is more and more stressful because we're overrun with stuff and can never find anything. We can't even clean properly because of mountains of clutter. The mess is threatening our relationship. What should I do?

It seems odd that your wife would suddenly change. More likely, you were always somewhat opposite in housekeeping style. But during courtship and your honeymoon stage, you were probably fascinated or amused by each other's idiosyncracies. It's when you live with them over a long period of time that habits get on your nerves. Remember why you fell in love in the first place? Your differences are part of the joy and blessing of coming together. If you turn your wife into you, life together won't be nearly as much fun.

So keep your sense of humor and keep in mind that your wife's personality and style are different—not bad. Some people are neat; some aren't. One woman told me that her family life changed the day she heard me say, "No kid in America ever died of a messy room." "I quit picking on my kids," she told me. "When I realized that neatness was a minor issue, my personality changed and I was able to be close to my kids." Housework is not an issue that should be allowed to erode your marriage.

If you tend to be more organized, perhaps you can help with clutter control just by getting some closets and storage spaces organized. Shelving, labeled files in file cabinets, a system for sorting the recycling—having a place for things to go often helps contain the clutter. Head to one of those "organization" stores and splurge!

You might also try assigning space of your own to each of you—a room where your wife can be messy, and a clutter-free zone for you.

But be sure that clutter really is the problem that "threatens" your relationship. Usually when I encounter couples quarreling about a surface issue like this one, it's because there's some other problem they're not dealing with. The bickering about clutter may be a symptom, when the real problem is a low-grade fever over something like a stalled career, sexual dissatisfaction or financial stress. A more lasting solution is to uncover the real problem and deal with it.

My husband is a workaholic, and it's gotten worse since he became an executive in his company. My needs and our kids' needs are not a priority for him. Yet it's hard for me to complain because he provides for us very well. Still, I'd live in a shack naked if he would just have dinner with us once a week. He's too tired for sex. When we talk, it's always about his work. When he isn't working, he's napping or golfing. He has become more and more self-centered, or maybe work-centered. How can I get through to him?

You're right—this kind of imbalance has to be confronted. Some couples find that marriage enrichment weekends offer an opportunity for relationship re-evaluation. They give couples a time and place to ask, "Why did we marry in the first place? What did we want out of the marriage?" The weekend lets you discuss how you might have lost sight of early goals of intimacy and shared time.

On your side, you need to ask yourself if you really mean it. Would you really live in a shack naked? Because you might not be able to have it both ways. And it would be unfair for you to criticize your husband's work habits if you're still asking for the little luxuries of your comfortable lifestyle. If you want an upscale life, one of you has to keep his or her nose to the grindstone. And the demands on executives in major industry make it very hard for workers to maintain a positive home life.

Many workaholic men truly believe their work lives are their method of showing love to their wives and children. If you and your kids are able to say, "We want you, not these things," your husband may be greatly relieved to realize that you really do mean it. But both of you will have to be prepared for what your family-oriented decisions might mean for your home life and his work life. You'll be scaling back your budget, and that'll mean no cottage at the lake, no nest egg, probably no more golf. Your husband will almost certainly be limiting his opportunities for career growth. His company will stop his upward mobility at the level of his willingness to sacrifice time with his family. Both of you need to be able to desire God's approval—God's idea of what is success—over career successes or keeping up with the Joneses.

Ultimately this is a spiritual issue. Perhaps your husband, with his golf and the "strokes" he gets from his upward career moves, is lured by the upscale life of his executive, golfing-crowd co-workers. When the Bible talks about "the love of money" being the root of all evil, it means the choosing of money (upward mobility) over human values (relationships). Jesus was right: we can't serve both God and money. That's hard for Americans to hear because we have a high standard of living. But your family has reached a decision point. Will your choices take you toward money or family?

My wife is insanely jealous, and there's no basis for it. She constantly worries that I might be unfaithful someday. This bothers me. I feel that I'm giving her constant assurance of my love and my intention to be sexually faithful for life, but she can't seem to help her insecurity. How can I deal with her? It's driving me crazy.

Generally speaking, insecurity takes place inside people based on their feelings about themselves. It is often pretty much unrelated to the behaviors of those around them. So it's true that your wife's insecurity is coming from her, not from you. And the insecurity is probably fed by seeing couples around you breaking up over adultery. But there are still ways you can help your wife battle her insecurity.

Try to remember that although she expresses her fear that you will be sexually unfaithful, what she really dreads is loss of intimacy with you. So there are things you can do to demonstrate your faithfulness—in your emotions, your sexuality, your courtesy and your words.

First, make vows—and renew them. When you attend a wedding and hear the new couple exchanging their vows, squeeze her hand and remind her "I promise you!" Recall and renew your vows on your anniversaries. Bring Christ in as a witness. Let her know you're promising God as well as her and that you're asking God to be on your side to help you keep your vows.

Second, be very careful about your interactions with other women, even if they are completely innocent. Do it for your wife's peace of mind. Don't say hello to the pretty divorced woman at church if it plunges your wife into insecurity. Ask your wife to tell you, very specifically, the things you do that spark her insecurity. Then do your best to avoid those behaviors.

Third, constantly affirm her in front of others and especially before God. As you pray together, let her hear you thanking God for her and for specific aspects of her life and character.

Fourth, be courteous and chivalrous to her. Believe me, your wife will notice if you thoughtfully open doors and listen politely to her friend Helen, when you don't employ the same civil courtesies with her.

Finally, kiss her more and longer. I recently read that once a day, maybe when leaving for or coming home from work, you should kiss your wife for at least 15 seconds. I've been trying this out with Janie—and that's a long kiss. It does provide some communication beyond the peck on the cheek. A kiss like that could be a daily reassurance of your interest in her and your sexual fidelity to her.

Jay Kesler is president of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. He was formerly a pastor and also served as president of Youth for Christ.

Jay is not able to respond personally to readers' letters. But if you have a marriage question you'd like him to address in this column, send your question to:

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Jealousy; Marriage; Organization; Work
Today's Christian Woman, Winter, 1998
Posted September 12, 2008

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