I’ve just moved in with my best friend and it isn’t going as well as I thought. She’s really, really messy. She has never lived away from home before so isn’t used to having to do everything herself. I really enjoy living with her for the most part, but I don’t like cleaning up after her, which I do because I don’t like sitting in mess.
One of the biggest areas of conflict between people sharing their living space is household chores. The ongoing stress caused by who does what where and when can be challenging enough when two tidy people live together, but throw a messy person into the mix and the whole landscape changes completely.
Household chores are too easy a subject to breed miscommunication and resentment if not addressed and a way to reach a compromise found.
According to research, sharing household chores was in the top three issues connected to a happy marriage — third only to fidelity and good sex. At least you only have to navigate good housekeeping with your friend.
You show great insight and understanding when you acknowledge that your friend has never lived away from home before. This indicates a depth of understanding that your friend’s habits are the result of her upbringing and history. It will take time to bring change about, in both of you.
Everyone has a different threshold for cleanliness and neatness. This is an issue of priority. Everyone prioritises organising their lives in different ways.
Your untidy friend isn’t trying to deliberately leave everything lying around to cause you distress; she is just happier to live in a relaxed manner. However, in a neat person’s mind clutter can feel anxiety-inducing and stressful.
You can have a conversation with your friend about what each of you think is important in organising your home together. Explore ideas of what you need in terms of tidiness — for example, having an uncluttered kitchen because it helps to motivate you to cook, or having a neat living room because it supports you in being able to relax.
Get practical together. Make a list. There are some great templates online that demonstrate chores that need to be done daily, weekly and monthly. Try to agree to take responsibility according to who is most likely to complete the tasks. Think also about the level of commitment required to ensure that there’s a fair distribution.
Feeling motivated can really help you both. Invite friends over regularly and tidy up together in preparation. Many people found their inner slob during lockdown, when they no longer had to consider the possibility of people coming over. Dust bunnies became much-loved family members.
Life can be a lot of fun lived together. While your friend’s habits and lifestyle may be different from yours, it is these differences that make life interesting and how we learn from each other.
You are not your friend’s mum or dad or butler, so don’t behave as one. Remember, you are both grown-ups, you are both equal and you are both friends.
My teenage sons are no longer getting on. They used to wind each other up, but in the last few months it seems to have exacerbated. They no longer speak and seem to not want anything to do with each other. Meal times are strained and family events are quite difficult. When asked what’s going on, neither will say and neither will budge when it’s suggested that they make up.
I am sorry to hear of the distress caused by the fracture in your sons’ relationship together. Healthy and loving parents hold a hope that love will flow between their children. There’s an anticipation that our children will enjoy each other’s company and be a support to one another.
The disappointment you may feel as a parent of children who do not, or cannot, nurture their relationship can make you wonder if you could have done anything to support them better.
Your sons are teenagers, and for many young people, part of the experience includes becoming more private and separate from family. It’s not unusual for teenagers to disconnect from their family and this can include their siblings.
Friends and their peer group become much more important in their lives.
There is a possibility that your sons’ difficult relationship is part of their life stage and isn’t an indication of the future quality of the adult relationship.
You don’t mention if you have siblings or if you are an only child in your family of origin. If you have siblings perhaps you remember the ebb and flow of your own relationships. There are siblings who have seemingly very challenging relationships growing up who find a way back to each other as adults, managing to have emotionally secure and rewarding relationships.
If you are an only child you may hold stories of siblings having great relationships; you may have noticed siblings enjoying each other’s company. As an only child you may have felt this as a personal loss and hoped to give your children a different experience.
I wonder what your relationship is like with them individually. Do you feel close to each of your sons? It’s important to take time for one-to-one conversations, to listen to each of them.
Caring for the individual relationships you have with each son will enrich opportunities to gain an understanding of them as unique people within the family.
Be careful about putting them under any pressure to be a way that you expect them to be. There is a family in place now and if you can take the time to enjoy your teenage sons for the people that they are, then there will be less distress in yearning for something that doesn’t yet exist.
For more information on Relate NI, see www.relateni.org