Dear Prudence

My Husband Has Suddenly Become a Slob

We’re sleeping in separate rooms because he refuses to clean up his messes.

Mess on a couch surrounded by x's.
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Dear Prudence,

When my husband and I were dating six years ago and talking about our dealbreakers, I was very clear that one of mine was messiness. I can’t, and never could, live in a cluttered, messy house. I’m not a neat freak. I just don’t like seeing dirty dishes left out or clothes all over the floor. My husband has never been the neatest, but he was never a slob either, so it worked.  Now we’ve had a baby during the pandemic … and he has turned into the biggest slob I have ever seen. He will not push a dish in the sink. He takes off his dirty clothes and leaves them in huge piles on the bathroom floor. There are baby bottles everywhere. We are sleeping in separate rooms because he refuses to curtail his mess, which is growing out of control. I tried placing trash cans all over the house, but he puts his trash next to the can! His room literally has a pile of trash in it. Could this be a mental health issue, with all of the recent changes to our life? I tried talking to him about the mess, but he says I am focusing on things that don’t matter. I have started looking for my own housing because I see no way to live like this forever. Any advice?

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—Unending Mess

This could certainly have to do with your husband’s mental health, especially since his behavior and your circumstances changed drastically in the past year and he seems indifferent to the ways it’s driven a wedge between the two of you. The fact that he can’t bring himself to place the trash in a trash can certainly speaks to his state of mind. Have any of your husband’s friends or loved ones noticed a shift in his outlook? Would he describe himself as overwhelmed by the changes brought on by the new baby and the pandemic, or would he say they “don’t matter,” either? If he seems to think very little matters these days, he may be depressed, and it’s worth encouraging him to bring this up with his doctor. He may try to dismiss you again, at which point you may want to explain just how seriously this is affecting you and that you’ve started considering separate living arrangements. If nothing else, he should care about how much extra work he’s making for you. Talk to your own friends and family about this too, because whatever happens next, you’re going to need help, either in caring for your husband or in a trial separation with a newborn. You can treat him with compassion while also being clear that this sudden, drastic change is not trivial and that you’re not willing to live in a house filled with garbage.

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Dear Prudence,

A few weeks ago, we had long discussions with our nanny about how to manage the latest COVID surge. We asked that we all strictly limit our interactions with others, including canceling Thanksgiving plans. She wasn’t happy about the request—she is single and lonely, with twin newborn grandchildren she wanted to spend time with. But for us, it was a necessary condition of continuing our arrangement. We offered other options: to pause work for a few weeks with extended leave, or to keep her holiday plans but quarantine for two weeks after. She begrudgingly chose to cancel Thanksgiving. You can guess what happened—she attended a family Thanksgiving anyway, got infected with COVID, and now my whole family has tested positive, including my 3-year-old daughter and 8-month-old son. I’m heartbroken that I didn’t protect them, and we don’t know what the long-term implications of this disease are. But I know her actions were not malicious. She just wanted to see her family and was worried about losing her job if she took extended leave. We all love her and feel like she’s part of our family. But she endangered us, and it feels like trust is gone. What’s the right thing to do? Offer severance and let her go? Make an effort to understand and rebuild trust?

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—Post-Thanksgiving Blues

I think you put your nanny in an untenable situation. You say she was worried about losing her job if she took extended leave, and since you’re the person who employs her, it’s worth reevaluating your actions in light of that. Asking someone who depends on you for their livelihood (no colleagues, no HR department, no union) to decide whether she wants to forgo income to see her newborn grandchildren for Thanksgiving is hardly a fair question, and I think a better choice would have been to give her two weeks off, paid, so that she could see her family and quarantine before returning to work. Asking your employee to make that call results in exactly the sort of outcome you’d hoped to avoid.

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No one deserves to get COVID, and I can understand you feel terrible that your children have tested positive too. I hope all of you recover quickly. But if you’re frustrated that your nanny made a risky decision, be frustrated at yourself for putting her in that position. You were not faced with a choice between your income and seeing your family like she was. Make an effort to understand why forcing someone to choose between seeing their family or keeping their job is cruel, and don’t put your domestic staff in such a position again, especially not if you claim to feel like they’re part of your family.

Dear Prudence,

My boyfriend and I have known each other for nine years, loved each other for six, but only officially became a couple three weeks ago. We were both wracked with anxiety about the new relationship, in no small part because my boyfriend is very religious, and the people in his church don’t approve of me. (That’s also why it took us so long to get together.) My boyfriend has been adamant about the fact that he’s going to fight for me and that he wouldn’t have gotten into this relationship with me if he’d planned on giving up this easily. I believe him.

A week after we got together, my boyfriend went into isolation for two weeks. He’s had a trip planned for months to visit a friend who is particularly critical of our relationship, and he’s isolating now to make sure he doesn’t bring COVID with him. The isolation was hard on both of us, but I was fine with making it work and wasn’t against him going on the trip. I’d assumed that the most I had to worry about on this trip was that they’d spend the whole week he was there trying to talk him out of the relationship. Just four days before he was supposed to make the 13-hour drive to the very anti-mask state in which the friend lives, my boyfriend told me that the friend and his wife have not been self-isolating, and both work public-facing jobs every day. One of them is a health care worker. Learning that sent me into a full panic, since that puts him at so much greater risk of getting infected. I’ve tried to express just how anxious I am about this trip now and how I don’t think it’s a good idea for him to go, while also trying not to make it sound like I’m telling him what to do. He’s listened to my arguments and even double-checked with the couple to ask how exposed they actually are (allegedly, they’re confident that they’re not exposed). But he’s set on making the trip. I’m trying very hard not to take it personally, but it feels like a dismissal of my anxiety that he’s still going. At the same time, I don’t think he should have to pause everything just because I’m anxious about something. I’m truly most concerned about the COVID risk, but what does it say that he’s choosing to overlook my anxiety and follow through with a cross-country road trip to see a friend who doesn’t want him to be dating me? How do I handle this?

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—COVID Road Trip

It certainly says something that a week into your relationship your boyfriend went into isolation for two weeks in order to visit his close friend who thinks you two should break up. You should handle it however you like, so long as you don’t pretend to be OK with it just because this relationship is new and you want it to work out so badly.

Since your primary concern is the COVID risk, you should talk to your boyfriend about what you’ll need from him before you’re prepared to spend time together in person—whichever combination of testing, isolating, masking, and contact tracing that may be. Did your boyfriend tell you that his friend hadn’t actually been isolating four days before he was due to leave on his trip because he’d just found out himself, or had he known for longer and kept that information from you because he knew you’d be upset? Do you and your boyfriend have similar ideas of what “fighting” for your relationship looks like, or does he feel pretty at ease about something that makes you feel isolated and dismissed? Don’t push yourself to “not take it personally,” especially when this is a series of personal decisions. These differences matter, and you have a right to advocate for yourself when you feel frustrated, dismissed, or exposed to unnecessary risks—especially by the person you love.

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More Advice From How to Do It

I’m a woman in my late 20s and I’ve been casually dating for a few years, not really looking for anything serious but open if I find the right person. When I’m alone, I don’t have much of an issue climaxing with my vibrator, but my orgasms have always been a bit underwhelming. However, no matter what I or the guy does, even if I use the vibrator with him there, I can’t seem to get off with someone else around me. Especially when I was a bit younger, this was something that I really struggled with, but I’ve gotten to the point where I just accept that it’s a part of who I am. It doesn’t stop me from really enjoying sex and feeling close with a partner, even if there’s no fireworks conclusion.

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My issue is the guys I’m sleeping with. Before we have sex, I let them know that it’s not going to happen for me, so they aren’t expecting me to. The reactions I get vary widely. Some guys seem to think it’s an excuse to not try at all, and others seem to think that theirs is the magical penis that will solve all my problems and get incredibly disappointed when they realize that it won’t. I’ve had a guy burst into tears because he “couldn’t please me” and another who told me that I wasn’t meant to be with anyone because I couldn’t orgasm. Most hurtfully, I had a boyfriend break up with me because “How can I love you if you can’t orgasm?” I don’t know how to make the men in my life just take me at face value when I tell them that I really am enjoying myself and not to worry about it. Should I stop telling them? Fake it? What I’m doing doesn’t seem to be working.

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