Chillybear posted to the boards about how she and her husband had a different approach to chores:

My husband and I are still “newlyweds” we’ve been married for about a year and 1/2 and have lived together for over 3 years. …

The issue has been dividing up chores and household responsibilities. … He’s never aware of the things that need to be done, and if i ask him to do things I often get home and find them not done and his response is “i forgot” but he had plenty of time to watch the netflix movie that came in the mail. He does do things around the house but they are often not what I feel is a priority. (washing his car, filling the holes the dog dug, etc).

As she explained later: “I think a lot of the problem is that his cleanliness threshold is a lot higher than mine. Pair that with his ability to procrastinate and I end up doing the lion share of chores.”

I love Chillybear’s term, “cleanliness threshold”! Differences in our cleanliness thresholds is something Mrs. Bee and I have struggled with over the years. I literally see the world in a dramatically different way than my wonderful wife. She will look around the house and see it as dirty-bordering-on-filthy. I will look around the house and see it as cluttered but fine. It’s a very different way to see the world, and has driven a lot of our household issues around divvying up the chores.

I was trying to think of a way to explain it to Bee, and came up with this analogy.

Imagine that your whole life, you’ve only ever refilled your gas tank when the fuel tank was just above the E. Then you get married, and your spouse starts refilling the fuel tank when it hits 1/4 Empty. Months go by, and you find that you never think about or buy gas. Then one day, your spouse gets upset because she always has to refill and pay for the gas and you never do.

You might be taken aback. The thing is, you did have a system. If the gas tank ever got close to the E, then you would promptly refill it. Your system was working for you, and you got by for years with it. Then someone came by and disrupted your system, and then got mad at you as a result.

This dynamic applied to so many aspects of our domestic life:

* Doing the dishes: I would usually wait until the dishes piled up and then do them all at once.
* Doing the laundry: I used to buy extra packs of underwear just so I wouldn’t have to the laundry more than once a month.
* Toilet: I would scrub the toilet maybe once every 1-2 months. (It would never occur to me to clean the outside of the toilet.)
* Dust: I literally can not see dust. It is invisible to me. I would hire a maid every now and then though, to take care of things like this.

I eventually changed my ways and became a more equal partner in the house. But it was a path fraught with conflict and misunderstandings — not just for me, but for a lot of my fellow life travelers who have low cleanliness thresholds. (There are some people who have high cleanliness thresholds, for whom none of this is an issue. And there are others who refuse to do housework, for which none of this is relevant. This post is for people like me, who just don’t see messiness.)

If you’re in a relationship with someone that has a low cleanliness threshold, there’s one thing I would emphasize. It’s important that each party see the other person’s perspective on the cleanliness threshold as equally valid. I don’t feel like Mrs. Bee’s cleanliness threshold is more valid than my own. She just has a personal preference, and because I love her (and because I want to set a good example for our kids), I’ve learned to adjust.

I see a lot of relationships where there’s a mismatch in cleanliness thresholds. The trouble often starts when the cleaner person starts criticizing the messier person for their inability to conform to a higher cleanliness threshold. This starts a cycle of defensiveness and/or nagging that usually doesn’t end well… or ends with the cleaner person just deciding to do all the chores.

Bee did all the chores for a long time, although we would have a maid come in and help when we could afford it. I would do Bee’s online chores in return, helping build out her websites (like Hellobee!). But eventually that system broke down, as we got busier with two kids. Also, the sheer volume of chores increases dramatically with two kids. It’s hard to watch the kids and maintain the house, especially with two working parents. The house started to slip under even my low cleanliness thresholds.

What worked for me was:

* Letting the mess slide under my cleanliness threshold. Once the gas tank hit E, I re-activated all of my dormant cleaning systems. Once I was cleaning regularly, I started doing the chores more regularly until I was ready to up the frequency of cleaning to match Mrs. Bee’s standards.

* Doing the chores without supervision. I do all the cleaning chores early in the morning, on the days when Charlie wakes up around 5 or 6 am. It’s a lot easier to do chores when you are alone.

* Realizing that I was setting a good example for our kids. I want our kids — especially our son — to see that both mom and dad contribute equally to the household.

* Thinking about chores as a way to express my love. Acts of Service aren’t really my love language, but Mrs. Bee took the test and it came up high on her love language list. So when I’m doing the chores, I think about how much I love my wife and how this will hopefully show her in some small way how I feel.

* Taking responsibility for each chore. It helped that I was in charge of the chores, instead of doing stuff off of a honey-do list administered by someone else.

In any case, every household is different and this is what worked for us.

I’d love to hear from other mismatched couples out there: does one of you have a higher cleanliness threshold than the other? How do you guys deal with it?