WHEN I do marital therapy with couples, I do two things. Firstly, I establish exactly what each partner wants and needs in the relationship to feel loved and cared for. It is very important to clearly indicate what it is that you need in order to feel safe, happy, and loved. Every spouse has slightly different needs and they can be heard to pin it down.
However, after some discussion, one’s core needs crystallise.
Secondly, comes the harder part. I get couples to translate those core needs into specific things that their spouse could do. I look for everyday acts that would, in small ways, begin to meet those needs. I might ask, “Ok, one of your needs is for him to take you seriously and value what is important to you. Give me three small easy-to-do things that he could do on a somewhat regular basis that would be an indication to you that he is taking an interest in you”.
I ask this because our needs are rarely met with grand gestures but rather by smal,l everyday acts that reassure us that our spouse understands what we need.
We live and trade in small nitty-gritty everyday acts of kindness or attention that symbolise our love for the other. Therefore, in couples’ therapy, people have a responsibility to teach their spouse how he or she can, in small little ways, go about meeting their needs. This process can be very revealing for couples. They begin to discover things they did not know, realise that the changes they have to make may not be as big or drastic as they feared, and have to not just feel love, but show it in the currency that is of value to the other person.
This approach works because the biggest of needs are met in the smallest of ways. For example, your need to feel valued by your husband may be met by him, very simply, making you a cup of coffee in the evening and sitting with you for five minutes to simply find out how you’re getting on. Your need to feel loved may be met by his simply touching you in casual ways — rubbing our back as you stand at the sink, holding your hand when lying in bed. Small gestures can mean the world.
When I do this with couples it is also very interesting to note the degree to which tidiness is a way that people express or experience love. It is not uncommon for a wife to say that a way he could show that he values her is, for example, to be attentive to tidiness: ‘If he could just put away his mugs and plates after he uses them’; ‘if he would mow the lawn without my having to ask him’; ‘if he could tidy up the living room before he goes to bed’, or ‘if he could clean the countertop after using it’. The fact is that little things like this are real vehicle through which love, and interest are shown. Mutual attention to tidiness is an unglamorous but vital way that core human needs are met in a relationship — it triggers sexual feelings and a sense of being a couple.
In fact, according to one survey, a clean house can be vital for couples to feel sexually connected. More than 1,000 people were asked how the state of their house affected their intimacy. Interestingly, 44 percent of people said they view home cleanliness to be as important to their relationship as sex. 40 percent of people said they’d likely break up with someone with a perpetually messy house. So, people are serious when they say they can’t stand a mess or gross untidiness and serious about how deeply it can affect their daily well-being.
The problem for a spouse is to be able to justify a need for some measure of tidiness because a desire for tidiness will easily be trivialised by men and woman. She may feel guilty for giving out to him and he may feel annoyed by having to comply. Or he may feel guilty about feeling so bad when he comes home to a messy home and she may feel offended if he says this. The issue creates a perpetual distancing between the couple where one becomes the aggrieved person carrying more of their share of responsibility and the other feels they are being controlled.
However, it is vital that partners understand the logical and real connection between domestic tidiness, affection, and sexual intimacy. Tidiness is a very important relationship issue and can be an aphrodisiac.
In one survey of 1,000 people, over 50 percent of people said they’re more likely to have sex with their partner after they’ve completed household chores, and just over 60 percent said a clean, organised bedroom makes them more likely to want to be intimate.
When you think about it, there is nothing strange about this. Untidiness, clutter, and living in a mess causes a great deal of distress for people who are even moderately tidy.
Untidiness, clutter, and the chaos of a messy room demands your attention – you cannot help but see it or must deal with it. It creates distraction that draws you away from the tasks you want to complete, from conversation, to contemplation, to planning, to having a more intimate life.
Clutter also causes stress by invading your senses and making it hard to do other things. It can also be depressing, because when you are ankle deep in clutter you feel it symbolises your entire life and it can make you feel hopeless. You are then more likely to find your head in the fridge looking for comfort food than reading a book in the sitting room or being close with your partner.
When your mind is subconsciously distracted and stressed out by your surroundings, it becomes a lot harder to partake in normal, exuberant activities you usually enjoy because it feels like there’s too much going on, too much around you, and not enough time, space, or energy. Fun can feel impossible in this kind of environment.
The currencies of love are many but a central one is tidiness. I do not mean obsessive cleanliness, but having a home you can relax in. It’s important that spouses see this less as an issue of control and more as an issue of intimacy — and it affects men as much as women.