A recent survey of the domestic habits and preferences of 2000 people reveals some surprises about the most common sources of angst between couples who live together, with the battle over temperature control affecting more than 80 percent of couples. Closing window coverings at night and locking doors while at home also topped the list of preferences.
Are you turning into your mother?
Combining the habits and preferences of two individuals who grew up in separate households is never easy. Just as you emulate your parent's approach to relationships, you typically model the housekeeping and domestic preferences you grew up with.
Were you from a home full of boys? You probably leave the toilet seat up. Was your Mother particularly security-conscious? You are likely to habitually lock the door behind you when you come home. If your partner comes from a female-dominated household with a more relaxed attitude to security these habits could become a source of tension, particularly when cold porcelain meets bare skin during a middle of the night toilet visit. (A girlfriend of mine kept a dinner plate in the freezer and would slap it on her sleeping partner's back whenever she encountered a left-up toilet seat during the night. He got to the share the pain of cold porcelain on warm skin.)
It's the little gestures that keep romance alive
While many people think of grand gestures such as bunches of roses and resort holidays as the most romantic things they can do, understanding and accommodating your partner's domestic preferences are a key part of maintaining romance in a relationship.
For many couples, there is a steep decline in relationship satisfaction after a few years of cohabitation. The "romance" is gone. That decline in relationship satisfaction is often closely associated with an increase in friction about conflicting domestic habits.
With romantic gestures being one of the 8 ways you can make your relationship more romantic, those gestures should include consideration of your partner's preferences for how the household operates. Does she hate wet towels left on the floor? Make it a priority to hang them up. For extra credit, every now and again fold all the towels neatly, hang them and leave a love note.
Does he hate dishes left in the sink? Try to change your habits so they go straight into the dishwasher or on the counter. Apologize if you slip up. You don't have to bend over backwards to accommodate every idiosyncrasy, just demonstrate that you are being considerate of their major domestic preferences.
Know thy partner... and the way they like stuff around the house
Rather than find out the hard way whether your partner objects to dishes being left in the sink or wet towels on the floor, try using a date night to have a discussion about domestic preferences. If you've been together for a while there's a chance this discussion could turn into warfare, so set some rules. Use of the words 'never' and 'always' are banned, and make it fun by turning it into a game.
Grab some sticky notes for you both to write down all the domestic preferences you can think of. Use the ones listed in the survey as a start and then come up with all the things your respective families fussed about. You could even throw in some of the peculiarities of ex-partners for extra fun. Or not.
Spread out the sticky notes on a wall or large table. Each of you gets to rate how important each preference is to you -– use a pen or star stickers to mark up each sticky note.
Feeling brave? Instead of indicating how YOU feel about each preference, try guessing which are your partner's hot buttons and rate each one from their perspective.
At the end of the exercise you'll have a clear idea of where you agree and where you don't (or you may be in the back of an ambulance, whatever it takes).
It's helpful to discuss the areas where you differ vastly. What's the background -– did your Mother get angry if you left your bed unmade? Did your ex drive you insane with his pathological desire to control the indoor temperature? Knowing the drivers of your partner's preferences will help you understand why they matter.
The exercise may even give your partner insights into their own behaviours that they hadn't realised before. The important thing is that you have the discussion and then try to reach common ground instead of a battle ground.
One last tip: If your partner does try to support your domestic preferences always encourage them with words of appreciation. Resist the temptation to criticize or belittle their efforts or they'll stop trying.
This blog first appeared in October, 2016.