What a Messy Space Reveals About Relationships, Part 1

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Doctor Neha: This week I have special guest Stephanie, who is a home health nurse. She has been so gracious and willing to share her questions so that all of you can learn. Welcome, Stephanie.

Stephanie: Thank you. Nice to be here.

Doctor Neha: What have you been thinking about in terms of a communication question?

Stephanie: My communication issue is I don’t understand why it’s so hard for me to get myself organized or try to keep my work area or my office area tidy. I let things pile up, pile up, pile up, and then I get so overwhelmed I can’t even tackle it.

Doctor Neha: When your husband was here, he talked about what happens to him when that situation happens. It’s rare that I get both parties separately to talk about the same issue. It’s clearly an issue because you’re coming at it from both angles.

So you’re saying, “Why is it so hard for me to keep my areas clean?” You’re a home health nurse, and what has been the consequence of not throwing things out or getting rid of things too soon? Have you ever had that happen?

Stephanie: Yes I have.

Doctor Neha: Tell me about it.

Stephanie:: I’ve thrown consents away or shredded consents and then I had to go back out to the home to get them re-signed.

Doctor Neha: That’s a big undertaking. As a home health nurse those would be things that are huge issues and legal issues. Tell me what was organization like in your family growing up?

Stephanie: My mother was a homemaker, and she did books for my father. My father, he was in the oil business, he was an independent oil jobber.

Doctor Neha: Your mom did his paperwork?

Stephanie: She did his books until his business grew. Then she couldn’t do them anymore; he had to have an accountant, but my mom did all the books for him while he was growing.

Doctor Neha: How were your parents around organization?

Stephanie: With my mother, everything was neat and tidy. My father’s desk was a mess, but he knew where everything was on his desk.

Doctor Neha: Do you kind of feel that way?

Stephanie: Yes, and if you asked him where something was he could get it. When my dad’s secretary or my mom tried to clean up his desk, it didn’t go well.

Doctor Neha: The interesting piece here is that you are your dad, right?

Stephanie: Yes.

Doctor Neha: Do you usually know where things are?

Stephanie: Yes, I do.

Doctor Neha: Is your husband is more like your mom? Much more organized?

Stephanie: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yes.

Doctor Neha: Was this the source of fights at home with your parents? Did you ever hear, “I can’t find anything” or “You got to keep this clean”?

Stephanie: No, because the house was my mother’s domain. So the house was neat and tidy. At the office my mother had her areas organized and my dad had another room for his office was and his was messy. But he knew where everything was and it didn’t cause any problems.

Doctor Neha: So there was never any discord about it?

Stephanie: Mm-hmm (negative).

Doctor Neha: Now, you’ve been married …

Stephanie: Almost 21 years.

Doctor Neha: … and for the most part an awesome marriage, and then this thing comes up. You wonder, Why do you want me to keep my stuff all tidy?

Stephanie: Right.

Doctor Neha: And you’re thinking to yourself, Listen, leave my office alone; it’s my domain;the rest of the domain is fine.

Stephanie: Exactly.

Doctor Neha: In your family, how are you in relation to your siblings?In a messy way?

Stephanie: I’m the neatest of all three.

Doctor Neha: So you get married to someone who’s more like your mother but the truth is of the three of [you siblings], you’re the rock star.

Stephanie: Yes.

Doctor Neha: The experience here is about why can’t you get everything clean.First of all, it’s the way you were raised. Messinesswas considered fine and there were no fights about it, so you don’t even consider it an issue.

Stephanie: No.

Doctor Neha: But is it an issue if it’s an issue to your partner?

Stephanie: I guess so.

Doctor Neha: It distances you slightly in your relationship with someone you love.

Stephanie: That’s true.

Doctor Neha: So it could be more peace and joy together, and it’s less peace and joy?

Stephanie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doctor Neha: What is it besides the “mess” that it’s triggering in him? It’s going to be something else that’s triggering him—it’s not really about the physical mess.

That’s the first piece to think about. The second piece is that there’s a slight danger in your mind if you throw things away.

Stephanie: Exactly, yes.

Doctor Neha: Usually when people hold onto things, they think they hold on to physical things.But it’s really about an emotional piece underneath.Your worry is, “If I don’t keep this …

Stephanie: I’m going to need it.

Doctor Neha: …I’m going to need it, but I don’t really know what I need so I’ll keep it all.”

Stephanie: Exactly.And I have to be in the mood to throw things away.

Doctor Neha: What kind of mood is that?

Stephanie: Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed with work that I don’t want to do anything; I don’t want to throw stuff away. Instead of like Tom, who as soon as he gets home, it’s all about let’s deal with it and do it. For me, I’m too tired, I’m too exhausted, I don’t want to clean it right now. Then it just piles up.

Doctor Neha: He’s a doer; he’s kind of like a self-cleaning oven. It’s constantly getting cleaned up, right?

Stephanie: Yes.

Doctor Neha: And you’re more of a batch processor.

Stephanie: Exactly.

Doctor Neha: You say, “Let me get through all my stuff, and then I’ll spend a weekend doing this.”

Stephanie: Right.

Doctor Neha: There’s definitely a difference in styles.It’s not that you don’t think it’s important.What would be important is to get curious about what’s underneath it for your partner.There may be ways to set it up that will not only have you not feeling overwhelmed, but will also create a system that will prevent a trigger for him.

Organizing and messiness looks like it’s a physical issue, but there’s always something more to it. It could be an emotional soothing. For you, there’s a way that you go into overwhelmed overload and then you wait until you have a break. I wonder what it would feel like to insert a daily break for you.

Stephanie: A daily break to do the cleaning?

Doctor Neha: No, no.

Stephanie:: Just time for me?

Doctor Neha: Yes.

Stephanie: To regroup?

Doctor Neha: Rejuvenate. You give so much. If you do home health, you’re taking care of the sickest people.

Stephanie: And their families and everything that goes along, yes.

Doctor Neha: So you’re giving to everybody else, and there’s a part of you that’s just so depleted.

Stephanie: That’s true.

Doctor Neha: What’s one thing you can do to take care of you?

Stephanie: I guess eat right and exercise?

Doctor Neha: Okay, think of one simple thing you can add. For me, now I drink a green juice every day. I didn’t use to do it and now it’s the one thing I feel like I’m loving myself and nourishing myself. No matter where I am I figure out how to get a green juice. I mean that simple.

Stephanie: That’s such a small thing.

Doctor Neha: Small thing. We don’t want to start by overwhelming you, because saying, “Eating right and exercising, that’s huge for some.”

Stephanie: That’s true.

Doctor Neha: Tell me one simple thing you can do to take care of yourself.

Stephanie: I don’t know, what are some other choices?

Doctor Neha: It could be drinking water. It could be getting a massage once a month. It could be a home massage or a facial. It could be walking on the beach. You live in such a beautiful place. Anything that rejuvenates you—make it as important to take care of yourself as you make it to take care of others. You don’t have to answer it right now if it’s not coming to you.Just think about it. Make it small.

Stephanie: That’s a good idea.

Doctor Neha: We’re not going to take anything away from you.We’re just going to add one good thing, sound good?

Stephanie: Yes.

Doctor Neha: Okay, here we go. So your takeaways?

Stephanie:: My takeaway is to try to find what’s going on underneath.

Doctor Neha: Sometimes what’s happening on a physical level is not what’s actually happening.

Stephanie: To do something good for myself, reward myself some way once a day, once a week, once a month. Trying to work on the process a little bit at a time and not to be so overwhelmed.

Doctor Neha: Thank you. So good to see you.

Stephanie: Thank you, good to see you too.

Doctor Neha: For all of you out there who know you get yourselves overwhelmed in the process, or you have a way of batch processing,or you give, give, give to other people then you spend the next period of time trying to recover from that, what’s one kind thing you can do for yourself?

Whatever it is, I hope you come up with one item to take care of yourself. Thanks for tuning in and until next week.

Awareness Prescription

  1. Pay attention to patterns in your family that laid the beliefs that may be causing discord in your adult relationships. What are the differences in your upbringing that are clashing in your current relationship?
  2. Get curious about what’s underneath the physical mess (in your room, your garage or your basement!) and then you can get to the root of the problem.
  3. What’s one positive thing you can do for your self-care that will give to you this week?

To getting all your ducks in a row,

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