How to Decode Your Partner’s Mess

Those T-shirts that never quite make it to the hamper aren’t necessarily just a sign that your partner’s a slob. They may reveal a lot about your relationship. Read on to learn how to decipher what your messes mean so you can clean up your home and your love life.

A mound of dirty dishes

That leaning tower of dishware may symbolize building resentment over the division of labor. Refusing to suck it up and do the dishes might be a passive aggressive way to get your partner to help out more -- at some point, you're gonna run out of dishes, right? Stop the power struggle and make a list of all the household duties, estimating how long each takes. Then figure out how you want to divvy 'em up. Maybe each person gets to be a chore captain and you keep picking until they're all covered, or you could just alternate every other week.

Stacks of old bills

If your partner is in charge of the finances and your front table looks like a bill bomb went off (or you're finding random receipts and credit card statements all over the house), she may be trying to tell you something: She's tired of being the house accountant and shouldering all of the financial responsibility. If that's the case, create a system for sharing the responsibility, whether that means you'll sit down together every month to pay the bills or you guys decide to split it up.

Dirty clothes on the floor

Leaving dirty laundry on the floor could be his way of protesting against a home that's all you -- and none of him. Are you laying on the lavender-scented room fresheners a tad too thick? It may be time to redecorate -- together. In the meantime, try placing a hamper or hook where those sweaty gym clothes or wet towels usually fall.

A Disastrous dresser top

Congratulations, you trust each other! Emptying out your pockets (or purse) and laying their contents out by the bedside demonstrates intimacy and trust. But while bureau clutter might mean good news for your relationship, it's not such a good thing for your sleep quality or sex life. Clutter is a reminder of all the things you still need to do (translation: mess equals stress). So invest in two catchalls for the dresser, where you can each place all your daily debris (keys, wallets, lucky baseball cards…).

Wet towels, pjs, magazines (etc.) on the bed

Is your bed usually covered in newspapers, robes, a laptop and the ten outfits you tried on that morning? A messy bed could be a sign that you're not putting much thought into your sex life (read: you don't think of your bed as something you need to keep accessible so you can hop into it on the fly). And it could give your partner the message that you have made romance or sex less of a priority. Place a chair or laundry basket near your bed where you can toss all the vetoed outfits and wet towels. Words to live by: A clutter-free bed is a sexy bed.

Bathroom counter clutter

If your partner's products are starting to encroach upon your counter space, it probably just means she hasn't yet gotten used to sharing a nest with you. Maybe she assumes that because she has more stuff, it make sense for her to use up more room. If, despite your subtle hints ("Keep your $#%& on your side!" ), your mate's migrating toiletries are taking over the bathroom, move (note: we didn't say throw) the traveling shampoos back to their proper home a few times. If that doesn't give her the hint, it may be time to build a few shelves. But cut her some slack: Sharing a space can take some getting used to.

Nestperts: Patti Wood, MA, CSP, body language expert and author of Success Signals: A Guide to Reading Body Language; Scott Haltzman, MD, author of The Secrets of Happily Married Women

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