THE BLOG
07/11/2007 03:28 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Clutter of Married Life

My wife and I are in couple's therapy. We found ourselves in trouble. Okay, my wife would say everything was fine, as soon as the next project finished, everything would be normal again. I would say we were in deep shit. I mean, deep.

I came to the abrupt realization the other day when I went ballistic over the smallest thing that it's clean-up time after 15 years of marriage. I love my wife and she makes me so mad so easily. We need to do something or else we may lose sight of all the wonderful things in our lives -- our kids, our family, the unspoken intimacy from years of being together -- because we can't see past the junk. The real junk, the emotional junk, the unavoidable build up life brings.

I hate clutter. As a child, I came home with report cards noting my love of a tidy space. My wife would live with stacks and piles everywhere, as long as she had a spot to sit in and a place to put her diet coke. I hate her clutter. It's not just the physical clutter, but the emotional clutter she lives in, too. I think she is addicted to chaos. It doesn't matter where, when, or how, her life is always in some state of chaos. She's not comfortable without a cell phone hooked to her waist and 50 people calling her needing something all the time. Not just need something in a vague way but need it now, within the next hour, or else the world will end. Work isn't 40 hours a week or 50 hours a week, but 80 hours a week. I've kidded myself into believing I can live with the emotional chaos by ignoring it. Instead, I go nuts about the physical chaos that goes along with it. That's where I draw the line.

It's funny after 15 years, the things that end up bothering you the most seem so petty to those looking in, but to the ones on the inside, it's painful. I know a couple divorcing after many years of marriage, who are now fighting about things that happened 10, 12, 14 years before as if it happened yesterday. It doesn't help that one kept a diary and now quotes from it, having recorded word for word arguments of the past. I keep a journal, too, but why waste my energy on what she said. When I'm mad, I don't care what she said, it's wrong. Why bother writing it down? Messy build up never cleaned out left one of them thinking she could start again and not make the same mistakes. I'm guessing she'll just start a new journal.

I'm no better. I have my own record keeping. Mine is about her stuff all over the house. We have approximately 15 computers. All but a couple are old machines other people were throwing out that my wife rescued from the scrap pile. They, and the monitors, take up an enormous amount of space. To me, they lie about like broken carcasses. To her, they are lost puppies, needing love. I cannot deal with the clutter of gear. I need it gone. It is the physical embodiment of all the phone calls taken at dinner time, on vacation; the weekly lists of what nights she'll be gone and the work related reasons as to why.

My floors may be polished, but I have been collecting the emotional dirt. I don't need it on paper; I have it in my heart. And it's getting very cluttered. To make it another 15 years, I need to do some housekeeping.

The whole concept of keeping current in relationships is new to me. I grew up in a family where secrets were held, tight, deep, forever. Dirty laundry was never aired because it would mean shame rather than redemption. To admit any wrong was to be weak. None of us wanted to be weak. The result has been devastating for me. I am holding the old pain and unable to let go. It would mean weakness. Shame.

I have to try. I will give up being mad about the cell phone attached to her waist, 24/7. I will let go of resenting the need for chaos. I will clean out my emotional build up from the years. I, too, have created chaos. I need to understand why.

I don't want to start a new journal.

Even if all the computers are moved out, the physical clutter gone, will it really be enough for me to let go? Am I focused on something that feels doable only because the real issue feels so insurmountable?

I hope my negotiations will be taken seriously. I am. Serious in recognizing sometimes the things we let go over and over again grow into major obstacles for intimacy. A pile of trash seems so silly to get upset about. Until it's been sitting there for 15 years and suddenly, it's not trash anymore, but disrespect. Lack of caring. Self-absorption. For both of us.

It's the unspoken, little things that kill long-term relationships. Wanting to start fresh with someone else with the belief that somehow, it won't happen again, it will be different, is understandable. But it's the nature of relationships. We fill our lives and our hearts with so much. And yet we forget to take out the trash. We don't remember how to let go. Or we never learned how.

Maybe I need something physical to change in order to know I have made a commitment to the emotional housecleaning I know I need to do. Maybe I need something hard from her, to see her commitment. And then, perhaps, we can start with a renewal, a beginning with all of the love and memories the 15 years has given us. Because somewhere in the piles of junk is an amazing love. We just need to find it again.