Patrick Burns says he knew his partner Ryan Slopek was the one when he opened Slopek's cabinet and discovered his Fiestaware dish collection. It was fate... but there was just one problem.
“His dishes were organized all wrong,” Burns told TODAY.com. “I explained that he had his warm colors mixed with cool colors, and he just kind of looked at me like I was crazy.”
Patrick, who works in retail, describes his cleaning and organizational style as “fastidious.”
The couple's Dallas apartment is neat as a pin with closets sectioned into "casual" and "dress" clothes. Sweaters are organized by style and fabric and folded in bins under the bed.
Ryan, a chemical engineer, has a more relaxed approach to tidiness. He teases Patrick about his "OCD," but Patrick says he doesn't mind.
"I embrace it. I understand it. It’s just my little quirk, my idiosyncrasy."
'We're wired differently'
Tidiness —or lack of it — poses a tougher challenge for real-life "Odd Couple" Arin Black and Kevin Cohen.
Arin, a freelance writer, says she's “anal-retentive" about order, even having "a rainbow color-coordinated closet."
Her husband? "He's the complete opposite," she says. "He saves scraps of paper and every picture and every piece of mail. He likes to leave things all over the place."
The couple, who lives in Philadelphia, once fought about it, but these days they compromise.
Now, Kevin no longer throws garbage in the kitchen sink. And Arin accepts that her husband, a U.S. Army combat veteran, doesn't like militaristic rules about cleanliness at home.
“The realization that we’re both wired differently has really helped us,” says Arin.
A common problem
It's a subject that comes up all the time in counseling, says Dr. Jane Greer, a New York-based relationship expert, creator of "Shrink Wrap with Dr. Jane Greer," and author of “What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship.”
“Most couples have different levels of tidiness and tolerance for messiness,” says Greer.
But, as the mismatched duos above illustrate, there is hope. "It takes a balance of respect, acceptance, tolerance and clarity around the rules of what’s important to do and where you can give each other a little slack," she says.
Here, experts share 6 tips.
1. Be realistic about expectations.
Just because you're the kind of person who attacks the dishes immediately after dinner doesn't mean your partner is the same way, says Greer.
Can’t tolerate a piled-up sink? Do the dishes yourself, says Greer. “But, know that you’re doing them for you and not for him, because he’s okay with them not getting done right away.”
Another option? Use paper plates on nights your husband’s assigned dish duty.
2. Know when to compromise.
If your messiness has become a major issue, try giving in a little bit, says Will Meyerhofer, a New York City-based psychotherapist and author of "Life Is A Brief Opportunity for Joy."
“I try to make the point that probably putting your clothes away isn’t that huge a thing to do if it’s going to save your marriage."
3. Create a messy zone.
Some people — hoarders being an extreme example — are comforted by seeing their stuff all around them, says Greer.
Consider creating a space away from common areas where a sloppy partner can have a "safe" pile no one else can touch, she says.
4. Hire outside help.
Take the focus off the two of you by hiring a cleaning service, says Meyerhofer.
It's a trick Arin Black says works for her and her husband. “Now I don’t have to think about it and he doesn’t have to think about it. We’ve outsourced it.”
5. Have empathy for each other.
Keep in mind that you’re different people raised in different environments, says Meyerhofer. "What’s going to seem normal to you may seem abnormal to the other one.”
Accept it, and make concessions when you can.
Empathy also means no cruel remarks, says Greer. No matter how odd your partner’s behavior seems, don’t ridicule them.
6. Focus on the bigger picture.
Celebrate all the ways the two of you are in sync, say both experts.
That mindset is what most helps Arin and Kevin. “We realize there are more things we have in common than we have that are different, so we focus on those things."