Marriage makeover: "We need to straighten up our house — and our marriage"

Megan and Ken Knoop aren't sure that they — or their messy house — can handle a baby. Can REDBOOK's relationship experts help them clean up their act?

Couple going over Budget
After getting married three years ago, Megan and Ken Knoop moved into the home they've dreamed of owning — a charming beach house in Long Beach, NY. The problem is, they never unpacked. Megan, 30, a catering manager, and Ken, 35, a sales manager, have always led busy lives and pride themselves on making the most of their free time with friends and each other. As a result, their would-be-quaint bungalow is filled with unopened boxes of wedding gifts, undeveloped rolls of photos, loads of laundry that never get sorted or put away, and stacks of bills and papers that have piled up on their dresser. And the couple's lack of organization has wreaked havoc on their lives, not just their house. Both their driver's licenses were recently suspended due to a lapsed car insurance policy that neither Ken nor Megan ever noticed. They're still looking for the $300 in cash they lost four months ago. And when a diamond fell out of Megan's engagement ring recently, they had to pay to replace it because they couldn't find the insurance paperwork that would have covered a new stone.

While Ken takes a more lax attitude toward their situation, Megan lashes out at him for the constant mess. Now, with their first child on the way, the couple is reaching out for help before it's too late. Relationship experts Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., author of Money, Sex, and Kids, and Patricia Covalt, Ph.D., author of What Smart Couples Know, teamed up with the couple to get them organized — once and for all.



MEGAN: "Our marriage is a constant struggle of trying to figure out who does what and what goes where. And our lives are so busy with friends and travel that an organized home has always taken a backseat."

KEN: "Between work and finding time to enjoy ourselves, we can't seem to muster up the energy to tackle the things in our home."

MEGAN: "I can muster up the energy, but when Ken comes home and leaves his shoes and jacket by the door and tosses his wallet and keys wherever he feels like it, I can't see the point. The place would be ruined again in a couple of days."

KEN: "I do leave my things around, but Megan is home more than I am. I work 12-hour shifts and have people breathing down my neck at work. I don't want to come home to a house that is a wreck, or have to walk in the door and hear that it's my fault the place is like it is. If I had more time maybe I could help out more, but I don't, and that's not going to change."

MEGAN: "But when I'm home, I'm calling clients, grocery shopping, making dinner, and maintaining the social life that Ken likes. It's not like I'm sitting on the couch eating bonbons. And Ken doesn't work seven days a week. He could take a weekend away from the beach to stay home and tag-team the mess with me."

KEN: "Even if I did give up a weekend to sort through our things, Megan would complain about how I was putting things away or where I was placing them. She likes things her way. It would end up in a disaster."

MEGAN: "That pretty much sums up why our home is like it is — Ken doesn't want to try, and I'm too frustrated to care anymore."



Until now, Megan and Ken have been winging who does what around the house, but neither of them is taking responsibility for making chores a priority. "They need to develop a sense of teamwork," says Tessina. The couple should get a basket to hold their bills and then set aside an hour or two on the weekend to go through it, as well as tackle other household tasks. "Outlining exactly who is responsible for which tasks, such as taking the trash out at night or putting the laundry away, will also help the couple to take control of their home," says Covalt. And to make cleaning up less onerous, the Knoops can approach it like a game, suggests Tessina. "They can set out three boxes — one for things to keep, one for trash, and one for donations — and they can challenge each other to see who can pick up the most stuff in the least amount of time," she says.

Further, the couple needs to calm down and each take responsibility for their share of the mess. "Ken has to stop acting like a defiant teenager and Megan has to stop acting like the 'house police,'" says Tessina. Ken can start by creating a place — say, a hook on the wall or a chair — where he can put his stuff as soon as he comes home. For her part, Megan must try to stop being so resentful about the mess, and to help Ken to be neater — without being critical. "If you make your spouse feel like you're trying to be the boss," says Tessina, "instead of being helpful, he'll just rebel."


MEGAN: "I blame Ken for our disorganization — he's too lax and has walked all over our relationship. When Ken misplaces things, like the mail, it leaves me with a bigger mess to stress about. I'm the one who calls the bank or searches for the item while he just apologizes and goes on with his life."

KEN: "Megan likes to control everything. It's when things backfire, like she can't find her birth certificate that we need for a trip, that she flips out and accuses me of not doing anything. You can't say 'I'll handle it' and then turn around and call me lax when it goes wrong. I'd call the bank or help her look for the missing birth certificate, but I'm not going to stick around to get blamed for something that she said she wanted to do herself."

MEGAN: "I want Ken to take care of things without my having to ask him. That just consumes the same time and energy it takes for me to do it myself."

KEN: "Megan likes to go to the extreme. A misplaced bill turns into an argument about how I've raised the interest rate we'll get on an SUV that we want to buy two years from now. I don't want us to both be stewing over something that we can't go back and fix. If it's something I can change, then let's talk about it — instead of saying you'll take care of it because I might screw it up."

MEGAN: "Constantly reminding him of what's happening in our lives makes me feel like his mother."

KEN: "I don't want a mother. I want a wife who is my partner; someone who can laugh about the mistakes with me, not remind me of them even when they're not happening. I want her to get that this is our struggle — not Ken's destruction of Megan's future."


Ken and Megan are saying a lot, but they're not really listening to one another. "They need to make a conscious effort to talk to each other before a conflict arises or they won't ever solve their problems," says Covalt. She suggests that Megan and Ken sit down when they're both calm and ask each other questions — How does Megan feel about the piles of laundry? What might work better? What does Ken think about putting up shelves? — to understand the other's viewpoint.

The couple also needs to stop pointing the finger. "Megan's working against herself by being overly dramatic and blaming Ken for the mess," says Tessina. "Instead, she needs to declare a truce and work together with Ken." Once they agree to a plan, they can both take responsibility for sticking to it. Finally, the Knoops need to remember how much they enjoy one another when they're away from the stress of housework and channel some of that fun into their domestic duties. "If they learn to be playful about their chores, they'll enjoy each other at home too," Tessina says.



MEGAN: "I'm scared that once the baby comes, I'll feel like I'm doing more, all by myself, and Ken won't help. I know he'll be a great father. I just fear that when I need him, he won't be there, and that he'll use work or my not speaking up as an excuse."

KEN: "Having a baby is going to be tough, but I know we have a lot of love. My concern is that the baby will pick up on our fighting. I'm willing to do whatever. I'm just worried that Megan will take on too much and not tell me when she needs help."

MEGAN: "But stepping up when we have a baby isn't going to help us get through the disorganized mess we're in now. What if the baby were to come tomorrow? We'd have a new mess on top of an old mess."

KEN: "Obviously we've had this problem for a while. I never wanted to deal with it. Now I'm just overwhelmed as to how we're going to go about this and get ourselves on track."


Once Megan and Ken get their home organized, they'll definitely feel less stressed out about the baby, says Covalt. And once they learn to communicate more effectively, they'll make a great parenting team. Megan needs to realize it's okay to turn to Ken — and he needs to recognize when she falls into her martyr role and stops asking for help, says Tessina. "He can then say, 'Babe, you look stressed — what can I do?'" They both also need to be clear on Ken's responsibilities as a dad so he can do what's needed without Megan's having to ask. "They should look at their opposite traits as gifts they're going to give to their baby," says Covalt. "Ken can be glad that Megan will be a mom who's on top of all the details, and Megan can be glad that Ken will be a laid-back, playful dad. They'll both contribute positively to their baby's life."


MEGAN: "Ken and I took the advice to heart. We were able to sit down and discuss charts and spots around the house that we could begin to tailor to our needs. We started our chore chart this weekend and scheduled our first meeting. A weight has been lifted!"

KEN: "My eyes have suddenly been opened to all the things I was missing in my home life. I never stopped to think or examine how much Megan was doing around the house and how little I was. I'm looking forward to going through our basket of mail and getting our finances, paperwork, and lives together. That alone is going to make us a lot more relaxed and prepared for when our baby is born."


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