Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I grew up into an anxious micromanager after being raised in a hyper-controlled environment and enduring absurd scrutiny over tiny missteps. And — cringe — I didn’t even start dealing with it until I moved in with my now-husband. After a huge fight about laundry being put away haphazardly, I realized that not only did the laundry not matter, but I also had a lot of built-in habits and anxiety that I needed to dismantle and understand. Like, immediately.
And, kudos: I vaguely recall a column in which you recommended asking if a thing would matter in five years, and using that as the yardstick for keeping things in perspective.
I go out of my way to keep that in check, and our marriage and my mental health is much better for that extra, conscious step I take. But I still have a weird connection between my anxiety and keeping the house in order — as if the ghosts of childhood past will come yell at me for a poorly folded sheet? Ridiculous.
— In Check
In Check: Thanks so much for the kind words.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s a binary issue — neatness bad, haphazard-laundry-management good. There is a connection between environment and stress on both ends, with excessive clutter and excessive attention to detail both holding the power to distract us from our ability to love fully, work productively and relax effectively.
So, what makes sense to me is for each of us to think this through on a few fronts and reconciling any conflicts among them: 1. What constitutes a comfortable environment for us; 2. How much effort are we willing to put into creating and maintaining that environment relative to other priorities; and 3. How well-matched do we want, and need, our partners’ preferences to be to ours?
You sound as if you’ve found your way to a nice balance. Maybe there’s peace of mind in giving yourself a break, and allowing that some of your preference for order is just normal pragmatism and not all a consequence of parental absurdity.
Re: Micromanager: As a micromanager-in-recovery, I can say that one can change. It does take self-awareness and effort and time. Lots of time. But change can happen.
— In Recovery
In Recovery: Thanks. I’d only add to your good list of prerequisites: awareness that it’s not only not a bad thing to let others do things their own way, it is in fact an improvement. It makes life richer and more interesting.
Sometimes it takes formal treatment of underlying anxiety, too, since anxiety and a need for control are so closely intertwined.
Re: Micromanaging rehab: What I have learned over time — decades — trying to rein in micromanaging impulses is that I am not the boss of anyone. I am, though not always, the boss of me. I can control my need to control by recognizing how seldom my input results in a life-changing action.
Anonymous: This is (a) awesome and (b) making me want to go to the mirror and say forcefully, “You’re not the boss of me!”
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