Hoarding Knows No Orientation
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My girlfriend of two years is a packrat. She keeps everything. Newspapers, junk mail, plastic carryout plates, really (really) old clothes, little packets of year-old Chinese mustard…it’s clearly an obsession and I can’t take it anymore. She can’t even stand to deposit her paychecks! The worst part is the stinky old newspapers that are piled high in our dining room. She says she’s going to recycle them, but I know she never will. And she swears we’ll need all that mustard someday. I love her, but I am slowly disappearing under a mountain of trash. HELP!
Dr. Hurd replies,
I know someone who keeps hundreds of tiny hotel shampoos piled in his bathroom. He never uses them, but feels compelled to keep them. Ask him why, and he says, “It’s perfectly good shampoo!”
Some people like to keep things whether or not they need them. Perhaps it fosters a sense of security. Maybe it adds to a feeling of status if the things being hoarded are valuable. Maybe it just lowers anxiety by keeping him/her from being as anxious as he/she might otherwise be. I call that “Self-Medicating through Possessing.”
Some hoarders become upset at the prospect of losing their stuff, so try reasoning with her on a case-by-case basis. Forget trying to “make” her rational on the subject; the discussion will never end. Either she considers herself rational (as my shampoo friend sincerely does), or she knows it’s irrational but she’s convinced she can’t do anything about it. Suggest something like, “Let’s keep all the Chinese mustard just from 2010. The rest are going out.” You can even tell her after you’ve done it (she might not even notice). You’ll have to risk upsetting her, but don’t become defensive. Success in life sometimes means upsetting others, even those you love. It’s generally not a catastrophe.
“I cannot and will not live this way” is the most powerful phrase in relationship language. Use it sparingly, and only with things that really bother you. If she really values you, she’ll realize that your needs count too. If she doesn’t, and continues with her obsessions regardless of your feelings, then you’re in a one-sided relationship and you’ve got bigger problems to consider than just mustard.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
When my partner and I first met 16 years ago we would enjoy an occasional “threesome” with a special friend or acquaintance. It was all very casual, with no pressure or jealousies. Since then, things have “cooled off” in the physical aspect of our relationship, so in order to spice things up, I’ve been trying to get him back into “meeting other people.” I’ve introduced him to several great guys from work, and some of them have expressed interest in getting to know (the both of) us better. The problem is that my boyfriend will have none of it. He finds fault with every guy I suggest as a possible “contender,” and won’t even discuss the subject. We are very secure in our relationship, but I just can’t figure out why he refuses to explore something that worked out so well when we first met. Is there any way I can make this work?
Dr. Hurd replies,
You’re making several assumptions here. The first is that your partner should still enjoy threesomes just because he did 16 years ago. Not necessarily so. People’s sexual tastes tend to change over time. Secondly, you’re assuming that he sees the “cooling off” of your physical relationship the same way you do. Some expect sex to stay intense and new, even with the same person. But others may not. Maybe he doesn’t mind the serenity and warmth of a “cooled off” relationship, which for you is simply boring and a sign of problems.
The question isn’t whether you can make this work. The question is whether you both can make it work. Instead of having a conversation about threesomes, try to find out how he feels about the status quo. If he dislikes it, does he think there’s something you and he can do about it? It amazes me that couples engage in endless discussion over vacations or house purchases, but they expect highly personal matters to work out with essentially no discussion. You can even talk about it in a therapeutic counseling setting if it makes the two of you more comfortable.
In earlier eras, sex was frowned upon and you were considered immoral if you (admitted you) liked it. In today’s society something’s wrong with you if you don’t have/want sex 24 hours a day. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with (safe) group action if everyone agrees to it, but there’s a cost for everything, and some people don’t like sharing the realm of physical intimacy with a third party. For some, that privacy and exclusivity is the definition of marriage (legal or otherwise). If your partner doesn’t agree with your view, is that a dealbreaker for you? You’ll have to answer that question for yourself.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist, life coach and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email your questions or comments to DrHurd@DrHurd.com.