“Where are the stamps?” I asked my wife.
“I can’t believe you are asking me. They are right where they always are,” she yelled from across the room.
This does nothing to help me in my quest. The stamps are nowhere to be found.
My wife and I engage in this dance, a common couple’s refrain, no less than three times per week.
Replace “stamp” with any number of other household items and it’s the same conversation, sometimes argument, about how I can’t find anything – because she moved it! – and how I can’t find anything – because I don’t look hard enough!
No matter which refrain of this eternal sulky spousal swan song you might be on, the good news is that it’s not your fault.
“It’s true that opposites attract,” said Susan Winter, relationship expert and bestselling author who has extensively researched relationship challenges and personal empowerment. “A messy person will oftentimes align with a neat freak. The uptight, overly stressed out individual will be drawn to the relaxed, easy going type. It’s part of our internal balancing process. We attract a mate who possesses the parts of our life that are disowned, or undiscovered.”
For the couple who perpetually feels misaligned when it comes to losing household items or the opposite – always having to help their lost partner find them – the roles we often inhabit inform which person in the pair we become.
There is that partner who ends up tending to household chores and organization more than the other. In my case, my wife is the one who cares for the home and our child, and I work and pay the bills. I try to help around the house, but I don’t have a lot of available time, and I am not particularly good at it (really). My wife, on the other hand, is a lesbian Martha Stewart. She is incredibly clean and neat and keeps our home very well organized.
The only problem is, I don’t know where she puts anything. When I go to look for a stamp or a ladle or that bottle of scotch, I don’t know where she moved it to. Of course, if I dare ask, she will cue the same line spouses for all of eternity have been spewing to their significant others. I am sure cave people did the same.
One spouse couldn’t find the big rock they use for killing their dinner and asked the other where they moved it to, and they shrieked, “It’s the second drawer in the hutch just like it’s been for the last 2,000 years! When are you going to stop asking me?”
“Misplacing items is often the result of being rushed and trying to multitask. In the confusion to get onto the next goal, items are put aside randomly,” Winter said.
She recommended that we work with our partners to create a specified “home” for our items, a mutually agreed upon place where we lay down our keys, glasses, stamps, wrecking balls.
“Establishing a home for items makes finding them effortless,” she said.
In addition to the type of partner who works a lot on jobs that are not household related, there are legitimate reasons why people are forgetful, including cerebral deficits and diagnoses like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
Jamie Hord, cofounder of Horderly Professional Organizing in New York City, said it’s important that every household is set up to be functional for every single family member.
“Sometimes, the process can be complicated for couples organizing on their own, leaving one person in the relationship feeling lost in their own home!” she said.
One great way for couples to break the cycle of lost and found (or never lost, according to the other half) is to declutter together.
“Going through the decluttering process together will surely limit the number of times your partner says ‘hey, honey where are my shoes’ – only to find out that they were donated!” Hord said via email.
Another tip from the professional organizer is to label items around your home, particularly in shared spaces so that everyone can find what they’re looking for more easily. You can label drawers, bins, closets and any shared spaces that are frequently the focus of searches for objects.
“Remember, just because you may know where something is, doesn’t mean everyone else in your household does! Labels are super helpful to give them a sense of knowledge without having to ask where something is all the time,” she said.
Above all, a dose of empathy and understanding can go a long way toward avoiding the reflex to get whiny with your partner when you can’t find something, or when they can’t find something. Work together as much as you can to organize together and communicate about it. And be patient.
Get CNN Health's weekly newsletter
Sign up here to get The Results Are In with Dr. Sanjay Gupta every Tuesday from the CNN Health team.
“It takes on average about two months for new habits to form, so you or your partner may need to get used to your new setup for a bit before the ‘where’s my coat’ questions die down – but eventually, auto-pilot will turn on, and finding items around the home will be a breeze!” Hord said.
Of course, if you can’t handle the process of reorganizing everything together, or the age-old bickering rears its ugly head, you can always opt for a professional organizer.
Or bribe the kid $5 to find the stamps for you. Now, if only you knew where you put your wallet.
Allison Hope is a writer and native New Yorker who favors humor over sadness, travel over television, and coffee over sleep.