Procrastination can affect every area of your life. If you’re someone who tends to put things off—or you’re married to someone who does—it can easily create friction in your relationship. But understanding where the other person is coming from can help you work through it.
My partner and I are both procrastinators—but about different things. I’ll wait until the very last second to get ready to leave the house or to start something for an impending deadline—but I always manage to be on time. My partner is a diligent worker who prepares her research in advance but is chronically late when it comes to running errands and sending emails. So we have to strike a balance. We both get the urge to gently nudge each other if we think the other one is putting something off, but ultimately that will just make the tardy one dig their heels in.
And it’s even more frustrating if only one person in the relationship procrastinates. If you have a dyed-in-the-wool type-A personality mixed with a laid-back procrastinator, there’s bound to be tension. But, if you can both accept the situation and work within it, things can run a lot more smoothly. Here’s what you need to keep in mind.
What to Do If Your Partner’s a Procrastinator
If your partner is a procrastinator and you’re not, first take a deep breath. A deeeeep breath. Because you can’t change them. I know, it feels like it should be doable to get your partner to the 6 am workout class if you could only show them the light. But it’s not. You need to accept them for who they are. Accept their limitations. And know how to work with them.
Secondly, if you can’t control your urge to give them a gentle push in a more productive direction, you need to learn how to do it constructively. If you are constantly reminding them and needling them about what they need to do, that will just annoy them and make them feel pushed around. Trust me, they’ll just procrastinate more. When I think my partner will be late, I ask her what time it is so she’ll get a subtle reminder—she sees right through it. And she should–I’m being condescending and controlling. And when she asks me if I’ve started that project I was talking about, it doesn’t make me any more likely to do it.
Instead, focus on objective truths. Rather than constantly reminding them about what they haven’t done yet, make a list of things that have to be done and the deadline, if there is one. There are even apps where you can have a shared list of tasks. If you put in “buy toilet paper, book Thanksgiving plane tickets, sign permission slips tonight” in a list you both have access to, you’re not nagging them—you’re stating a fact. If they don’t complete what they were supposed to do in time, then you can bring it up. But don’t put yourself in the role of the reminder.
And when they do well, make it clear that you appreciate it. Say, “I know you didn’t want to do that, thank you so much for helping me out, I really appreciate.” Positive reinforcement is so much more motivating than criticism.
And How to Help If You’re a Procrastinator
Maybe you’re the procrastinator. Maybe you know it drives your partner up the wall. What can you do? Because, realistically, you’re still going to be a procrastinator, so you need to work with that.
If you can tell that you’re stressing out your partner by putting something off, then address that directly. Say, “Look, I know that you want me to get this done, I know when it has to be done by, and I promise it’ll happen.” Then just make sure you deliver. And, if it’s really stressing them out, try to do a little sooner. Just a little.
But if procrastination is really having a big impact on your life, you might want to look at the underlying issue. Maybe it’s something that doesn't just affect your relationship—maybe it affects your job or your friendships and is really holding you back. If that’s the case, seeking help or doing some soul-searching can make a difference. Sometimes it’s a fear of failure, sometimes it’s a mental health issue, sometimes it’s done out of resentment. But there’s a reason you put things off, so try to get to the bottom of it.
Procrastination can really take its toll on a relationship or on a marriage, so you need to find a way to work within it. If one or both of you are a procrastinator, you need to accept. Someone isn’t going to magically change overnight, no matter how much you want them to. But if you can communicate without criticizing and find a way to take each other’s considerations into account, you’ll be able to find a way to move forward. You can work through procrastination, but you need to be a little patient with each other.