I need help addressing one of the troublesome differences between time management styles in a marriage. I’m a go getter/pre-planner, do in advance sort of person. My husband has a laid back/procrastinator/put of till tomorrow what you don’t want to do today type of management style. It is a frustration to both of us, especially if we have a community or church job that we do together. Even daily life tasks are annoying because he’s in no hurry and I like “having things done”.

What suggestions can you give us to work through this difference and resolve this issue that has become a wedge between us? We’ve become rather territorial, we dig in our heels, and we’re ready to clash over anything that comes along.

I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is that you’ll never resolve this issue. The good news is that you don’t have to resolve this issue to have a great marriage! We spend so much time in marriage trying to resolve unresolvable issues that we wear each other out and develop long-standing resentments that create more loneliness. Let’s talk about how to work with this unresolvable issue so you can drop the resentment and build more closeness.

It’s human nature to work on changing things that aren’t working for us. However, this only works well if you’re working on yourself. Don’t like the way you’re eating? You can change it! Don’t like the way you respond to people? You can change it! Even though making personal changes isn’t easy or automatic, we can work at it, and, over time, we usually start to see measurable progress.

On the other hand, as you’ve already seen, changing someone else doesn’t work the same way. Not only does it not work the same way, it simply doesn’t work. If you’ve successfully changed someone, it’s probably because they were being controlled, abused, or manipulated. We are taught by the Lord that we can have influence on others, but not unrighteous dominion.[i] There are many ways that we can practice unrighteous dominion. Of course, the more obvious ones are using force, aggression, and fear tactics. The less obvious ones show up as guilt trips, criticism, the silent treatment, comparison, and withholding affection to create a specific outcome.

When couples get stuck trying to change each other, they often fall into strategizing how they can get the other person to be more like them. It makes sense, of course, to want our partner to do what works well for us. I’ve certainly found myself wishing my wife would be more like me and I know she’s done the same. Although it’s normal marriage behavior, if left unchecked, it can build into toxic patterns of control and resentment that will eventually gut a beautiful marriage.

The first step in moving toward more closeness is accepting the truth that it’s not your job to change your partner’s behavior. Recognize that most of your stylistic differences are rooted in personality, family of origin patterns, values, and even biology. You can either fight these differences or you can become a better student of your partner. If you choose to stay open to each other, you’ll eventually move from fighting the differences to tolerating them to ultimately honoring them. Of course, it goes without saying that there are destructive patterns of behavior that can’t be tolerated or accepted, but we’re not talking about those behaviors today. Time management is rarely a dealbreaker for an otherwise good marriage.

Dr. John Gottman shared the following reminder:

“Problems are inevitably part of a relationship; much the way chronic physical ailments are inevitable as you get older. They are like a trick knee, a bad back, an irritable bowel, or tennis elbow. We may not love these problems, but we are able to cope with them, to avoid situations that worsen them, and to develop strategies and routines that help us deal with them. Psychologist Dan Wile said it best in his book, After the Honeymoon: ‘When choosing a long-term partner…you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or fifty years.’”[ii]

Let’s talk about strategies and routines to help you manage these differences. Again, if you aren’t actively working toward acceptance, then the strategies will feel unfair and build more resentment. In my experience, acceptance is the most important step, but strategies are a helpful way to support each other’s different styles.

Make sure your strategies aren’t intended to change your partner. Instead, work to view them as ways to help each of you feel seen, heard, and supported. When each of you humbly acknowledge and own how you show up in the marriage, you’ll better recognize the impact you’re having on your partner. Then, you’ll be more open and willing to make the necessary adjustments.

For example, when you’re working on a church or community project, you can lead the discussion by owning how you usually like to do things while acknowledging the impact of your style on your husband. You can invite him into a discussion of how you can make room for each other’s styles. When working with him, it likely won’t look the way it would if it was just your solo project. However, if you value who your husband is (and he values who you are), then you’ll have a better chance of enjoying your connection as you work together. If the goal is marital unity, then how we do things can’t be more important than our relationship with our spouse. However, if your goal is to do it your way, then you’ll either do it alone or fight with your husband all the way through it.

This is a much healthier approach than the zero-sum approach of one person always acquiescing to the other. Don’t keep the peace by starting a war within yourself. Of course, there are times when we will need to take one for the team and do things in a way we might not prefer. Just make sure that the pattern makes room for each of your preferences. In most cases, there isn’t one right way to get things done, but there is one right way to respect your differences.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at ge***@ge**********.com  

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About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

[i] See D&C 121 for a more in-depth exploration on this idea.

[ii] Gottman, J. M., The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.