How to deal with a partner who is habitually late

Being punctual is thought to be socially appropriate and being habitually late is regarded as a liability in interpersonal relationships. It is obviously disconcerting to routinely have to wait for a partner who is late. What is the best way to deal with a tardy individual without damaging your love connection?

You may be asking yourself some rhetorical questions as you wait for your spouse to be ready to go somewhere. You may think: “Why is my spouse always late?” “How hard is it to be on time?” “He/She knows how upsetting it is for me to be late,” “ Why does my partner always make me wait?” Some of the inescapable answers may needlessly make you feel badly about yourself, your mate or your relationship.

Because habitual lateness is a recurring pattern it is not easily forgiven, as is occasional tardiness. Chronic lateness has been explained in many ways.

Freud attributed the patient’s lateness to resistance to treatment and/or anger toward the therapist. In psychoanalytic treatment, the patient’s tardiness is dealt with as a therapeutic issue.

In modern writings, Mary Beth Williams concurs with the psychoanalytic interpretation of lateness. In “Handbook of Post-Traumatic Therapy” she describes the “ways to recognize hidden anger is in procrastination, habitual lateness, sadistic humor and sarcasm,” within her longer list of diagnostic behaviors.

Some view lateness as a stress reaction to life’s demands. The pressure for performance makes time management too overwhelming for some busy people.

Another interpretation given to habitual lateness is that it is a form of passive/aggressive behavior striking against a person who displeases the tardy individual.

The character default explanation views the late person as self-centered, disrespectful of others and being non-repentant about this chronic behavior. Or, chronic lateness is depicted as a self-centered attention seeking conduct. The forgiveness given to the tardy person is understood as affirmation of his/her inherent value.

Regardless of the causes for chronic lateness, this behavior is not acceptable and does not endear the tardy individual to those who are regularly left waiting.

Please understand that your habitually late partner is struggling with personal issues such as: poor time management skills, childhood abandonment, the need for safety in being welcomed, or any other emotional need that is not related to your worth or value.

To reduce your discomfort of waiting:

• Accept that habitual tardiness is not a spiteful reaction and is not about you.
• Set a system in which you leave at the designated time to not inconvenience others and have your partner use his/her own transportation.
• Advise your partner of time of departure earlier than needed.
• Request that your mate find out for himself/herself the causes for repeated lateness as a loving act to reduce your recurring stress. Volunteer to join your spouse in counseling, if needed.
• Practice the skills you normally use to resolve other relationship issues to realign yourselves as a unified team.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life.

Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions.

Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column “Relationship Matters” for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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