Managing Feelings — 11 December 2008
Procrastination delays improving your relationship

Many unhappy couples spend needless months and even years in distress about their relationship, while making no or little effort to remediate their unsatisfactory state. Though they are very clear about their unhappiness, some individuals procrastinate in initiating the conversations needed to begin bettering their connection. Overcoming the harmful and self-defeating procrastination can more speedily help couples become happier.

Most people tend to procrastinate on occasion about executing tedious, uninteresting, difficult or unrewarding tasks. Yet, there are people who tend to procrastinate on a more regular basis. Researchers identified two types of procrastinators: “The tense-afraid type” and the “relaxed pleasure-seeking type”.

Dr. Fiore describes “The tense-afraid procrastinators” as people who fear success or failure, feel overwhelmed by pressures, are unclear about goals, lack confidence and blame others, are unrealistic about time, indecisive, fearing judgment and may be perfectionistic. Drs. Solomon and Rothblum portray “The relaxed type” as avoiders who distract themselves from tasks to fend off stress, dismiss challenging undertaking and concentrate on “having fun”. Drs. Ellis and Knaus label this type as the “easily frustrated, self-indulgent procrastinator”.

Drs. Sapadin and Maguire classified procrastinators into six subcategories: The “perfectionist”, the “dreamer”, the “worrier”, the “defier”, the “crisis-maker” and the “over-doer”.

Whatever the classification of procrastinator types, the researchers agree that the common emotions propelling procrastination are: fear of failure or fear of success, anger mostly about control, dislike of the task, and pleasure-seeking.

The first challenge for procrastinators is to understand that not acting, though it may seem temporarily pleasant, actually exacerbates and compounds their future discomfort and may even doom their relationship. Dr. Gottman reports that only 10 percent of couples who divorce seek professional help prior to parting, and they do so after six years of being unhappy. Surely, the grief of the six years could be alleviated and the issues may be positively resolved by earlier intervention.

Initiating conversation about your discomfort with certain aspects of your relationship is a very difficult task. It evokes fear and uncertainty about the process and outcome of this discussion. Mates fear their partner’s reaction and possible perilous immediate decisions. So they find it easier to resort to silence and hope that the relationship will just improve on its own.

Those who procrastinate may be trading the discomfort of the moment for a longer, more chronic unhappiness. The first step is usually the most frightening. Most commonly, if you are gravely unhappy in your relationship, so is your partner. Starting the dialogue may actually bring about an instant relief to both of you and an intimate moment of intent sharing about your wish to restore your love.

• If you are the relaxed, pleasure-seeking type, use your distaste for unpleasantness to propel you to act now and decrease the duration and depth of your unhappiness.
• Recognize that silencing your expression of need for harmony and postponing it to the future, deprives you of the current pleasures you may delight in having.
• If you are tense and afraid, turn your worries and self-doubt to optimism and confidence by visualizing the best possible scenario.
• Abstain from negative self-talk that begins with: “I have to, I must, I can’t, It won’t work, I don’t know how, I’ll fail, I don’t want to, you can’t make me, I just need to relax, have fun”. Substitute these for: “I am choosing to, I can, I’ll succeed, I want to accomplish, I am an adult and in charge of my life.”
• Diffuse your anger by realizing that your partner is not your enemy, abuser, or the source of your unhappiness. You are the owner of your dissatisfaction and your partner’s love for you can assist you in creating a happier union.
• Reassure yourself that your loving intent and caring words will most likely encounter an equally motivated partner and lead to a better relationship.

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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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