7 Couples On How They Stopped Fighting About Being Late
When one partner prefers to be on-time and the other is often running behind, tensions run high. Here’s how seven couples solved the issue.
Life is, in many ways, about good timing. Well-timed words from a mentor or family member may have sent you on a specific trajectory. You met your spouse at the right time in your life. But timing can also be a big source of frustration, especially for couples with different ideas about promptness. When one person in a relationship prefers to be on-time and the other is often late, the temporal differences can cause a lot of grief. The on-time person may have anxiety or feel embarrassment when things are running behind schedule while the late-arriving individual may grow frustrated or by the on-time person’s pestering. It’s a very common source of conflict.
“Everyone has their own unique way of doing things, and that’s okay.” says Sam Holmes, a London-based relationship counselor who has significant experience dealing with couples frustrated by the other’s idea of ‘on-time’. “It’s an opportunity to understand each other’s perspectives, embrace each other's strengths and weaknesses and find ways to complement each other.”
Okay, fine. That’s a very measured answer to the problem. But, as any on-time person who’s waited around for a late person who promised they’d be ready to go to an event on time but they just have one more thing to do, can attest, the agony is real. As comedian Mike Birbiglia said in Thank God For Jokes, “What late people don’t understand about us on-time people is that we hate you. And the reason why we hate you is that it’s so easy to be on time. You just have to be early and early lasts for hours. And on-time just lasts a second and then you’re late...forever.”
Regarding the push-and-pull of punctuality, Holmes unsurprisingly says that good communication is paramount. Couples should talk about two things: Expectations and needs. “If you can have a clear and honest conversation about schedules and routines, you’ll be in a better position to make effective compromises,” he says. “It’s not about winning or losing, or one person being right and the other being wrong.”
That’s good advice. But it also helps to hear from couples who have opposing feelings about being late versus on time and how they found a happy medium. That’s why we spoke to seven folks below about their arrangements and, as the years have passed, they all found systems that make the situation work. Because that’s another thing about time. As it trudges forward, we can improve — and better learn how to accept the little frustrations about the people we love.
1. We’ve Learned To Set The Right Reminders
“My husband and I were late for our own wedding. We have been together for 13 years and married for eight and, while I’m definitely not always on time, he’s the one who is consistently late. When we have an appointment with someone who is waiting for us, I get very stressed out being late. More specifically, I get embarrassed when I know we will inconvenience someone. Very embarrassed, actually, which can lead to harsh words. I know that being late is a complex topic for him, and he knows which situations stress me out. He tries his best, and I help by managing the situation with reminders early in the day about upcoming appointments or commitments. That gives me peace of mind, and allows him enough time to wrap up whatever he is doing. It’s a strategy that has absolutely worked well for us.” - Eline, 38, Netherlands
2. Voice Messages Keep Us On Point
“I’m on time, and my wife is more likely to be late to things. We’ve found that sending voice messages — not voicemails, but quick ‘record and send’ messages — are more likely to remind us of our commitments. Texts are so frequent, and usually not that important, that I think we’ve grown into the habit of acknowledging them, but then kind of forgetting about them pretty quickly. So, instead, we use the voice messages because they’re more active. You have to open them, push play, and listen to the whole thing. By now, whenever one of us sees a notification for a voice message, we know it’s usually a quick, friendly reminder of something that we need to be on time for later in the day. Plus, we get to hear each other’s voices throughout the day, which is always nice.” - Aaron, 41, Illinois
If the event we are going to is mine, then we leave when I want to. If the event we are going to is hers, we leave when she wants to. If it is a shared event, we compromise.
3. Ground Rules Help Us Stay On Target
“I am always early to everything, while my wife is usually late because she tries to pack in as much as she can before leaving the house. We’ve been together for six years, and now have an 18-month-old son. In the first few years of our relationship the early/late dynamic triggered both of our anxieties because of misunderstandings, and often led to eye-rolling and passive aggressive frustration. The largest breakthrough came from working on communicating our own needs and why each person's timing style was important to the other and, basically, we came up with a rule: If the event we are going to is mine, then we leave when I want to. If the event we are going to is hers, we leave when she wants to. If it is a shared event, we compromise. By understanding each other in a more connected way we can lean into our empathy for the other's needs. It’s working out well so far.” - Lorenze, 36, California
4. We’ve Each Become More Flexible
“My wife is the punctual one in our relationship, while I tend to be the one running late. One strategy we've found helpful is to communicate our schedules and priorities openly, and weekly. Each Sunday, we sit down to review our weekly plans, including work, appointments, and family activities. During this conversation, we share our time expectations and determine any compromises or adjustments we need to make. This has allowed us to minimize misunderstandings and ensure we're on the same page.
To help me improve my time management, my wife often nudges me to start getting ready earlier than I think is necessary. Though I may not always appreciate it at the moment, her gentle reminders have helped me become more mindful of the time and make a conscious effort to be punctual. To her credit, she’s also learned to be more flexible and understanding when being late is unavoidable. We've discovered that setting realistic expectations and giving each other some wiggle room is essential for reducing stress and maintaining harmony in our relationship.” - Shawn, 33, Indiana
5. We Divide And Conquer And Compromise
“My wife is more laid back and tends to arrive late, while I’m pretty much always on time. Honestly, it used to drive me absolutely nuts. I'm a pretty punctual person and would get really frustrated waiting around for her all the time. But over the years, we've found some strategies that have helped us make it work. One of the ways that’s been the most effective for us is to divide and conquer certain responsibilities. For example, if we have a lot of errands to run on the weekend, we'll split them up so that I take care of the ones that need to be done at a specific time - like appointments - while she takes care of the ones that can be done more flexibly. Overall, I think the key to making it work is just being willing to compromise and find solutions that work for both people. That’s kept us happy and on the same page.” - Justin, 35, Kentucky
6. We’ve Learned To Love The Mid-Day Check-In
“My wife is definitely the punctual one in our relationship. I tend to get wrapped up in whatever I’m doing and lose track of time, or misjudge the amount of time I think a certain task might take. So, on weekdays when we have commitments or scheduled events, we do a mid-day check in to remind each other about whatever is going on, and also to take stock of how our days are going. If I’m under it at work, I let her know that I’ll try my best to be as on-time as possible. While that’s not totally ideal, it’s helped strengthen our overall communication and my wife isn’t left wondering, Where is that idiot? Sometimes it’s still hard for me to pull away from what I’m doing, but those mid-day check-ins allow me to prepare myself in the event that something slips my mind. And, to be honest, they force me to take more responsibility over my own organization and scheduling.” - Juan, 42, Ohio
While that’s not totally ideal, it’s helped strengthen our overall communication and my wife isn’t left wondering, Where is that idiot?
7. A Shared Calendar Saved Us
“I’m surprised more couples don’t do this, actually. I'm habitually late most of the time, and I give credit to my on-time wife for suggesting this strategy. I have a hard time remembering things if I’m not staring at them in black and white, which is why I’ve always benefited from my own calendar, alarms, and reminders. When we got married and had kids, though, the amount of commitments during the week grew like crazy. Despite my best efforts to write them down, or put them on my own calendar, I just couldn’t stay caught up. So my wife set up a shared calendar on Google where we can each add our own events and schedules independently and see them being updated, changed, or canceled. The shared calendar is basically another layer of communication in our relationship, which helps us both stay updated with what we each have going on. It works.” - Clint, 50, Florida