Dear Neil: How would you recommend I handle this? My wife of three months is chronically late. She was late to our wedding and late to our honeymoon (we missed our flight, but we were able to get a later flight). I’m one of these super-punctual people, and her persistent lateness is a strong irritation for me in our marriage.
But the irritation doesn’t stop there. She also goes to bed at 8pm, which is way too early for me. This means I go to bed when she’s asleep and she wakes up when I’m asleep, and we operate on largely different schedules. She’s also far messier than I am, and it bothers me when our place looks unkempt and sloppy.
I love her and I’m devoted to her, and I recognize that none of these are deal breakers. But they are irritants that get in my way from feeling consistently loving and close toward her. How would you recommend I handle this?
Irritated in California
Dear California: Welcome to the not-always-rewarding experience of trying to blend lives, values, schedules and habits with someone else. If you had chosen to marry the lady next door, the woman down the street or a lady in another country, you would likely have equal or greater irritants with those women as you do with the one you married. The nature of two people living together insures that the two of you will get on each other’s nerves from time to time.
Marriage is about two people trying to live together harmoniously and civilly with each other. It’s not like the two of you value all the same things or are clones of each other. It’s about two people trying to function as one, not a rubber stamp of one person’s way to the exclusion of the other person.
There is a happy way out of this dilemma. It’s about choosing to be peaceful rather than being irritated at your wife.
Yes, of course it can be alarming to miss your flight on your honeymoon, especially if you have a connecting flight to meet. So, knowing that your new wife is time-challenged, why don’t you take charge in the future of when you need to be at the airport (and any other important functions) so the two of you can be on time when it really counts. Tell your wife you would like to be in charge of helping the two of you be on time for important events, and ask for her cooperation and agreement. If she agrees, then take on that task without getting angry, annoyed, critical or judgmental toward her.
But in addition to solving this problem, choose to be at peace with her rather than in a cold war with her. At any given moment, we have the ability to choose peace over irritation, even though it doesn’t always seem like it. That’s because our reactions seem to be instantaneous, and it doesn’t seem as if we have a lot of control over them.
However, we do have control over them. We’re just not always that adept and skillful at exercising good control over our reactions and judgments. But you indeed have a choice about how you wish to respond to what your wife (or anyone else) says or does. To choose peace rather than irritation allows you to be happier, more serene and calmer, and it’s also considerately less conflict, discord, tension and brain damage, everything else being equal.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t attempt to help your wife leave 30 minutes earlier to an appointment, or that the two of you shouldn’t make agreements to keep the house clean and tidy. I’m saying that you have the power and the ability to respond differently whenever your wife irritates you or lets you down. It’s empowering to make a loving and peaceful choice instead of an angry, reactive or judgmental choice—and she is bound to feel less judged and criticized by you—and therefore closer and more intimate with you.
Try this out: the next time your wife says or does something that would normally irritate you, consciously go to a peaceful, loving and harmonious response. If she’s late, find a constructive or productive way to occupy yourself until she shows up, and don’t allow yourself to get angry or irritated. If she leaves the kitchen a mess, ask how you can help her clean it up.
Choose peace rather than irritation whenever you can. You’ll be a happier guy, and you’ll be easier to live with.