There are two types of people in this world. Those who do immediately, and those who do…wait for it…eventually. Whether it’s starting a college essay, setting a doctor’s appointment or planning a vacation—waiting until the last minute to start and finish something can be (understandably) frustrating to their more efficient counterparts. So if you’re the one who started the paper, set the appointment and planned the itinerary because your other half “just hadn’t gotten to it yet,” we feel you. It can be exasperating. But certain common retorts just aren’t helpful when it comes to communicating with a procrastinator. Here, four things you should never say to a perpetual dilly-dallier, no matter how much you want to.
1. “You always leave everything for me to do.”
“While it is very common to use absolutes (black and white statements, all or nothing, extremes), such as always, never, every, only, etc., it is very rare that something is actually absolute in this way,” says psychotherapist and founder of Evolve Counseling and Behavioral Services, Dr. Elizabeth Fedrick. “These statements often sound like an attack, and therefore lead to defensiveness and anger [as opposed to] helpful feedback. The person receiving this statement might try to prove why the absolute isn’t true, which ultimately distracts from the current issue. It is much more effective to stay focused on the situation at hand and not get caught up in previous situations that can no longer be changed.”
Instead try: “It feels stressful to me when I have to take on some of the tasks you said you’d do. Would you be willing to set yourself some reminders so you can get them done?”
2. “You promised you would pick up the house while I was at work today… you’re so lazy.”
“It’s harmful to label a procrastinator as lazy because this is hardly ever the real reason behind procrastination,” explains Dr. Fedrick. “Many people who struggle with procrastination are already hard on themselves and struggle with negative feelings of self-worth because of their difficulties with starting or completing a task. Therefore, criticizing or attacking their character because of this will likely just reinforce their negative beliefs, which will then ultimately perpetuate the behaviors.”
Instead try: “It’s hurtful when you tell me you’re going to do something and don’t follow through with it. Can you please work on following through with your commitments to me?”
3. “You would have finished your work if you actually cared about me.”
“Contrary to the common misconception, procrastinators are generally not intentionally putting things off, and rather might engage in procrastination (at home or work) because they take on more than they can chew or want to complete the task perfectly, and thus become frozen with overwhelm,” Dr. Fedrick tells us. It’s helpful in these cases to give your partner the benefit of the doubt because odds are, they don’t want to be working on weekend either. Try and take a moment to comb through your feelings and figure out the root issue. “Statements that accuse your partner of not caring about you are often said because you’re hurting, and thus want to hurt your partner back. These types of statements create a rupture in the safety and connectedness of a relationship and might lead to one or both partners pulling away or withdrawing versus trying to solve the issue together.”
Instead try: “I get really disappointed when we can’t spend time together. Would you be open to putting aside some protected time each weekend, so I’m assured we will have some time together?”
4. “You haven’t started dinner yet? I guess it’s on me again to figure something out.”
“This is a passive-aggressive statement that is harmful for a couple reasons. First, while you are pointing out that you are upset indirectly, you are not openly and honestly communicating how you are feeling about the situation. Secondly, you are relieving your partner of their fair share of responsibility in your partnership, which will ultimately lead to resentments and lack of harmony,” Dr. Fedrick points out. You also have to be careful with these types of statements because they can come across as condescending, which leads to more defensive behaviors, tensions in the relationship and zero conflict resolution. Clearly state your feelings around a situation, and then make a request. It’s a much more effective way of addressing your concerns.
Instead try: “It’s getting kind of late, would you mind starting dinner since it’s your turn to cook tonight?”