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Carolyn Hax: Husband procrastinates work — again — and tanks a beach vacation

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
3 min

Dear Carolyn: I am frustrated by the way my husband’s procrastination affects the family. One example: Last week, we both had the week off and planned to drive to the beach four hours away. The day before our scheduled departure, my husband told me that he hadn’t done a work assignment yet and needed to before he could leave town. I took the kids to the pool all day so he could finish, but when I returned, he hadn’t even started. He’d spent the day watching Netflix and panicking about the work that wasn’t done. It ended up taking him two more days to start the project — which then took only three hours to actually complete. We lost two prepaid nights in a hotel.

This is a common pattern: He says he needs to do something, so I take over all household responsibilities so he can do it, then he still doesn’t do it.

What do I do? A friend said I should have left without him and let him suffer the consequences, but, in this case, and in many cases, the “consequence” would be that he ends up getting a quiet house to himself for a week while I solo-wrangle a 2-year-old and 4-year-old by myself at the Jersey Shore.

— Just. Do. It.

Just. Do. It.: This could be a neurological issue, an anxiety issue or some other issue in your husband’s mind or character, so it’s not your issue to solve for him. I assume that informed your friend’s answer, and it’s not wrong.

Because it makes your life worse, however, it’s a serious marital issue and is therefore your issue. Attrition is one of love’s top causes of death. Plus, all those family adventures you don’t have are memories you don’t form and therefore can’t summon years later to renew and reinforce your bond. It’s the family’s issue.

I belabored this because it’s such a tough spot for you both. No one (healthy) wants to have or be a spousal homework monitor, so attrition is a risk here as well. But your husband clearly needs monitoring if he hopes to stay married, employed and bonded to his kids.

The best option this leaves for you is to serve as a kind of before-and-after bracket, where you initiate the remedy process, then support the one he chooses, but the remedy itself is on him.

Specifically, you begin a multipart conversation — never drop big things on distracted or unfocused people in passing — and note that your current leave-him-to-it strategy isn’t effective. Then you sit down to brainstorm and assess alternatives. Hire an organizer? Get neuropsych testing and any follow-up treatment? Identify and replicate conditions where he is able to focus? People don’t need an ADHD diagnosis to benefit from related work strategies, so hit the search engines.

Again: You only precipitate the change. He makes it, then you support it. This may still be more involvement in a fellow adult’s workload than you ever wanted, but that’s the riddle of life partners and executive functioning problems: How much extra work do you assume to preempt doing all the work? Loading nonexecutive household responsibilities, or ones he procrastinates less, onto his side of the ledger is one way to correct potentially relationship-killing imbalances. So are vacations that anticipate his disability, whether it’s official or not — with contingencies built in.