Lynn was weary of Tom's chronic lateness in coming home from work. Because he owned his own business, he was often delayed at work. It seemed like such a little thing, but as time passed, Tom's tardiness became a big problem. Lynn would arrange her day to have dinner and the kids ready on time, and she wanted Tom to be home on time as well.
Reminding, nagging, and cajoling Tom had been ineffective. Tom would either defend himself by saying, "You don't appreciate the work I have to do to put food on the table," or he would simply deny the problem altogether by saying, "It doesn't happen that often; you're overreacting." Lynn ran out of strategies.
Finally, after thinking through the problem with some wise women friends, Lynn came up with a two-point plan. One night, as the couple climbed into bed, she told Tom, "Sweetheart, I want to apologize to you for my crummy attitude about dinnertime." Tom almost fell out of bed. He was eager to hear her apology.
"I've been a complaining griper whenever you get home," Lynn continued. "You probably feel you have to toss a few pounds of raw meat in the front door before it's safe to enter. No wonder you're late. Who would want to put up with that?"
"You're right. I really don't look forward to your resentment," Tom responded, "and I'm sure it makes me avoid you. The other day, I was going to be ten minutes late. When I thought about facing your wrath, I figured I might as well make it thirty minutes, since I knew you'd be angry anyway. So, I ran few errands on the way home."
Lynn nodded. "I'm going to try to be less angry, and more caring and approachable, even when you're late. I may not do it well, and I'll need your help here, but I really don't want to be a shrew. Also, it's not just my attitude that I'll be changing. My actions will be changing, too. I love you, and I want you to be with me and the kids for dinner. But, if you can't get here on time, I will have your dinner put away in the fridge. You can reheat it yourself whenever you get in."
Tom didn't like this last part. "Lynn, you know I hate to make my own dinner! After a ten-hour day, I want to sit down to a prepared meal."
"I know you do, and I want that for you, too. But it won't happen until you can rearrange things to get here when the rest of us eat."
The next few days Tom ate a lot of microwaved dinners from Tupperware containers. Finally, he structured the end of his day to get home on time, and Lynn's important family time became a reality. When Lynn asked Tom why he had changed, he said, "I guess it was your two-point plan. First, you were a lot nicer to me. I felt more like coming home. And second, I just hate reheating dinner."
Lynn solved a small but chronic marriage problem by making an important shift in her attitude. She stopped trying to change Tom, and she started making changes in herself. Lynn moved from seeing the problem as Tom's lateness to seeing it as her unhappiness with Tom's lateness. This opened the door to things she could control. When you cease to blame your spouse and own the problem as yours, you are then empowered to make changes to solve your problem.
To do this, Lynn set a couple of limits on herself. First, she reined in her impulse to attack Tom for his tardiness. This was not easy, as she was clearly right and he was clearly wrong. She would have been justified in confronting him at every infraction.
But, she placed a boundary on her anger, since it wasn't solving the problem. Second, Lynn set a limit on her enabling of Tom. She realized that she was making it easier for him to be irresponsible, so she said no to her desire to protect him from his dreaded dinner reheating. These two changes made a difference for both partners. You cannot make your spouse grow upÑthat is between him and God. But, you can make it easier for him to experience the love and limits he needs. When he faces the consequences of his immaturity, he stands a better chance of changing than if he faces your nagging and hounding. Become truthful, not controlling.