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Q: This is going to sound trivial, but it causes so much tension in my house. Here's the dilemma: My husband is always late for dinner and he never calls to let me know! He says he's going to be home around 7 p.m., but inevitably he marches in around 8 or even 9. If a hot dinner isn't waiting for him, he gets upset. But when I get mad at him, he says, "What's the big deal?" Doesn't he see how inconsiderate he is? I'm tired and hungry -- the kids are too -- and I'd like clean up, get out of the kitchen, and get on with my evening. He thinks I'm being petty and unreasonable. Is there a solution?
New York City-based therapist Bonnie Eaker-Weil, Ph.D., author of Make Up Don't Break Up: Finding and Keeping Love for Singles and Couples (Adams Publishing), answers:
A: I think many women can relate to your frustration. What's more, seemingly small irritations have a way of festering, and can loom large in a marriage. It's always good to clear up disagreements or misinterpretations as quickly as possible.
That means you need to try to understand your spouses' frustration, too: He may be caught in an important meeting, working on a tight deadline or worried about his job performance -- and he may innocently forget to call. "Why is she being so unreasonable?" he may well be thinking. "Doesn't she know I'm working?" Checking in with you, just as he had to check in with his mother when he was young, no doubt triggers resentment. He needs to understand that you're not asking him to call because you're checking up on him, but simply because you want some acknowledgement of the time and effort you spend getting the meal ready. He may honestly be oblivious to how long it takes and how much a simple phone call means to you. But I doubt that he's doing this on purpose, so try hard not to take it personally.
Instead let him know, in a non-accusatory way, how you feel. Then, put some boundaries in place that you can live with. Acknowledge that you understand his time constraints. Then tell him that from now on, if you don't hear from him by say, 7:15, you'll assume he's working late and you and the kids will proceed with dinner. You'll keep a plate in the fridge that he can reheat when he gets home. This way, you'll be able to get on with your evening.