Procrastination and Its Effect on Relationships

Posted on March 15, 2017 by Marsha Molinari, MSW, LICSW

Updated October 21, 2022


Defining Procrastination

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of procrastination is “…to put off intentionally and habitually the doing of something.” According to Seth Miller’s article1, “The one ‘life choice’ that creates the most havoc in the majority of human lives is procrastination. Procrastination is the epitome of a cause and effect relationship.”

How it Effects Relationships:

A couple may struggle in their relationship before finding the time to have a beneficial conversation about what each of them are feeling. Putting off these conversations, or procrastinating, can have harmful and self-defeating side effects on the relationship. It is very easy to find ways to distract from day to day challenges with smartphones, iPads and other technologies. These distractions, used by procrastinators, are a common source of stress within marriages. If a partner does not apply himself or herself to the relationship, it can be very “disappointing” for the other partner and lead him or her to feel they can “no longer rely” on their partner. Procrastinating behavior is what some marriage counselors refer to as a “slow burning relationship issue.” They claim, “it will gradually grow and become an underlying issue over years of being together,” or accumulate issues and effect the relationship. 

Qualities of Procrastinators

Procrastinators are many times, kind and caring persons who want to make people happy. They are usually more relaxed and seek pleasurable non-demanding environments. They do what is referred to as “marginally useful things” as a way of avoiding doing things they view may take time or are more difficult. The effect is the partner of the procrastinator can feel “unimportant, uncared for and ignored. As a result a lack of trust, resentment and a downward spiral begins to develop. This causes the procrastinator’s self-esteem, self-confidence and motivation to change their behavior to decline. Eventually the procrastinator becomes discouraged and they often believe any type of action they might take will be too late for their partner or they may believe whatever their action is will be insufficient.

Why do people procrastinate?

  • It is easier to avoid or delay something thoughts to be unpleasant.
  • The person may feel insecure about the task being asked of them.
  • A person might procrastinate because of the fear of failure or poor time management.
  • The procrastinator feels controlled and dominated by their partner and “defiance or resistance” becomes a passive way of responding.

Procrastination is not just an annoyance as some may believe. According to many psychologists, procrastination is a learned behavior based on negative reinforcement. A “habit of avoidance” becomes stronger each time we avoid something.

The Psychology of Procrastination

Once the procrastinator recognizes and accepts himself or herself as a procrastinator, they can then see the impact it has on their relationships and on their daily lives in general. The good news about procrastination is it can be unlearned. There are three areas needing to be addressed to change the behavior of a procrastinator:

  1. Emotions associated with procrastination need to be identified. If a person “feels guilty about putting off a project, they will probably want to punish themselves and what better way to be punished than to not finish the task.”
  2. Depression is another emotion that may play a part in procrastination. Lack of motivation or “lifelessness” is the behavior associated with depression.
  3. Last but not least, the physical discomfort of anxiety or feelings of being overwhelmed about a task can be reduced simply by avoiding the task.

What Will Help?

There are two types of psychotherapy available to help with procrastination:
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A type of psychotherapy help people reframe situations and learn more productive ways of coping.
  • Positive Psychology: The other one takes elements from positive psychology to identify and build on people’s strengths rather than trying to correct weaknesses.

In summary, the act of procrastination is not something to be looked upon as being trivial. It can be devastating to one’s life goals and to their most intimate relationships.

We Can Help

We are available day and night at: 800.383.1908 for EAP Clients; 877.731.3949 for Physician Well Being Resource Clients to support you and those you care about, or through the VITAL WorkLife App to access resources today.

For more information about our comprehensive suite of well being solutions, contact us online.

Resources for additional reading:

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