What to Say When He Always Runs Late

Kate Winowitch EXPLORE late

Welcome to my blog. I’m a psychologist and the co-author (with Gary Chapman) of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. I share tips about What to Say When challenging conversations arise and I welcome your thoughts and questions. I’ll chime in on the conversations here.


Kate had the babysitter settled in for the evening with her three kids. There was only one problem. Kate’s husband, Jon, was running late…again. He comes from a family of people known for running late. In fact, his mother is jokingly referred to as “the late Mrs. Brown.” Kate silently fumed while waiting for Jon to get home. She had reminded him to leave work in plenty of time to meet friends for dinner. Their lateness made her feel embarrassed when they were typically the last couple to show up. Would he break another promise to arrive on time? Fifteen minutes later, Jon rushed through the door blaming traffic and saying he was sorry for running late. They jumped into the car and sped off to their event.

What to Say:

Kate: While we’ve got a few minutes together, I need to talk to you about something that is important to me. When we show up late, it makes me feel embarrassed.

Jon: I said I was “sorry.” What’s the big deal? No one seems to care when we arrive a little later than anticipated.

Kate: I don’t want you to be “sorry.” I want you to be here when we you say you will. I understand that it can be hard to break away when important things come up at work. But, I feel like we’re rude to others when show up late to events.

Jon: Gosh. I know you think I always run late. But, you are too uptight about being on time.

Kate: I’m not uptight. I just think it’s polite to arrive on time, and I enjoy having more extra time to talk and catch up. So, here’s what I’d prefer to do in the future. Next time you know you’re running late, call me ahead of time and I’ll drive myself. That would make me feel better.

Jon: Why? Driving two separate cars seems like a waste.

Kate: When we arrive late, I feel like we waste other people’s time.

Jon: OK. I didn’t know that you felt that way. I’ll try to leave work earlier next time.

Kate: Thank you. This means a lot to me, and I have no problem driving myself if you get stuck at work.

Why This Works:

By starting the conversation, Kate avoids giving Jon the dreaded silent treatment. Nobody likes to be in a tension-filled position with someone who says through clenched teeth that everything is “just fine.” Kate puts Jon on notice that he should arrive when he agrees to arrive. And she offers to drive herself without him if he’s late in the future.

Newgate Wall Clock - Brixton late

What Doesn’t Work:

Nagging. No one likes to be nagged and no one really wants to be a nag. They just want to see some change. Nagging rarely gets you what you want but it often drives a wedge between people. Being nagged makes adults feel like children. They push back and dig in their heels. Instead of nagging, try to understand the problem and be as supportive as your patience will allow.

Your Turn:

Do you chronically run late? If so, what causes this problem?

Do you have a late person living with you? How do you keep the peace?




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