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Carolyn Hax: Tell a tardy spouse to go ahead and have fun, but it’s your turn next

I totally understand this, but it was very hard for me. Last weekend, he was supposed to pick up our kids from the sitter — I was at a work event, too. He called me and asked if I would mind picking them up, and then promised promised promised me he would get home in two hours. He was 45 minutes late, and I really got quite upset.

He told me he understood but it was traffic, etc. I told him as calmly as I could that I needed to get out of the house for a while to clear my head, and just kind of left for a few hours. I know that wasn’t the adult thing to do, and I felt bad in the morning because my kids had clearly been able to see something was wrong.

So how do I handle this without losing my cool? I am guessing you will tell me this is just who he is, and I really should just expect every time that he will be home after the kids are in bed, and just behave accordingly. Right?

Steaming at Home: Well, yes, but no. Yes there’s some value — and inevitability — in deciding upfront he’s missing kiddie bedtime, but you still have some choices left before utter resignation. And if resignation is your only option, then there are a lot of things you can do to neutralize the frustration and fury.

The option you have before giving up is understanding why he would do this. His not showing up when he says he will is disrespectful, you’re right, but its origins could be surprisingly well-intentioned. He could be overpromising, which can stem from a pleasing impulse.

It fits: Your husband doesn’t want to dump the whole bedtime ritual on you, he wants to give you the right answer, that he’ll be home at X p.m. . . . but sweet holy bar stool, he wants a break. So he’s basically rounding down the social time allotment to make it sound better to you and telling himself he can leave peak-party when his entire (and, okay, maybe slightly short of mature) self Does Not Want To.

And so he drags his feet home.

Yes, an adult should have the maturity and self-discipline to walk away cold from pleasure, but he’s an adult operating on a severe fun deficit, yes? (hello, full-time-employed parent of young kids), who flakes on you twice a month, not twice a day.

The over-promising-pleaser theory is just a theory, but it could also be why he’s never late for others: They’re uncomplicated. He’s not letting friends down with the truth. The office doesn’t have feelings. No pressure to say anything but what he means.

If this theory makes sense to you, then apply it next time he promises X p.m., kindly: “That sounds like best case; worst case is more useful.” Give him room to do that, every time, and maybe you’ll both develop better communication habits.

But I like this idea even better: Just say, “Go, have fun, I’ve got this.”

And then take equal numbers of nights for your, I’m guessing, equally fun-starved self.

His being entirely on kid duty twice a month, and your being entirely off it, could be great for both of you in ways you might not expect. Good for the kids, too.

Why? Because all anger and frustration live in the gap between your expectations and reality. If you expect help, then you’re upset when you don’t get it. If you know none is coming, you manage. My best days with the littles were spent accepting the moment, and the worst were spent waiting/hoping for something to get better.

Absolutely insist on fairness, though. When it’s his turn to be on, you’re OFF. Home, out, alone, with friends, whatever.

In fact, I urge you both to give each other one of these nights, regularly, every week if that’s realistic, so you know you can count on a break. Right now, you’re both doing the pleasure equivalent of grocery shopping on an empty stomach. Scarcities encourage impulsiveness over judgment.

Last thing: You can’t prevent kids from ever seeing something go wrong; that’s life and they have to learn to navigate it. A parent’s job is to teach healthy emotional responses to stress. Your “I need to get out of the house for a while”? As long as you don’t strand others in crisis twice a day over minutiae, that’s textbook self-care. Don’t “fe[el] bad” for modeling a rational choice.

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