I like to make plans, he doesn't. What now?
August 25, 2009 9:14 AM   Subscribe

What do you do when one partner likes to make advance plans and the other likes to be spontaneous, in a relationship?

A little bit of background info: Dating one year, don't live together (about 20 mins away from each other), see each other about 1-2x during the week and at least one weekend day/night together.

I'm having some conflict in my relationship because I like to plan out my week as far as what activities I'm doing, what friends I'm hanging out with, and when I see my BF. On the opposite end of the spectrum, my BF likes to make plans to see each other on the day of or only about one day in advance. His friends are the same way as him and my friends are the same way as me. Some months, I have every weekend and many weekdays planned with events and activities.

Lately, this has become an ongoing, repetitive fight between my boyfriend and I. We both want to understand each other's styles more and somehow find a way for both of us to win. We're looking for a middle ground solution here.

Has anyone had any experience within a relationship where two people have opposite ways of functioning?
posted by CatherineK to Human Relations (26 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Here's what works well for me (I'm the planner in the relationship): plan for spontaneous weekends. Set aside at least 1 weekend a month and make no plans for it - then just go with the flow and do whatever the two of you like. Then go to 2 weekends a month. Gives you a great balance of pre-planning and spontaneity.
posted by widdershins at 9:21 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry to sound glib, but it's either comprimise or GTFO. Try to focus on other areas of the relationship that are strong and weigh-out whether this is a dealbreaker.

Also, if you've been dealing with this for a year and it has only lately turned into an issue, was there anything else that sparked it? It sounds like you might be masking another problem by focusing on this.

Just my two cents.
posted by purephase at 9:21 AM on August 25, 2009

I am getting married in two months, and my fiancee and I have this exact problem. She plans events as much as a month or more in advance, and I am extremely last minute.

Our compromise? She occasionally plans "nothing" days. One weekend a month or so, she will leave completely open. This way she is able to plan to spend time with me, without having to know exactly what we are doing. We might go out of town, go out to dinner, or just stay at home and enjoy each other's company. Whatever we feel like. She's OK with it because it is "planned" time, but at the same time I'm not under pressure to commit to a certain event weeks in advance.
posted by suburbanrobot at 9:26 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Both people need to be honest and introspective. Then figure out what part of the planner is obsessive and controlling, and what part of the spontaneous one is irresponsible and lazy, and use what's left (constructive non-rigid planning; ability to see opportunities that might comes up) as the basis for working out a compromise approach to doing things. Relationships that are going to last a long time often require serious compromises on each individual's part.
posted by aught at 9:27 AM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've lucked out in that, while a very laid-back unplanner, Mr. WanKenobi is willing to go along with plans if I insist on making them. Throughout our seven year relationship, we've always picked one night a week as a "date night", though that night has changed depending on our school/work schedules. That way, I'm secure in the fact that every Friday or Tuesday or Wednesday or whatever, we'll be spending time together, and I can plan other events around that.

The compromise there is that if his friends want to do something, or something comes up, we talk about it. I try to be as laid back as I can (I'm a typical anal retentive Capricorn, so it's tough!) when plans change a bit, but there's an unstated understanding that he doesn't ask to switch date nights or, say, drag me along with friend socializing unless he'd be missing out on something really, really phenomenal. In which case, of course I'm understanding--and if I can move my own plans around to accommodate that, I'm happy to.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:31 AM on August 25, 2009

I ask her to schedule a couple of hours of relaxing on the weekend. She writes it in her calendar, and strikes it through when it's over. I still think she's crazy, but it seems to work.
posted by dhoe at 9:31 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I find that "understand[ing] each other's styles more," as you put it, goes a surprisingly long way. My partner and I talk about this in Myers Briggs terms: I am J and he is a P.
posted by frescaanddietcoke at 9:35 AM on August 25, 2009

I had a brief (3 month) relationship exactly like this, where I was a planner and my ex-bf was Mr. Spontaneity. It drove me nuts! We never came to ground on it at all, and it was a major contributing factor to us breaking up. I'm not sure it's something that can really be effectively overcome, and certainly in my case it was indicative of a fundamental (and now laughable) incompatibility with that guy.

My only advice would be to try and split up the week between planned and spontaneous times - keep your weeknights free, and let him decide when he wants to hang out, even if he waits till the last minute to decide, and then plan your weekends ahead. The trouble with this though is that you may end up wasting opportunities for other social occasions, because you're effectively "on standby", waiting for your bf to make a decision. Or just make your other plans, and let him choose among the left-overs of your week.

For me at least, it was something that I couldn't deal with in the end, and I'm happy to be rid of that situation, and in a far better one. Good luck!
posted by just_ducky at 9:36 AM on August 25, 2009

Response by poster: It's really refreshing (best word I could come up with) to see that this is a fairly common issue in relationships. Until this relationship, I've dated people who are planners like I am so I've never dealt with this before. Adding to the issue, we both have friends who agree with our points of view and don't think either of us should compromise.

PhoBWanKenobi, do you have any hints or methods on how to remain laid back when plans change? I've yet to master that skill and I'm pretty anal retentive too.
posted by CatherineK at 9:37 AM on August 25, 2009

"Then figure out what part of the planner is obsessive and controlling, and what part of the spontaneous one is irresponsible and lazy..."

Talk about a divisive, argument-spurring approach! I suggest you avoid using such negative, critical language as aught suggests. People have different preferences, and I am guessing that neither of you are obsessive/controlling or irresponsible/lazy on this issue. You just have different needs, which in no means calls for the level of name-calling and finger-pointing suggested by aught.

That said, I think you are otherwise getting good advice in the thread and I endorse it. The compromise seems obvious, though I know that's always easier to say when you are on the outside looking in. Simply ask him to agree to schedule SOME specific outings with you, and offer to agree to leave SOME dates with nothing planned where you are open to last-minute plans from him.

Short answer: do what widdershins and suburbanrobot suggest.
posted by bunnycup at 9:40 AM on August 25, 2009

PhoBWanKenobi, do you have any hints or methods on how to remain laid back when plans change? I've yet to master that skill and I'm pretty anal retentive too.

Deep breaths? I've been working on being "less crazy" (read: reactive) over the past couple years generally, which has helped. Let's see--this came up two weeks ago. We have date nights on Friday and he wanted to go to a bar to watch the first Jets preseason game. He's a huge Jets fan, and there was no reason not to move the date night, but I did have a sort of sulky initial reaction. So I told him I'd think about it, went and did something else for a bit rather than continuing the conversation unproductively, and genuinely thought it over. I realized that the sulkiness was due to my own insecurity (which is, of course, often where the need to overplan often comes from) rather than a reaction to the reasonableness/unreasonableness of his request, so I said "sure."

Being able to take space from a conversation really helps, as does evaluating the source of your own emotions. This wouldn't work, of course, if he wasn't also understanding about who I was (I'd be a wreck if he asked to move dates around all the time), but, even if this is just a warm-up to more conversations and more inner reflection on your own emotions and insecurities, it's well worth it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:44 AM on August 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Our compromise? She occasionally plans "nothing" days. One weekend a month or so, she will leave completely open. This way she is able to plan to spend time with me, without having to know exactly what we are doing. We might go out of town, go out to dinner, or just stay at home and enjoy each other's company. Whatever we feel like. She's OK with it because it is "planned" time, but at the same time I'm not under pressure to commit to a certain event weeks in advance.

I think this is excellent, and I would add one other caveat. Make the "nothing" days open to doing "nothing" with or without your partner. So if he's so spontaneous that he has last-minute plans that don't include you, you're not hurt, you just switch to watching five marathons of America's Next Top Model in a row while eating Taco Bell (that last bit might just be what I'd do).
posted by xingcat at 10:06 AM on August 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'm in a similar situation where I'm the major planner and he's the spontaneous one. I do some of the things mentioned above (planned "free days" and such), but in addition to that, I give him access to my Google Calendar so that he can check out what my schedule is like at a moment's glance. My whole life is synched with that thing, via my iPhone, so that seems to work out well.
posted by urbanlenny at 10:16 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend was like this, until he realized that if he didn't reserve time to see me in advance (not specific activities per se, but just days/evenings marked off for couple-time, when we could decide what we wanted to do on those evenings last minute) then I would just make plans with other people. After a few weeks of him being disappointed that most of the time I was in fact, NOT free to grab a last-minute bite to eat or to catch a movie in 30 minutes' time, he started making plans with me.

Planners tend to be extremely busy people who need to plan in order to both see their friends as well as be productive and functional adults. However if you have tons of free time and are a planner just because you're kind of anal about knowing everything that might ever happen to you in advance, I'd say try to chill out a bit.

I think that if your boyfriend balks at planning date nights or whatever, that you might want to demonstrate to him that your free time fills up fast, and when he doesn't make specific plans to see you then he doesn't get to see you as much. Then get busy and hang out with your other friends, do volunteer work, schedule training sessions at the gym, whatever. It might work for you-- it did for me. Now my boyfriend and I live together and have a really healthy mix of planning specific activities as well as being spontaneous. It's just a compromise thing, overall.
posted by np312 at 11:03 AM on August 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

Long answer: Things with my boyfriend and I are similar to what np312 describes. When we were hanging out a couple of nights a week and one day/night a weekend, like you and your boyfriend do, he realized pretty quickly that he generally had to reserve nights to see me if he wanted to see me. For my part, I suppressed my planning instinct enough that he only had to pick his nights a week or two in advance instead of say, a month. That is to say, if I planned things a month or two in advance, I'd only plan things when I knew I still had most of the weeknights free. That way, a week or two in advance I could say to him, "I'm busy next Thursday. Which nights do you want to hang out, so I don't plan anything for those nights with other people?" He'd say, "Let's do something Monday and Wednesday" and I'd go ahead and fill up Tuesday and Friday with other plans at that point. "Something" was vague enough that he didn't feel locked in, and we could just figure out on Monday what we wanted to do together.

Short answer: Compromise and communication.
posted by booknerd at 11:43 AM on August 25, 2009

Response by poster: Np312 and booknerd, your suggestions are exactly what my friends suggested.

I think the idea of one weekend a month really sits well with me.

Thank you for all the suggestions. I'd love to keep reading more, so please keep them coming :)
posted by CatherineK at 12:00 PM on August 25, 2009

My first thought was "revel in it!"

My wife and I are very much in that classic mode and it's been super enriching for both of us to learn from each other.

I think what works for us is to make sure and talk about it a lot. Framing the discussion as "you have this strength and i have this one and how can we get the best out of both" helps a lot. Plus, try switching roles now and then. I try to make myself plan things and she makes an effort to just go along with some suggestion of mine now and again.

Seriously, have fun!
posted by lumpenprole at 12:38 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think and your boyfriend should both take a step back. This isn't an issue where someone is right and someone is wrong, and neither of you should approach things that way. Frankly, you're both really only listening to your friends who are simply reinforcing your viewpoints, which ultimately isn't very helpful. This is an issue of trying to find a workable solution for both of you. A little humor will go a long way, recognizing the extremes of each of your tendencies. As someone who is more in the middle I can recognize the frustration of trying to make any sorts of plans with someone whose spontaneity means everything is last minute, thrown together, and seat-of-the-pants. But, since most of the responses seem to be coming from people on your end of the plan/not-plan spectrum, I have to say I'd find it excruciating if I had to schedule weeks in advance any time I wanted the possibility of seeing my girlfriend. I think that would make me feel like I was less a priority in her life than an event to be scheduled like everything else. Similarly, if her life was so busy that such rigorous scheduling was an absolute necessity, I would imagine I would find her overcommitted to the point of having misplaced priorities. I'm not saying that describes you and obviously I can't speak for your boyfriend, but I can imagine that might be how I would feel.

And, as John Lennon said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." There is a great deal of truth in that statement.
posted by 6550 at 12:42 PM on August 25, 2009

I think you and your boyfriend should both take a step back.
posted by 6550 at 12:43 PM on August 25, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you 6550 for giving the other side of the spectrum. I actually never looked at it from that perspective. I can see where he'd feel like I was just "scheduling" him in like the other events in my life.
posted by CatherineK at 12:58 PM on August 25, 2009

You might want to think about whether or not your need to plan your time with him masks a fear of rejection. Maybe deep down you suspect that he really doesn't want to spend time with you, or as much time as you want to spend with him. It doesn't matter if you rationally know that he does - if your subconscious is saying "maybe he doesn't," your need to plan and "pin him down" is going to become more compulsive.

If this has a grain of truth to it, then the solution begins with your becoming more secure in the relationship and in yourself. Good luck with that; I have yet to figure it out.

posted by desjardins at 2:49 PM on August 25, 2009 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: And hammer hits the nail on the head, desjardins.
posted by CatherineK at 3:37 PM on August 25, 2009

Ideally, Js & Ps (in Myers-Briggs terms) should probably just not date. Of all the four oppositions, I think this is the only one that can actually cause serious conflict.

And it's no surprise that all your friends are Js & all his are Ps, precisely because they're such different modes of behaving that these separate kinds of people can get easily frustrated by each other, and tend to gravitate more towards people like themselves (planners v spontaneous people, respectively).

Having said that, acknowledging a fact is usually the first step towards resolving it. I'd suggest that you acknowledge each other's styles (even going so far as to concede that they are potentially unchangeable), and then that you show respect for them - there's no right or wrong here, just different ways of approaching the world.

Once that's done, there's no other way but to negotiate some kind of compromise - assuming three days/nights a week, he'd have to commit to one, you'd need to position yourself to accept his spontaneous suggestions for another, and I have no idea what you'd do with the third (other than, er, the obvious).
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:53 PM on August 25, 2009

Takes one to know one, I guess.

Honestly, the only thing I've figured out is that the more I push him to solidify plans, the worse it is for BOTH of us. It's not his natural tendency, and I hate the fact that I have to push. So, I try to remind myself that it will inevitably be lose-lose. The more I can curb that fear of rejection, the stronger I feel, and the less I need to control. That is win-win.

Of course, I married the guy, so I have more agenda-setting power now. :)
posted by desjardins at 8:46 PM on August 25, 2009

Of all the four oppositions, I think this is the only one that can actually cause serious conflict.

OR... it can provide a tremendous opportunity for personal growth. I've gotten much more patient and spontaneous. He's gotten much more disciplined and reliable. We still have our natural tendencies, but we've recognized that there is value in the other person's perspective.
posted by desjardins at 8:50 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

i asked a question a few months ago about dealing with disappointment when plans are canceled. i am a planner, and my boyfriend is more spontaneous. however, his spontaneity is often due to health issues. his chronic head and neck pain are really debilitating and our plans often fall through due to this. before his pain began, though, he was still a pretty spontaneous person when it came to hanging out.

i think a lot of the suggestions above are really good ones. i'm still really struggling with this issue myself. my brain is just wired to schedule my life. simply put, i like to know what i'm doing and with whom. my boyfriend commented that i care about planning my life more than i should (or more than other people do). i see his point, but my planning is ingrained. it's really hard for me to just let go and let the day play out. i like to be in control, you know?

in any case, i wish you luck, and i know how you feel. i hope you two are able to find a balance that works!
posted by sucre at 1:01 PM on August 27, 2009

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