The mistakes criminals make could fill a book. In fact, they have. Leland Gregory’s The Stupid Crook Book reveals dozens of real-life stories about captured criminals who are so dumb you almost feel sorry for them.

The stories are hard to resist. After all, who doesn’t like to hear about a foiled bandit who gets caught red-handed? Here we want to show you how to catch the most common time bandits of your day. But beware. These crooks are far smarter than the inept criminals you just read about. These time stealers are so subtle you may not even be aware of how much time they are stealing from your marriage.

There are literally dozens of time bandits walking off with time you could have spent on each other, but the following four are the most common and the most sneaky.

Bandit One: Unfinished Business

Far and away, one of the greatest time bandits prowling around your relationship is the past. Your present is inextricably linked to your past. I (Les) wrote an entire book about it called Shoulda Coulda Woulda, so I can assure you that I’ve given this topic some serious study. Your past can be very crafty when it comes to robbing you of your present. Make no mistake, when you are weighed down by regret, pain, or guilt over things that happened two decades ago or two hours ago, you will no longer be able to live fully in the present. As long as you are gazing over your shoulder, you will feel unfinished.

Unfinished business takes on a life of its own and consumes your time like few competitors. Why? Because the brain remembers incomplete tasks or failure longer than any success or completed activity. Researchers call it the “Zeigarnik effect.” Once a project is complete, the brain no longer gives it priority or active working status. But regrets have no closure. The brain continues to spin the memory, trying to come up with ways to fix the mess and move it from active to inactive status. But it can’t — not until you work to close it.

If you need to gain closure on anything from your past, the first place to begin is where it hurts. Healing your hurts, particularly if they run deep, is essential to feeding your time-starved marriage, not to mention your own emotional health. Why? Because healing the pain from your past protects you from repeating the pain in your present marriage. This may sound strange, but if we never come to terms with our past pain, we use our marriage as a means to make it right. The trouble is, marriage was never designed to do that. You’ll just continue to repeat relationship problems and replay your pain again and again. That’s why the past can be such a gigantic time stealer.

Bandit Two: Technology

I love the latest technology. Call me a nerd if you like, I can’t help it. Whether it be my cell phone, my laptop, or my television, I love the latest and greatest. And some time ago, when I first heard of something called wi-fi, I was giddy. A wireless network in my own home! No more wires! I couldn’t believe it. I could use a computer anywhere in my abode and not be tethered to the wall. A wireless network was just what I needed to carve out more quality time for Leslie and me and our family. Or so I thought.

On the first day of my new wireless life, I checked the headlines of a half dozen newspapers while sitting at the breakfast table. I scanned the television listings for my evening’s viewing. And I checked my course enrollments for my upcoming college class. I was hooked. Instant information wherever I wanted it! That night, after tucking our boys in, we were in bed — just me, Leslie, and my Sony laptop. I needed one more fix, a peek at the bank balance and a look at my email. Leslie, on the other hand, needed to talk.

In less than twenty-four hours it had become painfully obvious: the wireless network that was making it so much easier for me to be online was also making it harder for me to pay attention to Leslie. The trouble is that, with all the gizmos and gadgets, we feel more frenzied, more harried, more out of breath than ever before. Seems ironic, but the very things we think are going to save us time often end up stealing it. If we aren’t careful, technology can delude us into thinking we’re saving time for our marriage when just the opposite is happening.

Bandit Three: Impatience

Most of us want what we want now. We can’t wait. So we overextend our budget, our credit, and our calendars. We toss delayed gratification on its ear and make a beeline toward whatever we impulsively want. If this damage on our pocketbooks wasn’t bad enough, this same impatience infects our relationships, especially our marriages. We become short with each other. We expect our spouse to do what we want when we want. We hurry our spouse to finish a sentence, to get to the bottom line. We grow weary of waiting, even for a moment, if he or she is a bit late. Impatience steals intimacy from our relationship by infusing it with intolerance, irritation, and annoyance.

Impatience corrodes your time like few other poisons, eating away at what could otherwise be a pleasant moment. It’s tempting to justify impatience by telling ourselves, “This is just how I act when I’m in a hurry. The real me, though, is more loving, and my spouse knows that.” Are you sure? Take a good look at this “temporary” trait and be sure it isn’t becoming a permanent resident. Giving impatience the boot may be one of the most important things you can do to reclaim the time you’ve been missing from your marriage.

Bandit Four: The Clock

Okay, okay. We can almost hear you as we’re writing these words. “What?” you ask. “How does the clock steal our time?” That’s a fair question. We have nothing against clocks. In fact, we have a huge clock in our home that nearly every guest comments on. And when it’s time to change the clocks in our home around daylight savings time, it becomes painfully obvious how many clocks we own. So relax. We’re not fanatical here. In fact, we only want to tell you a story.

It’s an old tale of a village that bought a fancy clock tower. Sometime after it was installed, a visitor to the town discovered that all the people were sleeping during the day and working at night. When he questioned them about this, they answered, “We have the most unique town in America. After we got our new clock, we began to notice that the sun kept rising earlier and earlier every morning. Finally the daytime hours were dark and the night hours were light. We are petitioning the president for special recognition as the only town in America with such a situation.”

As it turned out, of course, the new clock had been running slower and slower, all because sparrows were roosting inside it. The point? The people of the village were so enamored by their clock that they allowed it to control them instead of the other way around.

And that’s the potential problem with clocks. If we aren’t careful, they can make us their slaves. How? Well, consider how many times you say something like: “Hurry up, or we’ll be late! You’ve only got five minutes!” The clock can turn our lives into a race. It’s nearly inevitable. You can’t extinguish our reliance on time pieces. We’d have chaos. But if we surrender completely to the clock, it spins our relationships out of control as well.

The point is simple. Don’t always give in to the tyranny of the clock. Linger over a latte together every once in a while, even if you’re running late. If you have a deadline to meet, don’t be irresponsible, but don’t be a time tyrant either. It’s a fine line to walk. It requires balance — something those driven solely by the clock seldom have.

Bandit Five: Overactivity

Okay, so we said there were four sneaking time bandits we wanted to highlight. And we have done just that. But we want to squeeze one more onto the list. It’s so important. We’ve just got to add one more.

We’re only doing so here to illustrate a point. We’re pushing one more thing onto the agenda after we did what we agreed to. Doing so is exactly what this brazen time bandit requires. Once the slate is full and the dates are booked, this one comes rumbling in and bullies its way onto the already filled schedule. Especially if you have kids. So if you’re a parent, take note.

Overactivity, the close cousin of overcommitment, is not so sneaky at all. It’s the most obvious time bandit around. You recognize it the moment it appears in your home, trying to show up on your calendar. “We’ve just got to make this work,” we say as we hurriedly make new arrangements and move things around in our date book, as if it were an unexpected guest looking for a place to sleep. But overactivity has no intention of resting. It can take your time for all it’s worth and never once blink in the process. In fact, it’s the only time bandit that we announce upon its arrival. “Look at this schedule!” we say in amazement. “Can you believe all we’ve got to do?”

So rather than expound on the obvious, namely that overactivity will steal your time, allow us to make a fundamental point that may be just what you need to hear to keep this one from robbing you blind. If your family car has become a taxicab for running kids to church activities, school events, and children’s sporting events, realize that you don’t have to do it all. You don’t. Nowhere is it written that to be a good parent you have to sign your children up for everything and spend all your “free” time shuttling them around and attending each and every event.

Give overactivity a kick in the seat of the pants by closely examining what you might drop from your long list. You might hold a family meeting to talk about what regaining this time as a family would mean to all of you. Then again, don’t feel guilty about trimming the activity list using your own good judgment.

Each of the time bandits we’ve noted in this article has nothing to do with external circumstances and everything to do with your choices. We want to underscore the fact that you, and you alone, are the gatekeeper to these time stealers. Whether it be allowing your past to contaminate your present, the seductive lie that all technology saves you time, the weakness of impatience, slavery to the clock, or overactivity, none of these will steal your time unless you decide to do nothing about them. In other words, ultimate protection from these time robbers comes from the choices you make to guard yourself against them.

Copyright © 2006 Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott, Used with permission.

From Your Time-Starved Marriage: How to Stay Connected at the Speed of Life by Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott, Published by Zondervan.

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