Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Dismaying Story #111: Missing the Game of Life

Dear Andrew,

I’m supposed to be at the perfect point in my life. I have a wonderful nice home in a nice neighborhood. My husband and I both have new cars. Finances are stable. I have a teenager from a previous marriage, and my husband and I have a toddler. Sure there are the normal ups and downs of real life, and I can keep that all in perspective. But there’s something that’s really bothering me, and I’m not sure what to do.

My husband, who is very sweet, and smart, and funny, is spending all his time with “his mistress” ...the computer, and his buddies who are doing the same thing. He is completely wrapped up in an online game. He works his eight-hour day, then comes home and gets straight on the computer. He takes breaks for dinner and/or to go out to dinner, and will occasionally (rarely) take an evening off, but sometimes, he’ll just fix a plate and take it back into the office. This has been going on for years.

I try so hard to be understanding and supportive. I understand the game and its dynamics. I understand why he enjoys it so, and the interaction he gets with his friends. I remind myself that at least he’s not out doing drugs or gambling, or worse. But I miss our intimacy. We only manage to have “marital relations” a couple of times a month. He stays up late playing his game, and I go to sleep after I get the kids to bed.

My teen resents his playing because she gets stuck will all the chores, and “he never does anything.” My toddler, whenever he doesn’t know where daddy is, automatically runs to the office to see if he’s there. My husband is uncomfortable taking care of the toddler because he’s deferred the caretaking almost completely to me since he was born. He loves his son, but just doesn’t spend much time with him and doesn’t know how to take care of him. He’s getting better, and is making a conscious effort to spend more time with him. But if anything ever happened to me, I don’t know how well they’d fare.

And me...I feel like the housekeeper/nanny most of the time. We do communicate. We talk about it. Though dropping hints and being subtle doesn’t work with him (sometimes it almost takes a brick-to-the-head for him to get the point). He knows what he’s doing. I quite often joke (but not really joking) about being a computer widow. If/when I have an emotional breakdown, he will take a little time off, to smooth my ruffled feathers, but then he’s right back to it. But, I won’t / can’t / don’t want to ask him to give up a hobby that he enjoys so much.

So, do I continue on, status quo, with my husband playing a bit-part in the production that is our family? Do I try to find fulfillment for myself by finding my own hobby that includes my kids? Do I take what I can get from him and try to be happy?

Signed, Lonely in a Full House


Dear Lonely,

Regarding the questions in your last paragraph: no, no, and most emphatically no.

Your husband wants to have a wife and kids who take care of themselves, and then are there for him when he wants to take a few minutes to participate. Basically he is still living the single life. This is extremely selfish, irresponsible and dysfunctional to a large degree.

You have had a role in creating and propagating this problem too. You have enabled this imbalance by acting as if it’s okay, by doing the chores and the childcare and making it possible for him to act like this. You drop hints and make jokes, and based on that mild reaction he assumes what he is doing is okay.

It is not okay. It is a long, long way from okay. He is ignoring his duties as a husband and father. He is being selfish and irresponsible. Games and other hobbies have a place in life, but that is to enrich our spare time with entertaining diversions. A responsible adult takes care of life’s necessities first and THEN plays. Heck, we even teach our kids to do their homework before they can play. Your husband still hasn’t learned that basic life lesson.

To put it bluntly, you need to grow a backbone and insist he finds a better balance in his life. He needs to grow up and realize that his wife and children should rank WAY higher in importance than any game, any friend, any diversion. He has life completely backwards, and you are letting him get away with it.

And here’s the thing. You already knew all of this.

My guess is you have a long history of avoiding conflict. You’d rather suffer in silence than ruffle feathers. You need to stop doing that in this instance. The price is too high, and it’s not just you paying the price. If things continue on as they are, your marriage will be little more than a hollow shell. It may not survive - relationships need effort and time and attention. Your children will have no relationship at all with their absentee father. That means you bear the cost; your kids and your husband will as well ... he just doesn’t realize it at this point.

The solution: Be honest. Tell him you need more. Tell him the kids need more. Tell him he is being irresponsible, that his life balance is way off, that he needs to grow up and treat you and the kids as important, and the game as merely a nice diversion if and when he has time to fit it in.

He doesn’t have to give up the game. Most people find time for extracurricular activities. He just needs to find a better balance. The two of you need to work out a schedule when he can take some time for the game, but he needs to put the family first.

Sure he’ll pout and complain and say it’s not fair and you don’t understand and you’re being unreasonable and on and on...

So what? That’s just the price you need to pay to go from a dysfunctional situation to a functioning family that includes a participative father. You need to stick to your guns, knowing you are right.

He’ll say that’s not enough time for the game. Baloney. He takes time off to go to work, so he can take time off for his family obligations as well.

Hopefully once he becomes more involved he’ll realize what he’s been missing and be glad of the change. But that will take time. Be strong in the meantime because your family needs a champion right now, and that’s got to be you.

My guess is you’ll think, “Oh my gosh that’ll be SO hard to do!” Yes it will, but it’s necessary and it’ll be worth it. Good luck!

All the best,
Andrew

12 comments:

  1. Forgive me for skimming - but I think she's been WAY too cool about it. She needs to be more upfront.
    I think this sort of computer-behaviour is something that is growing and may even be out of hand.
    If her husband has any amount of intelligence, which presumably he does or he wouldn't have a job or be able to play online games...then he would have to admit that he is addicted and needs to go cold turkey.
    His LIFE is at stake.
    Now THERE'S a game.

    He oughtta learn how to play THAT!

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  2. I agree wih Andrew, but caution you not to underestimate the addictive power of the computer. For a long time now, I've been using the computer late into the night instead of sleeping, and have felt utterly powerless to stop. Finally, last week, I just unplugged my laptop, put it into its case, and put it under some boxes in the corner of my bedroom, and now I only take it out and plug it in as a treat on weekends. (During the week, I'm at a computer all day at work, so I'm far from cut off. Unplugging and moving it just helped me set reasonable limits at home.)

    So, what I'm saying is that your husband might not be able to just stop. I know people who unplug their computers or put them on timers or lock them up or do all sorts of other things to prevent them from totally encroaching on their lives.

    Good luck!

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  3. an old lady said to me once: "It is not good enough to just say you love someone, you have to show that you love them; i show my husband that i love him doing my job as a housewife well; i make sure the house is clean, i set the table for breakfast, lunch and supper, and i take pride in what i do. Love is doing the hard things with joy." So in essence what she is saying is actions speak louder words. "Lonely" says her husband "loves his son", well, love entails sacrifice, he need to sacrifice his own enjoyment to spend quality time with his son. It's really simple, as you said, he is selfish. He needs a good swift "kick in the butt reality check" - Lonely needs to stop making excuses for her neglegent spouse, she is enabling his bad behaviour. Enuf said!

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  4. I agree with Andrew about 1,000%. Put your foot down and KNOW that your family deserves a husband and father in actions/time spent, not just in name.

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  5. Andrew is right, don't tolerate this behavior. Time to get him to be a parent and a husband. Myself, I would remove the computer from the home or put a device on it which limits the amount of time that he can have access. There are many software products out there which will do this.
    Time for your husband to remember why he is married and why he has children.

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  6. I'd rather be alone, rearing the kids by myself than to have a husband like that. He has not grown up and has no idea at all what a married life should be. Being a partner in a marriage means doing one's part. It's pretty lonely I know as my husband was leading a 'single' life at the early part of our relationship. I threatened to leave if he does not help with the housework, spend time with the kids, sit together at dinner time, go grocery shopping and take turns cooking meals. We also have schedules in using the PC as it could be time- consuming. Maybe he is one type who needs to be lead and told and directed and guided. Then lead your family(which includes him) to do fun activities that includes him. I am sure that he is not all that happy too in his PC addiction. All the best and remember that you deserve more than what he is giving you.

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  7. Game widow10:32 PM

    I'm with you in the widow department. I know which game you are talking about, Lonely...I'm 99.9% sure it's the same one mine plays. It's annoying enough that I can't ever use our home computer because he's monopolized it for his gaming obsession, but it's another thing to have lost my cute, witty, lively husband to this hunching, drooling gaming sloth that has become him.

    He plays online with his brother-in-law my uncle. My uncle is mid-30's obese, unemployed (guess why), single (ALSO guess why) and is unaware of where his online world ends and reality begins. Sometimes it's like talking to a schizophrenic person...hearing about guilds and blood-elves that are menacing him in his life right now as if we were talking about our work lives or our neighbors.

    Our brother-in-law has gone from a sweet happy guy to a violent, volatile, zombie-like shadow in the corner, playing this game for the seven free hours of his day that he's not either working or sleeping. I know I sound like I'm being dramatic, and I wish that were true.

    While my husband is not as addicted, it takes a full-blown hissy fit on my part to scare him off the computer. It works, but I hate that I have to start using "atomic language" and slamming doors to get his attention.

    If your husband's game is the same as the one I'm losing loved ones to, then you have got to tell him to get a grip.

    My husband has been out of town for business all week, and I've never slept better. Here's why: I go to bed four hours before him every night because he has important guild missions and blah blah blah, but I can't really fall asleep until he's in bed with me. The noise from the game doesn't help. It's affecting my work life because I'm sleep-deprived and irritable. My husband knows this but because he knows his geeky-ness is endearing to me sometimes, he thinks it's still cute enough for me to let slide. It's not cute anymore.

    In fact, one of the most annoying effects this is having is that I'm not exactly attracted to this "new him." I fell in love with a vibrant, cultured, active, athletic intellectual who made me want to achieve greatness. This guy is NOT who I fell in love with and it's freaking me out!!!

    I feel your pain. Sorry to hijack your post...but I just had to connect on this one.

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  8. DivaMinerva3:20 AM

    LOL it is really hard to guess which MMORPG he is addicted to. There are so many.

    The main point is that he IS ADDICTED. And will most likely need counseling.

    I have two ongoing subscriptions, even though I haven't logged on in several months and haven't played regularly since last spring. I enjoy my life too much to dedicate so much time to in game life now, but I still can't let it go completely.

    I think by not encouraging this woman to get couples counseling and telling her to do this HUGE feat all by herself was irresponsible. Especially when she's never really laid out any boundaries in the past. It is like telling one spouse of an alcoholic or drug addict to tell the sick one to just quit or the 'well' spouse will just not tolerate the sick one using anymore and will leave. It is silly. The family needs to learn how to interact in a healthy way. Its gonna take a bit more than she is capable of doing at this point in the marriage.

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  9. Anonymous2:54 PM

    Wow. Thanks for all the comments. Andrew didn't include the follow up emails that we had (and thanks for that, because they got a lot more personal).

    I wanted to explain that I finally wrote my hubby a letter telling him how I felt, and what I felt he was doing to our family. After he read it, we had a long, tearful conversation. He was crushed that I had been unhappy for so long and had not told him. He also acknowledged that he was doing a bad job of balancing his activities.

    He still plays his game, but has backed off quite a bit. He asked me to let him know when he's over-doing it, and keep an open dialog. He's a lot more attentive, and is really making an effort. I don't think he realized (until he read my letter) how close our marriage was to failing. After our conversation, I realized how much I really do mean to him, and how much he means to me.

    The moral of the story, my friends, is communication. I thought we had good communication in our marriage, but it was me who was the problem, there. Now that we are talking about it, the way seems so much brighter.

    Thanks, again, Andrew. I don't think I would have figured out what I needed to do nearly so soon without your help.

    Signed,
    Much-Less-Lonely

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  10. Thank you, Andrew, for dropping by my blog and your kind words. I have been reading several of the questions here and am very pleased with the quality of the answers you give to people. You really know your stuff! You don't give people platitudes or easy fixes. I will definitely drop back in because people are responding to your knowledge and willingness to reach out and help others in this format. It's wonderful. Thanks for the service you provide.
    ~~~Blessings~~~
    Gracie

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  11. Thanks for visiting my site recently. Yeah, I do have a lot on my plate, but, well, at least my plate is full and not empty. I know it's a bit trite, but hard times can either turn you harder yourself, or softer. I chose to become softer, more full of love and appreciation for what I have. Which is a nice goal...... which I occasionally meet, and mostly don't! Your site's fascinating and I'll keep reading it. E

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  12. Dear Doc...you are so smart, and so right on the money here, as usual. ;)

    I love the comments too.

    By the way, I made it to the finals for the Share the Love Blog Wards for both Best Writing and Most Thought Provoking. Kacey says I MUST campaign, so if you haven't already voted in the finals, please visit my sidebar for the link and pop over and check it out. I'm going to get that book proposal done!

    Ciao my friend...feel free to keep this comment private if you like.
    Also...be sure to stop by tomorrow. I am posting the essay that started me on this path in honor of St. Valentine's Day. You may have already read it, but I would love to have your comments. ;)

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