REFLECTIONS ON RELATIONSHIPS
By, Dr. Allen Berger
Someone recently wrote to Cosmopolitan Magazine with the following concern:
Me and my husband have been married for four years and have three wonderful kids. He bought the X-Box 360 [a video game system] about 2 years ago and all he does is play it all day and most of the night, sometimes all day and night. I’ve tried sitting down with him and explaining that I need help around the house, not to mention with our little ones, and he says he understands, yet it is still the same thing every day with no signs of changing. I am also sure you can understand what type of effect this has on our sex life. We do have sex at least twice a week but it doesn’t last that long. Most of the time it is a quickie, so not very enjoyable for me. And when he does try to make it last longer and maybe tries to put more passion into it, I try but about 75 percent of the time have too much resentment and can’t relax or get over the fact that it is the only attention I get. So it is very upsetting to me. No hugs, only kisses when we are in the act, no cuddling…nothing. As soon as he is done he sleeps or jumps back on the game. What is wrong with me? How come he doesn’t want to be part of the family unit anymore? I also need suggestions on how to get over all the resentment I hold.
Signed: Is it Me?
Here is my response to her letter.
Dear “Is it Me?”
The answer to your question is both “No it is not you” and “Yes it is you.” Your husband is behaving that way because of who he is, not because of who you are. We can become much more intimate in a relationship if we stop taking our partner’s behavior personally.
We must also realize that all behavior in a relationship is communication. Sometimes we are unable to decode what our partner’s behavior is saying, and other times that person might not realize what his/her behavior is communicating. So here are some possibilities of what your husband might he be communicating:
First possibility: “I am ignoring you and involved in this game because I am angry with you and showing you how it feels to be ignored.”
I state this as a possibility because many men feel abandoned when their wives are attentive to their children’s needs. You have been married four years with three children and raising three children requires a lot of attention and energy. He might be acting like a child to say that he misses you and wants your attention.
Second possibility: “I don’t know how to be a father nor do I know where I fit into this family; I am lost.”
He may not know how to be a husband and a father. Some men have an idea of how to be a husband but are clueless when it comes to child-rearing. If this is the case, you need to invite him to disclose this. He will likely be embarrassed and ashamed, which may make it hard for him to share this.
There are other possibilities, but let’s shift focus to how you might be contributing to the problem in order for you to become a part of the solution. The first thing I pick up from you is criticism. Most men become defensive when they are criticized by their wives. When you tell him, “I need you to help around the house, not to mention with our little ones…” you are criticizing him for what he is not doing. Instead, try saying you miss him–that he is important to you and you are concerned you may have done something to push him away. Invite him to tell you how he feels about you, but listen carefully because he will be telling you what he needs.
Your criticism is likely to come from your resentment. To get over your resentment I suggest a three step process:
First, identify your resentment. In your case it might be something like: “I resent you for playing Xbox all the time and abandoning me and our children.”
Step two involves stating the demand that underlies your resentment. This doesn’t mean that your demand is unreasonable, sometimes they are. You might say, “I demand that you become more involved in this family and that you never abandon me or our children.” I imagine this might reflect your demand, but it might not. So identify your demand and say it out loud to yourself.
Finally, the third step is to find something you can appreciate in his behavior. So in this case you might say, “I appreciate that you are home playing Xbox instead of going out and drinking, etc.” There is always something to appreciate in a resentment. This process will help you understand and resolve your resentment.
About Dr. Berger:
Dr. Berger is an internationally recognized expert in family and couples therapy, and in the science of addiction and recovery. He is best known for his work on integrating modern psychotherapy with the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and for his insights into emotional sobriety. He is also recognized for his outstanding work as a psychotherapist and trainer.
He brings a highly unique background to his profession. His own personal journey in recovery started in 1971, on the beautiful island of Oahu, Hawaii. There he fell in love with recovery and with helping people find their way out of the abyss of addiction into the light of recovery. He overcame dropping out of high school, and received a doctorate in clinical psychology from UC Davis in 1987.