"My husband only plays video games and we never go on dates."
BY SARAH JAFFE
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Dear Miss Information,
I’m 28, and have been married for almost a year. Sometimes I worry that I cannot help my husband when he is sad, or stressed out. He often gets really upset and feels that he isn't being a good husband because we don't go on a ton of dates, or because he plays video games a lot. I personally do not mind either of these things. I’m not much of a gamer but I enjoy watching him play his games (some of them have amazing graphics), and having him tell me about them. I know it’s his way of getting rid of stress. I also do not mind not going on a lot of dates, because I'm not after his wallet at all. I’m only upset that he’s so upset. How do I show him that I am perfectly happy with the way things are?
So, are you in an arranged marriage or is your husband just terribly insecure? He does know that you knew who he was and what he was about when you married him, right? And that you did so because you love him, warts and all? It sounds like you two should be fairly well matched – you’re cool with his hobbies and you both prefer to hang out at home rather than wine and dine all over town. So why is he making something out of nothing?
A.) You’re not expressing your contentment with him, so he’s reading what might just be taciturn happiness as disappointment. But I don’t think that’s it, since you were pretty forthright with me about not having a problem with the made-up problems he’s moping about.
B.) It’s not about you at all. And it’s not about the video games or the dates or how much you love each other. It’s about your husband feeling insecure or insignificant. It’s about him feeling like he’s not the man he wants to be, and his assumption that the man he is isn’t enough for you. You know that old chestnut about how if you can’t love yourself you can’t expect anyone else to either? For some reason your husband has a habit of going to the dark place and imagining that you can’t be happy with him since he’s not happy with himself, and putting this burden of discontentment on you rather than carrying it for himself and opening it up and looking at what’s really in there.
So what can you do? Tell him this. Tell him you’re very happy with your relationship as it is, except for when he calls himself a bad husband. After all, that’s your husband he’s dissing – you wouldn’t let anyone else say those things about him, so why on earth should he say them about himself? Tell him you’re worried that he can’t see himself the way you see him, and that a happy, confident partner is the kind of partner you like best. Then talk about how you can help him get there.
Maybe there’s a lot of stress in his life, and he needs a better outlet for it. Maybe he’s gotten a lot of messages from our culture about what a man is supposed to do and be and he’s worried that he’s not living up to them (down with the patriarchy! Any man who’s true to himself is a real man and that’s that, case closed!). Maybe the video games aren’t fun for him, and they’re a crutch he wishes he could abandon. Maybe he’s upset about the lack of dates not just because he wants to make you feel special, but because he wants to feel special too. If that’s the case, don’t think of dates as an expensive dinner and a fabulous concert or anything nearly so dull – maybe a great date for you guys is something that requires only the slimmest of wallets: a hike in the woods, a long walk around the neighborhood at sunset, a homemade brunch on Sunday morning, a favorite album played as you dance and sing around the house.
Make sure you’re both expressing your love for each other in ways that help you both feel valued. This is your partner for life (how crazy is that?) so one year in is a terrible time for either of you to resign yourselves to behavior that makes you not feel good enough (everyone has days where they feel like that, but it sounds like it’s more than just occasional for your husband). And whatever else you do, don’t feel like you have to fix his problem. Only he can work on loving himself more, and while you can’t do it for him (and trying to would be a recipe for disaster), you can keep being supportive and loving him as much as you already do. Hopefully, he’ll follow suit.
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