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#237: How do I use my words without being passive-aggressive or a nag?

Dear Captain,

I understand conceptually “use your words” but I find I have trouble doing that in my relationship without nagging. My spouse likes to play video games. I’m not a big fan, particularly because I feel trapped when he’s playing for hours and I can’t talk to him and let him know what I’m doing or where I’m going. I end up waiting for him to finish and being resentful that I didn’t do anything useful or fun during that time.

I’ve asked him to tell me when he’s going to be playing, and when he’s going to be done ahead of time, because then I could do stuff and know when I had to be back, and he agreed, but he isn’t really doing that. If I remind him, I feel like I’m nagging and controlling, but if I don’t, then I get stuck not doing anything. He does say my request is not too much to ask.

It seems like the problem is really just me and my neediness and inability to be my own person when he’s doing his own thing. It seems like the best thing to do would be to just do the things I think need doing, but that seems really passive-aggressive, since I’m not really happy to be doing chores by myself, and if I do stuff on my own that I wish he was doing with me, I’m just hoping he’ll notice that I’m being useful and/or having fun without him, which is quite passive-aggressive and doesn’t seem like it will get anywhere anyway due to lack of telepathy.

So, I don’t know what to do without being either passive-agressive, or a nag.

sign me, Neurotic

P.S. Of course there are way way more details and potentially mitigating circumstances, but I’m trying to keep it short.

Dear Not Really All That Neurotic,

Here are the words you are saying: “Could you tell me how long you think you’ll be gaming today, so I know when to be back/can do other stuff?”

Here are the words he’s saying: “Sure, I will let you know.”

Here are the words you’re not saying (for fear of appearing needy and/or passive-aggressive):

“Spouse, I know you love playing video games, but when you play them so much and can’t even bother to let me know when you’re finished so we can make plans or spend other time together, it makes me feel lonely, bored, and ignored.

Or maybe you HAVE said them.

At the risk of repeating the “harshness” of some questions from earlier this week, no answer IS a kind of answer. So when he doesn’t interrupt his play to let you know what time you should be back home (even though you’ve specifically requested that he do this so you can schedule your life), he’s saying “It’s really not that important to me either way.”

At best, he’s saying “I mean to, I really do, but I get so far in the zone that I forget.”

I think, LW, that you might be really angry about the video games. And I think that you might need him to make some kind of gesture to show you that he can stop playing and show you that he’s thinking about you and wants to spend time with you, and you want to do it without having to ask, remind, nag, etc. It’s so frustrating, because when the other person withdraws you’re put in the position of feeling like you have to nag/badger, etc. And there’s a real fear that if you don’t – if you just silently go your own way – that he won’t follow. Nagging makes it worse, avoiding makes it worse, and you feel out of control.

Frustration = UNDERSTANDABLE.

In a relationship that’s going well, playing video games (or reading, or watching movies/TV separately, or running, or any solo activity that partners do not share) can be a necessary and pleasant outlet. I’m an introvert with a highly interactive job and a fun, busy social life who must disappear into my own corner for a certain amount of time each week in order to feel okay. That time I spend by myself allows me to be fully present when I am at work and spending time with the people I love. Even when I’ve lived with someone, I’ve needed them to leave the house sometimes so I can have that total solitude.

In a relationship that’s not going so well, those separations can grow into silences that make you feel lonely even when you’re both home at the same time. It doesn’t necessarily spell DOOM FOREVER – it’s so easy for that stuff to become a kind of mindless habit. You could go talk or have sex or whatever, or you could stay under the blanket and hit “Play next episode”  or sit at the desk down the hall thinking “as soon as I complete this next level, I’ll totally go talk to her/do that thing I promised I’d do.” Before you know it? One or both of you is asleep. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow. (Repeat forever).

I think you’re working really hard to balance your husband’s love of playing games and need for solitude with your own need for attention and interaction. And needing that stuff from your spouse does not make you “needy.”

Let’s talk about what “needy” means. For me, neediness comes from a combination of unrealistic expectations, a distorted picture of reality and what the relationship can provide, an inability to express your needs directly (so engaging in passive-aggressive and/or attention-grabbing behaviors), and a sense that no amount of reassurance or attention will ever be enough, so why even bother? That’s different from needing stuff from your partner and asking for it. And the real difference, in practice, is in being able to figure out (hopefully in concert with the other person) 1) a situation or level of attention/interaction that would make you happy, 2) a reasonable way to express it, 3) the ability to recognize it when you get what you want and give credit where it is due. I feel like needy people treat time spent together like a zero-sum game. They keep track of every interaction and morsel or scrap of affection in a way that’s exhausting. If you looked at all the time your husband spent playing video games as time he should be spending with you that would be a problem. This is all about boundaries – you’re trying to figure out what the right level of gaming is where he feels happy and you don’t feel resentful.

There’s a couple things I can suggest to maybe make the overall situation better, and hopefully something will stick.

Think of all of these as things that you might agree to do for a short-term period – say, 1 month? – and see if things improve. Putting an end date on it allows you to treat it like something you’re trying out and keeps the stakes lower than the words “from now on…” in front of everything.

1) Can your husband agree to reasonable, regular game-playing hours? Maybe something like 1-2 hours/day, but there is one day/week that he plays no games and spends the whole day with you and one day a week he can play as long as he wants with no restrictions. On the days with a time limit, he can set an alarm on his phone or a timer or whatever. It might be hard for him to stop himself from playing, especially if he’s playing with other people or at a really good part of the game or whatever, but when the time limit is reached you get to interrupt him if you want to with NO guilt on your part and ZERO pushback, sighing, whining, pleading, “just ten more minutes”, etc. from him.

2) At the end of the agreed-upon game-time time, you can call him, text him, make plans with him, come home, whatever. Guilt-free. You’re not nagging, you are honoring an agreement.

3) During this month, you find something to do during his scheduled game-time. Make plans with friends. Work out. Schedule all of your errands for that time-frame. Take a class that interests you (it’s only for a month!) Read books that you’ve always wanted to read. Do something for yourself that you want to do and see if you can do it without anxiety about his game-playing.

4) During this month, you agree to be very nice to each other. For example, you both do your share of household chores  without being nagged or asked, you make time and effort to be romantic/sexual with each other, you make sure that you have regular meals together, have a consistent bedtime, that you make plans together to go out and do things (or stay in and do things), etc.- Be on your best and kindest behavior!

5) Agree that at the end of the month you’ll have a talk about how things are working overall in your marriage. Video games. Money. Housework. Sex. Plans/dreams for the future. Kids. Whatever! An overall check-in on everyone’s needs.

The goal overall is not to stop him from gaming or guilt him about gaming. It’s to find a way to have it take up a more reasonable role in your lives. Right now its importance is all out of proportion. You resent it. The more you resent it, the more he disappears into it. You need to be able to trust that he can put down the mouse or controller and be present for you.

Hopefully he’ll agree to at least try some stuff out. If he doesn’t? If he insists that things are fine when they are not fine? Get thee to counseling, together or separately, and work on whatever it is one or both of you is avoiding.

I wish you both a lot of luck.

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113 comments
  1. Cale said:

    Oh my goodness LW, your letter could be the sibling of the letter I’ve been trying to write! All of the captain’s advice sounds great, especially that “trial period”. My girlfriend is very similar to your guy – if I’m home she’s usually good about putting down the controller if I need her, but if I’m at work I can’t get her to check her phone, and I have to specifically request a certain chore that she do while I’m gone (only one! She won’t remember more than that between when I leave and when she pauses her game long enough to do laundry). I get the whole nearly passive-aggressive ‘hey I’m gonna just go do this thing… that you were gonna help with. Right over here. Loudly. Until you notice.’ thing occasionally, and its really hard to fight that and just use my words (and then I feel naggy! Oi).

    On top of all the awesome that the captain has said, maybe if you’re already having a proper Discussion with your guy, you could try asking him what’s going on in his mind when he keeps not doing those things you ask him to do. Is he (most likely) just that zoned in on the game? And if so, are there maybe some other possible outlets for whatever emotions he’s sinking that aren’t single-player, like going for a walk? Even if he’s a serious introvert that needs a lot of him-time, playing a video game like its a full time job has to be more than enough. It may just be a matter of finding other things that he’s excited/interested in doing, or making boring things that need to be done interesting or ‘worth it’ in some way (I swear I’d get my girlfriend a new video game any time she cleaned our room if thats what it took, lol. I only have so much energy after a full time retail job at management level). Obviously if you can’t get him to do it any way other than bribing, thats sort of a thing that really needs to be dealt with, but a little incentive might help a lot.

    I wish you lots of luck, improved communications, and chore-doing~

  2. misch said:

    I sometimes fall into the same trap — this idea of “a good girlfriend wouldn’t have a problem with video games. I am not one of THOSE girlfriends, the irrational horrid ones”. And I think that does us a great disservice. We have somehow convinced ourselves that to be a “good” girlfriend/wife, we must make no demands of our partners whatsoever. That anger and negative emotion is “drama” and that is a silly hysterical lady thing.

    To this, I have learned to say BULLSHIT. It is ok to be angry when your partner is pissing away your (presumably limited) time off together by playing video games. That’s not to say that he can NEVER play them — just that it’s ok to say “could you finish up soon? We have chores to do” and expect him to say “yes of course”. It is similarly ok to say “I’d love to spend the whole evening together, could you give gaming a miss tonight?” and expect agreement.

    It’s also okay to be visibly angry, and express that anger to him. If he’s anything like my boyfriend, he presumes that when I am being nice and cool and patient that I also FEEL nice and cool and patient. I do have to properly communicate my impatience with him, or he thinks I don’t mind either way if he keeps playing or stops. It’s taken about 6 months or so of me just saying “I’d rather you didn’t play right now because I want to have sex/we need to do housework/I’ve had a crap day and need company/there’s this thing I think you’d enjoy that we could go to” etc, and he’s started to feel himself when I need that. So sometimes I don’t have to ask anymore! Which is awesome! But sometimes I still do and that is ok.

    Ramble ramble — basically, it is ok to have needs and expect your partner to meet them, and to be pissed when they are not met despite you telling him exactly what they are. Be angry. It is allowed!

  3. Chay said:

    Hey LW! I also have a gamer husband who has a tendancy to get lost in his mancave for days on end. The Captain’s advice is spot on, if I may expand a little from my own experience.

    I want to mention the housework stuff specifically because you mention chores in your letter and that was a big source of angst for me for a long time. Something I had to do, was learn to sort out what was actually important to me, versus what was collateral-frustration.

    It was a big revelation to me after years (srsly!) of snowballing frustration, starting with benign things like doing his share of household chores (with words and agreements and dinner rosters), and ending with me yelling “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST DO YOUR SHARE OF CLEANING I AM NOT YOUR HOUSEMAID” and he was like “BECAUSE I JUST DON’T CARE ABOUT CLEANING IT IS JUST NOT IMPORTANT” and I was like “BUT I CARE ABOUT CLEANING, THEREFORE YOU DO NOT CARE ABOUT ME” and he was like “WHAT ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT” and I’m all “I DON’T KNOW”.

    I wasn’t actually annoyed at him leaving his cups on the sink (when the dishwasher is *right there* jesuschrist…) – I was annoyed at him not being available when I needed emotinal support, and that made *everything* harder to deal with. In my struggle to remain not-nagging, I actually set myself up to fail because I was prioritising the wrong thing (the issue of cleaning), and of course gaming (or any other thing) is ALWAYS going to win out for him over cleaning, becasue…well, duh?

    So I realised, cleaning up without being asked is nice, but optional – supporting me when I need support is not. Once I ascertained that cleaning is just *never* going to be important for him, I hired a cleaner – so I don’t have to keep feeling like I’m nagging, but I still get a clean house every week.

    I can not recommend the Captain’s one-month plan idea enough. I had some cognitive dissodance when I first thought of suggesting a dinner roster (we are not housemates! we are grown ups who have been married for 5 years!) but it seriously changed the dynamic in the evenings immediately. When you are working on different priority wavelengths, having an actual set plan on who’s doing what takes pressure off both people by removing your need “nag”, AND giving him the benefit of knowing exactly what he needs to do, rather than a vague “it would be nice if you cooked dinner sometimes?” then getting more collateral-frustration when he interprets “sometimes” as “once a month makes nachos” and then oh god THE DISHWASHER IS RIGHT THERE WHY CANT YOU JUST PUT THE CUPS IN IT?

    TL;DR:
    – Prioritise what you really need. Asking for what you need in a relationship is not nagging.
    – Compromise on what you can let go of (on the proviso you are getting what you really need)
    – Marriage summit with Specifics. If nothing is vauge, it is easier to say “hey, you’re not holding up your side of the Specific Thing. Fix up.”
    – Regular check ins. Is he having trouble fitting in / keeping up with his Specific Things, is there anything he wants to tweak?
    – Give yourselves both time to get used to the new dynamic, and give yourself permission to remind each other if something slips.
    – Not caring as much about things you care about, does not mean he does not care about you. Not agreeing to help you work something out that is bothing you, however, is problematic.

    • MissPrism said:

      I had some vaguely similar chore wars (that were similarly mitigated by hiring a cleaner) but I’d like to chime in on behalf of Past You because the “but I don’t CARE about housework” excuse is so enraging.

      Certain things have to be cleaned, or you will get rats and/or dysentery. This is, actually and objectively, important. By never doing what needs doing, he is effectively making you do it, which is disrespectful and rude, and you weren’t out of line in thinking it was.

      If it’s a timescales thing, where he’ll do it every three days and you insist on clearing up within ten minutes of finishing dinner, fair enough, you can work out a compromise. But if someone’s flat-out refusing to contribute, I don’t buy the “Oh it’s just not important to him” – it translates as “because it IS important, eventually someone else will do it.”

      • alphakitty said:

        Totally! Because your standard for hygiene is higher than his, it means you get grossed out and clean before it ever falls to a level that would disturb him, but that doesn’t mean all cleaning is your issue. Think: he might be happy if the bathroom was cleaned and the vacuum run once a month, while maybe you need it cleaned every week or so. He should still have to do AT LEAST the once a month!

        But beyond that, love means caring about your partner’s happiness. I read a study once that said most women have a hard time relaxing and feeling that “life is good” feeling in a home that is messy/unclean. Obviously, that’s a generalization, and like most statistical observations there are women to whom it doesn’t apply (and men to whom it does), but if you are one of those women for whom it is true, it literally is not a choice on your part to require greater hygiene, not bitchy, not shallow, not controlling. It’s just part of who you are on a biological level.

        Just as you indulge his gaming a lot (just not quite SO much, and with such poor communication associated), when you’d really prefer he were spending that time with you, because it makes him happy, it is not unreasonable to expect him to indulge you in the things that make you happy. Like keeping the place at a level of hygiene that lets you relax and feel good. That’s not naggy or needy, it’s mutuality.

        I think it is good to have discussions like the one the Captain suggests in terms of “1) these are the things I need to not be actively unhappy, 2) these are the things that I would like, to be actively happy, and 3) these are the things that would be such a total bonus for me!” Be sure to ask what those things are for him, too — then it’s NOT all about you and your needs. It’s a joint project about maximizing family happiness by doing everything you can as a couple to make sure both of you have what you need (which may indeed be made easier if you prioritize hiring a cleaner), then moving on to the things each of you would like… and each of you also then knows the things that would make the other person soooo thrilled, and you can get to be generous.

        • Britt said:

          I feel like “is this what a reasonable person would find acceptable?” is a fair baseline for things like household chores. That way if one person has a particularly low or high threshold of cleanliness, the other person isn’t left holding the bag, so to speak, by either having to clean up after someone who is fully capable of doing it themselves because they’re oblivious to mess, or by going nuts on super cleaning everything way more often than is really necessary to keep their neat freak mate happy.

          My ex was one of those people who I really think just honestly didn’t *see* the mess. The relationship fell apart for other reasons, but I think maybe setting up a specific list or chores that needed doing and a schedule or something would have gone a long way to making me less miserable (and eventually resentful) in our home.

          • Greg said:

            I think a clearer, more specific standard would be: how would I feel if someone showed up unexpectedly? Obviously a house shouldn’t have to be company clean at all times, but if you should never let it get to the points where you’d be embarrassed if someone saw the mess.

          • Britt said:

            I agree with that in theory, but the problem is that I don’t think it would work if you’re dealing with an SO (or other housemate) who just honestly doesn’t see the mess (and thus doesn’t clean), it could take a long time to reach the “I would be embarrassed by this” stage.

      • PomperaFirpa said:

        Jesus God, yes, I would like to throw my support behind this as well. I commend you for choosing your battles and finding a solution, but mostly I’m just in awe.

        I don’t even know how some guys don’t get that “hey, that thing that’s important to you? I’m aware that it’s important to you, and that you want my support, but I’ve decided that since I don’t enjoy it and have thus decided it shouldn’t be important and that you’re wrong, I’m not going to bother giving you the support you’ve asked for” is, shockingly enough, going to be an emotional blow. How is this not obvious?

        Just. Wow. Good job on working around that.

      • Exactly. Men always say this, and it’s because they never have to worry about what it’s going to look like if it gets out of control. They don’t have to be preventive, because someone else gets to it first. Thus, they *can* have “lower standards”. They don’t have to live with them is why.

        • BlackHumor said:

          Slight objection to this: back in high school, when I was living with my parents, my still-fairly-low standards were clearly higher than either of theirs.

          Which meant I very well did need to live with my low standards, and I really DIDN’T mind that. The only thing I minded was living with their EVEN LOWER standards.

      • CPA_Lady said:

        As a certified Mess Maker (TM) I would like to just pitch in for a quick second on our collective behalf.

        I can’t speak for the men who do this, since there is that added gendered “But… LADIES do the cleaning” thing.

        However, I fully see and accept and value that cleaning is more important to my hubs than to me and that does mean that I have some responsibility to step up (I also think he has some responsibility to chill… but that’s for another day). True! And in my defense, my level of messiness is more “clutter” than “filth”. I sanitize the sink at least twice a day but I’ll leave a coat hanging on the back of a chair for a week. Why? It seriously doesn’t even enter my field of vision!

        My husband doesn’t believe me when I say this, so you are likely to think I’m full of it as well (that’s collective you, not specific). But I swear to you, when I scan a room that’s got a bunch of my stuff laying around in it (shoes by door, purse on table, coat on chair) I honest to goodness don’t register “Stuff! Put it away!” I just see a room. I’m getting better, but after 5 years of living together this is still our number 1 argument.

        I think messiness is just a little more complicated than “it’s important to me so please do it”. I mean, that does matter but it’s not an on/off switch. It has literally taken years for me to even be able to consciously see that there is stuff to be cleaned up in a room and then do it. Basically: if the messy person is trying but imperfect? give them some credit.

        Letter Writer: That last part applies to you even if the chores thing isn’t really your major issue. If he’s trying but imperfect? Try to appreciate where he *is* getting better. It will help him to make progress and it will help you to feel like a dent is being made. I don’t mean that you have to give him a medal or anything but saying: “Hey, thanks for sticking to the timeline yesterday so we couldget some couple time, I really appreciate it” could totes reinforce your case and let him see that you notice it when he is trying to change a prettty entrenched habit.

        • dusty_rose said:

          Another female certified Mess Maker (TM) here. For me, it’s less that I don’t see messiness, and more that the thought of constant cleaning stresses me out. Sometimes I just want to come home, cook dinner, and collapse, and deal with the dishes later. Not having to do them–or put away clothing, or whatever–right away is a big part of being able to relax for me. It would drive me nuts if I had a partner who was always asking me to clean.

          I’m not sure whether this applies to the LW’s situation, but just wanted to put it out there. Messy people have their reasons too.

        • Rosa said:

          My poor partner, he lost the gender privilege of not getting blamed for the mess, but didn’t gain the one of getting credit for the cleanliness. Once I let go of worrying about the judgement, he stepped up and did a lot of cleaning (especially when HIS mother is coming to visit) – I just had to leave it to his panic level and not mine. Except, when the house is all shiny and people come to visit they compliment me, I tell them he cleaned it, and then they compliment me again. He never gets credit.

          This does not completely balance out the first 30 years of his life when women cleaned up after him all the time, though.

        • Elodie said:

          I’ll throw in my two cents as another LadyCreature with lower standards! My husband does the bulk of the housework, although I will occasionally vacuum out of love. My bachelorette pad was a study in entropy (and microbiology, which was brilliant, but it made my mother cry when she discovered rotting organic matter in the sink and I was like NO NO THAT’S A CASUAL EXPERIMENT, I’M KIND OF INVESTED IN ITS OUTCOME NOW.) My cleaning technique was “bring organic solvents home from the lab and pour them down the sink until the smell goes away.”

          I was chatting with two female friends who are also the mess-makers in their heterosexual relationships, and we all:

          1.) did not own, or care to own, a vacuum cleaner of any type before cohabiting with our current male partners, who literally brought the vacuums to the relationships
          2.) do not “see dirt”, to the point where our mothers cried
          3.) do not do laundry until it reaches critical mass, feel that Febreze is a good substitute for washing (the boys initiate laundry-doing)
          4.) did not own irons (the boys brought the irons. Well, they’re English.)

          “Ladies Do the Cleaning because of GENES and EVOLUTION and VAGINAS” is just simply not true. The answer that “MEN just don’t need to have STANDARDS because the WOMEN WILL ALWAYS CLEAN” is about as sophisticated as a sitcom, because honestly, cleanliness standards do not affect my quality of life and are thus not important to me, and also I’m not at home to evo-psych. Women may be socialized to be responsible for their habitats, but there’s no inherent property of the clitoris that grants you Higher Standards of Cleanliness, the Magic of Caring and the Ability to Make Surfaces Sparkle – it’s a nice superpower to have, but it is not a fixed genetic trait linked to the X chromosome.

          • MissPrism said:

            I don’t know if the evo-psych thing was directed at me, but just in case let me make all haste to shrug it off! I’m in NO way saying that women naturally like things cleaner. (Look at all-male spaces like the military; extreme tidiness is expected and enforced.) It’s just that what with patriarchy and all, many men are in a position to shirk necessary housework by claiming to have low standards, and some of them do so, and that is a bad thing.

            I honestly thought my original comment was very clearly about that situation, but the conversation has moved on.

          • Elodie said:

            Oh no MissPrism, not at all, you were perfectly clear and made really great points! I completely agree with you and was just repeating the point that gender-divided housekeeping is ENTIRELY a socialization/patriarchy issue, not an inherent biological property.

          • Ethyl said:

            Yet another lady messy person, here! Who not only has never owned an iron but literally cannot figure out how to iron a shirt. Seriously, it’s like complex topographic manoeuvres that I just cannot even deal with. Hence, Downy Wrinkle Releaser. My partner has a much higher need for order and cleanliness, but even so, we are both students and so sometimes we have other/better things we need to focus on. My car is also horrifying.

        • Lady Mess Makers unite. As my poor boyfriend often says “My Shit is everywhere.” It is not uncommon for me to drop something and just not pick it up because I’m not paying attention. I really don’t notice.

          For my birthday my boyfriend cleaned my office. It’s bad.

          There is also a sort of problem that when I want things clean I want them to be SO CLEAN. Like I don’t want my stuff just sort of not in the way, I want everything organized, I want counters pristine, I want everything immaculate. The idea of ever achieving this is so overwhelming that I give up. Fortunately/Unfortunately I only ever care about this about once ever six months or so.

          • CPA_Lady said:

            Yes!

            When my husband says “we need to clean out the fridge” I have a mini-fit because, OMG we need to take EVERYTHING out and remove and sanitize the shelves and reorganize and everything. UGH that’s so much work and I’m BUSY you know?

            Oh… you just meant throw away stuff that smells bad and/or will kill us if we injest it? That’s actually pretty easy. Okay.

          • Hahaha I do this too. Whenever guests come over I always freak the day before because I feel that if I’m going to clean then I REALLY have to clean everything to surgical standards which will take ALL day and OMG can’t we just go to a restaurant???

            So I have to gently remind myself in the third person “Gretchen, just because people are coming over for dinner doesn’t mean they literally have to be able to eat off of every surface in the house”. And breathe.

    • I mean, if it’s important to you, even if he doesn’t objectively care about it, I think that he should make a point of prioritising it because you care.

      For example, my gamer husband didn’t often buy me presents for things like Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day because, as he said, “those things just aren’t that important to me like they are to you.” After more than a few years of me getting hurt feelings – and him getting upset and not understanding why my feelings were hurt/upset – we sat down and had to work out our mutual feelings on the matter.

      Turns out that I care about them, he doesn’t, and he thought I wanted him to overspend on all the holidays. But what I really wanted was for him to put some effort into remembering these things that were important to me. It was never about the money – it was about tangible proof that he cared enough to stop playing video games long enough to do something nice to me for holidays. He does that now!

      Now, as to cleaning? Chay, If your issue is mitigated by hiring a cleaner, I’m very glad for you! But I wanted to also point out that cleaning is important. So important, in fact, that if you’re a parent (you may or may not be), and you’re raising a child in a house that’s too messy, people can legitimately call the authorities on you for raising your child in a neglectful and/or unsafe environment. Not to mention the previously brought up issues of vermin and illness.

      I hate cleaning. Mr. Havoc also hates cleaning. But we suck it up and do it, because a) we can’t afford to hire cleaners, b) we would like our house to remain vermin and disease free (as MissPrism has also said), and c) we would prefer not to raise our child in a neglectful and/or unsafe environment. In my case, my compromise is that I have to tell Mr. Havoc all the cleaning I would like him to do. He’s just not going to remember on his own, and a chart will make him feel that I’m treating him like a child. (I know, but. We had hours of fights before working this out.) His compromise is that he actually stops playing video games and cleans. He doesn’t always do it right away, but he does it. (Now, if I could just hear “Just let me finish this level!” a few less times, I’d be happier. But I’ll take what I can get.)

      Essentially, we had to sit down and start using our words. Lots of them, and we had to talk about our FEELINGS and logic (and not prioritising one over the other), and how we viewed things through the lens of our childhood experiences, and just all kinds of things. Relationships are hard work. I’m glad that Mr. Havoc and I did that.

      Tl;dr: LW and Chay, I totally get where you’re coming from, because I’ve been there. Sometimes, I’m still there, because Mr. Havoc is never going to stop playing video games. (Neither will I, for that matter.) But I find that repeatedly using our words is a miracle relationship (and housework) helper.

    • Chay said:

      Haha oh dear, I have managed to make out my husband as a useless slob and our house as a hovel filled with rats and cockroaches.It is totally not like that! As CPA Lady said, it’s not a “filth” issue just a “clutter” thing. He is quite happy to live with “lived in” house clutter and doesn’t even see it, whereas I need to purge the house of all clutter once a week. Where I see a basket of clean laundry that needs to be put away, then the basket put away in a cupboard, then the cupboard closed and then the laundry door closed behind it… he sees clean clothes, puts on a shirt and goes about his day.

      It’s not anything as malicious as him consciously deciding what I want isn’t important. By that logic, gaming is important to him so I should just always let him play games for however long he wants? This isn’t a Penelope Trunk “compromise all your most dearly held values FOR THE CHILDREN*” thing – its just a managing expectations thing.

      The point I seem to have failed to make was that setting specific days/things helped manage both our expectations. So he could go “OK it is Tuesday, that is my turn for dinner” and I could stop looking at the clock going “Is he even going to think about dinner or do I have to bring it up AGAIN tonight?” and took all the guesswork out of what was needed for us both to be happy.

      LW has said they have used words already, but it isn’t nagging or neurotic to hold your spouse to the specifics they’ve agreed upon. If he’s agreed to the specifics and STILL not coming to the party, then there’s a problem which warrants using more words.

      *we do not have children, and I’m not really sure the dog cares.

      • MissPrism said:

        And I seem somehow to have come across as the kind of cleanfreak who follows her guests around with a damp teatowel wiping everything they touch (no! That is my stepmother!) so it seems we’re even in the wrong impression stakes.

        I read “cleaning” as meaning making-hygienic rather than tidying – and some people (largely but not entirely men) do refuse to do their share of a reasonable minimum using precisely that kind of excuse. It was them I was talking about.

        Glad you made the rota work!

  4. Mary said:

    I really like the Captain’s observation that you can be not nagging someone simply by prior agreement that you aren’t nagging them. This can work really well. If you’ve both agreed in advance what the parameters are and are acting in good faith, reminders are just reminders.

    One variant of the Captain’s advice that LW could consider is asking for specific positive things too. For example “I need us to do 20 minutes of housework together a night before the Xbox is so much as on” or “I need Thursday to be date night” or “I need Thursday to be date night and moreover every [second] week you come up with the date idea to boot”.

    It’s not a magic bullet: LW may have done this, and in addition at the far end of that rainbow lies the Healthy Relationship Secretary Anti-Pattern (ie, becoming the partner who is solely responsible for tracking the health of the relationship and doing things to maintain it). But in moderation a certain amount of active “I want to do Y” can be a way of achieving “I don’t want to do X”. You don’t have to pretend that it’s not his gaming you’re talking about — that’s passive-aggressive — but come to the table with specific “here’s what I want to be doing with the time that we agree is excess gaming time” requests might help at times.

  5. MissPrism said:

    Hope things work out for you, LW. I would advise as far as possible that you avoid doing chores while he is gaming. It isn’t fair and will lead to you stamping around the kitchen grudge-scrubbing and revenge-bleaching and muttering through gritted teeth about being taken for granted, and then when he’s finished nothing more will need doing so he couldn’t do his share even if he wanted to.

    I suggest that as well as taking the Captain’s as ever excellent advice, you think of an indulgent, time-consuming hobby that you’ve enjoyed in the past, or always liked the idea of, and allow yourself to spend time and money having your kind of fun. I may be way off, but in similar situations my resentment was slightly tinged with jealousy – women often have less societal permission to tell everyone else to piss off while they enjoy themselves. I’m hoping Amanda will have something to say here, as she’s written some really thought-provoking pieces about this before. (Example: http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/feminists_against_fun_not_on_my_watch )

    • Latining said:

      Yes! I commented below assuming the LW enjoyed chores as stress-relief/relaxation (My boyfriend cleans the kitchen to relax? I do not understand this behaviour. =p), but if she’s doing it because she feels she HAS to, that’s not good.

      His video game time is a great time for you to read a book by yourself, or take a class, or go work out, or even sit in the room while he plays and you knit, if you are into the together-alone-time kind of thing.

    • seenonflickr said:

      “grudge-scrubbing and revenge-bleaching”

      Oh, that is fantastic. Not that I have ever done that, oh no. :)

    • PomperaFirpa said:

      ALL OF THIS.

      And a hearty second to women having less societal permission to enjoy themselves. If there are still chores undone, but a guy is exhausted and needs some me-time, society understands that: poor guy, it is just EXTRA on top of his already bad day, he just needs some time to relax, is that so much to ask? If a woman pulls that, though, society narrows its eyes: she is SHIRKING HER RESPONSIBILITY AND IT IS TERRIBLE.

    • This is a really great point. I can’t recommend enough seeing a man’s entitlement to having a time-sucking monstrosity of a hobby as permission to get your own. For instance, if I suddenly had a bunch of hours in a day to myself, I’d pick up sewing, since it looks like fun. Or you could pick up a video game yourself, beat him to the controller, and he can do chores while you screw around for hours, so he can see how fun it is. I do get that the fear is that he won’t follow, but if so, that’s a power play, and you deserve better than that.

      My concern here is that by being the only one taking the lead on setting time to do stuff, she’s reasserting the narrative that he’s the one being chased, and she’s the one chasing. If she feels disempowered, that is probably going to make it worse. If he’s actually not interested in spending time with her, but instead sees her as a blow job waiting for him to take off the shelf between levels, that’s not going to be fixed by frog marching him to dinner. So it’s important to figure out if he’s playing video games all the time out of thoughtlessness and unawareness that life is short, or if he’s actually making a power play.

      Of course, making time for yourself to have fun is worth more than smoking out a guy who expects you to wait around until he has use for you. It’s also just good for you, and fun.

      • Jake said:

        My concern here is that by being the only one taking the lead on setting time to do stuff, she’s reasserting the narrative that he’s the one being chased, and she’s the one chasing.

        I think this is a really good point. My partner is quite a feminist dude, and we have a pretty (not perfectly) egalitarian set up, but the thing that I have to keep reminding him of is that REMEMBERING THAT HOUSEWORK NEEDS TO GET DONE COUNTS AS HOUSEWORK, and that it’s a joint responsibility as much as the physical tasks are.

        I feel like I see this going on in the LW’s story, and I think a lot of dudes tend to forget about it, and think that they’re pulling their weight because they do the dishes/vacuuming/whatever whenever they’re asked. We tend to underestimate and undervalue the emotional and mental energy involved in keeping track of all the crap that needs to get done and making sure someone does it.

        I don’t have a good solution to the problem, but I wonder if maybe you and your dude can make up a list of tasks and then split up responsibility for them, and make it super explicit that the responsibility is not just for doing the task, but for remembering that it needs to get done.

        • delbelcoure said:

          REMEMBERING THAT HOUSEWORK NEEDS TO GET DONE COUNTS AS HOUSEWORK

          This, this entirely. This job defaults to me in my house. My family is pretty good about realizing that it _is_ legitimate work. However, I am tired of it being _my_ work. My spouse feels disheartened by the regular reminders the girls need, and tends to do it himself, which creates fall out. My girls slip into this mode where they agree to do it, forget and are apologetic. I get tired of asking three times for a regular chore to be done :( Truth, I am tired of even having to ask once. Eventually, my tolerance level is hit, a stern talking to ensues and they step up some. I don’t think I can name a week when they have done their regular chores without reminding. Aargh, this makes them sound awful. They aren’t, they have many other positive virtues, but following a cleaning schedule isn’t among them. I’ve tried posting a schedule, but it fades into the background very quickly. It’s frustrating and wearing.

          • alphakitty said:

            A suggestion: we stopped giving our kids an allowance (we don’t get paid for doing nothing, right?). Instead, we made up a fee schedule for chores around the house. If the kids want spending money, they can earn it — we keep a far from pristine household, so there’s always something that needs doing. I do most of the housework (I work part time, from home), but if my husband or I want a job done and for whatever reason we want one of the kids to do it, we ask them to do it, and we pay them. (I should clarify, of course: no, they don’t get paid for every time they unload the dishwasher or take the trash out or put laundry from washer to dryer or something; I’m talking cleaning).

            Here’s the anti-nagging device: If a chore gets done the first time the kid is asked to do it (within the designated time frame — I try not to be all “drop everything! The downstairs bathroom needs cleaning RIGHT NOW!!”), then whooppee! It’s a paid job. If nagging is necessary, guess what? Not a paid job anymore. They still have to do it, but it’s not going to get ‘em a ka-ching; it’s just pitching in around the house ’cause you live here and you make dirt, too.

            It doesn’t take care of the job of noticing when stuff needs doing, but it does work pretty well for the “how many times do I have to ask???? Jeez, it’s easier to just DO it, but then I’d be teaching you to blow me off!!!” To the extent it doesn’t, it’s that I’m too easy on them about asking, not that it doesn’t work when I do.

            It could be adapted to regular chores, easily enough: get your chores done by ____, and you get paid for them. Anything I have to nag you about you still have to do, but you don’t get paid.

          • Jake said:

            I don’t know if this would work with kids (it depends how old they are) but one thing that has worked well in my household, since we are both forgetfulpants people, is setting reminders on our phones. So if there’s some regular task that my partner keeps forgetting to do, and I keep getting fed up with reminding him, he sets a regular alarm on his phone that says “do this task!” and beeps at the same time every day. Then he gets a reminder, but I don’t have to do the reminding.

            It got a little out of hand at one point because he phone would beep basically every five minutes between when we woke up and when he left for work and that made me want to kill everything, so we had to strike a deal where he had to use his brain to remember at least some things, but the phone reminders definitely helped when used in moderation.

  6. Latining said:

    Hey, I’m a gamer, marrying a gamer, and dating a gamer. We have had these discussions! I agree with everything the Captain says EXCEPT the set time. Sometimes that is where you will have to be flexible because a “Okay, that’s two hours. Stop right now,” is pretty much always going to come across as you being The Ender of Fun, and you made it clear that you don’t want to do that. So, some tips of consideration for gaming:

    1) Gaming is like any other media. It sucks to be interrupted three pages from the end of a chapter, or just before the end of an episode, or during the climax of a movie. “Give me [time] to finish this bit” is a reasonable request. It’s the same for video games. If it’s multiplayer, sometimes what was supposed to be a thirty-minute game turns into a forty-minute game. If it will end in a reasonable amount of time (ten to fifteen minutes is my rubric), give him that. It shows flexibility and enforces the idea that you’re not trying to be a control freak.

    2) Don’t interrupt cut scenes (scenes of animation with no action). They’re like mini-movies and often carry exposition or character development. Wait it out; right after a cut scene is almost always a good time to save and quit.

    3) Work on a signal. Everyone hates getting asked if they’re busy when they’re reading. If there’s a ton of action, you can ask if he can pause. Otherwise work on a physical signal, like putting your hand on his shoulder to let him know you want to say something. He should then respond either by pausing, or letting you know about how much time he has left.
    3b) If he keeps you waiting for longer than thirty seconds, that’s a dick move. The idea behind this is that you’re trying to be as unobtrusive as possible as a favour to him, so he should respond by making you a priority.

    4) On his end, he should schedule his gaming. Some games are notorious for having an hour-long cutscene, or taking an hour or two between save points. These games should be saved for his “as much game time as you want” days. Most games you can play in one or two hour chunks.

    5) If he finishes early, you two get couple time. Maybe it means he helps with dinner, maybe he talks to you while you scrub the bathtub. The point is, if he doesn’t have time for another game, he spends the excess time with you.

    6) Have you considered looking for a game he would like to play and you would like to watch? Some games really facilitate a passive audience in addition to an active player, and this can be a fun alternative to movie night or a tv show you watch together.

    This is the only bit I really had issue with; I think all of the other advice is spot-on.

    • This is SUCH good and specific advice. Mr Machine is an avid gamer and I am a slightly less avid gamer, and we are both readers, and I write — so there are lots of “please don’t interrupt me this second but five minutes from now will be just fine” signals we recognize with each other. It’s okay not to have shared interests! It’s totally normal. But that means you do have to talk, at neutral times, about what kind of concentration is okay to interrupt, and what kind is seriously frustrating to interrupt.

      I may be misreading this, but I’m sensing some distaste for video games from the LW, and I wonder if it’s making this situation more difficult for her. What if he was a hardcore fan of, I don’t know, exceedingly long novels? The Captain’s advice would still be spot on. I just wonder if the “why am I doing these chores when you get to play” feeling would be mitigated. Either way, obviously the LW shouldn’t feel guilty about communicating her needs to her partner, and he should step up to the plate when she does.

      • Letter writer said:

        The video game distaste is that when I play I get sucked in too and do all the things I’m upset with him about, only worse, because I was borrowing his computer to play. So I stopped playing that kind of game. But that was my own decision, and his decision is different and I guess I’m having trouble accepting that.

        • Thanks for clarifying! I think one thing that says to me is that when you did “all the things I’m upset with him about,” he didn’t get upset — am I reading that right? So it may be another case of you trying to decide a priori what his desires are (i.e., “he might want to use the car so I better not leave;” “he’s probably mad that I can’t stop playing Skyrim, so I should not play ever again”) rather than actually talking about it.

          • Letter writer said:

            No, he did get upset, because I was hogging his computer. He actually stopped playing that particular game that I had gotten addicted to as well, but I’m staying away from starting up any others. Both me and my brother are nearly incapable of tearing ourselves away from screens once we start playing games or watching TV.

          • But was he upset about you not spending time with him, or was he upset about you being the only one who got to use the computer? Those are two different complaints, right? I guess what I’m getting at is that you have to talk this out, at a time when both of you can give the conversation your full attention.

    • Elysian Deliration said:

      In response to #6 – This is not for everyone, but if it’s interesting to you, it can be a great way to spend an evening in. Real life example: My partner’s not much of a gamer, but she loves, loves, LOVES movies, which I have a hard time sitting through if I’m not doing something with my hands. So this winter, she brought over all her brother’s old Tomb Raider games she liked to watch him play. And we worked our way through them together. It was great – I enjoyed having something interactive to do with her for once, she enjoyed finally getting to see some of the ending cutscenes her brother never got to. And watching me repeatedly make mistakes and drive Lara off a cliff ot her death in new and amusing ways. But, it wouldn’t have been fun for both of us if it was just a game I was already playing. That mutual communication and especially interest is key. So, I’m not sure this would be a great option for the LW since games don’t appear to hold much interest for her, but sharing a game can definitely be just as much fun as watching a movie together.

      • Ethyl said:

        Oof yeah watching people play video games can be fun but it is NOT something I can do for any length of time, since I get violently motion sick. I can play and watch side-scrolling games and have enjoyed many hours of fun playing Super Smash Brothers, but other than that, it’s barf city :( I really need to be OUT of the room for that, so if the LW is like me, it can be really difficult, especially if the place they live is relatively small and sitting/relaxing space is limited.

      • Chay said:

        Zelda: Twilight Princess was like this for me! I actually asked husband to wait for me to get home each day so I could watch through, it was so beautiful.

        Most other games though…he can have those ones to himself :P

  7. Chris said:

    I’m not a big fan, particularly because I feel trapped when he’s playing for hours and I can’t talk to him and let him know what I’m doing or where I’m going. I end up waiting for him to finish and being resentful that I didn’t do anything useful or fun during that time.

    I’m not married and I don’t play video games, but when I read this, my thought was — why not just leave a note? (Explaining where you are going and when you expect to be back?)

    It sounds like there might be some larger issues, though (that other people seem to be doing a nice job of addressing). But one thing you could discuss is leaving a note in an agreed place if you go out while he is playing?

    • That caught my attention, too — I interrupt Mr Machine all the time when he’s gaming to be like “Hey, going to Starbucks, see you later.” I keep getting hung up on the LW’s statement that she can’t “do anything useful or fun” because her partner’s absorbed — why not? There seems to be something else going on behind that, but I can’t suss what it is.

    • I’m a little unclear on why he needs to know when you’ll be back, if he doesn’t feel you need to know when he’ll be done.

      • Letter writer said:

        Just an internal feeling. He’s never requested it. I just feel it’s wrong to make plans without letting my partner know. This seems to be something I need to work on.

        • If it helps, don’t think of it as some deep-set problem, but just a habit that can be replaced with another habit. If you feel a compulsion to wait for him, just force yourself to leave. Force yourself to do something else. Eventually, it gets easier.

        • lauramarielle said:

          LW, this is something I really struggled with for the first year and a half of my relationship. I have the gamer boyfriend issue, and had the same internal struggle you’re talking about. He never actually SAID I couldn’t/shouldn’t go anywhere while he was busy with the computer, and I spent a lot of time just sitting, waiting, because I was stuck in some weird place where fun with him was the ultimate fun and no one else could be that much fun, and I would let it get to me, and get resentful as a result. He is very much an introvert, and so this time is really important to him to get through the week. I’m more of an extrovert than he is, so in my case I have taken this time to go out with my friends.

          What it took to get past that was just literally forcing myself out the door with friends, reminding myself that I would have fun, and it allowed me to become much closer to friends outside my relationship. Not only that, it helped me stop resenting him so much for his gaming. After 6 months of this, it’s become a lot easier for me to recognize when I am starting to feel resentful, or stuck, and I can more easily unstick myself. (The cleaning up issue was also a problem, so I just stopped doing the “revenge-bleaching”, and I clean whenever he’s up for cleaning – though this may not work for people who are more inclined to neatness)

          The amount of gaming is still a thing that bothers me sometimes, and could definitely use some work, but I have changed my frame of mind to where I resent him less now, and as an introvert, he’s more able to appreciate me when I am around. So, the relationship rules are important, and I look forward to trying those, but also consider what other things are going on in your head that might be prohibiting you from enjoying yourself, and see if there’s anything you can do in that realm that may improve your state of being. =)

  8. Lauren said:

    I’m not sure I should comment on this because I have a skewed sense of this dynamic, but here goes. I was with a guy who (among other issues) prioritized gaming over everything else in his life. It was soul-crushing as his partner. I tried for several years to implement these compromises. He would agree to compromise on time spent gaming and then go about his business like he always had without honoring anything he’d just agreed to adhere to. It felt like he was just agreeing to get me off his jock long enough to go about his business gaming without any nagging* or pressure. On the rare occasions that he would agree to go game free for a day, we’d have the whole day with him tapping his foot and looking at his watch (not literally, but might as well have been), and then after I went to bed, he’d stay up for HOURS and play all night, being so tired the next day that he’d coast through work, and come home to sleep on the couch all evening while I cooked dinner and took care of our dual responsibilities, including our young son.

    This dynamic was exhausting. I was a seething ball of anger and resentment. And, like the Captain suggested, “he insist[ed] that things are fine when they are not fine” to the point where I eventually had to make a decision about whether I could adjust my expectations and continue to live this way indefinitely. The answer was no. I left him. And ten years later, I can tell you today that this EXACT situation is playing out with his new wife, and he is ignoring his wife and kids today, and she is upset with him, and he calls it nagging, and his kids report feeling ignored. I’m glad I left him.

    I like playing video games. But at the point at which your partner’s behavior is causing real issues in your relationship, it’s reckoning time. Don’t apologize or feel crappy for articulating what you need, or leaving him when he chooses not to meet you halfway.

    *I don’t know which crusty old feminist said it first, but someone smart quipped that nagging is what happens when someone, after repeated requests,still doesn’t honor their half of the deal.

    • xenu01 said:

      “I’ve asked him to tell me when he’s going to be playing, and when he’s going to be done ahead of time, because then I could do stuff and know when I had to be back, and he agreed, but he isn’t really doing that.”

      And then there’s this, which doesn’t seem like nagging at all. Hmm.

      • Lauren said:

        I agree, that’s the point. She’s asking him to communicate and he’s not. Our sexist culture calls women’s insistence on having our needs met “nagging,” and that’s BS.

  9. Elodie said:

    LW, one thing that I’m wondering about is the fact that you seem to feel like you can’t do the things you want because your husband is setting all of the time frames (and then not honoring the commitment.) This stuff about “Well, I can’t go out because I can’t get a clear answer from him about when I should be back, so I won’t go out at all” suggests an odd dynamic, where you’ve placed all the control of your activities in your husband’s hands and then resenting him for dropping them. Like Chris says above, perhaps you could leave a note or text him or something. It seems like an awkward power dynamic that would certainly foster resentment on both sides.

    But I really understand the desire to maximize the time spent with your spouse. My own DH is at a point in his career where he has a 60+-hour workweek, meaning that he comes home, works on the computer, surfaces to prepare/eat/clean up after dinner, and then back to the computer until a late bedtime.

    Some of the Captain’s advice works pretty well for us. Dinner is ALWAYS a sacred hour and has to be cleaned up mutually. After hearing about the 90-Second Rule, we’ve started doing it. Here it is in a nutshell:

    “If you’ve been away from someone you care about at least 2 hours, the next 90 seconds have a bigger impact on them than spending hours and hours on them later. Walk in the door and be fully engaged in the moment. Regardless of your day prepare to focus your energy toward the people that matter most.” You know how your pet often comes running to the door, just because they’re glad that you’re home again? Doesn’t it make you feel great, even if you don’t interact with them much for the rest of the evening?

    Basically, when one of you comes home, the other HAS to drop what they’re doing (knitting, working, Skyping their boss, raiding, Skyrimming, disarming a minor bomb, whatever) and physically come over, help you put your stuff down, express affection, and say something like “Welcome back, I love you, rate your day on a scale of one to ten, mine was a four, you look stunningly hot. Kiss with tongues, MWAARLBLARARHGH.” The other person has to leave their bad day/resentment/commute annoyance outside the door and spend 90 seconds reflecting that attention and affection back. Then you go back to work. Because doing otherwise implies that your bad mood/knitting/working/Skyping/gaming is more important than your partner, right? It sounds pretty cheesy and ridiculous and self-help-y, but try it for a month. You can make each other a priority for 90 seconds a day, I promise you.

    • Elodie said:

      Oh, and since “cleaning” seems to be a bone of contention, try doing some of the Challenges on UnfuckYourHabitat together. No nagging, no prevarication, the two of you can pick a challenge, get off your mutually adorable asses and spend ten minutes unfucking your habitat before you’re allowed to have recreation. (and yes, I’m sorry, gaming, while an awesome thing, is still recreation, and recreation is a privilege.)

      • MissPrism said:

        What an excellent link. And I love the 90 seconds idea!

    • Letter writer said:

      You are quite right that it’s an odd dynamic, and it’s definitely all in my head, not his. He says it should be fine if I just let him know what I’m doing, but I still feel really bad about not checking to see if he wanted to do it too, or making sure he wasn’t planning to use the car, or whatever. So, yes. My problem. It’s not really the games. It’s how I handle the time.

      • alphakitty said:

        Try to think about his not getting to do the fun thing or use the car as natural consequences: if he would take his head out of the game long enough to communicate, he’d get that chance. He doesn’t, so he doesn’t. If he misses things and it bothers him, it will teach him to take his head out of the game for a sec. If not, then it’s not important enough for you to be shaping your life around it.

        I actually think you might want to talk to a therapist about this aspect of the issue: shaping your life around what you think he might want without even waiting for him to make the request, then resenting him for the way you’ve shaped your life around his… I’ve been known to do that, and it doesn’t take you anywhere good. The worst thing is that you train him to think his wants/preferences always trump yours, and even your needs. You wind up feeling like you’ve been erased, only you’ve been helping with the erasing, so you feel wrong standing up for yourself even then.

        Get therapy and break this cycle!!

        • Agreed. That’s what it sounds like. What you need is to practice. It won’t feel natural at first, but over time it gets easier. Just force yourself to only tell him once. When you start to feel frustration at him because he’s still playing the game, force yourself to say, “I don’t need him,” and go find something else to do. You’re entitled to your needs in a relationship, but you also need to know that you don’t need him. Have fun adventures on your own. You’ll find out in due time what he thinks of this as long as you stop trying to micromanage his attitudes towards you.

          • JenniferP said:

            A good addition to “I don’t need him” is what I tried to say but maybe didn’t make fully clear in the OP – get in the habit of taking him at his word (or at his actions). Ask/remind him once, and then move on with your day, and realize:

            “Go ahead without me!” means GO AHEAD WITHOUT ME.

            Lots of uninterrupted gaming means I AM PERFECTLY HAPPY PLAYING VIDEO GAMES, DON’T WORRY ABOUT ME.

            Which can be lonely and frustrating if he never looks up from the computer, but that’s not about the games, that’s about needs and communication styles.

      • Elodie said:

        Well, LW my love, that seems like something that would be a Very Good Idea to think about! As I read your response, I thought you were probably typing it with a feeling of guilt, as if you’re trying to convince me/us, like you feel like the problem is “I’m the Crazy One, how do I stop being the Crazy One?” and instead of talking about that, everybody is offering answers about how to spend time together and you feel like you should defend your lovely husband. Let me tell you something with a lot of compassion: “feeling really bad” about something in your life is not really a great thing. It is a thing that you should (and can) fix! I think a good step could be to change the narrative from “I’m the needy one in my marriage” to “I would like more quality time in my life,” and then figure things out from there.

        a.) what is quality time for you? It sounds like you have a high Socialization Meter, and filling it up requires going out and being social with your friends. Great! I personally need 25 units of Friend Socializing a week to feel happy. Are you kind of hanging around and checking in because you want to socialize with your husband, too? That’s cool! I need to Get the Hell Out of the House And Go On a Date with my Husband once a week. Would asking him out on a date be nice quality time for you?

        b.) I rather get the feeling that if your husband turned off the computer and devoted his attention to you, it would make you super happy and you would change whatever plans you were waffling about making to spend time with him. Why don’t you try an activity that you will feel 100% invested in, and 0% guilty about? How can you spend quality time alone? It sounds like both of you have trouble setting boundaries with your own time. Perhaps you need to healthfully separate yourselves into a Venn diagram of His Time, Your Time and Shared Time. If you’re not in Shared Time, what are you doing and how can you make it even more awesome? Don’t drop everything you’re doing for the chance of a scrap of Shared Time – your husband isn’t, and you’re resenting him for not doing that.

        c.) You need and want attention from him, and that is totally normal and healthy. You’re not getting enough, and you want more from him. Attention and affection are not always dispensed automatically. What kind do you need, and how often? Does he know this?

        d.) Affection and attention do not come from empty wells. I am sure that your husband would appreciate a treat (perhaps that date would fill his meters too?) and it can be very refreshing to do something surprising and nice for someone you’re married to.

        • Latining said:

          This times a thousand.

          I had to figure this out for myself, and the communication was awkward at first, but it saved my relationship. SUCH good advice.

      • My love and I have been married for a long time, and I can tell the difference between nothing-on-TV gaming and bad-work-day-must-shoot-things gaming. I’m much more apt to give him a pass on the latter.

        But dear LW, you are not the only one who is obligated to Use The Words. If you wait for the end of the cut scene and he’s running across a landscape from one battle to the next and you say, “Hey, I’m off to Target, see you later!” he has every ability to say “Hold up, I want to come too.”

        I think all the ideas about talking about your frustration are good ones, but I hope you won’t carry the whole burden yourself.

      • Camilla said:

        I live on a different schedule from my husband for different reasons. I do lots of things without him. If he puts on the “I wanted to come so you should have saved that trip for when I could come” pout more often than once in a blue moon, I feel stifled and upset (legitimately). On the other hand, I don’t really go see first run movies that he wants to see, on a whim, without him, and I think it’s polite to hold off on things that are really near and dear to the other party.

        I find that reminding both of us things like, “well, if the kids have fun when I take them to the zoo today, they’ll be quite happy to go again if we both want to take them there tomorrow” is helpful – namely that many kinds of fun are very repeatable fun, and that if I get out without him much more, then take him to see the coolest of the cool things I’ve found, later, we both win.

        Now, I would find it annoying and passive aggressive if someone was writing notes for me while I’m still in the house, or reminding me of chores by note… but my husband thinks its thoughtful and sweet. “Gone SMS me when you wake up” is a common communication for me – it makes me feel more secure to know roughly what I’m going to find when I get home, and to know that I’m not missing anything.
        If you do ask for the “I’ve freed up” notification, I think it’s important to be “happy to see him” or otherwise nice, because if you aren’t, it’s rather easy for him to learn, “nothing good happens when I’m done” and that alone will make the video game state much stickier for him, even at a purely subconscious level. Same thing if he’s playing and you’re waiting for him – he can ignore you while he’s playing, but he has to face you being disgruntled at him, when he stops, which may stack the balance in favor of “keep playing.” It’s possible you’re accidentally pushing the equilibrium away from what you want.

    • JenniferP said:

      Loooooove the 90-second rule!

      • bristlesage said:

        Heh, and the 90-second rule would send me into fits of rage. I need to decompress when I get home, and so does my husband, and that’s why generally the one tries to be out when the other gets home from work. The quiet place at the end of my day is very important.

        • CPA_Lady said:

          It’s funny how different people are huh? When I get home I’ve just spent at least an hour (my commute) in silence. And most of my day since I have a pretty “quiet” job. I desperately need interaction and attention when I get home or I get kind of grumpy.

          Luckily the dog is a pretty good stand-in if hubs is busy :)

        • JenniferP said:

          I too need the quiet, as you know – QUIET! – but I like the idea of 90 seconds of “Hi, I love you, here is a kiss, I am VERY happy to see you, ok 90 seconds are over, hello there, laptop and quiet room, I am ALSO very happy to see you!”

          • Elodie said:

            Yup, that’s exactly what we do – we are highly independent individuals, working on intensely focused projects at home, and after the 90-second greeting we vanish to the separate spheres of the freakishly silent house and don’t see each other for hours. It’s good for us the deliberately renew the couple-bond, because left to ourselves we would lead separate lives!

            I feel like I should disclaim every single thing I say here with “YMMV, we are academic scientists and are thus utterly insane, soooo probably don’t try this at home?”

    • seenonflickr said:

      Yes to the 90-Second Rule. Honestly, I do it a lot more than Spouse – but after reading about it here I think he’s on board! (I am home first more often than not.)

      I also make a point of giving/getting a smooch before one of us leaves the house.

  10. Letter writer said:

    Wow, this reply came fast! Thanks everybody.

    The amount of time isn’t a big deal to me, even if it’s all day. It’s just, when I think it’s 1 hour, and it turns out to be all day that bothers me, because I need to get out of the house and be social. I should know better and just know that it’s all day, or at least until something that’s already planned.

    So, it’s really just me, since he’s super nice to me when he’s not playing games, and also always feels really bad and does lots of nice things when I tell him he hasn’t been telling me his schedule.

    The Captain’s advice about a one-month trial and discussion is probably very useful, particularly because I notice I keep avoiding it, because of the discussion bit. I guess I feel like implementing something like that would be trying to unilaterally control how the relationship works. But it’s probably a good idea anyway, just difficult.

    Anyway, I’m going to read the advice a few more times and attempt to proceed in a reasonable manner.

    • JAT said:

      It makes me a little worried when someone writes in a problem that the commenters agree is, in fact, a problem and then keeps saying “really all in my head, not such a problem really really.”

      However, I want to focus on this part: “I notice I keep avoiding it, because of the discussion bit. I guess I feel like implementing something like that would be trying to unilaterally control how the relationship works.”

      See, catching him sometime when he’s not gaming (or trying to game) and asking to discuss something is not controlling, it’s asking. For something you need. And which could have beneficial effects on his life too, because the part where you are sighing on the couch because he said “yeah, about an hour” four hours ago and it’s dark already and where did the day go? That actually is not fun for him either.

      And discussing is not controlling, because discussing includes BOTH OF YOU talking.

      I put that in its own paragraph for emphasis. BOTH of you express yourselves so that both of you get your needs out there. He maybe says, “Well, but don’t I always tell you to just go ahead?” and you say, “But what if it’s something you enjoy too?” and he says, “OK, tell me about it when you get back, and if it’s that great we’ll try it together next time. Once I’m gaming, I don’t want to quit to go do something else even if I do like it.” And you might say, “But I don’t want to do so much of my socializing and fun time without you!” –and see, if that’s your answer then the core need you’re talking about is not “I might do something you might enjoy and you might miss it.” He does not seem to be worried about missing a moment of non-gaming fun that you might have.

      I feel, reading your letter and your responses, not as if the problem is all you, but maybe as if you have needs you are not articulating here, or maybe ideas about how a relationship should be. It doesn’t sound to me as if he ever does want the car if he’s gaming for hours. “He might want the car” sounds like it stands in for something else, like “His wanting to run out for beer is more important than my visiting my BFF/going to the zoo/shopping at the farmers’ market,” (and, you know, if he did, he could call you, right? and you could pick up the beer on the way back, and waiting for it would not kill him?) or “The car belongs to him–how dare I?!” or something…something! I don’t know what, but I think it would help if you did.

      • Lauren said:

        Totally agreed, JAT. Also, a lesson I am still learning, constantly putting the ball in someone else’s court is it’s own form of controlling behavior.

        • Letter writer said:

          Ouch. That one hit home.

          • Lauren said:

            Yeah, it was a wake up call for me. I’ve got a lot of codependency issues I’m finally sussing out after years of pretending everything was cool. This dynamic is definitely a part of it.

            I’m not at all saying that your partner’s behavior isn’t suspect here — he needs to put the controller down and hear you on the housework balance and take some responsibility for changing this dynamic if he values having an adult relationship. But you also need to be able to fill your own needs, regardless of what he’s up to, whether or not he’s given you input, and regardless of whether he’s even there at all. Feel free to let him suffer the consequences of getting so caught up in his awesome game that he neglects to have an awesome meatspace relationship too.

          • That was a hard lesson for me too. Eventually, my love asked me to stop making his decisions for him in the midst of internal conversations. CRINGE MOMENT

        • Elodie said:

          constantly putting the ball in someone else’s court is it’s own form of controlling behavior

          Very well put. It’s a kind of scorekeeping most people don’t notice – “I did this, and you DIDN’T do an equal thing, so you are the bad one and I am the good one and you owe me.” Or “You chose this and I didn’t like it, so I am the martyr and you owe me.”

          • Ethyl said:

            OMG I had a roomate like that, with the scorekeeping and the “good” vs “bad,” and I always kind of had trouble articulating what it was about living together that was so awful. Thanks!

        • Chay said:

          I am totally writing this on a note for myself to look at when I am struggling with this. Thankyou!

        • Britt said:

          It’s a corollary to “no response is a response”, and so, SO true.

      • Anonymous B said:

        Good points. This letter reminds me a lot of some of my own codependent-ish stuff with my spouse. For example, if I were the LW, “He might want the car” would definitely be code for “I want her to hang out with me!”

        In my case, I’m starting to learn that a combination of getting hobbies of my own, remembering I don’t need her for everything, and taking her at her word/actions (doing something else = stop waiting for me and do your own thing!) is in order. Plus, of course, getting better at voicing my needs.

        Good luck to you, LW. Thanks for writing in, and CA for responding. It’s always nice when I see letters here people who are married or in super-long-term relationships. The letters make me feel better about Not Being Perfect, and the answers calm my fears about Relationship Doom. Marriage is a work in progress, and sometimes “it could be better” leads not to breakups but to doing good work together.

    • PomperaFirpa said:

      Oh, hon. I want to give you a jedi-hug.

      When I first coupled up with my now-husband, I was very weird about leaving the house when he was playing video games because I kept thinking that if I waited out the video game, that THEN I would get attention, and if I was out of the house when he stopped playing, I’d miss my window for attention. This was not what you might call logical, but it made sense emotionally, at the time. This eventually was fixed with two things: 1) snuggle time together every day after work before he submerged into game-land, and 2) regularly scheduled date night.

      The thing with the car seems to be a big concern. Unless there’s something I’m missing, I think it’ll be fine. I’m imagining it in our household, and it would go something like this:

      8 AM
      Me: Hey, I’m planning to go out and about for a few hours this afternoon, leaving at about two. You gonna need the car?
      Mr. Firpa: Maybe; how long are you going to be gone?
      Me: Three hours, maybe. Farmer’s market, library, coffee with [friend]. Wanna come?
      Mr. Firpa: Nah, I have a big boss fight I want to get through today.
      Me: Your loss. I’ll bring you back an Amish doughnut.

      2 PM
      Me: Okay, heading out! Pause the game if you want a smooch, otherwise no smooches for you.
      Mr. Firpa: SMOOCHES. BRING YOUR FACE TO ME.
      Me: Sure you don’t want to come along?
      Mr. Firpa: I’m good, you go have fun! Also I request TWO Amish doughnuts.
      Me: You are pressing your luck. Love you!
      Mr. Firpa: (back in game) Huh? Oh. Love you!

      In short, if he’s not bothering to give you the heads-up on his schedule, then make your own and tell him ahead of time what it’s going to be. That puts him in the situation of having to choose to a) be an unreasonable asshole and tell you that you can’t possibly do fun things because he might stop playing his video game and might want you to be there / need the car, or b) adjust his nebulous plans for gaming around your firm plans for getting out of the house or getting attention from him. It doesn’t sound like he’ll be an unreasonable asshole.

      • Letter writer said:

        Jedi-hug accepted! And returned.

    • If he said he’ll be ready in an hour, and he’s not and it’s not like a “I’ll be ready in 10 minutes” thing, but literally he’s not moving, just leave without him. He has no consequences for his actions when you wait for him. His reaction to you keeping your word—you said you were leaving in an hour and you did—will give you information you’ll need to go forward.

    • Letter writer said:

      Thanks again everyone.

      It looks like things are going to be ok. We had a discussion and we’re going to try the one month plan & relationship summit.

      In words, he agrees with what everyone’s said here, about how I don’t need his permission to do stuff, but got worried that I meant I was never going to do anything with him ever again, which is obviously not true, and I reassured him.

      So we’re both going to keep working at having a relationship :-). And I just wanted to reassure everybody that the “being a bother” feelings don’t come from interactions with my husband, they’re from long before that and I now know what made them crop up so strongly recently.

      I’m glad to know that this letter was helpful to others too. Good luck everyone!

      • Chay said:

        Fantastic! Excellent word-using, both of you :D

      • Hooray! Jedi terrorist fist jab!

  11. Rivikah said:

    I’ve actually been on both sides of this particular question. I’ve been the one annoyed that my husband was staying up all night playing his game while I went to bed alone, and I’ve been the one spending too many hours in a week glued to a computer game.

    So my advice? (The usefulness of this might depend a little bit on what kind of game it is and if it’s usually the same game all the time but,) I suggest learning to play the game your spouse is playing.

    If you enjoy it and the type of game allows, it might be something you can do together — sometimes anyway. But even if you don’t end up really joining him at it, having played the game at least a little will let you know when he’s interruptable. If you can look over his shoulder and tell the difference between a critical piece of action and the mundane bits in the middle it might help. Particularly if what you really want to do is say “I’m going to run to the store, do we need anything?”

  12. Janey Mac said:

    As someone who’s the other half of a gamer, and living with another couple of gamers… I’m not sure I understand this “I can’t talk to him” thing. I understand sometimes it’s all action with stuff happening NOW NOW NOW and your partner can’t look up, but games can either be paused, or if it’s live multiplayer, there are lulls or breaks between sessions. When you come over saying you want to talk, he should at least be able to say “In five minutes this bit will be over, come talk to me then,” or some kind of code handwave or grunt to tell you that. :) No game requires undivided attention for several hours at a stretch.

    • That jumped out at me weird too. I’ve dated gamers, but I could always stick my head in and say “hey honey I’m going out” and get at least an “okay have fun!” in response. What game is so demanding that you can’t trade a couple words while he plays?

      I feel like either the LW is making a self-imposed restriction that she won’t even speak to him while he’s playing, in which case she needs to cut that out, or he’s told her not to speak when he’s playing, in which case he needs to go back to kindergarten for some lessons on Nice Manners And Playing With Others.

      • Camilla said:

        Well, “how do I most politely interrupt you?” is worth asking, because the answers vary wildly. Mine wants me to stand in his field of view (or harrumph from the doorway) without speaking or making sudden moves, while he takes 10-30s to disengage himself. A short statement won’t be heard or registered (or else it will startle him) if I just walk up and deliver it. Putting a note in front of him and (silently) walking away is also acceptable.

        (Both of these things drive me nuts if people do them to me. I suspect undiagnosed ADHD in him, and it seems to take a while to put the language module online, if it’s offline for work.)

        • I have to admit both of those seem a little too accommodating to me. I’m willing to be polite, but I’m not going to follow some kind of special procedure to talk to my boyfriend. I’m not seeking an audience with the King here.

          I’m really having trouble picturing a reasonable person or game where walking into the room and talking to them, just like you’d talk to a person who was busy cooking or sewing, wouldn’t be a perfectly fine way to get their attention.

          • The context I’ve skipped over is that that’s the answer to, “how do I interrupt you if you are concentrating?” which is often working and not gaming, and working from home (even on a weekend) gets a little more privilege. It is a burden to go through the rigmarole, but he is also comfortable with the results of being ignored entirely (he can send me an SMS if he wants to know where I went), so if I don’t feel like requesting an audience, I just don’t.

            I want predictability much more than I want him to be available. Just talking at him without giving him a chance to give me his attention first occasionally has distressingly unpredictable results. So yes, this is broken, and finding the right accommodation is a work in progress. (My gut sense is that this is about him feeling safe, not about him controlling me.)

            I do tell him that if I’m cooking or sewing and “look busy” he can still talk to me and I won’t mind… which does not come naturally to him.

          • In my case, it would get his attention, but I’d have to repeat everything. Walking into the room and speaking to him would make him notice I was speaking to him, but it wouldn’t register quickly enough for the words to actually make sense. (I have seriously considered beginning conversations by saying “Blah blah blah”, waiting for the “What?”, and then actually saying stuff.)

          • Letter writer said:

            The blah blah syndrome is why I had given up trying to talk to him when he was playing. It felt like requesting an audience and I didn’t want to wait 15-40 minutes for a break, have to repeat myself, find out later he seemed to but didn’t actually hear me, or get through to him (sortof) immediately followed by a bunch of cursing as he died in the game and his fellow players got mad at him.

            Since it is apparently ok to say something and not actually wait for a coherent response (according to both him and folks here) it solves that problem.

  13. Ldubs said:

    LW, it sounds like you have some insecurities about being a bother that makes you feel like making your needs known is some kind of major imposition. It isn’t. You need to know what the day’s plan is. It seems like you’re cool with rolling with whatever that plan ends up being – you just need to know. Sounds like your spouse is totally ok with that, he just sucks at follow-through. Your expectation that he keep up his end of the agreement isn’t unreasonable. Sample script?

    You: “hey, I need help with cleaning the kitchen today. When do you think you’ll be done playing?”

    Him: “Oh, about 3 hours”.

    You: “Ok, cool. I’m going to go see a movie with Jenny and maybe get some food. I’ll come back in about three hours and come grab you so we can get started on the dishes!”

    Three hours later…

    You: “Hey, hon. Its been three hours! Lets clean the kitchen!”

    Hopefully he then holds up his end of the commitment. If not, you guys really need to have a convo about how you’re honoring his need to have a reasonable amount of game playing time and he is not honoring your need for a little more structure. It would be really great if he would tell you his schedule unasked, but it sounds like for now that you just need to ask.

  14. Things like video games, e-mail, blogs, the Internet, facebook, twitter, etc, are intentionally engineered on the basis of detailed scientific understanding of human cognition and motivated behavior to be as irresistable as possible, and to consume as much of the user’s time as possible, with no limit.

    In order to prevent this profit-driven corporate mind control from taking over your life, you absolutely have to do your own “personal engineering”, whereby you intentionally create contexts where you can be either alone with your thoughts or with other people (such as spouse, bf/gf) and where video games, e-mail, blogs, the Internet, facebook, twitter, etc, *cannot* interfere.

    This means physically removing yourself and the other people you wish to engage with from the sphere of influence of the electronic devices that carry these mind-controlling data streams. For example, PhysioWife and I go for long walks (3 hours plus) several times per week and we leave all of our electronic networked devices at home.

    • Elodie said:

      That is a REALLY good point, and the LW’s other comments make it sound like (xe?) gets “sucked in” to games hirself.

      Some people simply have “addictive” personalities (I don’t really love the term, but it fits) that crave structure and reward. That, combined with the DELIBERATELY addictive experience of modern video gaming, means that they find it harder than most to break the cycle. In that case, yes, it HAS to be broken. I hate to judge people for their choices of recreation, but you’re absolutely right about gaming/social networking being an insidious and addictive presence that SHOULD be unplugged.

    • L. said:

      Hmm, thought-provoking comment! I don’t think ALL of it is intentional (no one set out to make the Internet addictive, IMO, and with some of those other things I think it may be more accidental than purposeful as well) but I do agree that they ARE addictive and that we need to consciously think about how much of our time is spent in front of a screen and fight against the lure of screens. Ditto the fight against the 24-7 expectation of availability that’s become part of our lives. It’s been much on my mind recently and it is often not easy… but whenever I focus on this my life gets much more productive and happy.

  15. xenu01 said:

    Housecleaning is this thankless, repetitive thing. I know some people like it, but I also know a lot of people who hate it, for that reason. It also never gets better- I mean, it’s not like you do the dishes and there are NO MORE DISHES EVARRRR. It’s more like, “Holy crap I hand-washed three loads last night and then and we made soup and salad and dressing and mustard and the whole kitchen is full again WTF.”
    And it is just like that! Forever!

    I know I’m not a clean person, and neither is my spouse, but we also don’t want to live in a filthy cave when we can avoid it and just like many couples (or pairs of roommates, or different family members co-habiting, or soccer teams, or whatever) we have wildly different (and totally reasonable) ideas of what = clean and what to prioritize.

    We are lucky enough to only be responsible for 2 cats and ourselves, so what we do is say every couple of days to each other: “What is the number one most urgent thing?”
    Usually, we disagree. I’ll say dishes, he’ll say the apartment needs to be swept or whatever. So we’ll make a time when both of us are free from other responsibilities every couple of days and have 1-1.5 hours of cleaning (otherwise known as 1- 2 45-minute episodes of a TV show). I always choose dishes because I drag my laptop in there and watch Cagney and Lacey or Melissa Harris-Perry or whatever while I’m washing them, and he can listen to music and clean the living room or whatever. Then, when we are done, we are done and free to do our own thing before bed.

    And hey- may I make a suggestion? If you’re not having enough sexi-times (thanks, Everyone is Gay!) and that is one of the reasons you’re frustrated (see what I did there?), I would like to suggest that that is what you do FIRST. Like, walk in the door, close the door, commence to sexi. This is helpful because no one goes to bed frustrated that the other person doesn’t desire them, or whatever.

    • xenu01 said:

      I also say whatever these days far too much apparently. I blame Claire Danes.

      • Ethyl said:

        Eh, whatever.

        I’m sorry, there was no possible way to resist that….

        • xenu01 said:

          :D Can I blame you? I cannot.

  16. Case-in-Point said:

    I think you would benefit from a “yours, mine, and ours” conversation. My husband and I both have our own separate things that we do and we have things that we do together and we each also have things that are togetherness activities that the other isn’t interested in that we do with other people.

    Example, I just spent a glorious weekend in NYC looking at art. My husband would rather chew his own arm off than spend that much time looking at art, but hey, I have friends who like to look at art with me. I went with friends for a whole weekend and looked at art. I took the car too, after making sure he had enough diet Pepsi and Cheez-its to last through a weekend long marathon session of Battlefield 3. I got home on Sunday and we went out to dinner and I told him all about awesome art that I looked at and he told me all about awesome stuff he “killed.” I do not feel guilty about this and I will maintain that we had a better time and were more connected on Sunday evening than we would have been if we’d spent the whole weekend together because we both had fun and then we had stuff to talk about. This is “yours and mine”

    But hey, we both like to play RPGs. So we either get one that we can play in co-op mode or we get one that we can play at the same time and then have excited animated discussions about. This is “ours.” We also go to movies together and we have our TV show.

    Not everything has to be “ours.” The trick is to decide what activities belong in each category and then figure out how much time to spend on each. That, you’ve got to negotiate. We also have a hard and fast system for whose turn it is to do the dishes and an unbreakable Saturday morning routine where we clean the house together, go get lunch at our favorite sandwich shop and then pick up groceries on the way home. We also have a hard and fast rule that whoever wants to go to bed, even if the other partner is not ready to sleep yet, gets a good long in bed snuggle. Then if the other partner still wants to stay up, they get up and do their thing. If you need that type of structure, it’s fine to make rules together.

    I guess, I’m throwing this all out there because the things you’re saying, LW, about your dynamic with your husband= me hearing you screaming “I CRAVE STRUCTURE!!!” If the lack of structure is what is driving you nuts, then that’s what you need to say. He may need more unstructured time than you do, but if you both know where the other is coming from, you can make a plan that makes both of you happy.

  17. If he’s neglecting chores to play video games, I suggest that you remind him of the chore, and give him a time frame to finish it. He can order the video game and the chore however he likes, as long as the chore gets done. The first time you do this, he will almost surely not do the chore, so you’ll probably have to yell at him. Video games seem like they were designed by men for men so women have to do all the housework, and we have to fight back.

    • Case-in-Point said:

      Well, that’s not really fair either. And actually current marketing research suggests that women are overtaking men in several genres of games. So it’s not really a gender thing– it’s a “games are fun and addictive” thing and they’re structured in such a way that it is ridiculously easy to lose track of time. As is so much of the world. We could also just as easily have this conversation about football, boating, knitting, painting, or macrame– anything that a person decides to engage in as an activity without their spouse and chooses to engage in to the detriment of their relationship. Women do it too.

      I’m a woman and I’m a gamer. I lose track of time too. I sometimes forget commitments. I rely on my calendar, a clock on top of the TV and the idea that my husband will ask or remind me of any important chores or commitments I’ve forgotten about. We often have conversations about housework or daily plains first thing before either of us get settled for the evening or for the day on weekends. It’s easy to have a conversation that goes, “Before you get settled with your game/your book/your “insert fun activity here”, will you take out the trash/do the dishes/sweep the floor? Also, I was thinking about going to the movies/farmer’s market/mall/back alley later. Would you like to come? Do you have any plans for the day that I should be aware of?” That strikes me as a regular conversation that people who live together have or should have.

      • Obviously, the whole thing is complex, but let’s face it. It’s not just video games that create the “I have this important thing to do and the housework will eventually take care of itself” problem. Before video games, it was sports. Male privilege vis a vis housework is a real problem, and intractable. Because women have the ultimate responsibility for housework, men’s contributions don’t have to volunteered. Video games are just a factor in this.

        It sucks, because women are usually in a bind: Either you have to do it yourself or you have to remind him. Men’s bind is usually, either you do it the first time you ask, or you hold out and see if she’ll give up. These different binds create the situation that many couples are in. There are exceptions and gradations, but this stubborn gender role constriction is still a very real thing.

  18. commanderlogic said:

    Oh, darling, you are not neurotic. Or if you are, it’s because we lady people are primed to be neurotic about stuff like this.

    This is kind of hitting a nerve for me right now because it is Prime Rock Climbing Season (not too hot, not too cold, not terribly buggy), so HusbandLogic wants to be off climbing as many weekends as he can personally manage. Now, this comes after a winter of us taking dance classes together and cooking and co-hermiting it up, and will be followed by a summer of sailing lessons and barbeques and such. I’m fully prepared for him to go and be free elsewhere for a few weekends, even if I miss him when he’s gone. He’s not climbing rocks AT me.

    My mom does not understand this at all. I tell her HL is leaving for a much anticipated 5-day adventure, and all she says is “Doesn’t it BOTHER you that he’s leaving you alone for so long? Are you really okay with him being gone so much?” And I am, because HL and I talk about his trips a ton. No seriously, A TON. So yeah, my personal issues with my mom, let me show you them.

    Your fella isn’t playing video games at you, either, but I know it can feel/present that way, especially if you’re not talking about it. Not wanting to “nag” is normal, because you don’t want to be a sort of punitive mommy-figure. ‘Cause ick. But maybe that’s one way to approach it.

    “When you play with no end time/date in sight, I feel like I’m Mean Mommy taking away your privileges, and that makes me feel gross because you are a grown man that I respect.”

    Mutually agreed upon structure is the best advice, and the Cap covered it all. Rock on, LW, and I wish you joy!

  19. xenu01 said:

    Mutually agreed upon structure is the best advice.

    I just wanted to highlight that I love this. My spouse is not a planner- but I am. He recognizes my need to make list upon list and schedule our busy busy weekends, and I recognize his need to have some spontaneity in his life so don’t go nuts trying to enforce those schedules. My plans and schedules are more like “here’s what it might look like if we get things done but my world will not fall apart if we go grocery shopping first instead of cleaning the bathroom,” and he understands that (and dareIsay, he actually likes my schedules and has started asking me to make them these days because they include such things as “sexytimes” “play on our computers” and “create art”)?

    • JenniferP said:

      I am sometimes TERRIBLE at schedules and structure and kind of want to marry you right now a little myself.

  20. LabRat said:

    Reading these comments I feel kind of in the weird position of identifying with the husband more even though I am the lady in my heterosexual relationship. I’m the one who cares far less about the housework. I don’t regard it as a valid reason for me not to do it, but I do regard the differential between the level Stingray regards as “ahh, clean” and the level I regard as acceptably clean as worth consideration from my end as well as his. There’s a pretty big span in between “attracting vermin and breeding disease” and “clean enough for open house for the realtor”, and includes a lot of things like whether beds are made every day, how much dust is too much dust and on what things, what is an acceptable amount of clutter, and so forth.

    When we first lived together this bred fights, including one incident when I bounced a list he’d made for me to do in his absence off his forehead. I am not a schoolchild.

    What ultimately brought harmony was creating very clear expectations of what was whose responsibility and when we expected x, y, and z to be done. He is the sort who will go on spontaneous cleaning whirlwinds for a variety of inspirations; I am the sort who cleans when it is cleaning time and I resent intrusions of cleaning time upon time I had regarded as other time. Eventually we worked out that I am not required to participate when he has cleanfits (at first he felt I should join him because Family Helps), but I will not do anything else until everything is done at cleantime. Every once in awhile responsibilities are rejuggled when someone feels overloaded, but Using Our Words has worked just fine there for years now, and there has also been full peace between our tribes.

    One thing that was very important to me is that there be clarity on when/how I am expected to do things by, so that there is never confusion about relaxing/playing when I am silently expected to be doing something else. I am happy and eager to hold up my end- but I need to know what that is and to be allowed to choose how I organize my own time.

    Fortunately we’re both avid gamers so there hasn’t been much friction there. We do a ton of cooperative play and one person plays while the other reads and/or serves as a navigator. (Which is hugely useful in some kinds of games.) For us gametime is usually couple time rather than the other way round.

  21. For anybody who is frustrated by a spouse who won’t pull his or her (but usually his) weight at home, I can’t recommend The Second Shift enough. I don’t know how easy it is to apply the lessons from Arlie Hochschild’s research, but it gives you a much clearer understanding of the dynamics.

    • anneka said:

      Oh my god, this.

  22. Kristen said:

    I went digging for this post a while back and didn’t find it, but found it again. I *think* this is the Capt. A post I wanted to post it too. I know I’m a little late for LW but maybe it will help others:

    http://apracticalwedding.com/2011/02/reclaiming-wife-chores/

    Particularly this part:
    “Myth #3: (S)He’s just not that into cleaning

    This is the kicker of all myths. I’ve heard people in the comments say over and over again, “Well, I need to do all the cleaning, because my partner is just not that into cleaning. He leaves his dishes on the living room floor, and that’s all he’s interested in doing.” Because here is the thing: Are you interested in living in a generally tidy house? Is (s)he interested in keeping your rage-full monster self at bay? Then (s)he just got interested in cleaning.

    This is the crux of what marriage is about. We’re into keeping our partners happy. We’re into growing as people so that we’re better partners. So if your partner isn’t that interested in cleaning, I suggest you go home and sit down and have a conversation where you explain that you’re not that interested in picking up after them, so the two of you are going to work this out. Now.”

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