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.