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I wish my husband would spend less time gaming and more with his family

This is a guest post by Xenu01. Xenu secretly imagines she is married to Jimmy Stewart. In the past. Which totally could happen. She also wishes she could speak every language, including bird and cat.

Dear CA,

I am married to a gaming addict. He works in IT (obviously) and works on computers 40+ hours a week, then spends nearly all of his free time playing computer games, from the moment he wakes up until he goes to work, and after work until he goes to bed. On the weekends he plays just about all the time, 8-10 hours a day probably. He’ll play anything. Even solitaire if there are no other choices. He really can’t stop. I knew he really liked to play computer games going into the marriage, and for the most part since I was in grad school I wasn’t doing much of anything else either so it wasn’t a huge deal. And then we had kids. He still spends 80% of his free time gaming. He does do some chores around the house, and takes care of some kid duties, but I’m really upset about the amount of time that he obviously isn’t devoting his attention to them (or me). They will go over to talk to him and he always says he’s busy and makes them wait. When he’s away from the computer, he takes his phone so he can play something while he gives the kids a bath And he sets a very bad example for our son (gaming addict in training) who has a time limit on his own computer usage but doesn’t understand why his dad doesn’t. I feel like I never have his complete attention because he’s in the corner in his cave playing some game ALL THE TIME. He has no other hobbies and does nothing else for fun.

I have talked to him about this before, more than a few times, and each time he has “reduced” his gaming time for a couple of weeks, and then it’s back to normal. I don’t think he has gone a single day without gaming in 25 years. Since atari, probably. He is VERY defensive when I try to talk about this, as he says his work is hard and he hates dealing with people and games are his “escape,” but I think it’s really an addiction. He’s pretty introverted and not very socially astute (obviously, again). How can I get him to really, really understand how much this is a problem for our family? I really think even though I’ve talked to him several times over the years that he doesn’t get it. I really want him to think of it like an addiction, not just something he likes to do for fun. I would really like to set up a no-screen weekend but I’m not sure how to go about it without freaking him out. I am willing to forgo my own computer time (mostly social/chatting) also, obviously. I need to stage an intervention. Please advise.

Sincerely,
Lost in Angry Birds Space

Hi there, Angry Birds! So gaming addiction is a real thing, but it’s not taken as seriously as other addictions yet, probably? Anyway, I feel you so hard. This is so tough to have to deal with, and you may feel like you are spinning your wheels. I am going to do my best here, but feel free to add on in comments.

Firstly:
I know you aren’t dealing with an alcoholic, but it would not be out of the question for you to attend a real-life Al-Anon meeting or two, or if you don’t feel comfortable with that, to read some of the literature. Sometimes it is helpful to talk to others who are going through something, or just to hear what it is they are going through so you do not feel so alone. Here is a link (http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/) to their website, and you should be able to find information or a meeting there. Whether or not what he has an addiction, it can be hard to be a Fixer in a relationship with someone who Refuses to Be or Stay Fixed (trust me, I know! I am a chronic Fixer in recovery, and I still slip up), and so it might help to address some of your feelings in that vein.

The most frustrating thing about being in a relationship with someone who has a problem is that you are not going to be able to fix them. It does not matter how many times you talk to him about the thing that is bothering you- he will always return to his old behavior unless he sees there is a problem and isn’t just to appease you temporarily until you forget about it. Along these lines, it might be helpful for you to take things one day at a time and to start with clear and delineated boundaries. Tonight you might sit him down privately once the kids have gone to bed and suggest that tomorrow night from 6-8 PM is family time, and you are both free to do whatever you want after 8?

Another thing:
There is a certain element of thoughtlessness inherent in such a massive amount of video gaming, but- well- for me, massive amounts of video games, neglecting duties, maybe sleeping too much or not enough, neglecting friends and spouse- I hear you also say that he hates his job. Maybe he is suffering from some malaise and depression right now. He might be fighting some burnout issues. Maybe this would be a time to open up discussions around possible job change (again, kids- I know it might not be possible)? Maybe via a neutral third party, like a couples counselor?

Lastly, for your own peace of mind, you might think about taking a night off for your own damn self on a regular basis. Call it anti-date night. Could be once a month or once a week. Hire a babysitter, say, “See ya!” to your husband and take yourself to the movies or out to dinner. Go to a club. Go to a concert. Join a sci-fi book club or learn the art of soldering. Whatever you do, have fun and don’t worry about what he is doing, which I assume will be video games. You should do this Just Because.

Have at it, commentariat! I know someone in here will have some kind words for the letter writer.

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210 comments
  1. C. said:

    1. He’s been like this forever
    2. You married him anyway
    3. You had children with him anyway
    4. He’s clearly an introvert
    5. You don’t seem to . . . like him?

    • JenniferP said:

      Hey, let me blast holes in the idea that “It’s not a valid problem now if it wasn’t a problem at the outset.”

      Things can not be problems and then blossom into problems when circumstances change (like, becoming a parent). There’s no statute of limitations on talking shit over and trying to fix it in a marriage.

      • innocentsmith said:

        Or like drinking a lot, actually. If you’re binge drinking when you’re young, it may not be healthy or helpful, but it’s generally socially acceptable as long as you can maintain certain standards of appearance and performance. In some contexts/lifestyles it’s even expected that you’ll go out drinking on a fairly regular basis. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but that’s another issue.

        If you get trashed when you’ve got kids and that leads to you neglecting or being distracted from their care, that’s pretty unacceptable by most people’s standards.

    • alphakitty said:

      I don’t see where you get #5. As for #s 1-4, you say them like it means she has no right to object to how that’s playing out now.

      The other way of looking at those factors is he’s a introvert who loves gaming, and she loved him that way, enough to marry him and want to make a family with him. So contrary to a couple of comments below, the issue is not that she’s a self-centered me-me-me person who can’t stand him doing something that has nothing to do with her or that he is not really a people-person.

      The issue is that THEY had children TOGETHER. Which means there’s a bunch more to be done day-to-day, and some legitimate expectations she has a right to have of him as partner-in-life and dad (like, “don’t screw up our kids’ self esteem by treating them like they are nothing to you”). And instead of rising to that occasion, accepting that he needs to cut back his gaming while the kids are little he is gaming MORE.

      • Sheelzebub said:

        Thank you.

        Jeez, the sexist BS being flung at this LW–and the seemingly deliberate twisting of her words–is just sickening. She’s not harping on one or two hours devoted to a hobby. Her husband is neglecting the kids he had with the LW and the household he set up with the LW. “You should have known this when you married him” and “You’re not being nice enough to the poor guy you nagging harpy” are not helpful attitudes, nor do they reflect an accurate reading of the actual letter.

        And honestly? It’s telling that some folks here are painting the spouse who’s doing all the heavy lifting WRT childrearing and household duties as “self-centered” for wanting her PARTNER to do his share.

      • C. said:

        I’m a woman, if that changes anything, and I believe this guy is a lost cause as a husband and father.

        They had children together but he either doesn’t really want them (for whatever reason) or is having yearslong postpartum depression — and where I got #5 is her repeated references to how he’s “obviously” socially inept and “obviously” an IT guy and etc.

        I don’t think it’s sexist to believe she assumed he’d change with her over the years, because many people of all genders assume that about their partners. It’s not her fault but I have no idea why she’s been beating the same dead horse for years and decided to have kids.

  2. nem said:

    gaming is not a disease, it’s a symptom. he says he hates people. listen to him. if he knew how to solve his real-life problems, he’d solve them. he can’t, so he escapes into games. you wouldn’t call an avid book reader an addict, just an escapist. game worlds are the same as book worlds, only distilled to pure form. his underlying problems might be anything: anxiety, depression, social phobia, unresolved childhood trauma. let him play as much as he wants with one condition: if he agrees to spend 1 hour a week with a therapist, solving his seemingly unrelated frustrations and unfulfilled dreams. his gaming should diminish in about 6 to 12 months, based on my limited experience.

    • tinyorc said:

      I disagree with this. Gaming is addictive in a way reading or even TV is not. While book worlds and game worlds are comparable, gaming is not just about escapism. The addictive feature common to most games (from everything to Tetris to World of Warcraft) is that they give you an endless feedback loop of task-and-reward, so you get the same rush you get from completing a difficult task or solving a problem in real life. Then you get rewarded with another task. That’s why completing a game sometimes feel like a weirdly hollow victory. Because no more tasks!

      I say this as someone who has literally done almost nothing but play videogames for the past week or so. Fortunately, I currently have zero worldly responsibilities, so I’m allowed indulge myself, but I’ve behaved super-irresponsibly re: gaming in the past (playing until 4am when I had to be up for work at 7am, seriously harming my chances in exams, etc.) I find videogames addictive and honestly the only reason they don’t consume more of my life is that I can’t afford it. But I’m not depressed or anxious or dealing with unresolved childhood trauma.

      Like most addictions and based on the extremity of LW’s situation, it’s quite possible that this situation is linked to depression or social anxiety. I just think it’s unwise to dismiss the idea that gaming in and of itself cannot be addictive, to the point that you will seriously compromise other aspects of your life for it. Because, firsthand experience, it can.

      • thebewilderness said:

        I thought this was a “tell” also:
        ” He is VERY defensive when I try to talk about this, as he says his work is hard and he hates dealing with people and games are his “escape,” but I think it’s really an addiction.”

        He hates dealing with people and you and your children are people.
        There is nothing you can do to make him want a relationship with you and the children.
        I’m sorry.

        • xenu01 said:

          I respectfully disagree. A video game addiction, and customer service burnout (to a different degree, what is IT but intra-company customer service) =/= hates his family and will never ever want to spend time with humans ever.

          • staranise said:

            Cosigned. Seriously, this ship is not automatically destined to sink.

          • Mel V. said:

            Seconded. People who game too much and complain about work are not automatically asocial monsters with no capacity for human relationships. Presumable the LW wouldn’t have married him if that were the case.

          • Jake said:

            I dunno. I mean I agree that “A video game addiction, and customer service burnout (to a different degree, what is IT but intra-company customer service) =/= hates his family and will never ever want to spend time with humans ever,” but the LW’s husband did say that he hates dealing with people. If he said it in the context of a conversation about him spending more time with his family, it’s reasonably to assume that he meant it in that context, i.e. that his family is included in the category of people-he-hates-dealing-with. It doesn’t mean there’s no hope, but if he doesn’t see his behaviour as a problem, then he’s very unlikely to change.

          • Vicki said:

            A useful distinction, definitely. I live with someone who sometimes will say he doesn’t feel up to dealing with people, where “people” is defined as “everyone except Vicki and the cat.” That’s partly that he feels safe enough with me/at home that it doesn’t take the same sort of social energy.

            So, that’s another thing for LW to think about: does her partner find time with her and their kids to be the same sort of stressful or unappealing as interacting with the rest of the world? (In my experience of dating introverts, that’s a separate thing from “does he need time to himself?”)

          • I love that he thinks that the cat could be categorized as ‘people’.

          • neverjaunty said:

            Exactly this. “I hate dealing with work” or “I need some downtime” is very very different than telling your spouse and children – who are people – that you hate dealing with people.

            I don’t get why so many are refusing to believe Mr. LW means exactly what he says, and what he demonstrates constantly with his behavior.

          • alphakitty said:

            It’s a valid point, on the “people who like you will act like they like you” theory, that he really does hate dealing with all people, and that his wife and kids are not an exception and never will be. In which case the LW does need to extract herself and the kids, because it’s going to do major damage to them all, but especially the kids over the long haul because much more of their self esteem is at his mercy.

            On the other hand, the Awkward Army’s experiences suggest it is also possible that he has just sort of fallen down the rabbit hole and isn’t really happy there, either… whether because he hates his too-much-people-dealing job and has nothing left when he comes home, or because little kids’ demands can be overwhelming and he didn’t know how to deal with them so he retreated to game-land and it became a habit, or because he’s clinically depressed for non-environmental reasons and he became addicted to gaming as his coping mechanism. (Which, as people have pointed out, is clearly not really helping him cope at this point). Or something else; that’s just sort of an overview of some of the options.

            Since his wife and kids absolutely have a stake in the outcome (including because she loves him?), it is only natural for her to want to see if there is something she can do to help them all (including him) before throwing in the towel and walking away.

    • Whether it’s an addiction or not matters in answering question 2, which is: what is her husband going to do about this problem? Obviously, the best way to treat an addiction will differ from the best way to treat social exhaustion or depression. However, the LW is still on question 1: is he going to do anything about it at all?

      I don’t know enough about brain chemistry to draw lines around what is and isn’t addiction – and anyway, the list of potentially addictive things almost certainly differs between people. But as other commenters have said, it wouldn’t matter if it was reading, knitting, toenail polishing or listening to Bach. He’s neglecting family responsibilities (but tellingly, not work or sleep) in a way that is very unfair to the LW, and that is a huge, immediate problem. I don’t see why she should be happy with a situation where he does one hour less gaming per week and she carries on exactly as alone as before, in the vague hope that he might ease off in a year or so.

    • Sarah B said:

      “you wouldn’t call an avid book reader an addict, just an escapist.”

      If you’re saying that reading can’t be addictive, I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. I used to read all the damn time; in class, walking between classes, crossing the road, when I should have been asleep; I only stopped when I discovered the internet. To which I am addicted instead.

      People can get addicted to most things; some addictions are just more culturally acceptable than others.

      Gaming may well be a symptom of other issues; but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also a disease in itself. Some people turn to alcohol because they can’t cope with life, but they end up alcoholics all the same.

      Either way, nothing’s going to change unless the LW’s husband accepts that spending all his time gaming and letting the LW do all the heavy lifting in their family is a problem. And I don’t know how the LW can get that through to him.

      • alphakitty said:

        I have searched the internet repeatedly for treatment/support for “reading addiction” and “book addiction.” I’m convinced it’s real. Every thing tinyorc has done re gaming I’ve done re reading, and more. But because reading is considered laudable, no one (including a therapist) wants to use that negative word… it’s like I’m slamming reading if I say I have an unhealthy relationship with it. Even if I have an unhealthy relationship with it.

        • Vicki said:

          That sounds a bit like excessive/compulsive exercise: physical exercise is good, but that doesn’t mean that spending multiple hours a day at the gym and/or obsessing about exact weights or whether one ran or swam a mile a couple of seconds faster or slower is healthy.

          I don’t have any suggestions for what you should do here, but maybe it helps to be told that yes, that makes sense.

        • Julie said:

          Have you ever done The Artist’s Way? It’s not about reading addiction, but one of the tasks is to take a week off of reading — and this means ALL reading, not just pleasure-book reading. It was hard as hell for me, but also kind of awesome. It reset me, which was good. I’ve still climbed back up, but it helps to manage it some.

          • alphakitty said:

            The Artist’s Way?

          • arkadyrose said:

            The Artist’s Way – started out as a self-help book for depressed artists, essentially, and now it’s a book, a website, videos – it has a whole cult following really. I tried it, found it way too Christian and God-this, Power-that for my liking, but a lot of people find it helpful.

          • alphakitty said:

            I’ll see if our library has it… the Christian/God/Power stuff may indeed be too much baggage! But I’m open to ideas… I’ve dealt with this for a long time, with varying degrees of success at different times in my life. And now I’m seeing my daughter struggle with it — she got both my learn-to-read-young gene (yay) and the obsessive-relationship-with-reading gene (boo).

        • solecism said:

          My therapist is the first one not to laugh or otherwise dismiss my statement that I have a reading addiction. He pulled out the DSM IV, walked through the symptoms of addiction (and my reported behaviors), said it sounded like a process addiction, and like eating disorders, is so much harder to manage, because in our society, you can’t really function without reading every day, so doing completely without isn’t really an option.

          I have regulated myself to the point where I don’t withhold and binge-read anymore, or at least not on the scale of my undergraduate days, when I would spend spring break holed up in my room with a giant stack of books and not sleep for 48 hours or whatever.

        • Rosa said:

          I’ve been told repeatedly that I hide behind books. Because I had social issues as a kid and the solution was “throw her into more social situations until she starts to like it!” (and was the new kid every 4 years in elementary/middle school, with approximately that much help from adults) so I spent a lot of time hiding out in the hallway/library/back corner of the room, reading.

      • JC said:

        + 1 to reading being a possible addiction. I frequently say that narrative fiction is my drug of choice and I’m only slightly joking when I say it. People laugh when I say it but in my head I know that it’s true.

      • jillyfish said:

        OMG, I used to be a reading addict too, but I never thought about it that way! When I was a kid I’d get agitated if I had to sit at the dinner table with nothing to read (I’d read the seasoned salt shaker over and over and over. seriously) and I’d read in the car even though it made me car sick every time. And I, too, only stopped when I found the internet (around age 12). Yikes.

  3. Bunny said:

    Well, first off, you definitely need some space and time for yourself. That’s a good suggestion.

    My husband had/has a similar problem, in that he plays a lot, but we don’t have kids and I need my own space and time to write.

    While I’ll agree this is an addiction, and he needs treatment, there is a level of selfishness here on his part. And you lose the right to be a selfish person when kids enter the picture. It’s one thing to treat an adult this way, it’s quite another to treat a child as such.

    Personally, I’ve done things to thwart my husband’s gaming, taken away the cords, hid the games, hid the systems, and while I can hear the gamers crying – as an addiction, I wouldn’t have alcohol in the house if it was an alcoholic, so I forced some cold turkey time on my man. The man who will divorce you over a broken xbox – is a man you shouldn’t be with.

    We then set some boundaries, like, he’s in school – so he can play when school is not in session, or on mutually agreed on time on the weekends – but that’s it. I sat him down and had a serious discussion about how his gaming was affecting me emotionally and mentally. Of course he got defensive and said that I sometimes get wrapped up in writing – to which you need a prepared response. Mine was – “when your gaming earns cash, then you can talk.”

    The main point is – it may be a hobby, but you’re the wife, you and especially the kids, come before hobbies and you have the right to demand that he back off the system. If he didn’t want a family, then he shouldn’t have gotten married – what he’s doing is not fair to you. BTW, don’t blame yourself for being okay with it in the beginning – hell, I was in grad school and pretty busy myself when he was gaming, but ask yourself, what is he doing for your marriage? (If it was you doing all the gaming, he’d probably be in the other room, bitching and moaning about needing you to care for the kids – so why is it okay for him?) You know what’s a better emotional escape from a crappy job? (I’m in IT and hating it too, btw) Playing with the kids, seeing a movie, going out, having sex with your lover, a night watching the DVD of your favorite shows. Those are more healthy stress relievers. Games – some of them – are high stress, which won’t help. An hour at the gym on a punching bag is more therapeutic than 8-10 hours on Call of Duty. When I play games, I get pissed off and angry, so does my husband, how exactly is that helping after a long day of being yelled at for IT issues?

    Think about your kids – do you want them growing up all “Cat’s in the Cradle” because daddy – sitting right there – didn’t even pay them one iota of attention? It’s worse on kids to have a parent that’s around, but emotionally/mentally absent, because the only message they’re getting is – “The Screen is more important than me.” He’s an adult, and if he really refuses to talk, refuses to see a counselor, then consider taking the kids and heading to your parents or a friends. Help him, but you’re ultimately not responsible if he won’t help himself, you can only help the kids and yourself really. Addiction is a bitch, and the response is right in that we are not yet taking this one seriously enough. Just because it’s not alcohol, or cocaine, doesn’t mean it’s any less of an issue. When he can’t put down the phone to give the kids a bath – it’s a problem.

  4. Shora said:

    Seconding what the captain said about this being depression, HARD.

    Any time I’ve found myself spending hours upon hours in front of the computer (lots of times gaming but also lots of times doing nothing at all), neglecting my responsibilities, not socializing, and looking for an “escape” I have been depressed as all fuck. The worst was when I was in high school, when I hadn’t developed the will, desire, or ability to deal with my depression.

    In high school I felt depressed, lonely, ugly, and isolated. During this period I read lots and lots (and lots and lots and LOTS) of fanfiction. My friends at the time saw how much I read fanfiction, pinpointed the fanfiction as the problem, and started pestering me to read fanfiction less. This of course made me defensive and grumpy and angry. I hadn’t the words to say that fanfiction wasn’t the problem, fanfiction was a SYMPTOM of greater problems. It was the escapist solution that my teenaged brain came up with, and spending hours each day reading seemed like a better idea than dealing with the shit that was my life.

    One day there was an ugly, awful “intervention” staged in the counselors office by my group of friends. At first I felt kind of touched that they cared about me so much, but then I realized that they had completely blindsided me and cornered me and that nothing was really helped at all. Some friends felt that their friend duties were complete and started spending less time with me after that. It was not a pleasant experience.

    So I guess what I’m saying, LW, is to maybe talk to Husband about the underlying issues that are the real problem (probably definitely with the help of a counselor). Leave video games and gaming completely out of it, but tell him that your and your children miss him and would like to spend more time when you are the center of his attention and ask him what would be the best way to go about doing that? Ask him if he’s unhappy and tell him you love him and maybe ask if there are things you can do as a couple/family that will make him feel less like he has to escape? Positive interactions may draw him out while negative interactions may drive him deeper into his shell.

    • Wow, I had the same issues with fanfic in college. Retroactively, I figured out that I had taken on too much stuff (double major, both majors demanding,) and was subconsciously rebelling against the workload by shutting down my brain and putting off the work. At the time, though, I just felt like a stupid weak-willed person who couldn’t stop spending all my time on something that seemed absolutely useless.

      So, um, yeah. Agreed–don’t make the person feel bad about the specific habit–maybe try to find out what it is the person’s trying to escape?

  5. The Shorter Dinosaur said:

    Hi LW! I’m so sorry to hear about your situation. I was a gaming addict for about 5 formative years when I was an adolescent until I was a teenager. Part of the appeal for me at least was that gaming was a safe place where interactions weren’t fraught with my awkwardness. I only stopped gaming because we moved to a different continent with different voltage. Dead serious. Initially I missed it terribly, but once new consoles came out and my knowledge was obsolete it felt like the gaming addiction was firmly in the past. I play games now, but usually for only an hour or two tops every few weeks and of the three games I own, two are social games (Mario Bros, Mario Galaxy 2).

    I have two questions for you: 1) would it be possible to make the gaming thing a family thing, like once a month the whole family goes to an arcade, gets lunch and maybe goes to the movies too? It might get him interacting with the kids more. And maybe from there, you could encourage him to do something else with them—like martial arts classes or archery or something. Something cool where he can be super-Dad, having assumed the mantle of Awesome Gaming Dad at the arcade? He might see the appeal of it then, and feel more confident about it too.

    My second question is: Have you decided where your limit on this addiction is? It’s easier to accommodate people we love when we no longer should than do what is best for us. I agree with the Cap that you should go to Al-Anon because it sounds like you are really sacrificing a lot already and you need support from people in similar situations, and you need advice on what your next goals should be and how to proceed.

    The Captain’s advice is, as always, solid gold.

    • The Shorter Dinosaur said:

      Apologies, Xenu! *YOUR* advice is nothing short of stellar.

  6. Good luck, LW. I don’t have concrete advice to add to xenu’s, except that I kind of feel the depression theory–I also use video games as an escape, and play most when I want to feel least. But basically he is using them not just to escape from his job, but also from you and the kids, and that cannot go on.

    In my own therapy, I’ve been using logs as a tool–like a log of how much I’ve slept, when and in what ways I felt anxious, that sort of thing, so that instead of vague feelings of “I’m tired even when I’ve slept enough” and “I feel anxious a lot” I would learn that I hadn’t been sleeping enough (and that’s why I was tired) or that I felt most anxious when getting ready for work. Slightly more useful data. I wonder if logs can be useful for you and your husband in some way. . . maybe to keep track of how much time he is spending with a screen versus how much time he spends interacting with the children. But in order for that to be effective, he’d have to agree that it is just as important to spend time with the children as it is to escape and soothe himself from his work…. and it’s not clear whether this is true.

    • Nyx said:

      I think that’s a great point about logs. I know that I started playing one of those silly facebook games, and was astounded and appalled at how much time I wasted on it. If you aren’t paying attention, especially with very inclusive games, I think it’s easy to not realize how much time you’re spending doing something. Perhaps a log of his screen time would if nothing else, illustrate “Hey there, I am spending a LOT of time” in a very concrete way.

    • TheOtherAlice said:

      Logs sound like a great idea, but I would maybe add the caveat that it’s a subject you probably ought to introduce very caefully. Telling someone else you feel they ought to keep a log of their time may come across a little patronising, which is clearly not the way anyone wants it to come across!

  7. hlwest said:

    Oh, LW, you have my sympathy! This is, possibly, the biggest and most recurring issue in what is my otherwise mostly happy marriage as well.

    I’m fortunate in that my Beloved is open to hearing me when I tell him that he’s getting out of hand, but he will probably always need help managing this behaviour because for him it’s just so easy to completely and totally lose sight of how much time he’s spending gaming. And our eldest son also questions why he and the other spawn have time limits, but their Daddy doesn’t.

    I second the approach of “We miss you and would like to spend some time with you, how can we make that happen?” It will help him not hear “You suck at being a father because you love your games more than you love us”.

    I’m not sure that working the depression angle will work right away, but you might want to hold on to that idea, if he seems to be really having a hard time with not using his “escape”. Maybe give it a while and if he can’t seem to stay away from the games, ask him “what are you trying to escape from? What can I help make better for you in real life?”

    You may have to face the fact, too, that if he really can’t fix his behaviour, if he really can’t be happy when he’s not gaming, that he does have a very serious addiction. And like all spouses of addicted people, there may come a point where you have to face that you will be better off without him, and your children may be better off living mostly apart from him. I know that might seem like an extreme reaction to such a “harmless” addiction, but I can tell you that growing up with a father who was borderline gaming addicted, it left some painful marks on my psyche. I felt very unloved by the man who was supposed to love me most for a long time. It’s one of the reasons why my Beloved and I work together on managing his game time. I cannot tolerate being ignored in favor of games beyond a certain point, and I refuse to let my children grow up thinking that virtual people matter more than they do. It amounts to abandonment and neglect in my eyes.

    As I said, I’ve been very fortunate in that my Beloved is open to hearing from me when he’s approaching the point I can’t handle. And I’ve been careful to tell him before I get to the point where I’m about to fall apart from feeling unloved, but it has to be something that he’s willing to work on too, or it’s not going to work. You can’t fix him. You can support him, help him, while he fixes himself, but he’s got to be open to it, he’s got to be willing.

  8. Sheelzebub said:

    LW, I can’t add much to this. I would point out to him that he’s using this escape for all of the weekend, while he’s giving the kids a bath, and when the kids want to talk to him. That you don’t get an escape and that it’s not fair to you or the kids. That he needs to talk to a professional if he’s feeling stressed/trapped in his job so much that he needs to escape even when he’s home with you all. That if this does not get addressed the resentment its engendering will build on your part and possibly on the part of the kids. (Seriously–if my father had just dismissed me with a “not right now, I’m in the middle of WOW/practicing my golf swing/fantasy football” when I asked him something or needed something, it would have alienated the fuck out of me.)

    I’ve been clinically depressed (it’s a recurrent thing for me) and I know how adversely my behaviors can affect others. You owe it to yourself and to him to be straightforward and tell him how his specific behaviors are affecting you and the family. He owes it to you to actually try and change–not just cut back his time playing games, but see a counselor and work on the underlying issues, and stop leaving the heavy lifting when it comes to the family to you. If this is a marriage, he’s supposed to be your partner, not another kid you clean up after and manage.

    Relationships take work, but it takes two people to do the work. You can’t do it all, and you shouldn’t.

    • MissPrism said:

      Recently the Awkwardeers have completed the sentence “Relationships take work, but…” in many awesome ways, but this is one of my favourite.

      I have every sympathy and not much helpful advice for the LW. My beloved got similarly immersed in WoW or similar a few years back – fortunately it was an acute, rather than chronic, episode and after a few weeks of not seeing him awake at all, he had an “oh, shit” moment and stopped cold turkey.

      I couldn’t work this out from the letter, but if the LW has not made it crystal clear already that this is a potentially relationship-ending problem she should do so. In fact I’d go further than that – if someone is never with you and makes no plans to be with you, they have effectively already left you. It doesn’t matter what the other thing is that they’re doing.

  9. Datdamwuf said:

    xenu nailed it pretty well. from my own experience; my ex husband suffered from depression, he had alcohol and porn addiction. However, for a few years he treated gaming the same way. He was either drinking/gaming, sleeping or working. Eventually, to get me off his back, he found a game I liked (LOTR) and I started playing a few hours a week too.

    Then my Mom died and I went into a deep depression, I started playing the game ALL THE TIME. I played until I was exhausted, slept, worked, played for nearly a year until I finally came out of my dark place. I know this will seem and maybe is too simplistic but what helped me get away from the game was a vacation with no electronics. I spent 2 weeks on a beach and when I returned the game did not hold power over me, it made me realize I wasn’t living a life, I was playing a game instead.

  10. I’m surprised at the suggestion to hire a babysitter to watch the kids so LW can have some alone time. Isn’t this just rewarding the dude and even further enabling his ability check out? So long as LW doesn’t feel it would be unsafe for the kids, what about saying to Mr. Dude, “Hey. I am going out for three hours. You’re in charge of making the kids dinner, feeding them, cleaning up, getting them baths, etc. Bye!”

    The fact that his gaming hasn’t apparently interfered with his job performance suggests that he is capable of controlling himself, and that he simply feels that family is LW’s job and not his. Perhaps it could help to disabuse him of this notion.

    And perhaps he will learn to enjoy and get the emotional rewards of doing a good job at the instrumental tasks involved in parenting his kids, analogous to the instrumental tasks in his games.

    • Beenie said:

      This was my first thought as well. Suggesting he’s in charge of the kids while she takes a break seems like a good idea to me if she’s comfortable. However, she still deserves a night off, even if it’s a better idea to have a 3rd party take care of the kids for an evening.

      I think the main point there was to have a non-stressful evening. If she’s worried about whether or not he’s actually taking care of the kids while she’s out, she’s not really having a night off.

      • xenu01 said:

        That was my thought, too. Sort of a bridge between “what I would like to happen” and “what I need RIGHT NOW to have an really truly night off.”

        • I get this, but it also seems an awful lot like enabling him. And personally, if my coparent had a big enough problem that I wasn’t comfortable leaving the kids alone with him, that is at best a major red flag and more likely an absolute dealbreaker. What is LW getting out of this relationship her husband spends all his time gaming? It sounds like he isn’t abusive, but he is clearly neglectful. If he were spending that much time on an out of the house hobby, would she still be with him? Wouldn’t we all be strongly encouraging her to get out of the relationship? He’s not physically absent, but he is clearly pretty absent emotionally.

          • Beenie said:

            I think you’re right about it being enabling…if she did it all the time and never asked him to take responsibility, and if it was the ONLY step she was taking. But using this as a tactic to force him into a different routine makes it always about him if she never just takes some time to herself, regardless of what he is doing.

            However, this was on top of all the other suggested actions, so hopefully they are discussing the issues and ALSO she is taking at least a little break for herself, outside of any stress those discussions/actions are having on everyone involved.

      • GNDtn said:

        I kind of dig the idea of having a babysitter as a message to Dad. “We’re going to pay someone to come into our house and care for our children while you’re there because you’ve made it clear that they are not your priority.” Although I would be creeped out beyond belief if I were asked to babysit for parents and one of them would still be home but too busy playing computer games to care for his children.

        LW, this was a dealbreaker for me. I dated a WoW addict and dumped him. Actually, I fell out of love with him because of it. No sex life, no intimacy, no quality time together. Ugh.

    • Esti said:

      I think the babysitter is an important stop-gap solution. Obviously the husband should be able to watch the kids one night a week, but it sounds very likely that what will actually happen if he is left alone with them is that he will game and they will be left to fend for themselves (I mean, he games while he’s supposed to be bathing them, and that’s a relatively short activity that is in theory supposed to be at least somewhat hands-on). If that’s not the case–if the LW has left her husband with the kids before and that’s kept him off the computer until she got back–then by all means she should do that one night a week. But as Beenie points out, she’s not actually going to have time off and be able to enjoy it if she knows that the kids are not being supervised or interacted with when she’s not in the house.

      • Rosa said:

        There’s a difference between “is inattentive and maybe there’s Fritos for dinner and no baths” and “so neglectful children will be harmed”. Depending on the age of the kids, they can stand a certain level of neglect for short periods of time. Leaving him alone with the kids sometimes would get the LW out of the triangle where she objects to his inattentiveness to the kids. Instead, they get to object for themselves, which might be more useful, and there may be some natural consequences (what DOES happen when you game instead of minding the kids all evening? Is it good?)

        • Starling said:

          Depending on the age of the kids and the distraction of the husband, gaming while they’re bathing actually may rise to the “so neglectful children may be harmed” level. I have bathed a lot of very small children, and it’s not an activity that should be attempted while trying to keep one’s hands dry.

          That’s actually a real red flag for me. Drowning is the #1 cause of death for kids between 1 and 4. I have a nasty scar on my forehead from stitches (slipped in the tub at age 3) and there are plenty of other exciting ways that kid + bath can end in tears.

          This may be completely unnecessary and scaremongering if the kids are older and just getting their hair washed, but it did jump out at me.

          • Rosa said:

            Yeah, that’s why I said it depends on age – infants have to be touched constantly, toddlers have to be watched constantly, preschoolers basically just need your presence. Mine is going into second grade and now all he needs is an ear out and occasional checks to make sure he’s not doing something stupid.

            On the other hand, just skipping one bath will often make the primary parent think the other parent is doing a very bad job, but it’s not going to hurt anything.

      • TO said:

        One night a week? Seriously? I feel like people will find this harsh, but to me one night a week isn’t even a parent, it’s a babysitter or uncle. If the guy can’t or won’t take care of his own children even one pitiful night a week, they might be better off if he lived separately and they had a concrete reason for his spending so little time being their parent. Maybe a couple of Saturday afternoons a month would be a step UP in their bond :(.

        I agree that going away for a week would probably help all of them more, and if that’s a no-go then I’m kind of at a loss for words…

    • Rosa said:

      I couldn’t agree more! I would actually go even farther and go out of town for a week or so if you can, let him learn to function as a parent by total immersion.

      This is actually my general advice for everyone whose partner doesn’t parent much. Whoever’s the primary parent learned by sudden total immersion, and it works for almost everyone. If you have to worry he’d actually let the kids starve to death, that’s a whole other relationship problem.

  11. case-in-point said:

    I agree that the gaming is a symptom of a larger problem. I recommend resisting the temptation to make this all about the games and how they’re bad and I look down on you for playing them so much (fostering defensiveness is never a good idea). If it weren’t games, I can almost guarantee it would be something else. It’s especially troubling to me that he’s using them to an extent that he’s almost unable to engage others (i.e. taking them on a phone in to the bath/wherever he goes) and it speaks to an inability to sit quietly with his own thoughts. As a gamer, I do have some ideas of strategies on how he can disengage from the games and re-train his brain to not need that constant stimulation. But here’s the thing, he isn’t the one writing in and you can’t disengage his mind from the games for him. And at a certain level of immersion into games, disengaging from them takes conscious effort.

    So, I guess for you, I’d recommend getting yourself into therapy and even look into family counseling (even if he won’t go with you, you should go). Just for yourself to get yourself into a place where you are centered and to get recommendations for how to address this with him and how to address this with your kids. Your kids would likely benefit from a safe, neutral space to talk out their bewilderment and sadness.

    I mean, unfortunately, even being able to see this from the angle he’s sitting at, I can’t give you the magic words that will make him understand how this affects you and the kids and want to fix it. My best advice is to go forward with your life and figure out what you need to do to take care of you and the kids in a way that is sustainable for you and them. For you that means having a thing you can do to unwind and relax from trying to hold it all together. For the kids, that means a safe space to be sad and afraid and confused about their dad’s behavior.

    The best practical advice I can give you is to try to ask your husband for concrete things. When you sit him down to tell him how his gaming is affecting you and the kids, instead of saying “I need you to cut down on the amount of gaming you do.” It should be about, “I need you to commit to spending X hours a week on family time. I especially need you to commit to doing a non-electronic activity with the kids from 1-4 PM every Saturday so that I can *do this thing I need to do to relax.* As far as the other non-gaming hours. Can you commit to weekdays before X o’clock and spending Friday evenings with me?” Nebulous times are easy to ignore. If family time and gaming time must be rigidly structured for him to stick to it (especially at first) then do that. As I suspect, if he finds that disengaging from the games is difficult to the point it’s almost painful for him, then that’s the time to suggest therapy to help him deal with the underlying issues.

    • zweisatz said:

      100 % agreed. Didn’t read this before I commented.

    • This is very good advice. Games are rewarding because you can get good at them and receive ongoing feedback that tells you that you doing well. If Mr. Dude is essentially forced to attend to his family, I think there is a chance that he will learn to receive some of the same rewards being good at family as he does from being good at games.

    • addicted said:

      case-in-point, would you mind sharing your techniques for disengaging one’s own mind from the games, as well? As a reader/internet addict, I’m in a similar boat as LW’s husband, know I need to stop, and can’t.

      • case-in-point said:

        Of course, I don’t mind sharing. I just kind of hesitated to lay it out for the LW in a “here’s what you should tell him to do” sort of way because I think he’s got to come to the desire to disconnect for himself.

        For me, the important thing to realize is that media is designed to be stimulating– that’s its function. Most modern media (TV, games, internet) is hyper-stimulating– it’s got bright colors and often loud noises and fast music and updates quickly in real-time. So we kind of get used to be hyper-stimulated and un-plugged life feels too slow, too boring, and kind of stale. So my first rule is to take frequent breaks– I game, so every time I beat a level or a dungeon or a boss or whatever cookie the game throws at me, I take a mini break. I pause it, get up and look out the window or go to the bathroom, get something to drink, or hug my husband– just something to break it up so I don’t get fully immersed (where I wake up to myself hours later, bleary eyed and realizing I forgot to eat). Taking breaks and checking in with myself also helps me identify when I’m being overstimulated by something so I can take a longer break or stop for the day.

        The other two important things for me are to make sure I fully center myself in my own body and to get used to the tempo and tenor of my own thoughts. After I’ve been playing or interwebbing or even reading for an extended period of time, I do something to center myself in my own body. So, I’ll do some jumping jacks, take a walk, drink a cup of fragrant tea, stand in the lawn with my shoes off, etc. When I do these things, I consciously pay attention to every physical sensation I am experiencing– my breathing, my heart rate, any pain thirst or hunger I am experiencing. I make an effort to identify every scent, every taste, notice every sensation on my skin, every sound I can hear, every color and living thing I can see. I spend at least 5 minutes being hyper focused on my body (I love doing this in the lawn with no shoes). I liken it to retracting my mind from it’s digital space and placing it squarely in the center of my body and squarely in the present.

        The other thing is to get used to my own thoughts again. Gaming in particular tends to make me hyper focused on just one thing (they designed it that way on purpose). So, I make certain to meditate every day, especially after I’ve been plugged in for a while. I want to let all my thoughts and emotions and anxieties wash through me so that I’m keyed into them, aware of them, and used to them. I’m not bored being alone with my thoughts now, but I used to be. Journaling would work very well for this too, I just prefer not to. I just like to meditate for a bit every morning and then go draw something.

        • addicted said:

          Thank you so much for responding! This actually sounds like a really good idea. Too often I find myself “emerging” from the internet and feeling like the world I’m in isn’t actually reality, and I’ll feel dizzy until I go back to the internet. Just forcing myself to disengage periodically and “come back down” will probably do a world of good.

          • KL said:

            I find that baths are great for this, as well– there’s a big concrete disincentive to using my phone or laptop, and being immersed in water makes me aware of my body in a pleasant way.

          • If you know what actually makes you feel good, one with your body, it also helps to focus on doing that regularly. Like already suggested taking a bath, going for a walk, meditation, whatever you find helps you.
            But it’s also worth looking at what you are running from because we often are. Be it your feelings: then take 10 minutes each day where you allow yourself to feel everything, even if it seems scary or uncomfortable. Be it your stress level is too high: then allow yourself to really – take – a break. It seems so obvious, but I found that I try to do something ALL THE TIME. Either I was working or doing something in the kitchen or reading or … Yes, some of them were free time activities, but lately I found out that sometimes I need to give me a goddamn break and allow myself to just lie on my bed and really do nothing. Day dreaming, actually dreaming because asleep, thinking about stuff is okay and planned though. I use my alarm clock so I don’t worry I take “too much” time. Now I feel I have more energy and the more energy I have, the less tempting it is too read hours on end.

        • Gretchen said:

          Thanks case-in-point! These are all excellent suggestions for getting re-centred. I’m not an addict but I suffer episodes of depersonalisation/derealisation and am easily overloaded with input/stimulation. I do a few of these tactics, but you have given me loads more ideas, so thanks again.

  12. Anathema Device said:

    Seconding everything Shora said above.

    Have you guys heard of the Rat Park study? Here’s an article about it: http://walrusmagazine.com/articles/2007.12-health-rat-trap/ . Basically the study found that rats would only become addicted to morphine when they were unhappy and stressed.

    I think the LW’s husband must be unhappy and stressed about something to withdraw from the family in this way. The gaming is a symptom of a problem, not the cause. Hopefully the two of you will figure out the root of the problem and find a way to improve things. Good luck.

  13. I also deal by being heavily avoidant. Sometimes my husband does too. Games can eat your brain when you feel bad, and then when you stop playing you notice they ate your brain and feel worse, and so you play some more. Also, games are created to leverage all the vulnerabilities in our heads so that we play more and more.

    Some kinds of games, I absolutely cannot play even a little, because it becomes something like a compulsion. Like farmville or the sims. I have fun in the very beginning because I’m learning a new system, but then I start restructuring my other activities so I can harvest pumpkins and I get impatient and spend actual real money and so on…. I have managed to notice that actually, when doing this? I am not having fun. I’m feeding a compulsion. So I quit those cold turkey and stay FAR AWAY.

    I also get kind of addicted to certain kinds of TV, although it changes over the years. I had a law and order phase, and other phases, and now I am in a cooking competition phase. My husband lures me out with shows he likes, and controls how many episodes we watch, and I let him. I instituted a rule for myself that if I’m watching hours of TV, I have to do something productive, and a repetitive game on the iPad doesn’t count — I knit or spin. Having that activity makes it easier to get away from the screen and do something else productive.

    My spouse and I get to object to the others’ addictions and get to draw each other out. It is not quite a hard rule we’ve made, but we both make an effort. When we don’t make that effort, it’s usually a sign that one or the other of us is having depression or anxiety symptoms, and tends to cause us to lower expectations while increasing attentiveness to each other.

    I don’t know how to translate any of this for your husband. The thing that really cracked my depression and anxiety (not that I don’t feel it, but I can manage it so much better) is mindfulness training. It’s so hard, because under stress I want to be mindless, not mindful. Being connected *HURTS*.

    If you can get your spouse into some kind of mindfulness or yoga or meditation class with you, or martial arts, or really anything that gets him into his body and out of a screen, that might help him learn to manage himself better.

    But, unfortunately, as others have pointed out, he’s the only one who can change. All you can do is draw your boundaries and clearly communicate that the following consequences will happen if he persists. I hope you can do that sooner rather than later; if he is going to change, it will probably be difficult and there will be a lot of backsliding. If you get wound too tight, you might not be able to tolerate that backsliding that is part of change.

    I have no idea what to do with your son, though, other than “You can do whatever you want when you grow up, but for now, this is the rule.” Or “There is a time and place for everything, and that is college” and you just hope that the habits you’ve pushed on him can carry him through. With younger kids maybe you could be like “How does it feel when Daddy plays games all night instead of talking to you?”

    PS: You might want to talk to your husband about whether he plays any games at work. His job might not be as stable as you and he hope, if he is…

    • cendare said:

      I have managed to notice that actually, when doing this? I am not having fun. I’m feeding a compulsion.

      So much this. I go to Kongregate a *lot* (casual flash game site). And I collect badges and get points and stuff. Every day they have a special Badge of the Day, where you can get *double points* for some badge from an older game. And I try to get them. So sometimes I’ll be playing, and I’ll get like halfway to the badge, and I’m thinking to myself, “Man this game is a pain in the butt. I’ll be glad when I get the badge and I can stop playing.”
      It took longer than I like to admit to realize, um, I can stop now.
      “But I’m almost there!” Yeah, but you’re not having any fun. Fallacy of sunk costs.

  14. zweisatz said:

    There are a lot of generous suggestions here that you can try. I’m not much for the “fixing” because this shouldn’t be your problem and as people have said: he can only get rid of this addiction if he agrees that something has to be done. So first off something else:

    Right now he is neglecting you, neglecting the children, not honoring your marriage and not doing his share of household tasks. That is just not fair. So I would suggest you do a lot for yourself. Not only a night off (although this sounds like a good idea), but if you haven’t made up your mind yet if there is a limit he is not allowed to cross with the gaming, think about it. What would have to happen that you would not be willing to stay in this marriage?
    On a related note: if you can and don’t do it yet, find therapy for yourself. Right now you are looking after your kids and your husband. You need someone who tells you that what you want matters. That you are allowed to prioritize your needs.
    I’d also second the suggestion to go to Al-Anon or something similar. This is really perfect for your situation and they should be able to tell you in which ways you actually can help.

    Your wishes matter. Your children matter. Like Sheelzebub said: you can and should, in general, support your husband. But the support in a partnership/marriage cannot be a one-way-road.

  15. Esti said:

    I think the key here may be to ignore the gaming issue for now–because it’s not about that, and also because you know he’s likely to be defensive about gaming specifically–and instead focus on wanting the family to spend more time together and also the two of you to have more couples time together.

    I wholeheartedly second the couples counseling suggestion, because it sounds like his gaming has become a very serious problem (bringing a phone to game while bathing the kids??) and you trying to talk to your husband one-on-one hasn’t worked thus far. I would not raise the gaming issue specifically, and would instead say you want to do some couples counseling because you feel like the two of you aren’t really connecting or spending time together (true!) and that you feel like you’re picking up more of the parenting role instead of being equal co-parents (also true!). Any couples counselor who is vaguely competent is going to flag the gaming issue immediately, but no need to go in with that as the focus–because ultimately, this isn’t about gaming specifically, it’s about your husband’s addictive behavior and his neglect of you and your children.

    And until you can get into counseling, I also like the suggestion of setting up some specific family time. Again, making it about wanting the two of you and your kids to spend more time together, not about what he’s doing when you’re not spending time together. If you don’t already do family dinner every night and schedules make that feasible, I’d start there. If you already do dinner together, or if schedules prevent that, pick another defined time block (family board game night from 7:00-9:00 on Tuesdays, or Get Out Of The House Saturdays where you find different outdoor activities/parks/hiking trails to explore each week, etc.).

    I’d make whatever you pick something active, so that your husband can’t game during it (I see movie nights devolving into him gaming on his phone, and ditto helping with homework since that usually involves a lot of watching your kids do homework until one of them has a question). It sounds from your letter like your husband might be better about getting off the computer when he has a specific task he has to do, so without saying that’s your goal, make family time one of those things. Then if he still won’t stop playing, you have something specific to point to — “We agreed to do Family Outing Night every Wednesday, but you refused to go the last two weeks. It’s important to me that we do things as a family, so if Wednesday is not a good day for you, I need you to pick a different day of the week and then not back out.” And if defined family time works out okay, maybe you could do the same for a couples activity once a week (date night or similar).

    That’s obviously not a full solution to the issue, because you shouldn’t have to schedule specific time when your husband will interact with you and your children, and I do think counseling is crucial to finding a long-term solution to the problem. But in the short term, maybe setting up regular activities with the kids will mitigate how abandoned you (and they) are feeling, and will tide you over until bigger changes can happen.

    • xenu01 said:

      I really like this comment, because it reminds me that sometimes we get into this destructive pattern of “you are broken let me fix you” (tiresome for everyone involved and circular) when it can be more helpful to try and work on fixing the family dynamic together.

    • Bay Area Food Blog said:

      This is spot on. At this point, you can’t expect him to change. This is an important time to for you AND your kids to find support of all kinds outside of him. Can your kids spend time with their grandparents/adult friends to see adult who will give them undivided attention? I like the babysitter idea as a way for you to build your connection with other adults and get a circle of Team You to at least give you breathing space. It’s really important that you build support systems that aren’t depending on your husband.

  16. xenu01 said:

    I just wanted to add something that I just thought of when microwaving my totally healthy leftover mac & cheese breakfast:
    This post isn’t a judgement on whether gaming is Good or Bad. If I was a compulsive knitter spending time knitting and always telling the kids I was busy and neglecting my spouse, he and I could still benefit from some couples therapy and redrawn boundaries, because the point is I would be neglecting my family for Other Thing that I was subconsciously saying was more important.

    • xenu01 said:

      And I ❤ you all, because I know you know that.

  17. Oh, and one other thing, which I have mentioned here before. It is very important to schedule completely non-electronic non-networked time in all relationships. PhysioWife and I go for long walks in the early weekday mornings and on weekends and we make it an absolute rule to leave all the fucken networked devices at home. When you don’t physically have the device, you can’t obsessively check it, and once you get familiar with the feeling that you don’t have your device and when you get home the Internet is still there doing just fine without you, you stop thinking about it.

    • M'fly said:

      Nice. This is something I really need to implement for myself.

      I have a compulsive need (yes, NEED – it feels physical) to check my phone constantly, and of course I also have to check my facebook, and twitter, and email, and blog comments, and favorite erratically updated webcomics, etc etc etc. But if I do go without for a little while (even a short walk around the block or a quick run out to the store to get milk) I somehow manage to survive, and the earth doesn’t crumble around me. I don’t make a habit of it, because no one else is effected by it, but I’m seeing more and more that it’s actually a really unhealthy habit. I cannot remember the last day that I didn’t check my phone at least every hour, and usually much much more than that.

      …And you know what, it’s so insidious that I actually didn’t realize until this very moment that actually yes, someone IS negatively effected by my addiction: my son (7 months old) and my dog are both in desperate need of more engaged attention from me. Oops.

      I hope that the LW’s husband will have a sudden realization like I just did mid-comment. Perhaps it might even be helpful for him to read this post and the comments, to see just how serious addictions of the non-typical variety can really be, and how other people’s lives are effected by them.

  18. teratomatastic said:

    Long time reader, first time commenting. I’ve struggled with gaming addiction since high school, where I would spend as much time as I could playing WoW. I was incredibly depressed, and my gaming addiction began because playing video games made me (temporarily, and only while I was playing them) feel good, as if I wasn’t depressed at all. It wasn’t long before WoW was the only thing that made me feel happy. My parents tried to intervene, but I was very good at making up convincing excuses that made them leave me alone.

    When there’s only one thing in your life that makes you happy, you will do anything to keep chasing that. When my parents cut off my WoW account, I scoured the internet for every single spell and item icon, the art of every single trading card, and the quotes said by every NPC in the game. When my parents cut off my internet connection, I spent hours organizing and tagging all of the files I had downloaded. When they took away my computer, I read the warcraft books and wrote fanfiction starring my WoW character. It didn’t matter what they did – I was always going to find a way to feed my WoW addiction.

    Interventions can only do so much when you aren’t willing to admit to yourself that you have a problem. For the longest time, the only problems I could see were: how bad I felt when I was doing anything that wasn’t WoW, and the people who were constantly trying to interrupt my happiness.

    Sure, I had been told countless times that gaming was screwing up my life by my family, my therapists, and my few friends. I always ignored them. If they really cared about me, I felt they should just leave me alone, so I could play WoW and be happy.

    It took years and a stint in an inpatient treatment program for me to realize how much my depression warped my thinking and perceptions, and how addicting gaming could be. Only in treatment, with strictly controlled computer access, did I come to realize that I could feel happy doing things other than gaming.

    LW, I truly feel for you. But there’s only so much you can do, because your husband’s addiction belongs to… your husband. The change needs to come from within him, not from you. What you can do is get your husband to therapy.

  19. elodieunderglass said:

    (Hail Xenu01, full of grace! cookies are with thee.)

    Angry Birds, it’s not my/our place to diagnose your husband as an addict, but I’d recommend checking out the link Xenu gave you, as well as places like OnlineGamingAnon – Here’s the forum for spouses of gaming addicts – the sticky “Help! My Spouse/Significant Other is addicted to video games” might be good for you? There’s kind of a woobly/Christian edge going on with a lot of these XYZ-Anon spaces, and there’s also a very strong focus on not enabling the addict and reducing/removing spousal enabling behaviors. Some things might resonate. Some things might help. Some things might anger you, or be too woobly-Christian or stabby-divorcey for your tastes. Still, allow yourself to accept that living with an addict creates an emotional vacuum, that others have stood where you stand, and that you don’t have to blindly whack at your sadness and loneliness with a blunt machete. Self-care comes first, Angry Birds. You deserve it.

    And … you don’t have to listen to me, Angry Birds, but maybe you could listen to yourself:

    He is VERY defensive when I try to talk about this
    gosh that sounds lovely for you

    as he says his work is hard
    goodness how nice that the unpaid single parenting/housewifery you’ve been performing is so terribly easy and consistently rewarding

    and he hates dealing with people
    what a lovely fellow to be sure

    and games are his “escape”
    gosh how nice that must be for him

    but I think it’s really an addiction.
    something that takes up more of his life than his actual work that he escapes from does? playing angry birds while bathing the children? surely not.

    How can I get him to really, really understand how much this is a problem for our family?
    what secret heartwarming musical routine can you and your children perform to show him that he values your family less than using a trebuchet full of dead birds to jack off a PurpleNippleElf? (this IS how you world of warcraft… right?) I don’t know, Angry Birds. I just don’t know.

    I really think even though I’ve talked to him several times over the years that he doesn’t get it.
    perhaps if you sang gently in the native language of a PurpleNippleElf while coaxing him along with pellets of candy and a system of points. also it would help if you glowed golden every time he Got A Piece Of It, and rewarded him by Leveling Him Up In Adulthood Achievements.

    Dang, this just does not sound fun, Angry Birds, it does not sound fun at all. I am sure that you love him; I am sure that he is worth it. But I just don’t know if there is an answer to the problem of “How Can I Make Him See.” You could stage an intervention, sure, or show him this thread, or write him a letter, or stop feeding him, or take the kids away for a weekend and not tell him, or go on an unplugged vacation to North Africa, but the poison at the root is him not caring when his behavior hurts you and I don’t know how to draw that out. So another question you can ask is “How Do I Want To Live From Here.” What do you want from life, Angry Birds? What do you want from your husband? What does he need to do for you? What do you want for your children’s future relationship with their father? There are more answers for those questions, because their your questions, about you, and they’re in your hands. You’ve got lots of guts and love, Angry Birds. Good luck.

    • kristinmh said:

      I really love this response. I think it’s great to focus not just on solving the problem (how do I get him to put down the controller every now and then?) but on the macro problem, which is “how do I want to live? Is this it? If not, what can I do about it?”

      There was about a month when Mr MH was really down about his career and did nothing but sight-read jazz standards on the clarinet (very badly, I might add, because he can’t really play the clarinet. Neither can I. I have no idea how we acquired one). He eventually went on a really long bike trip and sorted himself out.

      This sounds like a longer-term problem – if two years later Mr MH were still spending days holed up with the inexplicable clarinet and the fake book, I do not think I would be Mrs MH anymore. Maybe you can encourage the man to take a weekend away (since he’s not doing anything around the house anyway) and figure out what’s going on for himself. But he might just go rent a hotel room and game the entire time, so…I don’t know.

      I do think getting a baby-sitter is awfully passive-aggressive, and I’m Canadian – passive aggression is our national pastime. It doesn’t sound like the children are infants or toddlers, so just go out and tell him he’s got the kids for the night. Don’t tell him ahead of time so he can’t get his mom or someone to come over. Just tell him when you’re on your way out the door. The children will survive.

  20. alphakitty said:

    The only suggestion I can think of in terms of helping him get on board with change is asking him to kick back and think of the weeks/months before he asked you to marry him. What was he picturing? What kind of husband was he envisioning being? How did he imagine your life together? Likewise, when he thought about becoming a Dad, how did he imagine that? What does he want for his kids, in terms of a father? Is he okay with them being sad about him all the time, thinking they’re not important to him? When they’re teenagers or grown, talking to their friends about their dad/childhood, how would he want them to be able to describe it/him? Does he want to be more to his family than a paycheck and a distracted presence? Can he imagine looking back on his life saying “I wish I’d found more time to game?” or is it more likely to be “I wish I’d been a better husband and father, so my wife wouldn’t have left me and I’d have had real relationships with my kids”? (maybe not the last one… depends where you’re at on this).

    Obviously, I’m assuming he wanted/wants better for all of you than this… and if he is able to admit that, then counseling and non-distracted family time become ways you are supporting him, helping him be the man he wants to be (as well as the husband you deserve, the father his kids deserve), rather than things you are nagging him into because *you* are not satisfied with the man he is. A team approach also ties in with the depression angle — once you’ve established that this is not his dream life, either, you can be asking, “what else can we do to make your life happier so you don’t feel the need the pull of games so strongly?”

    Don’t get me wrong — you have every right to want/need better than this from him, for yourself and your kids. (And for him, ’cause what he’s got going isn’t really a life). I think you should indeed be thinking about what you want and need from him to make him an asset in your life and in your heart… because there is a point when, if he is not willing/able to step up and be more than a paycheck and a distracted presence, you may have to say, “sorry, but if you’re just going to ignore us, I need you to do it from afar and mail me child support, because not only are we not getting anything out of this, *being ignored to their (our) faces is really, really damaging for the kids (and me).*”

    • Lucy said:

      “Likewise, when he thought about becoming a Dad, how did he imagine that? What does he want for his kids, in terms of a father? Is he okay with them being sad about him all the time, thinking they’re not important to him? When they’re teenagers or grown, talking to their friends about their dad/childhood, how would he want them to be able to describe it/him?”

      This a million times. This is so important. The answer to this question will probably inform the LW’s decision to stay or leave most of all. I totally understand how difficult it is to pull out of depression and addictive or compulsive behavior, and that interventions are largely ineffective if the depressed person doesn’t actually have any imperative to change themselves. But ultimately, if the husband is not able to prioritize his children’s self-worth over his own depression and escapist behavior, I think that leaving will be the wisest thing to do. If the LW stays with him in spite of this, and he continues to be a missing stair in the family dynamic, that will send a resoundingly strong message to the children about how much they are valued. My own mother was fully aware of how acutely depressed and anxious my father was before she married him, and she *almost* left him several times when she saw how it affected me and my sister as small children. But she didn’t leave him, and instead we came to rely disproportionately on her for emotional support while being fearful of and alienated from our father, and we just got so used to that tiptoeing around him all the time and trying to fix ourselves, with no expectation that he’d ever meet us even a quarter of the way. Just as you say, alphakitty- I’m sure he’d be heartbroken to hear me describing him this way. It’s heartbreaking to me too, but it also makes me really angry, because it feels like both my parents knew better and took the low road anyway, at our expense. No kid should have to feel that way about their parents.

      • arkadyrose said:

        I just want to second this so much.

        My ex-husband lost both his parents within 6 months of each other, and for various reasons he ended up having to sell the house he had grown up in a year later, and he, our two daughters and his wife moved hundreds of miles away to Wales, away from his friends. He couldn’t find a job in Wales, struggled to learn the language (it was a very Welsh part of Wales) and ended up going down into a deep depression and spending all his time on the computer playing games whilst his wife kept the house running. The only time he seemed to perk up was when I came to visit the girls once a month, usually staying for a week or two before returning to London; he and I were best friends even after the divorce. He’d brighten up and we’d take the girls out and just generally do stuff. Then I’d go back to London and he’d be straight back on the computer.

        He died 5 years ago last October. Our daughters’ abiding memory of him is a miserable man hunched over a computer, swearing at the computer and never having time for them except when I was visiting. No wonder they never wanted me to go home. 😦

        Please, talk to him. Don’t let him drift away from you and your children. He needs help; he probably just doesn’t know how to ask or even be fully aware himself how much he needs it. But don’t let him be a stranger to your kids. Please.

  21. eselle28 said:

    I’m a very avid gamer, though generally not one who neglects other things in my life, so this was an interesting letter for me to read. I think others are right in saying that the best way to go about this is not to attack the gaming. That makes it very easy to drift into discussions about what is and isn’t a worthwhile hobby, when the real issue is his ignoring his relationships and his family (and to a lesser extent, his focusing on one passtime at the expense of having several enriching hobbies).

    If you are going to try to set limits, I think laying out specific family hours will be easier to enforce than generalized requests for less gaming or for a set number of hours a week devoted to gaming. But like others, I don’t think that’s really the solution.

    He may very well be clinically depressed and avoiding life altogether. From personal experience, I think it may also be worth considering whether there are other, underlying problems in your relationship or with the way he views his role as a father. I, at least, have been guilty of using games as a way of avoiding specific work or relationship issues that weren’t making me happy, but that I wasn’t brave enough to confront. Some family therapy may be in order – preferably for all of you, but even going alone might be helpful.

  22. CL said:

    I think pushing for some type of counseling is the way to go. He at least admits that he’s gaming to deal with his frustrations / problems: “he says his work is hard and he hates dealing with people and games are his escape” — so instead of attacking him for failing as a husband and father, you could present it like you think he is depressed, you’re concerned for his mental health, and you want him to take steps to feel better and be healthier for his sake and yours. Couples counseling might also be helpful.

    If he won’t go, at least finding your own therapist can help you to figure out strategies for dealing with the situation. If he refuses to admit that it’s a problem, and all he ever does is resist and find ways to briefly placate you so that he can get back to gaming, he might need a drastic wakeup call in the form of you moving out — but I wouldn’t attempt something like this without the guidance of a counselor who has experience with these situations.

  23. roramich said:

    Dear LW,
    what does your husband do for meals while he is gaming? Does he expect you to feed him? One immediate strategy you might try is not doing whatever you might do for him that enables him to continue his addiction. Does he need clean clothes for work? He does his own laundry. Does he need a lunch packed? He does it. Hungry? He gets the food. You cannot control his behavior; that is the first and most important rule in dealing with addiction. You can, however, control your own behavior, which could start with a deeply honest look at ANYTHING you are doing that lets him continue his addicted behavior. It won’t change his addiction, but it might be a way of starting conversations about what is, and is not, acceptable to you in a marital partnership.
    I also agree with all the commenters who recommended therapy; when I discovered my spouse was a game and porn addict, the only way we made it through was his therapist, my therapist, and our amazing couples therapist. I went through a time of many months when I woke up every morning asking myself “Is this the day I call the divorce lawyer?” because living with an addict is so horrible.
    Good luck to you.

  24. I wonder if anyone can address the question of what LW should say to her kids about why their father doesn’t have the same limits they do. My only idea is something like “You know how Daddy can’t really pay good attention to anything when he’s been playing games for too long? You know how frustrating that is? I just want to make sure you don’t get in that habit.” The kid needs a real explanation. But I hate how that pits them against each other. Does anyone have a better way of phrasing it?

    • dancerdc said:

      There are lots of things adults are allowed to do that kids aren’t, be it caffeine, alcohol, watching scary movies, having sex, driving… A child’s brain and body is not the same as an adult brain or body. Ideally, there will be comparable standards about both of them fulfilling their basic requirements, no TV before homework, kind of way, except Daddy doesn’t need to answer to the child about whether he’s paid the bills and filed taxes and gotten straight A’s.

      • Elizabeth said:

        I really like this response. As frustrated as you are, enlisting the kids as allies against Dad’s addiction cannot end well. *Daddy* can tell them that the rules are to make sure that they don’t grow up like him, but you can’t.

        The answer when a kid asks why Daddy is allowed more computer time is “Daddy is an adult who gets to decide how to spend his time. When you are grown up, you will be allowed to play computer games all day if you want – but you will also have to earn enough money to be able to feed yourself and your kids, just like Daddy does.”

        • Hear, hear! Kids are generally pretty good at getting this distinction, just as they can typically navigate the sometimes conflicting rules at school vs. home vs. Grandma’s house. It’s definitely hard when dad is not setting a good example on this front, but I totally agree that explicitly marking dad as a bad example just creates a bigger rift in the family and may drive dad to withdraw even more into gaming.

      • neverjaunty said:

        Yeah, except the kids are also wondering why Daddy can’t be bothered to talk to them when he’s busy organizing his vault inventory. “Grownups are allowed to have more computer time” is one thing; “grownups are allowed to ignore their children” is really another.

        • The Kittehs' Unpaid Help said:

          And they’re probably already absorbing that message, consciously or not. I know my lasting impression of my father is that I was of no interest to him. Back then it was television, not computers (this is the early 70s) but it was the exact same result: weekend sport all-absorbing, daughter of no interest whatsoever. I can see the same thing happening to LW’s kids, all too easily.

          • staranise said:

            And the message the kids take away is not, “wow, my dad has no sense of priorities” but “I suck and am not worth love or attention.” It’s pretty awful. :/

          • The Kittehs' Unpaid Help said:

            Too true. I think I was lucky enough not to get that message – Mum was just the opposite – but my father totally distanced himself from the family. I suspect he’d lost interest by that stage (he’d had his SON so a daughter wasn’t important). I find myself wondering if LW’s husband has any interest in children at all. I’m not really of the ‘he’s depressed’ mindset here, more like ‘he’s just not interested at all’ – my experience speaking there, obviously.

          • YMMV, but for me, “not interested at all” = “depressed”. That’s a big part of how I know when the depression is kicking in — nothing is interesting, nothing is fun, nothing is worth looking forward to.

    • Bunny said:

      I’d say maybe….

      Hmmm.

      Actually, it’s hard to know what to say without knowing more about the family dynamic. How structured is the kids’ life, generally? Is gaming the only thing with a time limit, or do they also have limits placed on things like TV time, how long they need to study for each day, etc? If the kids have a fairly structured life with set dinner times etc, the limits on gaming time can be explained as a part of their daily schedule.

      If the kids are encouraged to try new things regularly – if they are generally encouraged to break out of habits and seek new ways to have fun, whether that’s buying some air-drying or oven-drying clay to make stuff, regular trips to the library, taking taster classes in new things, then the gaming limits can be explained as part of that: It’s not good to get stuck in a rut, it’s good to try new things and spending all your free time on one hobby might mean you’ll miss out on all sorts of awesome stuff – what if it turns out you’re an amazing writer, but you never find out, because you’re always too busy playing games to spend an hour writing short stories as a kid?

      If gaming is the ONLY thing a limit is put on, and the free time the kids have after meals, homework and hygiene are covered could in theory be dedicated ENTIRELY to building model airplanes or watching TV or reading, but NOT to gaming, I can see how the rule might feel unfair. Most kids I know recognise that adults follow different rules to them – daddy has unlimited gaming time, but he also has a later bedtime and is allowed to drink beer and watch scary movies and drive a car.

      Kids who compare the rights they have to the rights their parents have when it comes to family rules, at least the kids I know, are generally not actually asking about that specifically, so much as they’re trying to find a way to express that something feels unfair and wrong about their life, although they might be having trouble figuring out what it is, since the unfair thing also forms part of their normal.

      Like in this case. I’m entirely guessing here, but… “Normal” for these kids is a dad who ignores them, has no time for them and spends the entirety of his free time staring at a computer screen. How can you express how isolating and sucky that feels when it’s all you’ve ever known? It’s a lot easier to ask “Why can daddy play games more than me” than it is to ask “Why does daddy only play games?”.

      • dancerdc said:

        Eh, I don’t think the kids I know have that grand a sense of fairness, and you have to remind them pretty much daily that “daddy/ older sibling had to live by these rules at your age too”. Evoking fairness is something they say because guilt tripping works. They’ll push those boundaries about the other grown-up activities too, and occasionally get to stay up on New Years, eat too much ice cream, have a sip of beer, “help” drive the snow plough.

        What seems to work best for me is having “if-then” rules. If you successfully limit the computer time to half an hour a day, and maintain friendships and grades, then you can have friends over to game in person on the weekend. But, if I have to nag you to stop playing, then you lose twice as much time from tomorrow’s gaming.

        • Bunny said:

          I see where you’re coming from… maybe it also depends on the ages of kids, too. I’ll admit older ones I know are more likely to question and compare their rules to those of adults/older kids, while younger ones are generally not.

          If-then rules sound like an excellent idea – clear rewards and consequences, and totally fair-sounding.

    • Rosa said:

      oh!

      I have a 7 year old who gets a lot less screen time than the adults around here (actually he’s playing with legos right now while I internet, because it’s my computer and I don’t have to let him use it all the time…)

      We use a few different explanations.
      1 is “Daddy got all his work done. If you get all your homework and chores and outside time done, you can play your videogame too.”
      2. Your brain is still growing so there are some things you can’t do. Too much screen time, caffeine, and alcohol are all bad for growing brains, but grownups get to do them in moderation.
      3. Adults get to make their own choices, but while you’re a kid we get to make some choices for you.
      4. You need more sleep than a grownup does, so you have less time for other things.

    • TheOtherAlice said:

      I responded really badly to your suggested script, largely because this is the game my parents played with me and my sisters my whole life. They played us off each other A LOT. I would say that enlisting a child in any argument is a terrible idea – your kids shouldn’t feel responsible for fixing yor problems. But it might be valid to say ‘sometimes when we spend too long on one thing we miss out on other things’ and then if they want to have the conversation about why Daddy is playing games so much, do that but in a very ‘grownups have different rules’ way.

  25. solecism said:

    I have so much sympathy for you, LW.

    My dad was a sports enthusiast, and I grew up as a football orphan. I was shocked to discover as a freshman that my dad missed me after I moved away for college. I honestly thought he didn’t love me and wouldn’t really care whether I visited anymore. Because of that childhood experience, I don’t follow sports and can’t really be a spectator for any athletic activity with some very rare exceptions. And there’s no way I would ever have gotten involved with a sports fan (beyond rooting for the local team) who made decisions around the game schedule.

    My sibling went the opposite direction: sports fanatic who built an identity completely around this. In addition to following all of the games on TV and attending games in person when he can afford it, he has collected an infinite variety of memorabilia for his chosen team, and he has at various times managed fantasy football leagues, played and coached flag football, played semiprofessional and been owner of a semipro team. I can’t say that I have noticed (admittedly, from a distance) any reduction in his sports activities as a result of becoming a father, and I think he still places his sports fan identity ahead of his father identity, though he probably would have a hard time acknowledging that truth. I think this obsession places a strain on his marriage and an undue burden on his wife, but I am very much a distant observer. I do know that he does spend quality time with the kids, helping them with homework, attending their activities, and so on, so it sounds like he hasn’t reached the daily dysfunction of the LW’s husband.

    Regarding the behavior as a symptom of an underlying problem, most likely depression, I have to agree. I have a reading addiction, mostly manifested through novels, and sometimes I compulsively read blogs even at work. I have learned not to beat myself up about the lack of focus and reduced productivity, because my self-discipline problem is a symptom, and indicates that I have exceeded my limits and need to recuperate. I’ve taken to rating each day on a scale of 1-5 in terms of physical and mental performance to help keep an eye on my situation, so that I can make a conscious effort to rest, set aside specific downtime, and avoid additional commitments as needed. Breaking the jerkbrain loop by simply acknowledging the problem without blaming myself for the behavior is an important part of self-care.

    Finally, LW, do please follow the suggestions to seek therapy for yourself and the children, regardless of your husband’s choices. It would be great if he got therapy on his own, but you can only handle your part of the problem, which means ensuring that you and the kids receive professional help.

    In the process of thinking about the future, what would staying with your husband look like, in terms of acceptable family participation and partner responsibilities? Not ideal, simply an acceptable scenario. Then think about the scenario where you leave him and form a separate household with primary or joint custody of the kids. How do those scenarios compare: full-time cohabitation as it currently exists, the minimally acceptable cohabitation, and separate households? You don’t need to make a choice about these, but the exercise may help you better define your boundaries, the non-negotiable needs of yourself and your kids, and whatever dealbreakers may be lurking.

    • Kyra CS said:

      “I have learned not to beat myself up about the lack of focus and reduced productivity, because my self-discipline problem is a symptom, and indicates that I have exceeded my limits and need to recuperate.”

      This is an excellent point. I have a similar background (lots of reading; shy; on-and-off problems with depression and self-worth; social anxiety), and as I’ve branched out I have noticed a profound difference between activities that sustain me and activities that drain me. I can go five or six days without opening a book or turning on the computer when I’m running a steam boiler at an antique-engines/threshing show and getting everything ready beforehand and packed up afterwards; this is physical work that is generally fascinating or at least engaging, yet leaves me the mental space for contemplation, and the people I deal with are friendly and easy to have a conversation with. But with other activities I get bored or strained after even a couple hours, wanting desperately to retreat to a book or check a blog for updates or even play Cubis.

      As far as advice goes for the letter-writer: Some things will be positive and engaging activities which will draw a person away from their retreat activities; others will be distracting for short periods of time but they will want to take breaks and do more of their thing; still others will be boring for them. Getting a once-a-week family time in which you try new things that everyone has the capacity to enjoy and will produce good memories might be your best bet for drawing him out. Something like miniature golf with the kids can end up being hilarious if everybody agrees to enjoy being bad at it and laugh at where the balls end up going; if there’s a children’s museum with interactive stuff to play with, adults can have fun with those, and even one of those large bouncy beach balls, batted around between family members, can be loads of fun. Make sure there’s more for the adults to do than just mind the children. If he can re-learn how to play in real life, that’s most of the battle.

      One other thing, LW: ask politely the first time when it comes time to getting him away from the computer to do family things. Invite. Or have the kids encourage him to come, as a way of reminding him. More strictness might be necessary to get him away from it, but leave it for a second resort; give him the opportunity to come at an invitation. The whole activity is likely to be of better quality for him if he doesn’t feel badgered into it or feel like he’s giving in to “I told you so’s” to admit he had any fun. Sometimes people call me away from books or computer to do something, and I feel more respected, less resentful, and more like having fun (and admitting to having fun) if I’ve been invited on a trip or asked to do something, not commanded to take part in it.

      • alphakitty said:

        I agree with a lot of this — about re-learning how to play, and learning how to enjoy his children — but not having the kids try to get Daddy to participate… for now. At the moment, that’s just setting them up for more direct rejection.

        Instead, I would suggest that one of the things that they do (assuming he is at all on board with the need to change) is set up a code word/phrase between LW and her husband — one that the kids won’t register but that summarizes, “Remember we talked about how your obsession with gaming is skewering your children in their little hearts and damaging their psyches, and when we get a family outing together you need to come and participate with a smile instead of telling them by your actions that your game is more important to you than they are? This is one of those times.” (“Cat’s in the Cradle” comes to mind, though something like “who you wanna be?” would probably be better!)

        But also, use a countdown timer: when it comes to disengaging from almost anything, I do a lot better with a bit of warning. When my husband or kids announce out of the blue “time to go,” and they mean right now, I bristle. Which is why, when my kids were little, instead of saying “go get your coat on it’s time to go” I’d say “five minute warning.” Give your husband the same courtesy, only more so: clear communication during the planning stage (an opportunity to participate in choosing/shaping outings, if he wants it), a reminder earlier in the day “remember, we’re going to the movies at 3:00.” And then at 2:40 or so start the countdown timer. “We need to leave in twenty minutes. Is there anything I can do to help you be ready to go?”

    • Kaz said:

      I have learned not to beat myself up about the lack of focus and reduced productivity, because my self-discipline problem is a symptom, and indicates that I have exceeded my limits and need to recuperate.

      A friend of mine gave me this most excellent advice: “Look, even if you *do* just need more self-discipline, what on earth can you do about it? Ninja training?” Because obviously beating myself up and telling myself I just needed more self-discipline wasn’t doing anything, so I needed to find other ways of making sure I managed to live a decent life.

  26. staranise said:

    I think people here are bang-on about “it’s the escape, not the gaming (/knitting/reading/football) that’s the problem here.” The research coming in about addiction these days says, overwhelmingly, that addiction isn’t just a bad habit, and it isn’t just about the locus of addiction: it’s about using something as an escape from your own painful feelings regardless of the cost. A pretty good, fairly readable book about it is Dr. Gabor Maté’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.

    So, here’s my thing about the Al-Anon model. I come from a family of addicts. I’ve never been to Al-Anon but my family members have. Some found it helpful to know they weren’t alone, but others were put off by how the group was run (I think because they took affront at it, which is not a sign that the model’s bad, just that it interfaced badly with them). Al-Anon says the friends and family of addicts have their own maladaptive behaviours around addiction (like making the addict the “problem child”, the one who always needs fixing) that need to change. It has its own stepwork. So if you go, know it’s not just a bitchfest about That Person In Your Life–it calls for introspection about what role you play in their addiction, and what role their addiction plays in your life.

    I did notice in the letter: “he says … games are his “escape,” but I think it’s really an addiction”

    Bullshit semantics. It doesn’t matter if this guy is addicted, escaping, or just really enthusiastic. He is using games as emotional anesthesia. He is trying to numb out everything around him, including his marriage. Including his children’s childhood! You can’t just numb the good parts. (Which reminds me that Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection is another book I recommend: she’s a sober alcoholic, and her book in large part is about giving up numbing and really connecting to the people around you.)

    What the LW is asking is that this husband have the courage to “escape” a little less, and be around a little more. To be emotionally present. It’s not about gaming less, it’s about loving more. I bet this guy already knows deep down that he’s giving his children the idea that he doesn’t love them, want to be around them, value or cherish them, and he’s probably ashamed as hell of it. He needs to have the courage to say, “Maybe I’m not being a great father, but I can change and really show my kids how much I love them.”

  27. staranise said:

    Ack, I think a comment got eaten by the spam filter. 😦

    • xenu01 said:

      sorry! I was lurking and approving comments as they showed up today but I never saw yours if it didn’t show. Try again?

      • staranise said:

        And now, it appears above! I guess the spam filter relented.

    • Yeah, mine got eaten yesterday too! That spam filter HATES ME. x

  28. Speaking as a gamer here, I’ve definitely used games as an escape when I’m depressed. I went through a really, really tough job-related time last year — my job was unfulfilling, required a lot of travel and just was a soul-killing corporate suckfest. (Current job is better; not great, but better, and I’m just generally dealing with it better as well.)

    I spent a lot of my free time mired in video games because it helped keep my attention away from the yammering in my head about how much I hated my job and how frustrated and pissed off I was that I had to spend so many hours of my life there. So there definitely is a resonance with the idea in the OP that it may be a way to deal with depression issues.

    Setting boundaries, I think, is a great idea. Also, what about sitting down with him and saying very clearly, “look, guy, I know you like Gears of War and all, but you’re missing out on Real Life with your family here. There are things going on that you’re missing, like forming and maintaining relatiionships with your loved ones, and we miss you. It hurts us when you’re around but you’re not around.” I know the LW has spoken to the spouse about it before, but not sure what form those conversations has taken.

    Good luck to the LW — that’s a crappy situation to have to deal with and hopefully the hubby can either change his behavior, or his job, or both.

  29. dancerdc said:

    I’m having a really difficult time reading tone in this letter – is she overselling the problem or underselling it? I think it matters whether he is gambling (poker), staying up half the night and being cranky at work, or missing chores. But this reads as if the biggest problem is that it’s a hobby that he’s sharing with the kids and not with her.

    The elephant in the living room seems to be a huge emotional disconnect between them as a couple. I’m thinking of times I’ve buried my head in games, and it’s often large family gatherings where someone is likely to pick a fight about some unresolvable conflict that I don’t care about. It’s easier to play dominoes with the kids than listen to the grown-up rehash old drama. Her comment about not having his “full” attention makes me wonder if she only talks to him about problems, instead of doing fun things together, vegging out with a DVD, or going for a walk and telling him 5 things she loves about him.

    The thing that seems suspicious here is that he’s always been like this. It’s not a new obsession, but one he’s managed while finishing high school, college, jobs, so the “addiction” trope sounds like a red herring. Yes, he needs to pay attention to his kids without their nagging, but it seems natural for her to find a game that she’d enjoy playing with him for an hour or two a week, too.

    • Jake said:

      But this reads as if the biggest problem is that it’s a hobby that he’s sharing with the kids and not with her.

      I really don’t think so. From the letter: [He plays] from the moment he wakes up until he goes to work, and after work until he goes to bed. On the weekends he plays just about all the time, 8-10 hours a day probably.

      That describes a person who is falling down on his personal responsibilities. If he’s playing all morning, who’s getting breakfast for the kids? Who’s packing lunches? Who’s making sure they’re dressed and ready to go? Sounds like the LW is taking care of ALL of that. If he’s playing all evening, who’s making dinner? Who’s doing the dishes? Getting kids into jammies, supervising tooth brushing, reading bedtime stories? Who’s supervising homework, getting rooms tidied, prepping for the morning? If he’s gaming 8 – 10 hours/day on weekends, who’s doing laundry? groceries? taking kids to lessons/playdates? vacuuming?

      If the kids can’t get Dad’s attention because he’s gaming, who’s mediating ALL disputes? Who’s always on alert for any injuries or dangerous behaviour? Who’s supervising all the play time? Who’s calling the school, daycare, doctor, or friends parents?

      Those things are all at least as much the LW’s husband’s responsibility as they are the LW’s. Even if the LW is a stay-at-home parent (and there’s no mention in the letter that they are), some of that work is still her husband’s job.

      Something that’s taking up ALL of your non-work time is not just a hobby, and I think it’s really unreasonably of you to chock the LW’s objections all up to her just feeling a little left out.

      Also, why the hell do you think her being upset at not having his full attention means she never wants to do anything nice or fun with him? I like taking nice long walks with my partner, telling him what I love about him, watching Tabletop together, and lots of other fun stuff. If he was playing games on his phone at the same time it would really bother me, not because I have a problem with him gaming (I really don’t) but because it would mean he wasn’t being present in that moment with me. Gaming is a fine activity, but it can’t be your ONLY activity if you want to have a family.

      • Sheelzebub said:

        This, times a million. I mean, shit, he can’t even give one of the kids a bath without playing games on his smartphone, he brushes the kids off when they ask him for stuff or want to talk to him because he’s busy with his games. All day on the weekends and in the evenings as well. That’s not a hobby he engages in that his meanie-butt wife is trying to take away from him. There are people who’ve posted here about how damaging that kind of neglect has been to them.

        As someone who’s had bouts of severe depression, I have some sympathy for LW’s husband, but I also have sympathy for her. I’ve been in his shoes but I’ve also been taken for granted (and shamed for stating my needs or hear it be dismissed as drama–really? grow up already), which doesn’t actually help depression. I’m sure that this is NOT helpful to the LW’s mental state at all. Or the kids’ for that matter. Their needs matter, too, for fuck’s sakes.

        The LW needs a partner, not an overgrown kid. You don’t “help out” or “babysit” when they are your goddamn kids and it’s your goddamn home. Your wife is not your maid, your cook, and your nanny. Belittling the fact that all of the work–logistical, emotional, and physical–of the family is being left on the LW’s shoulders by calling it drama is just misogynist bullshit. She is a person, a human being who has feelings and who is overwhelmed and who doesn’t have the option to just check out. It is not her job to parent a grown man.

        • Jake said:

          Thanks for this, Sheelz. I tried to temper my response because I thought my anger might not go over too well, but I’m as angry about this as you seem and it’s nice to see that I’m not alone in that. This comment rings with misogyny and male privilege and the expectation that taking care of a household is always the lady’s job. JAKE SMASH.

          • My “hear, hear!” is for you too. I thought you laid it all out really well.

        • MissPrism said:

          I love this comment and especially the word “meanie-butt”.
          Ha ha! “Meanie-butt!”

        • PomperaFirpa said:

          Sheelzebub, I love you for this. YES.

          MrFirpa, our House Spouse, gets congratulated every time we go to one of TinyFirpa’s doctor appointments, because people who don’t know our situation automatically expect that he’s the one taking time off work, or it’s more difficult for him to take time off, or something of that nature. Similarly, he gets praise for taking her to the park, or for feeding her at a restaurant, or for entertaining her at the store– not because these are difficult things, but because apparently it’s just that fucking rare to see a guy being an attentive parent.

          Likewise, I get a lot of compliments about MrFirpa, and the vast majority of them rest in the zone of “wow, if my husband stayed at home to raise the kids, I think the kids would die.” Half of them ask why he’s the stay-at-home spouse; the other half tend to assume that it had something to do with him being laid off (he wasn’t). Nobody assumes what’s actually the case– that one of us was okay with taking a break from out-of-home work, and one of us was better at hanging out with a small child all day, and it wasn’t the one of us with the vagina.

          My point being: it’s far from a rare point of view to think that the work of the family– regardless of the out-of-home work situation– automatically rests on the woman, but it’s annoying, insulting, and out-of-date. The fathers of the current generation are more attentive to their kids than the previous generation, and when someone acts like they expect the guys to be inattentive assholes just because they’re guys, it belittles them. Sexism: it sucks for everyone!

    • Sarah B said:

      “But this reads as if the biggest problem is that it’s a hobby that he’s sharing with the kids and not with her”

      You may want to go read the letter again, more thoroughly. There is not a single sentence that suggests he’s playing games WITH HIS KIDS, but a lot that say outright that he’s ignoring them while he games alone. You may then want to have a think about why you are adding into the letter things that just aren’t there, and what that might tell you about your own biases.

      I agree wholeheartedly with everything that Jake and Sheelzebub have said about the misogyny inherent in the point of view you have taken; I offer this nonconfrontational comment purely in case you are open to growing as a person by recognising and confronting your prejudices. Because I’m an optimist like that.

      • Lilly said:

        Yes please read the letter again without the “what do I want this to say” goggles on.

        This made me pretty angry:

        “Yes, he needs to pay attention to his kids without their nagging, but it seems natural for her to find a game that she’d enjoy playing with him for an hour or two a week, too.”

        Did you actually read the letter? Like, at all? Because if you did then I am struggling to figure out how you think a solution could be for the LW to just play a computer game with her husband for two hours a week. The problem is that the husband has emotionally zoned out and is not doing anything as a family. He’s a joint partner in the family and not a teenager who is “missing chores”.

  30. Chiming in as someone who gets really stressed, hates dealing with people, and games in order to escape:

    My greatest ally is a digital kitchen timer. Seriously. I think about how I’m feeling, and how much “escape time” I need in order to feel okay, and then I set the timer. When it goes off, I finish whatever I’m currently doing (can’t take more than five minutes), and then I’m done. Some days are 10-minute days. Some days are 45-minute days. Some days are multiple 15-minute-interval days. It all depends.

    Problem is, that strategy depends on my actually wanting to limit gaming time. You can’t make someone want that. If you frame the discussion as “the kids and I miss you and would like to spend more time with you,” you can ask him how much time he thinks he objectively needs in order to feel okay. This may not work. It depends on how self-aware he is and whether he has much practice with metacognition. Maybe he needs half an hour of uninterrupted “leave me alone” gaming time when he first gets home from work, and can then do two hours of family time, after which he can go back to the gaming.

    I’m a great big introvert (like, 90+% on the Myers-Briggs), and I work with people all day. The very last thing I want when I get home is enforced social time. If I can get that initial “decompression” time in, I feel a lot better.

    And I totally agree with everyone who says there’s probably a serious depression/anxiety thing going on here. I spend the most time with my games when the inside of my head is an unpleasant place to be. But I do it in addition to, not instead of, things that will lead to improved mental health.

    As far as his defensiveness about the games goes, I likewise agree with everyone who suggested making it about time, not about what he’s doing. You’re effectively a single parent right now, except it’s actually worse than that because your kids are getting the message from him that they aren’t important. I think you need to decide what your limits are going to be, as far as the minimum acceptable amount of time and attention that you and the kids get from him, and make it clear to him that it’s a make-or-break issue. You can tell him that you’ll help him and support him in whatever way is necessary to get to a place where he’s able to give you that, but that nothing, including your patience, is limitless. Maybe you could say that, by next summer, you need him to be spending X amount of time with y’all as a family, and ask him to take a week to think about what he’s going to need to be able to do that.

    • Flipje said:

      I am much the same in terms of introversion. It took my wife and I a bit of practice to find a good balance between my need to decompress for a while when I come home, and her need for social interaction with me. Usually what we do is I spend a few minutes talking to her/cuddling, and then I go off and do my own thing for a bit before/while I make dinner. Being very introverted I mostly just need time away from people, I can usually manage to cook or do other activities at the same time I am decompressing as long as I can not talk to people.
      It is hard those few days when I have a really terrible day at work, for example, as I process stuff like that by myself with a lot of introspection/relaxation and it’s very stressful for me to have to interact with other people (even ones I really love!) while I am trying to resolve something that made me feel bad.

      I agree with many other posters here that it’s probably most effective to frame this in terms of “Hey, we really need you to interact with the family more because we miss you.” If he’s at all concerned about what you and the kids think, that should resonate. I think if you frame it in terms of the decompression technique you will get a lot more defensiveness.

  31. Britt said:

    LW, there is some really good stuff here, as always, but I think the thing I would be most aware of in your situation (having dealt with a partner with a Second Life addiction that made me angry and frustrated and many other unpleasant things) is to use our good friends “I statements.” Giving your husband the benefit of the doubt that he wants you to be happy and he wants to be a good partner and father, knowing that the time he spends gaming is making you feel [unappreciated/ignored/lonely/frustrated/whatever] is probably the thing most likely to get his attention. The idea of scheduled family time is a good one as a way to work on adjusting the pattern in the family, but I think real, lasting change that doesn’t require you to constantly manage him like he’s another of your children is going to only happen if he understands why the family time is so important. Obviously you can’t make him get it, but making it as clear as you can to him that it’s not about the specifics of him playing video games but about his inattentiveness and neglect that’s the issue is at least an important first step.

  32. duaecat said:

    No advice, but when my grandfather died, my father spent the next 3 years playing City of Heroes non-stop. He quit his job. He would get up in the morning, sit down, and only get up to bathroom or grab food to eat at the computer. He would eventually fall asleep in the chair late at night, sleep for about an hour, wake up, shuffle to bed, start over when he woke up. Nearly every day for three years. He’d talk to me, go out with me, eat dinner with me, whatever with me after this mission. It took three hours to get this group together and if he quit now he’d be letting him down. And oh, it took longer than he thought and now he’s too tired. Tomorrow, after the big planned mission, and some leveling, and….

    I was a teenager at the time. I hated him. I hated the game. I still feel sick when I hear about people playing MMORPGs.

    And no one believed me. I would talk about him being addicted to video games, people would laugh and “Oh yeah, guys love video games!” He promised not to play all Christmas Day, as a present to us. When he sat down and started playing that morning I unplugged the modem and reminded him he had promised. That was the one time in my life he ever raised his hand to me and tried to punch me. I told him if he followed through I was calling the cops. “Haha, yeah, my teenage son is addicted to video games too! He plays at least an hour or two at night!”

    It was the worst three years of my life. It took me 5 years of him being ‘clean’ before I began starting trusting him again, with anything.

    I don’t have any real advice, just that anyone who thinks video game addiction isn’t a big thing is a fool.

    • Mel V. said:

      Jedi hugs to you, if you like them. It is a sucky way to grow up. I remember thinking we’d be better off if he were dead, since then at least we wouldn’t have to tiptoe around him. I still think that, really.

      Ugh. I’m shutting down my computer and going to give my husband a hug now!

  33. MHM said:

    This sounds too hard for one wife to fix via a conversation or screen-free weekend. The addiction sounds all-encompassing. If you replace “gaming” with “drinking beer” or “smoking pot” the time spent sounds completely out of whack. Maybe the LW wants to consider therapy. Husband may not want to work on the issue, so the LW has to decide where she stands on this lifestyle and relationship.

    I find myself feeling protective of the LW’s children. These kids are not being exposed to a good model of what an adult should be. Parents model behavior for their children. The kids may come to believe (already believe?) that this lifestyle/coping style is ok, so they may be more likely to pick partners who have similar addictions or become addicts themselves. Should they continue to be exposed to this lifestyle? I think it’s worth a discussion with a professional. A consultation with a psychologist could help the LW figure out if and how the addiction is impacting her children.

    • xenu01 said:

      Let’s be careful not to police the letter writer (or anyone’s really!)’s parenting style, thanks.

      • MHM said:

        Totally did not mean to question or police parenting style! Thanks for the reminder. I was talking more about modeling a certain coping style that is not optimal. The LWs parenting style did not even cross my mind, actually.

        But I did come down harsh so I see why you gave this warning! Hey, maybe the guy is a great dad and husband in his non-gaming time. Perhaps I was being too harsh in saying they should not be exposed to this lifestyle. Maybe it will cause no harm to the kids at all and it’s not really even impacting them that much. I have no clue, this is just a brief Internet letter, after all. Sorry if I offended anyone, especially the LW.

    • TO said:

      I’m worried about the children, but less because of the addiction role model and more because of the neglect. If it’s accurate that he’s literally playing games from the time he wakes up until he goes to work, then from the time he gets home from work until he gets to bed, in that case there really isn’t any parenting style to speak of, because there isn’t any parenting happening :(. I hope the situation is resolvable in some way (e.g. if he has depression that it gets treated) but from the kids point of view this is heartbreaking.

  34. Jkelly said:

    LW,

    I really want him to think of it like an addiction, not just something he likes to do for fun.

    Why is that?

    A lot of the comments have run with the addiction lens for looking at this issue, and there’s some valuable thinking there (like getting support for yourself, looking into an underlying depression, thinking about questions around enabling, etc.).

    But if he doesn’t experience what he’s doing as an addiction, I’m not sure trying to argue him into that will work out really well, even if it would be useful for him to think of it that way. I’d suggest it is also problematic for someone to spend “80% of their free time” on a hobby and neglect their parenting, and it’s okay to say exactly that and thereby dodge the whole addiction/diagnosis issue and the defensiveness around it.

    I *really* like alphakitty’s suggestion of asking him about his goals and who he would like to be. I can’t think of a better way to get a real, productive conversation started.

  35. theLaplaceDemon said:

    1. Couple’s therapy. And maybe individual therapy for him? There is something big going on here and it is not okay. Anyone who is doing [recreational activity] 8-10 hours a day to the detriment of their relationship with spouse/kids has some serious problems that need addressing.

    2. As a short term measure, I REALLY like the idea of setting aside specific family and couple non-networked times. I don’t think this will help with LW’s husbands overall problem, but it will probably make LW a lot happer.
    Suggestions: Family dinners (say, two hours, two nights a week where you will cook, eat, and clean up together), walks (“we will take a thirty minute walk together every Saturday”), help-the-kids-with-homework time, family board game nights…The key here is that things are regular (every X day of the week), and have very specific start and end times. Again, I don’t think this will actually SOLVE Husband’s problem, but I think it could do a lot of good for LW and the kids.

  36. mildlymagnificent said:

    This isn’t much of an idea for right now – because I don’t think LW’s husband would “get” it. But once he’s involved, one way or another, in the concept of family/non-online time, I’d try to demarcate a non-electronic **space** in the household. That space would be for activities like playing cards, jigsaws, board games, lego, meccano, train sets – things to do with the kids that keep the hands occupied. (I’d make the bathroom a non-electronic space too, but I rather fancy that would only come with therapy or some other initiating process.)

    If the phone rings, the call is either left to go to messages or the call is answered away from the table or floor space. And when the call is finished, straight back to the game / craft / puzzle.

  37. staranise said:

    Okay, try #2:

    he says […] games are his “escape,” but I think it’s really an addiction.

    Hair-splitting. It’s a bullshit excuse. All addictions are, at core, using something to escape from painful emotional experiences, heedless of the toll it takes on the addict and those around them. Addiction is not a separate, hermetically-sealed special state: it’s a continuum. It means the person’s way of not feeling like shit is more harmful than other peoples’, and they have less control over whether or not they do it. A really good book about addiction, with a lot of the recent neuroscience about it, is Dr. Gabor Maté’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.

    What matters, like everyone else has said, is not the “addiction”. It’s the escape. He is escaping from his marriage. From his children’s childhoods. In escaping from the crap in his head, he’s also walled himself off from genuine love with his family. You cannot numb emotions selectively–if you turn the volume down on one, that numbing drags all the others with it.

    LW, I have a suspicion. The suspicion is, your husband already knows somewhere in the back of his mind that he is hurting you and the children, and he is ashamed of that fact. He can bring to mind occasionally that he is not the kind of father he’d like to be. He might recognize in passing that the two of you don’t spend as much time together. But he shuts down that thought, because it’s too painful, and plays another four hours of games.

    What you are asking him to do is have the courage to step away from his escape. You’re asking him to say, “Okay, I’m in a bad mood and maybe my kids don’t like me right now, but instead of playing a game, I’m going to read to them.” He has to be willing to face the pain and discomfort that being there for y’all entails. He has to trust that you all love him enough to want him to be there even when he isn’t perfect, and you’d rather he didn’t just disappear into WoW and let “the good parent” do all the work. You want him to be his shitty regular ‘ol self.

    A hands-on book for him that I love and keep coming back to is Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. She’s a sober alcoholic and has studied a lot about how shame and fear keep us from living wholeheartedly; instead, we use numbing, addiction, and perfectionism to avoid them, and cut ourselves off from others. Her book is a really compassionate step-by-step guide to reclaiming the experiences that let us overcome shame and really connect with the people around us.

    And, a note about Al-Anon: I come from a family of addicts, and a few relatives have been to Al-Anon and related groups. Some of them found it really helpful! However, not all of them knew that Al-Anon isn’t just a support group that’s one big bitchfest about your awful addicted relative. It’s a 12-step group that calls for you to introspect about the role that person’s addiction plays in your life, and the role you play in their addiction. It asks you to see if you can change, yourself. I agree with its principles, but some people I know were very off-put that “they made it sound like I was the problem.”

    • Mel V. said:

      Thanks for the book recommendations, I will be looking them up!

    • alphakitty said:

      Some excellent points.

  38. Mel V. said:

    Yo, IT person here who grew up with a family tree full of depression and addictions, and went a few rounds with them myself. I have some very strong thoughts and feelings on these topics, let me show you them.

    One point I haven’t seen in this thread yet is that depression and addiction are very separate things. They’re very often comorbid, and someone who has one is significantly more likely to develop the other, but they require different treatments. Treating only one when the other or both are present doesn’t work and usually just causes massive frustration all the way around. If you choose to find professional help (and I suggest you do, at least for yourself for a few sessions), make sure you go to someone who has experience working with addictions. That may or may not actually be the problem here, but having someone who knows how to handle addictions will be better able to help you sort out what needs to be done.

    Whatever’s going on in your husband’s head, I’m sure he thinks his behavior isn’t hurting anyone. As someone who grew up with a father who was similarly neglectful due to an addiction, I can absolutely assure you that it destroys families. It’s not fair to the remaining partner who now has another person to take care of instead of a lover and a partner, and it screws up the kids. (All my siblings and I have spent a lot of time in therapy. I started self harming and one brother started burning things indoors to express his anger.) It’s not a tenable situation.

    The path forward is different for everyone. Reading up about addicts and living with them was very helpful for me, and al-anon and other support groups can be great too, even if your husband’s issues turn out to have very little actual addiction going on. I really like the idea of daily screen-free time. Have dinner as a family at the very least! Be prepared for your husband to just walk around like a lost puppy when the screens go off! It’s really sad and kind of hilarious to watch.

    Ultimately, you cannot change his behavior. You. Cannot. Make. Him. Change. He has to choose it. If, after much discussion and various actions he’s still not willing to change his ways, you’ll have a decision to make. My mom threw my dad out of the house for a year, and it was the best thing she’s ever done for their marriage.

    You’re in a tough spot, and I wish you well. Build Team You and care for yourself. Think about what you’re willing to live with and what changes are necessary for your marriage to work long term. Get lots of perspectives from other people who have been there. It’s going to be dark for a while, but it does get better.

  39. neverjaunty said:

    LW: I have been there, too. As everyone has said, you can’t police him or “fix” him. You can set boundaries and tell him what your expectation are.

    And by that I don’t mean telling him he can only play X hours on weekends, or hiding his router. I mean that you sit down with him and calmly explain the problem: He is spending the vast majoriy of his free time gaming. He does not give the children his full attention. You are not getting a fair share of downtime; he is not doing his fair share of the work. I am sure he will give you all kinds of reasons about his work being stressful blah blah; you can remind him that you are not talking about feelings, you are talking about behavior. Then you hand it back to him:

    1) Do you believe that this behavior is problematic?
    2) If so, what concrete steps can you take to change your behavior?

    If he says no to #1, then there’s not much you can do, really. You’re already a single parent for all practical purposes. If he agrees there’s a problem, then he needs to outline – and follow – those steps. Maybe he needs a new job that doesn’t suck! Maybe he needs a kitchen timer, or to game only in a certain area of the house (i.e, no mobile games when he’s giving the kids a bath). The important thing is that he needs to come up with the solutions and follow them. IT WILL NOT WORK if it is you policing and enforcing.

  40. Amy said:

    I have been a neglectful parent. I have been the parent sitting there doing unimportant things on my laptop while my tiny child whined and begged me to put down my computer and give them my undivided attention. I still struggle with this.

    One thing that has helped me has been taking a realistic look at my strengths and weaknesses as a parent. I’m going to put this out here honestly: listening to endless repetitive babble about which doll did what bores me out of my mind. Waiting out the bath-toy-playing part of bathtime so we can get on to the business of actually washing is, for me, a lot like being on hold with my customer service representative, and I would totally be fiddling around with my phone during it if I didn’t make my partner do bathtime 95% of the time. (So I’m honestly surprised so many people jumped on that as a red flag.) In general, I find “play”, as defined as open-ended, spontaneous, child-led activity, to be very difficult for me, because it is hella hard for me to get my brain to “bite” into the kind of thing my kid finds engaging. (It’s not just my kid, I have longstanding issues with attention/lack of focus/hyperfocus, I find a lot of social interaction painful, etc.)

    So I must be a terrible parent, right? Well, no. It turns out I do *really well* with my kid if we’re engaging in some sort of activity that *I’ve* come up with for us to do. So we do art projects and craft projects and science projects and gardening projects and cooking projects and baking projects and I teach her games and we read books and go interesting places and she helps with the housework, and, as it turns out, she has a bunch of other adults in her life who rock the open-ended spontaneous playing (her dad, for one, but also grandparents and friends), but I’m the one who brings the creativity and planning. And I think (and the other adults in her life agree) that this works out pretty well.

    But back when I was mostly thinking of “paying attention to my kid” as a passive/receptive activity, I inevitably ended up on my laptop when I got hungry for stimulation. I have no idea if this might be relevant to the LW and her husband, but I really liked alphakitty’s point about envisioning what kind of parent he wants to be, and I guess I would say to go even further, to really dig into what assumptions you both have about what a good parent looks like. It doesn’t *have* to be more boring than solitaire.

    • meh said:

      No one is saying to be a good parent requires the ability to engage in spontaneous play that you find difficult. You find other ways of connnecting-my mother never once engaged in those games and was a great parent. The red flag is two parts: one, that kids can drown in the bath, so having someone bathing them who isn’t paying attention can actually be dangerous, and two that he spends no real time with them and even during the small time he does spend with them in an activity that requires physically interacting with them, he is still refusing to give them his attention. A parent doesn’t get off responsibility for the safety of his child because he has difficulty finding bathtime games interesting, and if that’s the only time he spends with the kids, and he still doesn’t engage with them? Those poor kids.

    • Mel V. said:

      Thanks for posting this. I suspect I’ll be like you if/when I have kids.

  41. BlackHumor said:

    Wait, he plays anything including SOLITARE? That does not to me sound like an addiction (he’s not gaming all the time because he wants to game), that sounds to me like an attempt to avoid something. Which seems even more sound to me when you just ask him and he outright SAYS he’s doing it to avoid other people.

    That is not an excuse. That is really why he’s doing it. Maybe it’s a symptom of clinical depression or something (and seriously, if you can convince him to go to a therapist than he really should go) but it really is true and you should believe him when he says it.

    Now, what you can do about it, I’m not sure. Try relationship counseling? There’s really not terribly much you CAN do when your partner just decides to tune out on you. But one thing you CAN’T do is just hide his computer or prevent him from gaming specifically. It’s not about gaming specifically and if you take away the specific thing he’s using to avoid human interaction the problem he perceives will still be there and it won’t be long till he finds some other hobby that can occupy 90% of his time.

    • Computer-based solitaire can be addictive. Actually. As can the sheer fact of being on the computer and not removing yourself from the screen ever. :/

      • staranise said:

        Pretty much anything can be addictive, if you’re predisposed to addiction. It’s just that some things make the addiction much easier and more rewarding; you get a much better high shooting up heroin than collecting stamps.

        (Stamp-collectors are free to contradict me.)

        • Mel V. said:

          I worked with a therapist who specialized in addictions for a while. In his opinion, the very hardest addiction to deal with was shopping. He also talked about a (carefully and appropriately anonymized) patient who was addicted to water. She drank… I believe it was upwards of thirty liters a day. She nearly killed herself several times by washing all the electrolytes out of her system. He said she was part of a religious sect and was driven by a deep rooted feeling that she was ‘impure’.

          The line between addiction and compulsive behavior is really blurry. IANAP, but I suspect addictions, eating disorders, self harm, hoarding, and some types of OCD are all on the same spectrum and are driven by the same mechanisms.

      • Vicki said:

        Yes. I eventually deleted the “spider solitaire” app from my computer, because I had been spending too much time on various versions of it, and “none” seemed like the only safe amount. “Safe” in this case was as much for my hands as anything else; this is also why I got rid of tetris, some years before that.

      • sasha said:

        SRSLY. My father was a Free Cell addict the last few years of his life. He’d play it for HOURS a day, EVERY day. We’d have to give him advance warning hours ahead of time then act as his countdown timer whenever we needed him to disengage to interact with the family or leave the house (just like alphakitty recommended above – it’s great advice!).

        Also, this post is making me finally admit that I have an internet/computer addiction that has only been magnified by the last couple years spent at a computer non-stop writing my dissertation. I’d tell myself I was working, tell myself I’d read just one more blog, then next thing I know half the day is gone and now I don’t have time to go out of the house to do X hobby because I wasted all day reading blogs. Time to step away from the internetz…

        So, yes. Solitaire, or really anything online / on the computer, can easily be addictive.

        • Jake said:

          I hear you on this one so hard. There is nothing like writing a thesis to cause a tendancy for internet addiction to flare up (she says, while commenting on a blog instead of writing her thesis. ugh.)

        • Obsidian Entropy said:

          Gah. I have blog addiction too. Except I’m not writing a thesis. It interferes with work and even with my free time to some extent. eek.

          • It’s, um, awkward for me to admit to my blog/forum-reading addiction here b/c lately it has been hours and hours of reading Captain Awkward when I have things-to-do to avoid. (I went to college Before Internets and at the time, I genuinely worried that I played so much Tetris it might crash my GPA.)

          • Jake said:

            Me too! And then I think about the fact that the Captain can see my IP address and can see how many times I reload the page, and I convince myself that I’m the only one who’s reloading over and over to see if there were new comments and and then I get super embarrassed. But I soothe myself by telling myself that there is no way the Captain is _that_ interested in how often I look at her blog. And maybe I’m not the only one doing the reloading thing and my IP address is just lost in the shuffle?

          • Haha, I reload the comments all the time too! It had never even occurred to me to think that the Captain might notice it, though…

          • xenu01 said:

            Haha, new thing to worry about!

            I joke, I joke. 😉

          • JenniferP said:

            Yeah, I don’t notice or care (except, yay for you to be here!), so that clears that up, right? 🙂

          • JenniferP said:

            I also have to make myself unplug from here, which is why comment moderation/spam folder rescue isn’t as speedy as some people would like, but I have other work to do.

        • Briz said:

          Me too! Seriously, the only solution I have found is NOT getting an internet connection for my apartment. That is the only place I can really sit and effing FOCUS on finishing my thesis.

          *Hopefully I finish it soon, Google Fiber is comming my way!

          • TO said:

            Envious. I unfortunately need internet access at least some of the time to do my thesis :(. So all the non-thesis things on the internet are never more than a few tantalizing clicks away. It was a tiny bit easier with my old laptop where I could unplug the wireless card and put it in another room.

  42. Fuzi said:

    He’s an introvert. He spends all day at work and then he comes home to a house filled with small children and a wife who is none to pleased with him and hasn’t been for quite a while. When, if ever, does he get to be alone?

    I suspect he’s a lot like me. I’m an introvert, I play video games a lot, I don’t like being around children (they tend to make random noises, and too much of that is enough to drive me RIGHT UP THE DAMN WALL). And yes, my husband dumped me, in large part over World of Warcraft. And much as I love him, I think it was the best thing for us both. I miss him, but I need alone time, and I know better than to give it up ever again. Thank god we never had kids.

    I agree the guy needs therapy (it’s helping me a LOT). But be prepared for the possibility that if he starts to get better, he may well leave. I’m guessing the only thing keeping him there at this point is the fact that he’s too depressed to get out.

    • JenniferP said:

      Interesting. Does “introvert” mean “gets to interact with other people, including the small children one presumably MADE ON PURPOSE, only on one’s own terms or else one is being oppressed beyond belief?” What if the LW is also something of an introvert?

      I am an introvert who would go crazy without lots of alone time. You can ask for and schedule some daily alone-time, even when you’re a parent. But you don’t get to disappear right in front of people.

      • Yes. Only because the LW was probably the one delivering the children doesn’t mean it was “her project” that she decided on on her own. If he has a problem with interacting with his children/family, he has to speak up about it. Introvert really doesn’t mean what JenniferP already canceled out.

      • Bunny said:

        Exactly! Another introvert here. I love my (huge, noisy, hilarious) family to bits but they are huge and noisy and that really isn’t great for a socially awkward introvert with anxiety issues. But that doesn’t stop me from taking part in the basic taking-care-of-family stuff. There’s nothing terribly draining-for-introvert about doing the dishes after dinner, or sitting a kid on your lap and reading a book with them, or my personal favourite of dragging a stack of paper and pencils out and drawing with them. I have one cousin who is entirely happy just having a cuddle, no talking needed. LW’s husband isn’t just avoiding sitting down and talking with his family, he’s avoiding being a part of the household in even the most minimal sense.

        And the lack of alone time in your own house is something people choose to accept for a certain amount of time when they have kids. Children are a big responsibility – these are entire living, conscious human people that need your care and guidance! Every parent needs some down time and alone time, absolutely, but that isn’t what’s happening here. One parent is taking ALL the time they have at home as down time. But house stuff still needs doing, childrearing stuff still needs doing, so all that means is that the other parent gets no down time or alone time at all.

        • LadyTL said:

          Not all introverts are the same though. I am an introvert and all those things that aren’t draining for you are draining for me. (Excluding doing the dishes) I don’t handle being around people well unless I have to and my husband understands that I need that alone time sometimes. But because of that we aren’t planning to have kids. I lose my temper with my little sister just after an hour with her and her behavior because of the noise and antics. It would be so much worse if I had to deal with small children from the moment I got home.

          • Bunny said:

            Oh true, but as you say that’s a factor in your choice of whether to have kids or not. My point was mainly that even an introvert can, if introversion is the actual problem, still function and take responsibility for important things like the care of their own children and, if nothing else, HOUSEWORK, which does not have to be a group activity.

          • Yeah that’s one of the reasons I’m never planning to have kids. I have two pet rabbits who are quasi-therapy animals, because they’re soft and one is very licky and the other one loves to be petted and they require me to do basic maintenance like feeding them and cleaning their living spaces, but you can’t put a small child in a cage and leave them like you can with a pet.

      • My dad’s an introvert and loves nothing better than sitting in the back room with a good book and the radio going. But that’s always been pretty far down on his priority list, and he did not get a whole lot of reading done when my siblings and I were weesters. At least, not till after bedtime.

    • Jake said:

      I think you’re being very all-or-nothing about this. It’s not like his only two choices are GAMING DURING ALL THE HOURS and NO ALONE TIME EVER. He can negotiate an hour or two of alone time per day, scheduled so that he’s getting what he needs (e.g. a break as soon as he gets home, or some unwinding time before bed, or some gearing-up time in the morning, whatever) and still spend time with him family. You say “he comes home to a house filled with small children and a wife who is none to pleased with him and hasn’t been for quite a while,” and I’m hearing a lot of gendered bullshit in that. You know what? His wife also works all day, either at a job or at home, her home is also filled with small children and a spouse who isn’t being nice. Why is it okay for him to avoid his whole home life while she’s stuck with all the extra work and responsibility?

      • Esti said:

        Thank you. Just because one person retreats into their own world for a while does not mean that all of their responsibilities are paused during that time, particularly when their responsibilities include children. It’s fine to want time to decompress by yourself, but you need to be mindful that the time you spend alone is time your partner is taking care of the kids on his/her own. The *only* reason that the LW’s husband is able to spend every waking moment he’s not at work gaming is because the LW is doing the vast majority of the household and child-raising duties. If the LW started taking the same time for herself that her husband currently does, their children would be removed for neglect.

        The problem here is not that the LW’s husband wants to spend some time by himself every day; the problem is that he wants to spend ALL of the time he’s not at work by himself every day with no regard for what that does to his wife and children.

      • Cora said:

        Thank you for this. I’m an introvert, and that means that it’s reasonable for me to negotiate a set, limited amount of alone time per day/week/whatever. (How much is reasonable depends, of course, on circumstances–when I have kids, I expect that amount to decrease, for the very simple reason that I will have small humans dependent on me.) It means that it is within the bounds of acceptable for me to say, “I need half an hour of quiet now, please, can you take care of X?” or “I’m going out for two hours on Thursday night, so you’ll need to hold down the fort.”

        It does not mean that I get to throw up my hands and vanish permanently.

        I think you’re right, too, that a lot of it is gendered. Maybe LW needs some alone time, too! When can that happen if spouse-the-introvert gets to abdicate at the drop of a hat, for hours and hours at a time? But there’s a societal expectation, a lot of the time, that guys deserve more decompression/relaxing/”me” time than women. (Heck, you see it with guys who are extroverts, too–who sometimes think nothing of going to hang out with their friends for hours after work while their partner does chores or errands or takes care of the kids. It’s not exclusively an introvert thing.)

        It’s important to express one’s needs as an introvert clearly, I know that well. But that doesn’t mean that one’s needs automatically trump the needs of one’s partner. Somewhere in the middle ground is a negotiation, and right now it doesn’t sound like LW’s partner is negotiating.

      • Cassandra said:

        Well said.

    • Rosa said:

      Once people have kids, sometimes it’s the job that has to change. I absolutely could not go back into sales once we had a baby, I had to do something that was at a farther emotional distance from people. I also just couldn’t live with roomates anymore, and we’re lucky enough to make that choice financially a few years ago.

      It’s harder to change an IT job, because it pays so much better. And the hours can be overwhelming. But I’ve watched all my partner’s friends switch jobs as they had kids, to something that’s more family friendly than the startup kind of jobs they had ten years ago. There are other options than ditching the family because of social overwhelm or burnout.

    • Wow.

      Way to paint the LW as an unreasonable harpy.

      I’m a great big introvert myself, and one who struggles with depression on top of that. Sometimes gaming is one of the only coping mechanisms that works well. But guess what? I don’t do it for 8-10 hours a day. I don’t do it instead of doing my fair share of the housework. I don’t do it to the detriment of my marriage. If Mr. Other Becky wants to talk to me while I’m playing a game, I damn well find some way to pause what I’m doing in the game. If the dog needs to go out, or needs to be fed, I don’t make her wait until I’ve finished this task. (I get that having a dog =/= having kids, but we did make a choice to acquire a living being who is utterly dependent on us, so there’s at least superficial similarity.)

      If I really, absolutely, need to be left completely alone, I tell him, and I put a fucking time limit on it. (“I’m going to go retreat into the Fortress of Solitude. Back in half an hour.”) It’s not reasonable to regularly tell one’s spouse (and DEFINITELY not one’s children)that they should leave you be indefinitely.

    • PomperaFirpa said:

      Hi! I am also an introvert. MrFirpa is also an introvert. We have a TinyFirpa.

      So on the one hand, I feel ya. I’m at work all day, I come home, and there is still stuff to do! MrFirpa is the House Spouse, so when I get home, I’m on kid duty: play with child, feed child, bathe child, read to child, put child to bed. Generally my personal time is about an hour, maybe two, in the evening, and then an hour in the morning (although that hour is 90% taken up by chores).

      I am an introvert. I do not get recharged by being with people; I get further drained by being with people. With some notable exceptions, i.e. MrFirpa and TinyFirpa. Especially TinyFirpa. You can’t handle having a spouse, that’s cool; you don’t like kids, no hair off my nose, but for me, that isn’t the case. The introvert switch doesn’t get flipped with my husband or my kid.

      I am an introvert and I love my kid. I believe with every fiber of my being that it is my responsibility to let her know just how much I love her, and I believe just as fervently that the only way to do that is to actually fucking well pay attention to her. Not as an aside over my laptop screen. Not out of the corner of my eye while I scroll through something on my iPhone. Not when she wanders across my field of vision while I’m playing Minecraft on the X-Box. Actual one-on-one attention.

      I am an introvert and I’m raising a tiny human being who, God willing and the creek don’t rise, will grow up to be an awesome adult human being. There’s a hell of a lot that she needs to learn, and MrFirpa and I are her only teachers right now. It’s all hands-on, it all requires my attention, and it takes time.

      I am an introvert and I have a lot of introvert-friendly hobbies into which I love to immerse myself. I rarely get to indulge in that for more than an hour or two at a time. And yeah, that sucks, and yeah, I feel the stress, but you know what else I am, besides an introvert? I am a FUCKING GROWN-ASS ADULT who can put on her big-girl pants and FUCKING DEAL WITH IT because there are some things in life more important than my need to relax for long-ass extended periods of time.

      So don’t claim that introvert = irresponsible dickhead. That’s no less accurate than male = irresponsible dickhead. When it comes to having kids, we all give up time for hobbies and relaxation; that is just how it works. Introverts, extroverts, sports fans, fic writers, gamers, knitters: you name it, you have to give shit up. Not everything– God, no, and if anyone claims that, they need a punch in the head– but, yeah, something.

      Not everyone wants to make that choice, and that’s totally cool; parenting is a rough gig and I firmly believe that it needs to be a 100% volunteer army. But for those of us who make that choice, it’s not a question of what we do to relax that defines whether or not we’re up for the parenting gig. It’s a question of whether we can figure out how to adjust to the responsibility and balance our personal time with our parenting time.

      The problem is not that LW’s husband is (possibly) an introvert. The problem is not that he likes to play computer games. Neither one of those things, not even put together, will automatically result in a person acting like that, not any more than Asperger’s will automatically make someone a creeper. Something else is going on here. What it is, I’m not going to venture to guess, but I can guarantee that it’s not an automatic INTROVERT + GAMER = INATTENTIVE, IRRESPONSIBLE PARENT AND SPOUSE.

      • PomperaFirpa said:

        (No MORE accurate, I meant to say. Argh.)

      • LadyTL said:

        Just wondering though, what would you do if your introvert switch did get flipped by your kid? Maybe that’s what’s going on with him and being around his kids is draining.

        • alphakitty said:

          I’m a lot like PomperaFirpa. My kids do sometimes flip my introvert switch (and did more so when they were younger), but a) I love them so much I have had sufficient inclination to push through it, b) I can talk to them respectfully about how mom’s a person, too, and she sometimes needs a little quiet time to herself, and c) when I really needed to I get support from my husband. I’ve come in from long hectic outings sometimes and said “I’ll be upstairs. It’s in everyone’s best interest that I not be disturbed for the next half hour!!” I’m not perfect — but then, my kids seem to be ok with who I am because I show them in so many ways how much they matter to me.

          Yeah, having kids is hard — but that’s not unique to introverts.

          The sad thing is that by choosing retreat as his default setting, the LW’s husband is missing out on the great stuff that makes it worth having kids worth the battering of your introvert-sensitivities.

          • Rosa said:

            my kid TOTALLY flips my introvert switch. I’m not even sure I’m actually an introvert, and dealing with Little Mr. High Energy Monologue all day, complete with near-constant touching, totally wears out any wanting to be with anyone. It kind of sucks, I’ve lost a lot of friends to my need to keep my little bit of free time silent & alone.

            But I mostly manage to engage with him, by cutting OTHER things out, switching to a less social job, not going to parties, etc. I’m having a really hard time this week (you can see how much blog reading I’m doing) because we are in the middle of about a month of constant extended family visits. I think he’s getting enough attention from grandmas, cousins, and other affiliated adults to make up for it, and I’m leaning on my partner pretty heavily. But the most important thing is that it’s time-limited; in 2 weeks it will be over.

        • theLaplaceDemon said:

          Then you still are responsible for being their parent? Like, yeah, that would suck and would definitely require developing some coping strategies, but it’s not like you get to say “UHG KIDS I WILL IGNORE THEM AND LET MY SPOUSE DO ALL THE WORK.”

          (and no, gaming for 8 hours a day is not a reasonable coping strategy. the specific number of hours is for the couple to negotiate, but I’m thinking that three or four, depending on how much Husband sleeps, is probably hitting the upper limit).

        • Jake said:

          It sounds kind of harsh to say, but this is a big part of why I’m not having kids. There are not many people who don’t flip my introvert switch, and my young friends and relatives definitely do. If I had a kid it would be a choice between me being neglectful, or miserable and therefore mean. So. No kids. Plus, bonus, this means I don’t have to have kids!

          • PomperaFirpa said:

            I totally respect that! Like I said: definitely not for everyone, definitely requires willing volunteers. This may well be the reason that MrFirpa and I are pretty much the lone parents in our respective social groups.

            (Similarly, there is no way in hell I could handle being a doctor, or climbing Mt. Everest, or being a vegan, or speaking in front of large groups, or being a teacher, or being a manager, or being an accountant, or… well, you get the picture. The idea that everyone needs to be a parent is really dumb.)

          • I don’t think that’s harsh at all; I think that’s well-reasoned and insightful. (I may be slightly biased, of course, given that I’m not having kids for the exact same reason.)

          • alphakitty said:

            Just for the record, you don’t need a Reason not to have kids, any more than you do to leave a relationship that’s not making you happy. Despite the message I’m sure you’ve gotten from lots of people, there is *nothing* selfish about the decision not to procreate. (While a lot of people’s reasons for having kids are actually incredibly selfish and have little to do with nurturing little human beings).

            The world has no shortage of people, and it’s not a better place for people who know in their hearts they just don’t wanna do that succumbing to peer/family pressure and doing it anyway. Especially since it’s the kind of project your heart *really* needs to be in to do even passably well! Not that you have to loooove being a parent every single minute — as an introvert myself, sometimes it is indeed hard. But you do have to want those little (and eventually not-so-little) people in your life enough to not be resenting all their perfectly reasonable kidly wants and needs, of which there are many — two of the most basic being lots of attention and sharing of personal space.

            You have lots of other things to contribute to the world, I am sure, Jake, and more time, energy and joy to do that with because you have not burdened yourself with kids that just aren’t your thing. Keep up the good work, whatever yours is!

            Not that you needed my blessing, or anything — I just figure you probably get crap for your decision from people telling you are selfish and your life is empty and meaningless if you don’t have kids. And since I fervently disagree, I thought I’d say so.

          • Jake said:

            Thanks for this, alphakitty. I know I don’t need a reason, and I actually get remarkably little pressure to have kids (I actually get way more pressure to stay in grad school and do a PhD after I finish my Master’s, but that’s another rant for another time), but I just thought I’d mention that my introversion is part of what contributes to the whole package me as a person who doesn’t want kids.

        • Starling said:

          You find something to do with said kids that doesn’t make your hair stand on end. For a long time, while I was living in a house with six or seven children 12-and-under, I could not hug or touch. Sensory overload. I could and did read stories and tell stories. Nice thing, though–those kids go to bed and then you get to be left to your own self again until you dragged them out of bed in the morning.

        • PomperaFirpa said:

          I’d tell my husband I need some quiet time, I’d go hide in a quiet room, I’d recharge, I’d come back. I don’t need an eight-hour stretch of alone time, I just need maybe an hour. But holy God, there is no way in hell my kid would trip my introvert switch 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That would be a symptom of some other, major issue.

          Moderate amounts of what I need for stress relief are not the same thing as what we’re hearing about from the LW: we are hearing about every minute of time he’s at home and awake. To put it in other terms: My introvert nature means that an hour of alone time is similar to a glass of wine. If I dealt with stress by drinking a glass of wine at night, that’s one thing, but if I dealt with stress by drinking a bottle of wine every night you’d probably recognize that as a problem.

          SOMETHING ELSE IS GOING ON HERE.

    • Commander Banana said:

      I think this comment is conflating being an introvert with a number of other issues. I’m an introvert as well, and (like many of the commenters, I suspect) I find being around a lot of other people draining, I find being around children to be difficult at time because they don’t have an “off” switch and their demands on your attention are unrelenting, and I require a lot of alone time to recharge and be able to be pleasant and enjoyable to be around.

      But I really, really don’t think that’s an issue here. The LW was very specific about the amount of time this guy is spending playing games, and it’s very nearly 100% of his free time. I don’t see that as a manifestation of introversion – the introverts I know need alone time precisely so they can be around and present for the things and people that are important to them. The time the LW’s husband is playing video games doesn’t seem to be recharging him at all.

      It seems like his gaming could be one of a number of things: an addiction, like the LW mentioned, a coping mechanism for other things that are going wrong, or an avoidance technique. Or a combination. I don’t know.

      And I agree with Jake, below, that it seems like you’re framing the wife as a nagging evil harpy and the children as a nuisance, and, essentially, blaming her/them for the husband’s behavior.

      My heart really breaks for the LW and especially for her kids. I don’t have any input that is any different than what other commenters have said. But I’m the child of two parents who always, always, always put work before my sibling and me, and despite them both being stable financial providers, it hurt when I was a child and it still hurts to know that their work is and will always be more important to them than I am. Every time they avoided or ignored us was a reinforcement of the fact that we weren’t worthy of attention or time or love, and internalizing that message as a child is really very painful and has led to a lot of problems in both my life and my relationship with my parents.

      I don’t know what to tell the LW. I really don’t know if she can make him understand the damage that he’s doing. I hope that her situation improves, I hope that he realizes what he’s doing and takes some steps to correct it. It’s unfair to her and it’s unfair to her children.

      • TO said:

        “The time the LW’s husband is playing video games doesn’t seem to be recharging him at all.” I noticed this too. If he truly is doing it out of emotional exhaustion or stress-relief, it clearly isn’t working and he needs to learn other strategies. E.g. for me though I’m often drawn to something like going on the internet as a break or stress-relief, it doesn’t actually refresh me, nor does it help me sleep well. Something physically tiring usually does both pretty well. Even reading a book is for some reason more refreshing than reading stuff on a computer, though even that only relaxes me if I’ve got enough exercise in the past few days. Or going on a walk in a quiet place.

        My mom had a couple of years when I was growing up when she had a very difficult boss. When she got home she would sometimes have a half-hour nap, during which she asked us not to come in the room. Then she would come out and be OK the rest of the evening. She just needed that little break, but my point is, the break genuinely did refresh her.

      • PomperaFirpa said:

        I don’t see that as a manifestation of introversion – the introverts I know need alone time precisely so they can be around and present for the things and people that are important to them. The time the LW’s husband is playing video games doesn’t seem to be recharging him at all.

        THIS. Yes, exactly. If his chosen technique for stress relief takes every minute of his time that he’s not at work and it still doesn’t seem to be doing the job, this is a big waving red flag that something is dramatically wrong, somewhere. Possibly it means he doesn’t want to have a life with his family anymore (he’s certainly not into it NOW). Possibly it means that his work is so stressful that he desperately needs a different job. Possibly it means he’s depressed. Possibly it means he’s addicted. Possibly two or more of these things are correct. We don’t know! This sounds like something that LW’s husband needs to sort out with a therapist, because clearly something isn’t working.

    • zuzu said:

      What about the LW’s alone time?

  43. Chels said:

    wow, yep sounds like a real addiction. my thoughts is that you cant change him, he has to want to change himself…i agree with the last paragraph, take some time off for yourself and enjoy life a bit

  44. Chels said:

    and I understand that it might be his escapeness and his comfort zone, but at the same time, he is hurting his family by not giving them his time. Family should be his priority.

  45. CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

    Trying to find a way to say this without sounding judge-y or mean, but sometimes when a person is constantly engaging in escapist activities (which can quickly escalate into full-on addiction, the line is that thin between them), what they are actually *trying* to do…is escape. Leave. Go. Remove themselves from a situation that they either no longer find rewarding or never wanted in the first place. I drank to ‘escape’ my abusive marriage when what I really wanted (and needed!) to do was to physically remove myself from the environment which necessitated being lit to get through the day. Wish I’d known to just *leave* in the first place, you know? Would have been the much more grown-up, healthy way to put a stop to a way of life that just was not good for me (or for him).

    • Jake said:

      I don’t think this is judgy. I think it’s perfectly possible that the husband _is_ miserable in this relationship, for whatever reason. But you know what? The healthy way for him to deal with that would be a) to talk to his spouse and try to make changes, or b) divorce. Unless the LW is abusing him (as in your situation, which I’m very sorry to hear happened to you), there’s no reason he can’t break up with her if he really hates being around her that much. And if the kids are going to be ignored by their father, it would be better if he did that from a distance so they can move on with their lives without him.

      • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

        Yeah, that was my underlying thought for the husband as well. That if he is finding the situation that unbearable (and it sounds like run-of-the-mill family life, not abusive nightmare family life, so I frankly don’t get it) then he needs to use words and actions like a grownup and make a decision or a change, and fast. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with living like a single person (the ‘All Me All The Time’ show) when you actually *are* single. There’s a BIG freaking problem with that when you’ve chosen to entwine your life with others. Family life doesn’t equal me time plus handy support staff with no needs of their own. That is bullshit, and if he wants his single dudeness, he needs to let LW go so she can find someone who doesn’t. Girl and those kids, they deserve better.

  46. This is super depressing…I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in a marriage (complete with children) with someone who is totally emotionally absent. This guy is living like he is a single person. Therapy for him combined with couples therapy will hopefully wake him up to the beautiful family right in front of him.

  47. atma said:

    I’m sorry that you have to deal with this situation. Somehow, whether it comes down to one reason or another (addiction. depression. introvertedness.) in your husbands behaviour, very rarely does a mother check out of her role as maintainer of children, and especially not because she’s dealt with enough people at work. No matter how hard life is for the husband, it is still that familiar sense of entitlement that enables him to decide and declare that going to work mean he’s done his part.

    Maybe give him an opportunity to realize that a home does nor run itself. Go on strike. If you weren’t there, if things didn’t get cleaned, cooked, etc, he’d have to do them himself. Maybe that is not the best way, but as far as I can see, unless you both share a sense of responsibility, where do you even start to communicate? And unless you communicate, how do you find a good balance between work, duties, play, family, alone-time?

    I guess what I’m trying to say is – how does it even make sense for him to decide to take his [fill in the blank]-time without asking you what you need. A family is not a project with the wife as the project manager, it is something you share. Preferably out of love.

    • Chay said:

      Hi, I know I am late to this party but I just wanted to really really advise against “going on strike”. I say this from experience, if you simply let shit pile up because you want to make a point to the person who doesn’t even notice the shit piling up – all it means is you have more shit to clean up afterwards and you’re even more frustrated about it. It’s passive aggressive to the max and if the issue is communicating needs, absolutely sails over the entire point.

      What I did was sit down and literally make a roster of what needed to be done on what days. That way if something wasn’t done, I could clearly and precisely say “It is Tuesday darling, we agreed you would sort dinner before 8”. It makes the other person accountable for something they have specifically agreed to – not just vaguely expected to read your mind and start noticing/acting on things they have provably and consistently not noticed before.

      Good luck LW ❤

      • atma said:

        Yes, communication is the best way. In this case, part of the problem is, it is not happening. There is no agreement regarding Tuesdays dinner or anythign else. And, to sit down and make lists continues the assumption that the Woman is in charge, and the Man is helping out, and if she doesn’t do it it is her problem.

        If you continue to be the maintainace-machine, he will never notice there is a problem. This may not be the perfect solution, obviously, but keeping up the ground service is a way of enabling his addictive behaviour. It means you accept the concept of the home and the children being your job and he can help of not at his own leizure.

      • neverjaunty said:

        I have to agree with atma: you’ve solved the problem of things not getting done, but not the problem of things being your problem. When you’re making lists, reminding him what’s on the list (which he should be looking at without your help, right?)….you’re still doing most of the work.

        It’s certainly better than screaming at him about why he hasn’t done the laundry, but it’s not a partnership.

  48. Sheelzebub said:

    I’d like to point out that ***the LW*** could be an introvert as well, she could be stressed out and exhausted as well, yet she doesn’t have the luxury of just checking out and leaving everything on her partner’s shoulders.

    • domestic violets said:

      This is a very good point. I also think that a behavior can no longer be viewed as a way for a person to recharge their batteries when it becomes a full-time compulsion.

  49. domestic violets said:

    LW, I really feel for you. My ex-husband had a job which required a lot of face-to-face time and interpersonal skills. He was also somewhat introverted, we both had some introverted needs that we struggled to manage as parents. Screen-time in the form of television and computer gaming as well as drinking and laying down literally ignoring us or escaping to the bar dominated his behavior over time. I fought it hard in the beginning years and I know the pain of hearing promises about change that dissolve after a couple of weeks.

    Emotional neglect feels like abuse (abuse, as in abusing the relationship and leaving the physical, emotional and mental work for the other person) and watching my child grow up being literally treated like something in the way of the TV, or a pest for interrupting, was awful. I still don’t understand the disdain he developed for his own child during this time. To this day their relationship is strained.

    I eventually divorced him not because of the addictive behaviors alone, but because of the constant gas-lighting (especially when I became dedicated to resolving my own depression with counseling, and left myself open to derision) and emotionally controlling behaviors that sat on my chest like a rock. There were many times our relationship was jubilant, loving and respectful, but I came to the conclusion that I would not be in it for the remainder of my life. I needed to have my child grow up in a different environment. I have not regretted this decision.

    I am not writing to say that this story only could have had one ending though.

    If I would have stayed, I would have insisted upon counseling. I would have drawn a line that said this neglect is no longer tolerable and depression is something that gets treated. Always. I would have shared my seriousness about leaving him without worrying that I would start a chain of events that would lead to certain alienation and shunning for me. In fact, people were more understanding than I’d have imagined. I would not have allowed myself and my child to be that neglected or ignored. It was such a sad time. Now that this dynamic is no longer a part of my life, I am shocked, looking back, that I ever accepted that for myself. Being introverted does not give a person license to neglect their loved ones any more than extroversion gives someone the right to happily steamroll everyone they meet. I think there were probably ways in which our situation could have been made healthier, and we could have found new ways to balance decompressing with togetherness time and new, undemanding activities to bring some fresh air onto our lives. I see it happening in his life now that years later he has sought treatment for depression and alcoholism on his own and I am glad for him. I think you have a great opportunity to try to make it happen together. I hope for the best for you and your family.

  50. sylvia said:

    I read all the time, or my brain starts to ping inside my skull like a pinball game.
    I read when I play cards with my kids and their turns take too long. I read during meals.
    I read when my hubby speed-eats, bec there’s no conversation for me there, ever.
    I try really hard not to read when i eat with the kidlets, because I want that to be talking time.

    My kids have stared telling me not to read when I play with them, and we have started playing games that move faster, so I can stay focused. Work-arounds can be found, if finding them is desired.

    • alphakitty said:

      I totally relate. I sometimes think of reading as my “tether,” in a good way. Love Kindle for iPhone because it means I *always* have something to read. But if it’s not handy, I read cereal boxes, fliers, potato chip bags…. Other than meals with the family, I nearly always read while I eat, even though that is really dangerous because I have such a hard time putting the book down when I finish eating (I use magazines at lunch so I don’t get sucked into a book instead of getting back to work (with only partial success)).

      But a reading-addicted introvert really can be a good parent… though you *do* have to fight that compulsion as hard as you can so you’re giving your kids quality attention without conveying that it’s grudging. Always being conscious of the message I’d be sending is how I manage that.

      Infant/toddler years were hardest — though I was amazed at how young my kids became my little buddies, being mentally present whenever you’re with them can indeed be challenging at times when their games are not intrinsically interesting to an adult. (Please don’t judge me for destroying the Mr. Plumpy card in our Candyland game!! You know, the one that sends players all the freakin’ way back to the beginning of the world’s most tedious game?!?) But it does get better/easier as their activities become more intrinsically interesting and as they become more independent, so you can legitimately have periods when you’re not actively engaging and can get your fix.

      At least I think my kids would say I qualify as a good mom. If they’re my portfolio, I’m a freakin’ awesome one.

      • xenu01 said:

        Mr. Bennett fist-bumps all around!

    • staranise said:

      I used to be like that. I couldn’t sit through a round of poker, even. It was pretty excruciating. I will say, when I got diagnosed with ADHD, things made a lot of sense, and being put on stimulants gives me the ability to sit still and focus much longer without the gerbil wheel in my head clocking overtime.

      I don’t know your situation at all, but what you wrote rang some bells. This is from a book on ADHD:

      Never at rest, the mind of the ADD adult flits about like some deranged bird who can light here or there for a while but is perched nowhere long enough to make a home. The British psychiatrist R.D. Laing wrote somewhere that there are three things human beings are afraid of: death, other people, and their own minds. Terrified of my mind, I had always dreaded to spend a moment alone with it. There always had to be a book in my pocket as an emergency kit in case I was ever trapped waiting anywhere, even for one minute, be it a bank lineup or supermarket checkout counter. I was forever throwing my mind scraps to feed on, as to a ferocious and malevolent beast that would devour me the moment it was not chewing on something else.

      Maybe I’m way off, but I thought I’d put it out there.

      • As an adult with both ADD and depression, this definitely resonates. Unfortunately, when the depression kicks in, my mind is actually really not a good place for me to be. When it’s under control, I can handle it in measured doses, but I still get bored really easily. Part of that, I think, may be about introversion — I’m really familiar with the inside of my own head. Mr. Other Becky, who is a little bit of an extrovert, finds things like silent meditation or reflection to be really beneficial, because he doesn’t normally spend a whole lot of time alone with his thoughts. I find it dull when I’m well, and scary when I’m ill.

      • sylvia said:

        mwahahahaha
        when my kid was diagnosed with ADHD my jaw hit the floor.
        as in, ‘there’s an actual diagnosis for that? with medication to help???!!!???’

        When I was six, my dad challenged me to sit down and not move for 30 seconds. I think I lasted… 10. possibly 15. But really, not move at all for 30 seconds????? *fidget, fidget* 🙂

        So I was diagnosed with ‘a complete inability to sit still’, and everyone assumed i would out-grow it. yeah, not so much.

        I worked my hook-rug during afternoon cartoons. I still take a book if I’m going to have to wait on lines. (I don’t buy a pocketbook if it doesn’t fit a book)

  51. neverjaunty said:

    I don’t understand the argument that MMORPGs are “alone time” for introverts. Guys! The WHOLE POINT of those games (like WoW) is that they are social games. That’s why they’re called massive multiplayer games. Unless you’re a very rare player indeed and playing one of the few games that really allows solo play, MMORPGs are all about interacting with other people. You can’t do a raid, or run a guild, or PvP all by yourself. It’s not “alone time”. It’s a different kind of interaction, sure, but it’s way different than curling up with Bejeweled.

  52. secretrebel said:

    I’m really late to comment here but I wanted to recommend a book. ‘Reality is Broken’ by Jane McGonigal.
    “Drawing on positive psychology, cognitive science, and sociology, Reality Is Broken uncovers how game designers have hit on core truths about what makes us happy and utilized these discoveriesto astonishing effect in virtual environments. Videogames consistently provide the exhilarating rewards, stimulating challenges, and epic victories that are so often lacking in the real world. But why, McGonigal asks, should we use the power of games for escapist entertainment alone? Her research suggests that gamers are expert problem solvers and collaborators because they regularly cooperate with other players to overcome daunting virtual challenges, and she helped pioneer a fast-growing genre of games that aims to turn gameplay to socially positive ends. ”

    This might help the OP to understand what rewards her husband is getting from gaming and how to repattern their lives so he feels the same reward from the ‘Real World’ ™.

  53. hypatia said:

    This is probably obvious but I was struck for some reason by the phrasing of “He still spends 80% of his free time gaming.”

    Much of the time he’s spending is not “free time” in the sense of leisure time – it’s family time, it’s “being an adult” time. It might help the LW to reframe it that way.

    There’s a pretty strong cultural script that for men, all non-work time is “free time”. Hochschild’s “The Second Shift” (http://www.amazon.com/Second-Shift-Arlie-Hochschild/dp/B000CDG842 ) comes to mind.

    • JenniferP said:

      Good call. If it were FREE time, no one would care. It’s family time, parenting time, romantic spouse time, household chores time that he’s spending.

    • xenu01 said:

      Plus ten AND I am now giving a Significant Glance to my spouse.

  54. firecatstef said:

    I’m an introvert with some obsessive and depressive tendencies. I sometimes use the obsessions to manage the depression. That means I feel good when I get sucked into something. I really want to spend hours getting lost in whatever my interest of the moment is.

    But I also need structure and I’m not great at generating my own structure. Fortunately my partner helps me with that.

    In your husband’s position, what I would find easiest to accommodate would be a specific and behavior-oriented request. So I like best the suggestion of scheduling in a specific amount of family time. I would like the structure and also the understanding that I still had some time to myself.

    Your husband goes to work and does chores, so it seems he might be able to handle a concrete request like that.

    Also, if it were me, “Please consider 6pm to 8pm family time and don’t get on the computer then” would be less stressful to deal with than “You’re addicted” or “You’re setting a bad example for the kids” or “I want you away from the computer for a whole weekend.”

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