By Esther Mann, LCSW
Â Dear Esther,
Eli and I have been married for 32 years. For a good part of our marriage, we were busy raising our family and not terribly focused on ourselves. It was easy for me to note that Eli and I were on totally different pages when it came to wanting and needing to do things. I’m a runner. Maybe I have a little ADD in me, but whatever the case, I’ve never been one to sit at home. And that was OK; I kept busy with carpools, errands, and taking care of our five children.
But over the past few years, now that we have the freedom to focus on ourselves and satisfy our own needs, it’s become more than a little obvious that Eli and I have grown into people with different outlooks. I love to run out on a Saturday night for a movie, or go out Sunday morning for brunch, a museum in the afternoon, and on and on. Eli is happiest in his recliner. (Boy, do I regret the day I purchased that recliner!)
When he’s not working or eating, Eli can be spotted at all times sitting in the recliner, watching Fox News or a sporting event. He has total inertia and is as happy as can be. Me–not so much! I want to go and live and do. Sometimes I’ll go by myself to a mall or a museum and wonder why, as a married woman, I’m doing these things by myself.
But it’s gotten worse. I’ve been noticing over the past few years that our friends have started traveling a lot. Yearly winter vacations in warm climates, summers in Israel. Even some exotic trips. Thank Gâ€‘d, we can afford to take a trip here and there; it wouldn’t break us. But Eli has absolutely no desire to go anywhere. He tells me he is totally happy at home, doesn’t want to miss any work, and doesn’t want to deal with the annoyance of packing and schlepping. I’m so frustrated; I don’t know what to do. I feel like just about everyone I know is living the life, exploring the world, and having great experiences. I have to admit I’m jealous of them and feeling sorry for myself.
I feel compelled to say that Eli has some good qualities. He is a kind and generous man. He cares about me in general and is good company (at home, of course). He’s funny, smart, and interesting. But he’s a couch potato, and I’m not.
No matter what I say, how I ask–whether I plead, scream, or threaten–he usually says something like “Not this year. Let’s talk about it again next year.” So far, “next year” has never come! Sometimes I almost feel like a prisoner of this town. I love it here, but I sure would like to see what the rest of the world looks like.
I hear your frustration loud and clear. Now is your moment. In between raising your children and being too old and tired to enjoy traveling, there is a wonderful window of opportunity for people like yourself to travel and explore the world. You’re still young, healthy, and free enough to create wonderful experiences and memories. And it seems that’s exactly what some of your friends are doing. So why not you?
As you’ve just explained, Eli couldn’t care less about seeing the world. His world is reduced to your recliner and the TV (and of course work and I’m sure some other things here and there). He has absolutely no wanderlust. Some might say, “Lucky guy–he is samei’ach b’chelko.” His needs seem to be met within his immediate world, and venturing out is not only not tempting, but somehow even unappealing.
I wonder whether you’ve ever tried to get into Eli’s head a little bit and figure out what exactly is going on. Maybe he is covering up a fear of flying, worries about missing work, or financial concerns that you are not aware of. What is really happening here? That would be a good avenue to pursue. Try to get to the bottom of whether or not there are some concrete fears he is harboring. And if so, see what can be done to normalize them.
Yes, some people absolutely do not need to travel, even into Manhattan to see a Broadway show or to go to a museum. And some people are truly satisfied with their routine and the predictability of a life of same old, same old. And maybe those people are truly happy. But you say that Eli is a nice guy, so I wonder–if there aren’t any personal issues getting in the way, why isn’t he able to accommodate you, even a little? Not because he is dying to take a trip, but because he wants to make you happy. Have you ever tried asking for a trip as a special anniversary or birthday present? Have you asked him if he absolutely had to travel somewhere, where would that place be? Consider making that your vacation spot. Have you suggested going to a live sporting event with him–even if you don’t enjoy sports, so that at least you are out and about together?
Personal comfort zones aside, as married people we owe it to our spouses to at least occasionally do what they want, even if it’s not what we want. You’ve got to give to get. If there are no remarkable fears getting in Eli’s way, you ought to present it to him as nonnegotiable, at least once in a while.
Next, alternatives. Assuming you can’t talk Eli through his passivity, why are you staying home, jumping out of your skin, envying your friends who are off and running when Eli is a no-go? Start small. Sunday seems to be that day when everyone thinks everyone else is out having a grand old time. In reality, many people are in the same boat as you! Start networking. Speak to friends. Find groups and situations that you can join and start doing all the things you would prefer to do with Eli but nevertheless can enjoy with other like-minded individuals who share your passions. There is nothing wrong with doing your own thing with girlfriends, and returning home to Eli, feeling happy and satisfied, minus any anger toward him. And then you can enjoy the rest of the evening together, without the usual resentment.
Furthermore, there are tours that exist for women just like you, who want to see the world, but are either married to men like Eli who have no desire to go, or are single. I’ve spoken to women who have participated in such experiences and they’ve had wonderful times. You could turn gray waiting for Eli to get on board. Instead, make it happen for yourself now. If not now, then when? Hopefully, Eli will understand your decision to get going with your “bucket list,” despite his refusal to join. Make it clear to him that he is always welcome and he will always remain your first choice as a companion, but you’re tired of watching him “recline,” and since you are, thank Gâ€‘d, busting with a joie de vivre, it’s your time.
So get packing and get going. My guess is that after Eli sees that you are serious, he may just decide to dust off his luggage and join the fun!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.