By Esther Mann

 

Dear Esther,

I got married to Josh six months ago. I believe that I went through the dating process doing all the right things. I had a clear vision of the man I wanted to marry. I made sure that after the first few dates, we talked about important matters so that I could get to know his views toward most things. I observed how he talked about his family members and friends, and how he treated waiters and other people who “served” him. I felt that my due diligence was thorough and successful.

Josh is a great guy and so far our marriage is wonderful. The problem is that there is an area in which we are so completely opposite from one another, and, honestly, it never occurred to me to investigate this particular issue. Now I’m really struggling.

During the week, Josh and I both work hard. We come home from work pretty exhausted, have dinner, share in the household duties, maybe read a bit or watch TV, and fall into bed. The weekdays are great. We are a great team in every way.

The problem is the weekends, particularly Sundays. What I never realized is that Josh loves to be with people, specifically me, all the time and also likes to keep busy all the time. As much as I love Josh, I’d be perfectly OK if he spent some time on Sundays doing his own thing and letting me do mine. If he had his way, we’d probably go out for brunch Sunday morning, go visit his parents and mine, then find a fun activity to do together. That would be his perfect Sunday. I, on the other hand, would be happiest going out together for brunch, maybe visiting one set of parents, and then spending some time alone at home, going shopping by myself, or meeting up with a friend for a bit. I don’t need or want to be with Josh 24/7. It has nothing to do with how much I love him. It’s just that I seem to have different needs than he does in this area.

Last Sunday, for the first time, I finally said something to Josh. I asked him if it would be OK if I spent Sunday afternoon hanging out with some old friends for a bit. When I suggested this to him, the look on his crestfallen face was absolutely pathetic! He looked as though he’d lost his best friend. He just couldn’t understand why I would want to be away from him even for an hour or two and wanted to know what the problem was. There was no problem—and I told him so. I just needed a little “me time.” Trying to ease out of this difficult situation, I told him that I wanted to go shopping with these friends, and I figured he’d be bored going shopping with me. He replied, “I’d be more than happy to go shopping with you. As long as we’re together.”

And so, I canceled with my friends, and Josh tagged along as I shopped. I felt sorry for him, though he seemed happy as a lark to be with me. But honestly, I did feel a bit resentful, thinking about the fact that this may be what my life will look like forever more. Maybe he will always want to be joined at the hip, not allowing me the space I need.

I don’t want to insult Josh, but I feel that if I don’t say something now, this will be the story of my life—always going and doing with Josh at my side. I’ll never able to just do my own thing. I know that this isn’t a huge problem and I’m sure there are women out there who probably wish their husbands would want to be with them as much as Josh wants to be with me. Nevertheless, sometimes I just feel like I’m being smothered and it’s not a good feeling.

Any suggestions for how I can broach this conversation with Josh without hurting his feelings?

Smothered

Dear Smothered,

You’re correct about a number of things. First, despite doing one’s “due diligence” while dating, there is absolutely no way to cover every potential difference that could arise between two individuals. It’s virtually impossible. The fact that two people who were raised in different homes, with different experiences, different family dynamics, and different DNA can even click in the first place can be viewed as nothing short of a miracle. Though of course, thank G-d, it happens all the time, it is complicated and requires a great deal of effort. But no one can ever be on the lookout for every single feasible difference, and one should never expect to find someone who is a clone of him/herself. But as differences and surprises go, some people might suggest that you are way ahead of the game.

I don’t mean to minimize your frustration. You are also correct in your fear that if you don’t say something now, before patterns are so solidly forged, it will only get harder to break over time. For some people, like you, spending time alone or with people other than one’s spouse is a basic need that is hard to ignore. For people like Josh, such a need doesn’t seem to exist. For you, it’s probably a time to reboot, refresh, gain perspective, and change things up while keeping things interesting. If this is a strong need of yours and you wind up feeling deprived of it over time, you could eventually feel resentment.

So what to do? You tried carving out time for yourself and apparently it did not sit well at all with Josh. It sounds like he felt quite abandoned! So your choices are obvious. You can put your own needs on the back burner and give Josh what he needs and hope that over time he lightens up a bit. After all, you’re not married very long; it’s possible that the thrill of being a newlywed is still front-and-center for him, but over time he may relax his neediness of being with you constantly. He may always be that guy who needs to constantly be busy with others, unable to enjoy his own company. But maybe “others” won’t always mean you.

On the other hand, you may decide that you don’t want to take that risk and want to carve out a better balance between the two of you now. My suggestion would be that rather than “tell” him that you have some plans that don’t involve him, “ask” him how he would feel about you spending some time alone or with someone else. Open up that conversation with him, giving him an opportunity to explain what it means to him for you to be enjoying yourself without him at your side. Such a dialogue can be revealing for both of you and give you both an opportunity to understand each other on a deeper level, as you also explain what it means for you to have some downtime without him. It’s all about communicating your needs and the feelings that underlie those needs. That should be followed by a healthy dose of empathy. “Going there” can only bring you closer to one another and give you both a deeper understanding of what each of you believes you need and what that feels like for each of you.

And then, after you both hear what the other has to say and recognize that there is no threat implicit in either of your desired behaviors, you can hopefully come up with a compromise that works all around. You may not get as much alone time as you would enjoy, and Josh may not get as much together time as he would ideally want, but hopefully you both will feel heard, understood, and cared for.

Hopefully, this will be the greatest difference that arises between you and Josh, though most likely it won’t be. In that case, these tools of asking, hearing, empathizing, and compromising will always serve you both well.

Esther

Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at mindbiz44@aol.com or 516-314-2295.

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