What to Do When Your Recreational Companionship
Becomes Boring and Unpleasant (Part 1)
Introduction: One of the easiest ways to deposit love units is for a couple to be together when they are engaged in their favorite recreational activities. That's usually what they do to fall in love before marriage -- spend most of their leisure time with each other. It works very well. If you want someone to fall in love with you, be with them when they are having the most fun.
But after marriage, couples seem to forget that important principle. They stop spending their best times with each other, and when that happens, one of best sources of love units dries up.
This week I am posting two letters, one from a wife who has been recreationally abandoned by her husband, and the other from her husband who thinks that she's no fun anymore. His new girlfriend has a lot to do with why his wife has become such a bore. My advice is predictable, but it will save their marriage if they follow it.
Dear Dr. Harley,
My husband and I have been married for 18 years and we have two children. Our relationship was terrific until I was carrying our first child, 10 years ago. For the first time in our marriage, he started showing interest in another woman. He was honest with me and told me he thought she was pretty cool. It became more and more evident that she was becoming close to my husband. You know, the reach over pat the leg, put the arm over the shoulder to talk type. Well, needless to say, I did mention it in conversation and was told by several people not to worry about it. So I was dishonest with my husband as well as myself in suppressing these uncomfortable feelings. However, they did get worse. To the point of not being able to sit next to or near my own husband. But here I go looking the other way, hiding my feelings and making excuses for the situation.
These things went on for several years. I didn't want to be the "bitch wife". She was even at the hospital when both of our babies were born. Yet I wanted to, and did, trust my husband until 4 years ago. I made the mistake of asking him a question that he answered honestly. I asked, "Is there any girl on our softball team that you are sexually interested in?" His answer was "Yes, two." and he proceeded to tell me. One of them was this girl. He said he wouldn't want to be alone with her because she is dangerous and he didn't trust himself. I held in my hurt once again, cheating him and myself out of honesty. But he had been honest with me, so I continued to trust him, to believe in him and to try and admire him for his honesty. We would continue to play ball with her and in the winter not see or hear from her too much.
But it appeared that with each summer and each party, they would become closer. I finally did tell him how very uncomfortable it felt and tried to explain why. He would say "I'm sorry, I will avoid her if it makes you happy." Ahhh, that felt better, for a couple of weeks, that is. I would again and again explain my feelings and again and again it would come back to haunt me.
About two years ago, instead of discussing the problem with him in reference to her, we started fighting. He told me that he liked the attention she gave him and he said some really mean things to me that hurt me so deeply that I went into a depression, which, in turn, strengthened their relationship.
I have, according to him, been acting funny for about 2 years. My friends and family have noticed a change in me. Even my two girls have suffered. I went to see a doctor about these feelings of worthlessness, by not being able to "satisfy" my husband. The doctor put me on medication, which my husband strongly objected to. Although I have been doing better, and he even admits that, I can't seem to shake the feeling of being lost and not being able to find myself.
Last week, after I put our children to bed, I got on the computer and behold, "YOU'VE GOT MAIL" sounded. It was a letter from her. Not just any letter but a letter that was called "helpful hints." These hints were about how to treat various parts of a woman's anatomy. I immediately got sick!
Looking back, I now can see how the relationship my husband and I have has been slowly but surely coming apart. When we dated, and during the first few years of our marriage, we did almost everything together. Now it's getting very difficult for me to get him to do anything with me.
An example of my problem is motorcycles. We both had one until three years ago when he wanted me to sell mine for a sprinkler system. He said we would get another one for me, but it never happened.
He says that riding is in his blood and he needs to do it because he used to race. So he announces to me that he is going out for a ride, without me, and that's the last I see of him until he decides to return home again. At first, I didn't have a problem with it, but now I do because I've found out that he gets together with "her" whenever he goes out.
On weekends he reads his paper, rides his motor cycle, I fulfill his sexual need, he takes a very long nap, gets up, leaves again on his motor cycle, comes back, watches TV, takes a shower, goes out to play ball without me and comes back home after midnight.
I know he's with that woman. People have told me that they've seen them together, and that I should be concerned. I want to give up! He hears me but he's not listening! What should I do.
Dear Dr. Harley,
Recently my wife has written you and now I find myself in need of advice.
We used to be best friends, we did everything together, i.e. playing golf, playing softball, playing guitars, riding motorcycles, everything. Now I have little desire to be around her. I am confused by my feelings for her now. I also have no desire to do many of the things we used to do together.
Lately, I've been lying to her about what I do when I'm away from her. It's something I've never done before, because we both value honesty so much. Since she has caught me a few times, she has become obsessed with finding out if I am telling her the whole truth. It also seems that all she wants to talk about is the time I am spending with a woman I play softball with. As I mentioned, all she wants to talk about is what I do when I am away from her. She doesn't trust me anymore. I told her that I didn't want to talk about any of this for a while because it's driving me to the point of giving up.
I went to run last night, and called her when I decided to spend some time with my sister and brother-in-law. She said she had no problem with this and told me she trusted me. Upon arriving home I could tell there was something bothering her. At first she was reluctant in telling me.
Now, besides not trusting me, she said that it hurt her feelings that I spent the evening with my sister instead of coming straight home to her. She is smothering me and I can't handle it. I feel that now I have to call her every time I have to leave my office and tell her what I'm doing.
For the past two years she has not been her old self. She started taking anti-depressants then. Could the medication have something to do with her behavior?
Please give me some insight on this matter as soon as possible, so that I don't go totally crazy.
Dear J.M. and R.M.,
It's no surprise that couples who have the same leisure interests tend to marry each other. Not only do their shared recreational activities help deposit love units into their respective Love Banks, but the time they spend together engaged in these activities help them form an emotional bond. Unless a man and woman spend significant time together, they cannot form, or maintain, a feeling of love and attachment for each other. And recreational companionship is one of the most common ways that we create that bond that leads to marriage.
You are both good examples of how this principle works. You are also good examples of how the same principle causes affairs and ruins marriages.
You both came to love each other because your best times were with each other. And after your marriage, for a while, you continued to spend your best times with each other. So far, so good. As long as you remained each other's favorite recreational companions, your marriage was secure.
But, R.M., you allowed yourself to have a better time with someone else and, as predicted, your love for your spouse suffered and love for your new friend was created. It set the stage for the marital disaster you are now experiencing.
Before you were married, when you first met each other, I'm sure you were impressed by the similarity of your recreational interests. You enjoyed playing softball and golf, you both played the guitar and rode motorcycles. There were probably dozens of other recreational activities that you shared. You spent enough time together engaged in these activities that you eventually fell in love and married each other.
Most people marry because they share similar recreational interests at the time of marriage. In fact, for most men, the choice of a dating companion is almost exclusively determined by how much fun they have when they're together. I was very much that way when I dated. One bad recreational experience was enough to convince me that the girl wasn't right for me. I eventually married the woman who I had the best time with whenever we were together. In other words, I married my favorite recreational companion.
From your letters, it sounds like you did the same as I did. You married each other because you were each other's best friends and had deposited enough love units to fall in love.
But children do a number on every marriage, and apparently they were particularly hard on yours. J.M, even while you were pregnant, your husband seems to have started looking for a new recreational buddy. That's not at all uncommon. I receive many letters from women whose husband abandon them recreationally as soon as they are pregnant.
But I don't think either of you understood the consequences of what was happening. J.M., you honestly expressed your emotional reactions to your husband, but neither of you dealt with the warning signs correctly. You felt so much ambivalence over your reactions that you let this woman worm her way into your lives with you holding the door wide open.
The correct reaction to either of you being attracted to a friend of the opposite sex is to end the friendship. Why? Because you should not make your spouse compete with anyone else for your love and affection. If your marriage is based on the assumption that you will stay together until you find someone more attractive, start planning for your divorce now, because it's inevitable.
One of the most important negative effects that children have on marriage is that they ruin the quality of recreational companionship. When you bring them along, the activity just isn't the same. So couples soon learn to have their best and most relaxing times away from the children. But they make a terrible mistake -- they don't do it together, they do it separately. To avoid the cost of a baby sitter, they take turns watching the children while they create independent recreational lifestyles.
How incredibly shortsighted! It's leisure activities that got you together in the first place. Do you think you can spend your most enjoyable moments apart, yet still love each other? Don't you realize that you will love the person you have the best time with, whether it's at work or at play. If your best moments are not with your spouse, your marriage does not have much chance for survival.
After my wife, Joyce, and I had children, we spent more money on baby sitting than we did on our house payment, so we could enjoy our favorite leisure activities together. It was probably the best investment we could have made at the time. And 35 years later, we remain each other's best friends.
From the moment you were pregnant, J.M., you started losing your position as your husband's best friend. Slowly but surely, you were eased out of your role to make room for his new buddy. It took about 8 years to complete the program, because you tried so hard to hold your position. But when he sold your motorcycle, it made it much easier for him to spend recreational time without you, and his affair started in earnest.
I'm sure, R.M., that you were not completely aware of what you were doing. When your first daughter arrived, you did not think, "So much for this marriage!" But when you let your new friend come into your recreational life, you may as well have kissed your marriage good-bye.
If you follow two policies, you will never have an affair. The first one is the Policy of Radical Honesty. You and your wife were way ahead of most couples in that you worked very hard to be sure that your relationship was honest.
But the Policy of Radical Honesty is not enough. You needed to follow the second policy to avoid the disaster of an affair -- the Policy of Joint Agreement (never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your wife). J.M., you were never "enthusiastic" about the way this girl hung on your husband, and you had every right to express your reservations firmly. Your husband's relationship with her did not pass the "enthusiasm" muster, and she should have been dispatched shortly after she arrived.
R.M., your wife should not have had to compete with this other women. As soon as you found yourself attracted to someone else, you should have found another softball team for you and your wife, to protect your marriage and your wife's feelings. But instead, you let this other woman become a favorite recreational companion, and you fell in love with her. Now you don't understand your feelings because you love someone who is not the mother of your children. You see disaster looming on the horizon, but seem powerless to prevent it from overtaking you.
Can you imagine the pain you have already caused your wife? What did she do to deserve it? If she had known prior to marrying you that you would have treated her this way, she would have run for the hills, and rightfully so. Your new friendship has caused your wife to be unbearably sad, and all for what? You will have to admit that whatever pleasure you are getting out of this relationship you have, it is costing your wife ten times the pain.
But I'm sure that by now you are in the middle of a passionate affair with this woman that will not be easy for you to end. You are sneaking off on your motorcycle whenever you can get a chance to be with her. The reason you have been lying to your wife, for the first time in your marriage, is that you are now in love with your new recreational companion, and not your wife. The evidence, and your dishonest denials, are making your wife so depressed that she had to start taking anti-depressants just to survive.
It's true. Your wife has become a dull and unpleasant woman to be around when you try to have fun with her. Your recreational time together has become stressful rather than an escape from the stresses of life. Your wife has changed in the past two years, all right. But that's because you have been having an affair! It's impossible for her to remain the fun-loving friend you remembered having when you subject her to the most painful experiences she will ever have. She married you because you were her best friend. Now you have become her worst enemy. Is that what you really wanted? I doubt it. But now you've got it.
What's the solution? There are two steps you must take to overcome this nightmare you have created.
The first step is to never to see or talk to this other woman again in your life. That is something you have promised your wife many times in the past few years when she complained about your relationship with her. So you already know it won't be easy to do. You've known this woman for about 10 years, and she has become your best friend and lover. Leaving her for good will feel to you like cutting off your right leg. In fact, you may need to move to another city to help you break out of your addiction to her entirely.
I will not explain the procedure I recommend for overcoming an affair in this letter because I have already written so much about it in my Q&A columns. But you've certainly become addicted, and you must treat is as such. It will probably take you six months to get over this other woman, and during that time you will miss her terribly. It will be very hard on you, and it will also be hard on J.M., because you will be so unhappy. You may both need to take anti-depressants to get through the worst of it. But after you've gotten her out of your system, you will be ready to bring J.M. back into her rightful place, as your wife and best friend.
The second step is to do just that -- make J.M. your best friend. You do that by making her a part of every enjoyable activity you have. If it's fun to do, she should be with you. If she doesn't enjoy doing it, give it up. Either buy her a motorcycle, or sell yours. When you jog, suggest that she jog with you, or ride a bicycle with you. When you play softball together, only play on teams where there are no women you find more attractive than your wife. Don't make her feel she must compete with women 20 years younger than she is.
In every marriage, people change. What used to be enjoyable at 20 is often no longer fun at 40. So it's entirely possible that something one of you still enjoys will become boring or even unpleasant to the other spouse. You mentioned that many of the things you used to enjoy with J.M. is no longer fun for you. When that happens, branch out into new activities that you both can enjoy together.
Couples often make the fatal mistake of going their separate ways when an activity becomes boring to one of them. After all, they reason, why make one spouse sacrifice an enjoyable activity just to accommodate the other?
The answer is simple. If you don't spend your most enjoyable time with each other, you risk not loving each other eventually. Those are strong words, but for someone who has spent his life trying to save marriages, I know what I'm talking about.
The saying, "if your not with the one you love, love the one you're with," did not come from nowhere. It's the rule thousands use to meet their emotional needs. If you have a job that takes you away from your spouse, you will both be vulnerable to an affair. I just about completely supported myself and my family counseling airline pilots. Why? Because pilots and their wives tend to have affairs when they are not with each other. Those in the military also keep marriage counselors busy for the same reasons.
But jobs that separate spouses for weeks, or even days at a time, are not the only causes of affairs. Recreational activities that separate spouses are also major causes of affairs. You are both together every day of the week. You have each other to meet your most important emotional needs. But because you have chosen to become recreationally separated, you have lost the very thing that convinced you to marry, your love and friendship with each other. And along with that loss, you had an affair.
What's more important to you, for you to have a terrific time recreationally or to have a terrific marriage? If having a terrific marriage is more important, all you have to do to achieve it is to make sure that you and your wife have a terrific time together recreationally. But if recreation is more important to you than your marriage, you will find yourself up to your neck in child support, weekend visitations and divorce. What kind of fun is that?
R.M., Take my advice and follow my two steps: Break off your relationship with the other woman immediately and permanently. Then, spend all of your leisure time with J.M. It will be tough at first, and this year may be one you will never want to repeat again. But if you do what I suggest, you will reestablish the friendship that brought you together in marriage, and you will spend the rest of your life doing what your daughters need most from you -- to love their mother.