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Help! My Wife is Taking Away Everything I Love

Q: My wife and I met three years ago. We have one child together, but we both have children from a previous marriage. Since getting married 2 years ago, my wife has been trying to get me to quit all the activities I have enjoyed my whole life. It started with asking me to cut down baseball in the summer from the weekends to one day a week. I was OK with that. Then it was hunting...she wanted me to give up the only weekend that I hunt all year long for deer opening. Last month she asked me to pick between baseball or bowling. I like bowling because I am in a league with my father, brother and friends. I told her to pick which she wants me to do. She said no. She wanted me to pick. I decided to stay doing baseball once a week, and have gave up all other activities. 

And now she wants me to quit all of them. I feel she is working me little by little to get me to do what she wants. The interests my wife and I have are very different from one another. She doesn’t like the things I do (baseball, hunting, bowling), but I don’t mind her doing the things she enjoys. I just feel when she is asking me to give up all the things I enjoy, she is taking away the time I need to unwind.

Am I being selfish by wanting to play baseball one day out of each weekend during the summer, and bowl (during the work week not weekends) in one league during the winter, and either bow or rifle hunt for deer (her choice)?

A: My answer is no, you are not being selfish. Taking part in activities that you have enjoyed your whole life with people you care about (e.g., friends, family) is important for your psychological and physical health.1 Self-expansion theory proposes that people have a basic need to expand their sense of self, and this can be done one of two ways: through novel or exciting activities like sports or intellectual pursuits, or by including another person into your own self-concept, such as seeing your wife as part of you.2 Your wife seems to think you need to shrink rather than expand.

Demanding that you quit your extra-curricular activities isolates you from your friends and family. When intimate partners try to control each other in this way, the relationship can become very unhealthy and abusive. Most people typically think of abusive relationships as physically violent; however, abuse can take many forms, including verbal, economic, and psychological abuse.3 I am concerned because the isolation and request for you to give up your hobbies is a form of psychological abuse. 

Why would your wife do this? There could be many reasons, such her having a personality disorder (e.g., borderline and dysphoria [making her very dependent]), or having a fearful or anxious attachment style, meaning that she (the abuser) is continually worried about losing you and your relationship.4 Chances are, she will not see her own behavior as abusive and she is making it appear that YOU have the control-- she is placing the burden of choice between hobbies on you, while ignoring her own role in placing the demand for restrictions in the first place. 

Regardless of the reasons for her behavior, it is more important to address how you deal with this situation. Oftentimes, people in abusive relationships distort what is going on order to excuse, minimize, or justify what is happening.5 For example, victims in abusive relationships tend to minimize the effect of the abuse in order to better cope with it6 (e.g., I didn’t care about bowling that much anyway) and often engage in a lot of self-blame7 (e.g., I am selfish and must not care about my marriage if I want to do these other activities without my wife).  

Sadly, your wife’s tactics to keep you at home and make her your only source of self-expansion can backfire. Research evidence shows that  when people cannot self-expand in their intimate relationships—when they feel smothered and not able to be themselves—they are more likely to have greater interest in relationship alternatives (e.g., leaving the relationship or having an affair).8 It will be important for you and your wife to find ways to self-expand, either through your own hobbies separately or through hobbies and activities that you can both do together and with others. If she cannot be comfortable doing this, then I strongly suggest speaking with a trusted neutral party (e.g., counselor, friend, minister) so that you do not become more isolated and unhappy.

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1Iso-Ahola, S. E., & Park, C. J. (1996). Leisure-related social support and self-determination as buffers of stress-illness relationship. Journal of Leisure Research, 28, 169-187.

2Aron, E. N., & Aron, A. (1996). Love and the expansion of the self: The state of the model. Personal Relationships, 3, 45–58.

3Shepard, M. F., & Campbell, J. A. (1992). The abusive behavior inventory: A measure of psychological and physical abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 7, 291-305.

4Holtzworth-Munroe, A. (2000). Cognitive factors in male intimate violence. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 24, 135–138.

5Jory, B., Anderson, D., & Greer, C. (1997). Intimate justice: Confronting issues of accountability, respect, and freedom in treatment for abuse and violence. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 23, 399–419.

6Logan, T. K., Walker, R., Jordan, C., & Leukefield, C. G. (2006). Women and victimization: Contributing factors, interventions, and implications. Washington, DC: APA.

7Whiting, J. B., Oka, M., & Fife, S. T. (2012).  Appraisal distortions and intimate partner violence: Gender, power, and interaction. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 38 (Supplement s1), 133-149.

8Lewandowski, G. W., Jr., & Ackerman, R. A. (2006). Something’s missing: Need fulfillment and self-expansion as predictors of susceptibility to infidelity. Journal of Social Psychology, 146, 389–403.

Dr. Jennifer Harman - Adventures in Dating... | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr.  Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.

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Reader Comments (5)

I'm a bit surprised that you would make such a conclusive statement such as "no, you are not being selfish" and even suggest that this man's wife might have a personality disorder or insecure attachment style, based on one side of the story and so little information. Those are some pretty strong statements that could add significant stress to an already troubled marriage (e. g. "Well I asked relationship experts and they said I'm right and you have a personality disorder!"). Wouldn't it be important to know how much time these personal hobbies leave for spending time with his wife and family. Or perhaps while he participates in these activities his wife is the one who has to stay at home with their children, leaving her less time to pursue her own interests. Even if we assume that everything this person is saying is true, there is always another side of the story, and without hearing both sides there really doesn't seem to be enough information to say whether or not anyone is being selfish, and certainly not enough to suggest anyone is being abusive. As scientists it's important to remember the value that others place in your advice, and to not make conclusions without all of the relevant information. Perhaps it would be more helpful to offer some insight as to why his wife might be acting this way (outside the realm of psychopathology), without passing any judgements. For example, he mentioned that he and his wife do not share the same interests. As relationship experts you know how important it is for couples to engage in novel and exciting experience together. It's possible that his wife's behavior is a misguided attempt to spend more time together. Developing some shared hobbies or planning some new activities together might increase their intimacy and maybe even lead her to feel less needy.

October 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

Good point--we can only work with what is provided by the submitter. There was enough information provided to explain the impact restrictions can have, and how the submitter's perceptions are being impacted by the wife's behavior. In fact, the submitter is clearly concerned about it and took the time to seek advice, as he is not happy about the impact this is having on his life.

Many times, people want to know why one partner does certain things. Obviously, there can be numerous reasons for the wife in this case to try to restrict her husband's behavior. All I can draw on is what the submitter provided, and what research there in on the topic. Mental illness or psychopathology is one of many reasons, and not unreasonable to assume, given that over half of U.S. adults report having a mental illness at some point in their lives. Many individuals are also insecure (which is not "pathological"), and this attachment style has ramifications for relationship dynamics, which I did address. There is not a lot of research otherwise to address reasons for partners trying to control others, and without more information, it was impossible to conjecture. I DID qualify my answer by stating that regardless of the reasons for her behavior, it is more important to address the impact on him and how he deals with it. As I do not have enough information, I offered a few important, NON-clinical suggestions, presuming that the problem is NOT due to a pathology (e.g., finding hobbies that they can do together). I suggested counseling as an alternative if this strategy was not effective, as then the root of the relationship problem may be deeper and reflect the possibilities that research suggests are precursors to abusive behaviors.

October 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Harman

I share Emma's reaction. The wife is being pathologized before we've even heard her side of the story! Instead of seeing her as evil and controlling, how about starting with the assumption that some of her (or the children's) needs are not being met here, and find out what is really behind the "quit baseball" injunction.

Anybody with common sense could guess that an innocent afternoon of baseball also includes going out for beer afterward, and suddenly we're talking half the weekend. While she spends her Saturday running errands. I'm not trying to bash the guy here - I've played team sports myself, and I fully agree that we all need recreational activities.

But I bet you he's giving off the vibe that he'd rather be out with the guys than home with his family, and this is probably what the wife is objecting to. Instead of labels like "selfish" they need to talk about their common goals and responsibilities.

September 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

This is a man who feels his wife systematically and deliberately dissects him away from the things he enjoys, until he gives them up. Clearly this woman has no respect for his personal interests. If she keeps it up, she's only going to frustrate the hell out of him. He'll grow to despise her.

April 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSam

Stop being a lil bitch and man the fk up. i'm not a doctor or psychiatrist, but its common sense; she's controlling you buddy. if you don't make changes now, pretty soon you will be wearing a dress. the truth hurts but if she doesn't respect your hobbies or friends/family, its time to rethink your relationship.

its really unhealthy to live this lifestyle. i feel really sad for those men and women that get controlled in a relationship. GG

May 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMan of the Land
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