Do you feel like your husband would rather spend time with friends than with you?
Every Monday I like to pull a reader question out of the files and take a stab at answering it. Today two women are facing a similar problem–their husbands spend more time with friends than with them!
One woman writes:
My husband is home on permanent disability, I work full time, and our kids are in daycare all day. His best friend lives next door, so all day he goes over with him. When I get home with the kids to do dinner, bath, and bed time….he says bye I’m going next door for a while.
Then he comes back, eats dinner, then leaves to go back over there till I put the kids in bed. Then instead of spending time watching tv, playing a board game, talking, having sex he goes back next door…till I get tired of waiting up and go to bed alone. I’m getting really tired of this, and I’ve attacked, nagged, gotten on his case about not spending time with me and choosing to spend all his time next door with his friend and his whole family.
I don’t know what to do to get him to want to spend more time with me, I’ve even left the house to go out with my own friends after the kids go to bed to see if he likes sitting by himself all night, he gets mad then if I come home to late. We used to have an amazing friendship, marriage before we had kids, and now it’s crap.
Another woman writes:
My husband and I get along well. We were friends first, for many years. We barely argue, let alone fight. However, his idea of “date night” is to go over to his single friend’s place and watch sports and play pool. It is sometimes 3x a week. I know he works hard and deserves to let off steam, but it’s gotten to the point where I feel like I’m the last thing on his list and that my needs go unheard. I have calmly,without guilt tactics or sarcasm, tried to tell him so many times, but nothing changes.
Our last date was 8 months ago. It’s not even the money. We have gift cards to restaurants that have gone unused. I feel like I’m good enough to be his cook & housekeeper but not to be taken out in public. How is it that he’s too tired to do something with me, but not too tired to hang out with his friend? (It’s not that he gets more validation from the friend than from me; I work hard at building him up. Wish he’d do it for me!) After 5 years of this, I’m starting to shut down. Since talking doesn’t get through to him, what do I do? Thank you.
I can just imagine how lonely these women must feel!
So here goes!
When there’s time that isn’t accounted for, people tend to think, “I can do what I want.”
If there’s nothing else planned, then it’s human nature to fill up your time with what you want to be doing. And many of us get into ruts. How many nights have you watched TV when you know that in the long run you would rather that you organized old photos, read a book, or even went for a jog? We tend to turn to what is easy and readily available rather than something that seemingly requires work.
Plan more activities and put them on a monthly schedule on the wall
If you want him to spend more time with you, then, perhaps you can try planning activities ahead of time? What about joining a small group at church that meets every Wednesday? Or perhaps saying that every Tuesday you’ll go to the gym and play racquetball to get some exercise. Or maybe even join a bowling league? It sounds geeky, but people have a lot of fun doing stuff like that. My husband and I took ballroom dancing lessons for years and it was a riot (plus we learned to dance!).
It is much harder for him to get up and leave to spend time with friends if there is another activity planned.
So I’d suggest planning some volunteer time (maybe you help lead the junior high at church once a week or something) and then planning some couple time where you’re doing something specific and regular. Even plan regular get togethers with other couples! (My daughter and her husband have a group of two other couples who get together every week to do something fun). Then, if he wants to spend time with friends on another night, it’s okay because you’ve got that time together already.
Another idea is to sit down with him and ask ahead of time: “How much time do you think is reasonable for us to spend with friends, and how much time should we spend as a couple?” Ask when you’re not already tense and angry with each other. And if you agree that once a week with friends is good, then get out the calendar and schedule it in: he has his friends on Saturday and you have your friends (or knitting group, or women’s Bible study) on another night.
Talk about big picture goals.
Often people don’t realize the long term impact of how they’re acting. Eating one little cookie doesn’t seem like much, but make a list of all the sugar you’re eating in a day and you realize how much it adds up! It’s the same with any habit like this: you don’t realize the long term ramifications because you’re only thinking about the short term.
If you can have a planning meeting with your husband (again, when you’re not upset, but you’re just talking), maybe you can work through some of my “visioning” printables to talk about where you want your family to be in 5 years or 10 years. Then ask, “how are we going to get there?” How are we going to teach our kids the lessons we want them to learn? How are we going to build our relationship? Don’t lecture to him–just ask the questions. This may encourage him to want to be more proactive about scheduling some family time.
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Look for underlying reasons for him spending time with friends away from you–a lack of purpose?
People who have a strong sense of where they’re going and what they’re called to in life tend to spend their free time intentionally. People who have no sense of purpose or responsibility tend to drift and waste time.
Do you and your husband share a sense of purpose? Does he have one at all? I’m wondering about the first letter writer, especially, whose husband is on long term disability. He may just be struggling with his worth as a man if he can’t even work. There may even be some underlying depression going on. Finding him a purpose where he can serve at church or be useful in some other capacity could be the key to unlocking the relational side of him again.
We often burden the spouse who is trying to keep everything together to do even more.
A warning about abandonment
I am really concerned about letter writer #1, though, and I want to take this one step further. Assuming that she has tried to help him find purpose and that there isn’t an underlying depression involved, then it certainly sounds as if she has all the responsibility in the family and he has none of it. From just what she has said, she provides the income; she gets the kids to childcare; she takes care of meals and bedtimes. He does whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and does not interact with his wife or his children.
That is the definition of abandonment.
In biblical times, abandonment meant not providing for your family. Women had no means of earning wages, so they needed men’s wages to live. Today it’s murkier because many women are the primary breadwinners. But regardless of who earns the income, both individuals need to be caring for the family. If he is not just shirking his responsibilities but also living off of her work (I assume she makes the meals and does the laundry and provides most income), then he has effectively abandoned his family, forcing his wife to care for the family alone. The only difference is that he is still living in the house.
In 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage I was very clear that failing to provide for the family or do any of the family’s work is a sin, and it’s one area that definitely warrants outside intervention. So here are the steps that I would take, in a nutshell:
- Pray hard for a period of weeks and ask God to reveal any shortcomings on your end, and to work on your husband’s heart.
- THEN talk to a mentor couple, by yourself. Discuss what boundaries you can put in place to stop doing everything for him.
- Ask that mentor couple to talk to you as a couple.
- Seek counselling as a couple, especially to make sure there isn’t an underlying depression.
- Ask some men to come alongside your husband and hold him accountable.
- Consider next steps if the marriage doesn’t change.
The first 5 items should take place over a series of months, not days. And if you work through them, assuming that you are not married to a cold-hearted narcissist but simply to someone who is immature or going through a hard time, things really should improve.
But Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:15-16 that we are not bound if a spouse chooses to leave. This husband (assuming that the conclusions I drew from the letter writer are true, and that any mental illness struggles have been addressed) has chosen to leave, even if he is still under the same roof.
I think we as a church do tremendous harm by recognizing the “shell” of a marriage as a real marriage, rather than calling it what it is and urging the sinning spouse towards better behaviour. Instead, we often burden the spouse who is trying to keep everything together to do even more. (And I have seen women abandon their families in the exact same way, too. This is not a gender issue).
If a friend of yours is going through this, can you and your husband step in and support her and urge her husband on to better behaviour? Can you help her set appropriate boundaries? This kind of behaviour should not be acceptable, but when we talk about divorce as if it is the only sin, then we often enable people to continue to be lazy and to effectively abandon their family with no consequences. Let’s come alongside couples and urge them to better behaviour before things get to this point. The precious children in the middle of this situation, especially, need someone to advocate for them. After all, that’s what the body of Christ should be for!