Sports-addict husband isn't being fair


January 22, 1995|By From Ladies' Home Journal Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"I just can't compete with his golfing buddies, let alone the entire National Football League," laments Betsy, 25, who does public relations work for the local chamber of commerce and is the mother of 3-year-old Elissa. Betsy knows her sports-fanatic husband enjoys being one of the guys. But she assumed that once they married, he'd find more time in his life for her.

The relationship soured soon after Elissa was born. "I expected my marriage to be just like my parents'," Betsy admits. "Dad was always buying gifts for my mother, and he was so helpful around the house. I assumed Ron would be that way, too." She did not expect him to be a total slob or to drag his feet whenever she asked him to run an errand.

"I know he works longer hours than I do, and I'm willing to do more than my share of the child care and housework, but is it so unreasonable to expect him to help out, to pick up after himself or act as if he really wants to be with me?" she asks rhetorically. Every weekend, Betsy finds herself alone with her daughter, praying for a rainy day so Ron will be forced to stay home.

Inevitably, he channel surfs until he finds a game, then zones out for hours. Betsy has tried every tactic -- she even reads the sports pages so she can memorize the players' names -- to no avail. "Whenever I try to talk about the fact that he has no time for me, he has nothing positive to offer, and we end up fighting," she reports. "But he has plenty to say about how much money I'm spending, or how my 'henpecking' reminds him of the stepmother he hated."

Ron, 30, the manager of a local restaurant, is confused. Overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being a father and husband, Ron knows he should spend more time with his wife, but he can't figure out how, and he resents her dictatorial manner and constant nagging.

"Betsy hounds me mercilessly," Ron reports, and he's frustrated and resentful that she doesn't understand that loving sports a great deal doesn't mean he loves her less.

Question of balance

Ron and Betsy "never really understood each other's needs and expectations," notes Paul Moschetta, a marriage therapist in New York. If a relationship is going to work, you must have a balance. "But in this case, Ron is indulging his own needs at the expense of working toward a healthy balance in his marriage."

Betsy is not the only "sports widow" out there. As she and other women often find, however, the more she nags her husband to turn off the game and pay attention to her, the more he withdraws. Unfortunately, by continuing to cut himself off from her, he's perpetuating the cycle. The more she nags him to be affectionate and close, the more he pulls away.

If you, like Betsy, often find yourself stuck at the nagging end of a relationship, try these steps:

* Set a time to talk. Discuss the problem when you are both relaxed.

* Use "I" statements. Instead of saying, "You're always glued to the basketball game," or "Why are you doing this to me?" say, "I love you and miss being with you. I hope we can find a way to spend more time together."

* Write down your feelings and complaints. It can be helpful if each partner puts his or her thoughts on paper and exchanges lists.

For example, Betsy can note that in the game of marriage, Ron is not showing very sportsmanlike behavior. If she approaches the subject this way, Ron will be more amenable to compromise; perhaps he'll agree to spend part of the day with the guys or watching a game, and part doing something with Betsy and Elissa. Betsy doesn't have to share her husband's love of sports, and as long as he gives her enough time and attention, she won't feel hurt by his absences.

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