When my husband and I first started marital therapy our doctor told him: GET YOUR OWN LIFE. In other words, forget the problems you have with the person you married; become the sort of person you'd like to have a relationship with.** Get interested and interesting. That way, your wife may find you have unexpected qualities, and you'll find more ways to connect. Or, if your marriage craps out, you'll have something to fall back on, something to do on the weekends instead of talking about how much you hate your ex-wife. That bitch.
I fully concurred with the doctor. In fact, I'd told my husband the exact same thing - over and over. It just didn't count until we were paying $ 150 an hour to have someone else say it.
It had always bugged me that my husband had a complete lack of interest in pretty much anything. He had no hobbies, no interests at all save poring over the finances and fuming about the marriage. I, on the other hand, had more passions than I knew what to do with - passions involving books, photography, messing around with writing, and George Clooney. How could a person lead a full life without passions? What's the purpose?
And George, CALL ME!
First we tried buying a nice camera (you may have heard me mention that), since he enjoyed photography about as much as I did. This was a joint activity, and a good start on not just finding interests but sharing them. There was just one problem; I always hogged the damn camera. In fact, I took it over. We spent more time arguing back and forth, "It's MY turn!" "No, it's MINE!" Then it became, "I took that picture!" "No, I did!" It turned unpretty very quickly.
Ultimately, he turned back to a hobby he'd tried before, one that hadn't worked out well the first time - a salt water reef tank. We'd had one in our last house, but it turned out to be more a fish mortuary than a fish tank. And salt water fish are not cheap, my friend. Getting back to that had always been in the back of his mind, anyway. It seemed the perfect choice.
He began studying and researching, learning what was involved in operating a successful tank. He started building filters, ordering supplies and doohickies that make a viable reef tank. It took months getting everything set up. He didn't buy any fish for the longest time, until the water tested safe to support life. He made a few mistakes, then a few corrections, eventually getting it right.
Now he has a passion, a hobby that consumes him. It passes the test of a real hobby: there's no limit to the amount of money he can spend on it. He reads about it, visits forums dedicated to it. He even started a saltwater fish blog. Somewhat frighteningly, he even smells the tank, rhapsodizing about how fresh, how clean it smells. He encourages others to smell it as well. To shut him up I smelled it last night, before bed. When I told him it smelled "a little fishy" I thought his head would explode. "It's not fishy! It's fresh!" Me: backing away slowly, smiling. "Yes, yes. I meant "fresh.""
Finally, I have my wish – a husband with a hobby! He doesn't lurk around all the time anymore, getting in my hair. More importantly, I finally feel he understands what it's like to be passionate about something. Now, hopefully, my own passions will be a little more understandable to him. I feel I have to justify myself less, which is a big improvement. It's not fun always being on the defensive.
His reef tank is in its second year now, and coming along (wait for it) swimmingly. It's so damn healthy it's disgusting. He dreams of adding more corals and anemones (anemoni?), now that he can. Last evening he came home with two more "frags" (that's fragments, to you and me) of coral. Since I was reading when he put them in the tank I got the YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT MY FISH TANK lecture. I wasn't there for the official unveiling, so I am a BAD WIFE. I made a point of ooohing and aaaahing over them. To shut him up.
You'd think I'd be happy now that he has this new hobby going, this passion, this outlet for his creative side (I'd heard rumors engineers had them, but I'd never believed it before). And, while I am glad to see him interested in something, now that he has his tank in a perfect state of equilibrium I find myself complaining, "We don't DO anything anymore." When I said that to him yesterday, he reminded me I wanted him out of my hair. The problem is, every spare minute he's either looking at his beauties, blogging about his beauties, or reading forums about his beauties. They need constant care: squirts of this, squirts of that, measuring of PH levels, the adding of water, etc. All. The. Time.
I need to remind him of another thing the marital therapist said, that we should do more things together. Things like going to dinner, seeing a movie, hanging out at Starbucks drinking coffee and looking at the newspaper. But I'm afraid even if I do get him out of the house he'll want to call home to see how his fish are doing, like they're babies home with a sitter. Yesterday I asked if he'd considered getting a baby monitor set up, so he could make sure the fish are okay overnight. His eyes lit up.
I've come to the conclusion I don't have him trained nearly well enough. Here do this! No, not quite that, this. Aren't you listening! I said THAT! When I said "Get a hobby, for God's sake!" I meant get a hobby that conveniently suits me. How hard is that to understand, really?
** This is FANTASTIC advice. We should all become the person we'd like to marry. (I don't mean that in a weird way - though I'd consider marrying myself if I could support myself in the manner to which I've grown accustomed.) Concentrate more on what you like to do, what makes life interesting to you. Then you'll be more interesting to others. That'll be $ 150.
P.S.: I TOOK ALL THE PHOTOS IN THIS POST!