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.