What to Do When Your Recreational Companionship
Becomes Boring and Unpleasant (Part 2)

Letter #1


Introduction:My last column, What to Do When Your Recreational Companionship Becomes Boring and Unpleasant (Part 1], attracted the interest of quite a few people who are having trouble motivating their spouses to become their recreational companions. So I've decided to give the subject a deeper look since it is so important to the health of your marriage.

My position, simply stated, is that you and your spouse should be each other's best recreational companions. Why? Because recreational companionship, is one of the easiest ways to deposit love units into each other's Love Banks. If you want to be in love with each other, one of the simplest ways to do it is to be with each other when you are having fun. In fact, that's probably how you fell in love with each other in the first place--you became each other's favorite recreational companions while you were dating. Ever tried dating without recreational companionship,? It doesn't work!

However, continuing to be each other's best recreational companions after marriage is a bit tricky. There are so many new responsibilities, so little time and so little money, that for many couples recreation itself becomes a luxury that seems out of reach. They do manage to get away from it all once in a while, but they tend to do it by themselves, rather than with each other. The recreational companionship that drew them together before marriage is often left behind after the honeymoon.

Recreational companionship can be continued throughout marriage if you are willing to make a radical decision: Spend most of your leisure time with each other. Why take that drastic step? Because if you don't spend your leisure time with each other, doing what you enjoy the most, someone else will turn out to be your favorite companion. If it's someone of the opposite sex, your marriage will really be in trouble.

Since this argument is not understood by many, I have tried to be as clear and persuasive as possible in my answers to the letters of this week's column. I am not only posting these letters to help you become recreational companions, but I am also posting them as a warning. If you allow yourselves to indulge in separate recreational activities, they may eventually cause you to lose love for each other, and possibly cause an affair. Furthermore, when you discover that they are ruining your marriage, they can be very difficult to abandon because they can be so addictive.

If you rarely allow yourselves to spend your leisure time apart from each other, you will never face the nightmares that this week's couples face. You can avoid it all if you make a commitment to each other that you will be each other's best recreational companions -- for life.

Dear Dr. Harley,

We've been married nearly 25 years and have three sons, ages 16, 12, and 2. We used to do everything together, although in those early struggling years with both of us working long hours there wasn't much time for recreation. But after a while, my husband, a outdoorsman, began to leave me home with the kids while he pursues his hunting, fishing, skeet-shooting, and his latest endeavor, baseball umpiring.

I now spend half my time resenting being left home with the kids while he is away from home, and half my time feeling guilty for being angry about it. We've had many a battle over this, but he says he's an outdoorsman and loves to hunt and fish. He says that since our 2 year old needs to be taken care of, this is just the way it's going to be.

This past Saturday afternoon he left to go tournament fishing with a buddy and came in at 3:30 Sunday morning. He slept in and was short with the kids all day Sunday. We had company from out of town visit Sunday evening. He was home Monday evening after work, exhausted, and sat in his chair all evening. Tuesday he came home and said he just remembered he had a ball game to umpire, was home 45 minutes and left for that, returning at 9:30 pm. Then he left Wednesday morning for a 5-day business trip that he had known about for months but had not told me about. We'll see him Sunday night. Baseball's over, but here comes more fishing and he's already talking about preparing for hunting season.

We talk, but it just seems neither of us knows how to change anything. I feel like we agree to be nice to each other and overlook the trouble spots, but we're really just stuffing them till they explode. I love him and I know he loves me, but looking at what our relationship is going to be like in a few years if we continue this way scares me. I feel so alone now. We just aren't connecting at all.

We CAN afford baby sitters and I DO like fishing and baseball and even skeet-shooting. I want our marriage to be good for both of us and I also want us to set a good example to our boys. Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated.

B.P.

Dear B.P.,

Your husband, like so many other men (and women) in his position, probably feels overwhelmed by responsibility, particularly after your 2 year old arrived. He views his recreational activities as his only escape from those responsibilities. When he goes fishing, he can forget about all the pressure he is under, and just relax. It's what keeps him going, I'm sure.

You recognize that he has made a terrible mistake: He does not take you with him when he wants to relax. As a result, you are no longer being associated with his most enjoyable moments. Instead, he is associating you with the responsibility that he is trying to escape. He may still be in love with you, but the way things are going, that love may be at risk.

When you were first married, you may not have realized that recreation itself is essential to your emotional health. The only way either of you would be happy would be to get away from it all once in a while. At first, both you and your husband may have tried to spend all of your time trying to meet the mountain of responsibilities you both faced. But eventually, your husband learned to escape it all by fishing and hunting. Unfortunately, for some reason he didn't include you in his escape. If you and he had escaped from your responsibilities together, right from the start, you would probably have been fishing together this weekend, without your children.

Recreational activities that separate a husband and wife can ruin marriages, as you've discovered. Your husband's love for you is ruined because he no longer associates you with his most enjoyable moments. His fishing buddies get all the credit. When he is with you, he associates you with all of the responsibilities he faces, and all of the stress he is trying to escape. Your love for him isn't doing very well either. Every time he abandons you to run off and have a good time, he loses love units. Your feeling of increasing resentment is the result of all the love units he's been withdrawing.

If you want your marriage to succeed, you must become associated with each other's best and most relaxed moments, not just the times of stress and frustration. Recreational companionship is the easiest way to do that, and it's not too late to change.

Over the years, his fishing, hunting, and baseball have become incredibly enjoyable to him--so enjoyable that for you to suggest that he avoid it to be home with you and the children might seem totally insensitive and even cruel. How could you take away his only source of pleasure? He might think that you hate him to even suggest such a thing.

If you want to become his recreational companion, you will need to approach the problem with clear purpose, but also with sensitivity to your husband's feelings. You can still reach your husband, because, as you said in your letter, he still loves you. It's important to understand how hard it will be for him to integrate you into his escape after all these years. Having you along fishing will take some doing on his part, because you are now associated with all the responsibility he is trying to escape. And what if it turns out that you don't like fishing as much as you thought you would? You may need to find new recreational activities that you can enjoy together.

To help you both make this difficult but necessary transition into becoming each other's best recreational companions, I suggest you negotiate with your husband. Here are four steps that will make it easier for you to resolve your conflict.

1. Set ground rules to make negotiations pleasant and safe.

Before you start to talk to your husband about recreational activities, make sure that you follow these rules: (a) be pleasant and cheerful throughout your discussion of the issue, (b) put safety first--do not threaten to cause pain or suffering when you negotiate, even if your husband makes threatening remarks or if the negotiations fail, and (c) if you reach an impasse, stop for a while and come back to the issue later.

Under no conditions should you be disrespectful or judgmental of your husband's opinions or desires. Your negotiations should accept and respect your differences. Otherwise, you will fail to make them pleasant and safe.

2. Identify the problem from the perspectives of both you and your spouse.

Be able to state each other's position regarding your conflict about recreational activities before you go on to find a solution. Be sure you don't argue with each other, just get to know how you both feel regarding the issue.

3. Brainstorm solutions with abandon.

Spend some time thinking of all sorts of ways to handle the problem, and don't correct each other when you hear of a plan that you don't like -- you'll have a chance to do that during the fourth step. Write down every suggestion. If you give your intelligence a chance to flex its muscle, you will have a long list of possible solutions.

4. Choose the solution that is appealing to both of you.

From your list of solutions, some will satisfy only one of you but not both. However, scattered within the list will be solutions that both of you would find attractive. Among those solutions that are mutually satisfactory, select the one that you both like the most.

When you use the Policy of Joint Agreement to resolve any of your conflicts, neither of you will feel controlled by the other, because you are not being forced to do anything. The only restrictions you will feel are those that prevent you from gaining at each other's expense. That's not control, that's thoughtfulness.

If these four steps don't give you enough guidance, it might help if you were to read Fall in Love, Stay in Love together, because I wrote it to help couples learn to negotiate. Even if your husband is not the marriage manual type, reading it by yourself will help you learn how to reach him in a way that takes his feelings into account. There is a chapter in Fall in Love, Stay in Love that specifically addresses the issue of how to become recreational companions.

You say you love each other--now learn to become each other's best friends.

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