Carolyn Hax: The checked out spouse is online all the time


Dear Caroline: From the time she gets home from work until late at night, my spouse is online—she streams movies, plays games, listens to podcasts, etc., and barely notices what else is going on around the house , including me and our children. We’ve talked about it a few times and things change for a day or two, then it’s more or less the same. Every night I go to bed with her back to me, silhouetted against the glowing screen on her bedside table. I’ve given up competing with him. But that just leaves me lonely. I don’t want to live the rest of my life like this. What now?

Married but single: I am sorry. That must really hurt.

It’s time to stop addressing this as something on the sidelines. You’re less than a week away from fixing it with tweaks to their behavior.

What you are describing is someone who has left marriage emotionally.

Only she knows why, but I can think of some general possibilities: her feelings for you have changed; she is depressed and self-medicating with electronic dopamine hits; She is too enmeshed in her technology to retire unaided.

This is just one layman to another; Marriage counseling is a good next step. (Make an appointment for yourself if she refuses. Resources here.)

Here’s how to clearly spell out your commitment to your wife: “I don’t want to live like this for the rest of my life. When you go online right at home and barely acknowledge us, I feel incredibly lonely. It could mean permanent damage to the children.”

That would also be appropriate given the psychological possibilities: “I’m worried about you too.”

People are more likely to make changes that are on their mind rather than the ones they’re asked to make, so you can toss her the ball like this: “I’d like to know what you would do if you were me.” .”

Presenting any of this with anger risks putting her on the defensive. Quietly presented, however, it serves her as an invitation to admit difficult things. She may not accept it, but you can encourage her: “Please don’t be afraid to say anything that might hurt me. I’d rather just know the truth. Especially if I can help.”

That’s what you want at this point. You want to know what hurt or absence she’s trying to repress so that—ideally with your involvement, support, and encouragement—she can address it through human connection instead.

Dear Caroline: My husband and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary in March. This is a second marriage for both of us. We’ve endured a lot — the pandemic, health and fertility issues, and multiple deaths in the family — and we’ve come out stronger, so I wanted professional portraits done.

We could not get my husband’s ex-wife to cooperate in choosing a date when my 10 year old stepdaughter would be available. She initially raised concerns about Covid safety, which is reasonable. So we moved the date twice but eventually we ran out of options and now we have to do it next weekend or I’ll lose my pretty hefty deposit. Also, I want the pictures.

We have two year old twins who will definitely be in the portraits, wearing outfits to match ours. At first my husband didn’t want to rule out his eldest child, but now he’s fed up with his ex and wants to do the portraits either way. I also want to continue, I just wish there was a way to force your ex to cooperate. What do we do?

How many attempts?: As many attempts as necessary.

Because this is not about a down payment, no matter how high it is. At the very least, explain your predicament to the photographer, who may have both heart and some leeway.

And oh my god, please tell me, aren’t you both willing to cast out your stepdaughter for snipping at his ex-wife? No, oh no Please.

Imagine a vengeful ex using it as leverage: “See? They don’t care about you.” [Shudder.]

As I write this, I know that everything that would happen here has already happened thanks to my production schedule. So I’m going to suggest something incredibly financially pretentious: if you sat for the photographer without your stepdaughter, then dump the photos and shoot that thing again.

A child’s sense of belonging is the foundation of their strength until they grow into an independent sense of self. Even the most sensitive newborns can push aside older ones, even more so those from new marriages than those from previous marriages.

You made it clear that this portrait is a statement. To create your Yay-us family statement without 20 percent of your family – the unambiguous, non-competitive, most endangers 20 percent? Just no.

Throw everything away to make it fitting that you are not family without them.

And if you waited? Then I’m relieved and grateful you got in there before I could. Congratulations on the five years. Carolyn Hax: The checked out spouse is online all the time

Chris Estrada

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